Long before Brenna Turer (HESA ‘19) found her path in UConn’s Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) master’s program, she knew she would work in education. As an undergraduate at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, she earned her English/Language Arts teaching certificate and was planning to become a middle or high school teacher. At the same time, she worked as a resident assistant (RA) on campus and found herself increasingly drawn to working with students outside of the traditional teaching role.
Upon completing her bachelor’s degree, she decided to follow that growing passion and took a position as a Hall Director at High Point University in North Carolina. That role solidified her desire to pursue student affairs as a career, and so she began to apply for graduate programs. “I wanted a program that would let me continue my practice and also gain the theoretical grounding that would help me support students in all areas of learning,” says Turer. The UConn HESA program, she decided, was just that program.
The most rewarding part of the HESA program, says Turer, has been the relationships she’s built. For her graduate assistantship, she works in UConn Residential Life as an Assistant Residence Hall Director.
“There are some RAs I’ve been supervising since my first semester here at UConn,” says Turer. “I’m so fortunate to get to work and learn with them. A lot of them are getting these awesome jobs or applying to graduate programs themselves now. I feel lucky to be a part of that growing process.”
She also emphasizes the importance of the relationships she’s formed within HESA. “I came in thinking that my faculty advisor, Dr. Castillo-Montoya, would really be the only person I could go to,” she says. “She’s been amazing, but there’s also support all around; other members of my cohort, other faculty members, and practicum supervisors. It’s been especially great to be on the student end of things again, sharing class time with other HESA students.”
Graduate school is not without its challenges, but Turer says she’s managed to learn from the difficult parts. “There was new leadership in my residential area this year, and change can be challenging when you’re working with a group of people,” says Turer. “I learned how to advocate for my students and their voices, and also to help them be open to the change themselves.” As a student and practitioner at the same time, she faces diverse demands on her time that make balance and prioritization key. “A student in a previous HESA cohort once told me, ‘whatever you do, find your people,’” says Turer. “Sometimes it can be hard to find time to spend with ‘my people’–my partner, my friends–but it’s so important. I love going hiking on the weekends, visiting different breweries, just going on adventures.”
Turer’s advice to incoming HESA students is keep things in perspective. “HESA is such a fantastic community and it’s easy to get so wrapped up in the day-to-day, but sometimes you need to remember that there’s life outside of HESA,” says Turer. “Get off campus sometimes; remember that this is one of many parts of your life.” She also highlights the importance of finding your own way in the world of student affairs.
“You don’t always have to follow the ‘typical’ student affairs path; there are so many different paths you can take!” says Turer. “Know who you are, trust yourself, try not to compare yourself to others, and it will all work out.”
In honor of Graduate Student Appreciation Week, the Higher Education Student Affairs (HESA) program hosted an ice cream social to celebrate its graduate students as well as the campus partners who work to support learning, growth, and development among the HESA students. The event took place on the UConn Storrs campus on April 4, 2019. Visit UConn Neag’s Facebook album to view all the photos from the event.
UConn’s Department of Educational Leadership (EDLR) offers a rich and diverse curriculum that prepares both undergraduate and graduate students to be educational leaders in our ever-changing world. The “Courses and Curriculum” series highlights innovative courses within EDLR’s catalog that are changing the education game for the better.
The Department of Educational Leadership’s (EDLR) master’s program in Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) boasts a robust curriculum that prepares students to be well-rounded and reflective student affairs practitioners. EDLR 5105: Structured Group Dialogue in Student Affairs is both an innovative and integral part of the HESA curriculum, giving students a space to consider how dialogue, and intergroup dialogue specifically, can be a tool to explore their own racial identity and socialization, as well as the identities and processes of socialization of others. Students in the course are continually asked to reflect on the personal, professional, and educational implications of their learning. These insights and processes help the students learn how to dialogue with others who have varying perspectives given their own identities and socialization– a much-needed process on college campuses today.
Students in EDLR 5105 engage in dialogue with each other as an entire class as well as in smaller, intra-class groups. One of the major aspects of the course is the Intergroup Collaboration Project (ICP), which, as the closing project for the course, encourages action as a result of learning. Students work alongside their cohort members in assigned groups to create visual representations of their learning, specifically around race and intergroup dialogue in student affairs practice. Through the ICP projects, students dialogue across differences to arrive at an understanding of that year’s selected theme: in 2016, the theme was “allyship;” in 2017 it was “social responsibility;” and in 2018 it was “disrupting race talk.” These visual representations are then shared with the larger UConn community in the form of a HESA Gallery Walk, which engages the larger UConn community in dialogue about race and higher education.
