I hope this newsletter finds you and your loved ones well and that your start to 2022 has been full of wonderful moments.
There have been many great things happening in our Program, some that I wanted to share with you here.
Our pilot admissions process has been going well. We admitted approximately 65 students and recently hosted our Admitted
Students Weekend (ASW) on February 27th and February 28th. On February 27th we held sessions to introduce admitted students to our academic program and on February 28th they interviewed for HESA-Affiliated Graduate Assistantships. I look forward to sharing more about the outcome of our admissions pilot process during our fall newsletter. It is never too early to begin recruiting for our 2025 HESA cohort, so if you know of any prospective students who might be interested in joining our Program, please do have them contact me to coordinate a time to meet with them.
I am excited to share that we will be hosting a UConn HESA Alumni event later this month, Monday, March 21st 4pm-5pm ET. We plan to provide some program updates, the opportunity to connect with other alumni, and a panel titled “The Great Resignation in Higher Education.” Please let us know if you did not already receive an email invitation to this event. You can register for that event at this link. We encourage you to reach out to fellow HESA alums to attend together!
We have been working on some “HESA Stories” on our website to highlight different elements of our program. Our first story, on Equity and Inclusion in the HESA Program, highlights the perspectives of students, alumni, faculty, and instructor of how equity and inclusion are woven into our Program. More stories are forthcoming, so please stay in touch with us on social media. Speaking of our website, we are working to get that revised in the coming months, please visit our website in the coming months so you can see our new look.
A total of 17 students will be graduating from our Program this May and joining you as UConn HESA alumni. A special thank you to those alumni who are serving as a mentor to some of those students as part of our mentorship program.
We are currently collecting practicum opportunities for the fall 2022 term. Practica can be in-person or virtual, so if you are an alumni a far distance from Storrs, this is your opportunity to supervise and mentor a current UConn HESA student. To see more information about hosting a practicum opportunity and how to submit a potential site you can go here. If you have any inquiries about how to host a practicum opportunity, please contact Dr. Adam McCready.
We are gearing up for our UConn Gives campaign where we will be asking our alumni and friends of the Program to consider giving to the Sue Saunders fund. All the money raised goes to fund students’ professional development activities. This academic year those funds have allowed students to attend conferences, membership to associations, and other opportunities. To consider giving please visit this link.
Please do not forget about sharing all the great things happening in your worlds—good news, publications, promotions/new jobs, programs developed, and more. To let us know, please complete our HESA Insider. We plan to highlight some of these good news on our social media platform, website, and/or future newsletters.
Also, I encourage you to follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. If you are on Instagram, you can check our Takeover Tuesday series that highlight our students, alumni, and faculty.
Wishing you a positive conclusion to the 2021-2022 academic year, for those of you who are on an academic calendar!
We look forward to seeing you during our alumni event on March 21st.
Take care . . . cuídense!
Kenny Nienhusser, EdD (él, he, him, his)
Associate Professor and Program Coordinator, Higher Education and Student Affairs
The UConn HESA program is pleased to be participating in ACPA’s Virtual Convention as a whole program this year. Between March 1-17, ACPA 21 will offer a wide variety of educational, scholarly, and networking programs. ACPA21 aims to center attendees’ experience, focusing on building community, dedicated to a strong curriculum, and embracing the future of ACPA’s Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization.
ACPA-College Student Educators Internationalis the leading comprehensive student affairs association that advances student affairs and engages students for a lifetime of learning and discovery. A key focus of ACPA‘s work is the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization, through which the association directs resources, energy, and time toward addressing racial justice in student affairs and higher education around the world. Many of our HESA program faculty have been actively involved in ACPA, including in commissions and communities of practice. Since we signed up for whole-program registration in the fall, our students have also had memberships to ACPA and been able to participate in year-round programming.
Although we