The course is co-taught by Dr. Milagros Castillo-Montoya (she/her/hers) and Danielle DeRosa (she/her/hers). It was Castillo-Montoya who lead the charge several years ago to update HESA’s existing groups-based course. As part of her research on teaching in higher education, she had begun to explore intergroup dialogue, and in the winter of 2015 she was part of a six-person UConn delegation that attended the University of Michigan’s intergroup dialogue training program. Upon her return, she worked with the department chair to incorporate her valuable training into the course, which was first offered in its renovated form in the fall of 2016. The course, which follows the University of Michigan model, is co-taught by design: its two instructors have different social identities which are aligned with focus of the course. In UConn HESA’s case, the central focus of the course is race.
The course is divided into four phases: Forming and Building Relationships, Exploring Differences and Commonalities of Experience, Exploring and Dialoguing About Contentious Issues, and Alliance Building and Social Responsibility. In each phase, says DeRosa, students are both learners and teachers: “My favorite part of teaching this course is learning with and from our students. Students in the HESA program think deeply about the ways in which college campuses can be more inclusive. As a community, we are each able to contribute from our own unique perspectives and lived experiences.”
Castillo-Montoya reaffirms the importance of bringing one’s unique identities and experiences to the course. “My lived experience as a Latina, first-generation college graduate from a low-income background informs my teaching of this course. So does my research expertise in teaching and learning in higher education,” says Castillo-Montoya. “From these experiences, I understand that the content of the course isn’t something ‘out there’ to be learned; it is inside each of us as we unpack our own assumptions and understandings about ourselves, others, and society relative to race. Then we can consider how those things impact our practice”
For DeRosa, her experience working with Husky Sport, a campus-community partnership between UConn and a community in the North End of Hartford, has been important to her ability to complexly and responsibly co-teach this course. “I have had to examine my own positionality as a white woman engaged in work in a neighborhood mostly comprised of people of color. I’ve had to do a lot of the work that we are asking our students to do in the course, and this is work that I continue to invest in; the process of learning about and unlearning our own socialization never ends. It can be helpful to share the journey of understanding my own racial identity as I connect with students.”
Kayla Moses (she/her/hers, HESA ‘20), a student in the course this past fall, says she has learned a great deal about the impact of socialization and the power of her identity. “Within the context of this course, I became more aware of how the world around us, along with our personal stories, can impact the way that we think and develop,” says Moses. “I became more aware of my position as a woman of color and how that has affected my learning. This course allowed me to not only expand my understanding of how my identity can help me relate to my current and future students of color, but also to realize that sharing the load with white peers and colleagues is the only way that this work can be done effectively.”
Fellow student Steven Feldman (he/him/his, HESA ‘20) says that the course opened his eyes to important differences between one-on-one and group dialogue. “In one-on-one conversations, it is more difficult to avoid or disengage from conversations about race, but in group conversations, it is easier to fall into racialized scripts of behavior,” says Feldman. “When this happens, white folks like me tend to stay silent either because we do not feel like we have the tools to talk about race yet or because we are experiencing the discomfort of talking about race. This course challenged me to reflect on my identities and consider the consequences of my words and behaviors in group contexts.”
Castillo-Montoya and DeRosa, who just completed their third year teaching this course together, say it was their best co-teaching semester yet. Along with several of their students, they recently presented on the course at the 2019 ACPA (College Student Educators International) Annual Convention in Boston, Massachusetts. “Having this course makes UConn HESA one of only a handful of programs in the country that includes education on intergroup dialogue as part of their curriculum for future higher education and student affairs practitioners,” says Castillo-Montoya. “Practitioners in the field are increasingly competent in social justice and inclusion, and we want our graduates to be well prepared for their work with diverse students on diverse college campuses.”
“EDLR as a department has supported the development of this course from the outset,” says department head Dr. Jennifer McGarry. “We sent several faculty members to participate in the intergroup dialogue training at the University of Michigan, supported time and space to share about that experience, and encouraged the faculty who took part to integrate their learning with other opportunities to study, participate in, and lead dialogue about race. EDLR is committed to the course, the instructors, and the students: we see this teaching and learning as integral to who we are and what we value.” EDLR 5105 aligns with the Department of Educational Leadership’s mission to “inspire and cultivate innovative leaders for positive change” and Neag’s mission to develop leaders dedicated to improving education for all. The Department of Educational Leadership is proud to have talented teachers such as Dr. Milagros Castillo-Montoya and Danielle DeRosa doing the important work of opening and deepening dialogue on college campuses and beyond.
Alfredo Ramirez (HESA ‘19) didn’t begin his undergraduate career thinking he would eventually pursue a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs. But thanks to his undergraduate experience at Montclair State University, Ramirez realized he had a passion for the field. As an undergraduate, he was actively involved in a host of student clubs and organizations such as residential life, student government, student programming, the student leadership office, and many more. These experiences led Ramirez to his current path in UConn’s Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) master’s program.
Ramirez has a busy schedule in the HESA program, including coursework, a faculty-led mentorship, and a graduate assistantship. In his assistantship for the Department of Student Activities-Leadership and Organizational Development, Ramirez works one-on-one with UConn students as they complete their undergraduate experience and transition into the next phase of their lives. “I enjoy getting to support my students and watching their growth as leaders from day one of the semester to the last day of the year. There is a special component of watching some of my students graduate and prepare to take the next steps in their journey, and it means so much to me that they allow me to be a part of their journey,” says Ramirez.
Balancing school and the rest of his life can be a challenge, says Ramirez. At the end of the day, though, Ramirez is thankful for the opportunity to build relationships with other members of his HESA cohort and to improve himself as a professional in this field. Ramirez says that his HESA cohort, faculty, and his advisor Dr. Castillo-Montoya have been an enormous source of support, in school and beyond, as well as his family, fiancee, and friends.
While the majority of his time is dedicated to HESA, Ramirez makes sure to spend time with friends and family. Originally from New Jersey, Ramirez enjoys exploring New England’s unique attractions: watching the Red Sox at Fenway Park, eating an authentic lobster roll, and visiting local breweries. Ramirez’s favorite local spot is the popular diner the Cosmic Omelette in Manchester, CT. Ramirez also enjoys baking, reading, and theatre. Nevertheless, says Ramirez, “it’s important to come back to these little things– they ground you.”
To prospective HESA students, Ramirez notes that graduate school is not easy: “In order to really learn, you have to know that you want to come here. You have to really want it– it can’t just be for fun.” Ramirez likens graduate school to being behind the scenes at an amusement park: “when you step from a student leadership position out of undergrad into a masters student affairs program, you go from being a participant of all the great things a park has to offer to the person who is making the decisions which can be a tough transition for folks. The process though is worth it.”
When faced with challenges, Ramirez urges students to keep an open mind in all areas of their personal and professional lives. “Navigating the system can be difficult at times,” he says. “It’s important to maintain your own sense of self and allow your personal values to flourish in the many relationships you will build.” Ramirez reminds students to “not be afraid to change or ask yourself questions. This is what grad school is all about.”
For Denée Jackson (HESA ‘19), pursuing a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs was a natural choice. As an undergraduate student at UConn, she was deeply involved in campus organizations such as the African American Cultural Center and her sorority. This involvement led her to first an internship and then, upon graduation, a staff position in the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life. The opportunity to work with college-age students, says Jackson, is one she cherishes.
“Universities are where magic happens,” says Jackson. “Students are figuring out who they are, how they want to change their world, what they want to do with their little slice of the universe; it’s really cool to be a part of that.”
In the university setting and outside of it, Jackson is dedicated to pursuing equity and uplifting the most marginalized populations. One challenging aspect while she’s in school full-time is balancing her studies with her desire to do community organizing and other activist work. “I’ve had to put some of that on hold for now, at least outside of UConn,” says Jackson. “But I’m always trying to educate myself and stay up to date on social issues.”
One of Jackson’s most rewarding experiences as a HESA student was her practicum last fall with ScHOLA2RS House, which is a learning community for Black men on campus. The HESA practicum program gives HESA students the opportunity to gain experience with effective facilitation and the design of intentional learning environments. For Denée’s fall 2018 practicum she mentored a group of students in ScHOLA2RS House, connecting with them regularly to make sure they had the resources they needed. A highlight, says Jackson, was going with her students to the annual conference of the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C. She enjoyed the practicum so much that she’s stayed connected: for spring break this semester she will be joining ScHOLA2RS House for a study abroad week in Brazil.
Through Jackson’s successes as a student, life has not always been easy. Her mother, who she describes as her “biggest cheerleader and advocate,” passed away in November of 2018. “It’s going to be a challenge going into this next semester without her,” says Jackson. “But I have my brother and my dad, I have my friends.” The HESA community has been there for her, too. “Faculty, staff, my supervisors, my cohort,” she says. “They helped ground me and remember that there are bigger things beyond
grades, beyond HESA. They’ve been really supportive.”
Jackson’s current goal for her upcoming final semester (and beyond) is balance. “I’m working on looking at my life and my well-being holistically,” she says. “I’m trying to feed my soul on all levels. Cooking, going to the gym, doing yoga, meditating, travel: it can all seem like a stressor when I’m busy, but then when I do it, I find it helps so much. It becomes a pillar.”
As a HESA student, Jackson likes being able to design her experience to suit her goals. Many students move directly into their careers after completing a HESA master’s program, but Jackson is pursuing a different path: she plans to begin a doctoral program after graduation.
“There’s a path that’s sometimes considered to be ‘typical’ student affairs, but if your interests don’t align with that, it’s okay,” she says. “There are lots of ways to pursue what you’re interested in, and people will support you along the way.”
Congratulations to Katrina Camerato (‘19) whose group recently placed first for the Northeast Association of College and University Housing Officers (NEACUHO) New Professionals Case Study Competition! The annual competition, which takes place during the NEACUHO Annual Conference in October, offers new professionals (including qualified graduate students) an opportunity to put their skills to work and network with other new professionals.
This year’s case study was an “all-encompassing case for HESA practitioners,” says Katrina. While the case focused broadly on addressing increasing mental health issues in residential spaces, it also included obstacles such as budget cuts, an overworked staff, and issues with student satisfaction. Katrina was partnered with her group members on the first day of the conference, and they presented their proposal on the conference’s final day. The group proposed a year-long initiative that involved both campus and community partnerships in order tokeep their intervention low-cost.
Katrina says she has her HESA program assistantship at the UConn Department of Residential Life to thank for helping her develop the practical skills and knowledge that allowed her to succeed in the competition. “UConn has a flourishing Department of Residential Life, and I have really learned a lot from my time working with colleagues and students there,” says Katrina. She also credits her practica at Title IX offices for giving her practical experience, as well as her law and ethics class (EDLR 5119) for teaching her “how to properly read a case, find the holes, and propose solutions.”
For other students interested in getting involved in a case study, Katrina recommends reaching out to supervisors and colleagues. With her assistantship in Residential Life, Katrina was a member of NEACUHO and learned from professionals in her department that she could apply for funding through NEACUHO to cover conference costs. After receiving full funding for the three-day conference, she began looking into what else the conference had to offer and found the case study competition. “I highly encourage students to look deeper into their professional organizations,” says Katrina. “Whether they are involved with NODA, NASPA, ACPA, ACUHO-I, or another organization, many of these professional organizations offer these types of opportunities!”
Since February 2018, HESA student Patrick Rogers (’19) has been one of three graduate students nationally serving on the planning committee for the 2018 Annual Conference for NODA (the Association for Orientation, Transition, and Retention in Higher Education). The conference took place in San Diego last week, and Patrick checked in to tell us about his experience. Both the planning process and the conference itself, says Rogers, were fantastic learning and professional development experiences. “I was able to network with other professionals on the committee as well as throughout the country,” he says. “I learned so much about this field while also helping with on-site logistics. This was a great experience for me as I look forward to seeking a position working with first year students in the next few months!” Congratulations, Patrick!
The HESA community wishes the 2018 graduates the best of luck as they take this exciting step in their lives. We’re proud of who you were as UConn HESA students, and we can’t wait to see where you can’t wait to see what you do as alumni.
HESA Class of 2018:
Congratulations to the HESA Class of 2018! HESA celebrated commencement on May 4th in the Student Union Ballroom, and the full photo album can be accessed here.
On April 26th, HESA hosted its annual Assessment Day, the summation of a two-semester course series (EDLR 5102 and 5103) that gives first-year HESA students the opportunity to develop and hone important skills by conducting group assessment projects in service to the UConn community. The series constitutes a fundamental element of HESA’s unique core curriculum and commitment to scholarship in practice. This year, students split into four groups and tackled four distinct assessment projects (see table). We spoke with Dr. Christine Wilson, the course instructor, to learn more:
The point of the course is to help the students learn about assessment, evaluation, and research by engaging in a yearlong group assessment project that serves a department or program on campus. The first semester is dedicated to learning about foundations of assessment and research while completing a literature review for the projects, defining assessment questions, creating methodology, and completing IRB paperwork to assure that research with student participants is conducted legally and ethically. During the second semester, the students collect and analyze data, present their results and findings during an open presentation day, and complete an assessment paper.
Assessment Day, which takes place at the end of the semester, is a great way for the community to see the work that the students have completed, as well as the contributions of knowledge that they are making to the departments they have served with their projects. In addition, the students have a chance to present their projects in a formal setting. I have taught this course series three times, and Assessment Day is the highlight of the year.
Congratulations to the students of EDLR 5103 for their successful assessment projects, and the completion of their first year in the UConn HESA program.
As I prepare to wrap up my graduate school experience in the next 3 weeks, I really wonder in the most cliche way possible: where did the time go? It seems that the last two years of classes, assistantship experiences, practicum internships, and relationship building has flown by now that I’m nearing the end. UConn HESA students present a capstone oral examination at the conclusion of the program to be successfully hooded with the degree of Master of Arts. As many folks in #SAGrad programs complete some kind of culminating portfolio, it can be a valuable time of reflection and deep thought in an overwhelmingly busy final semester.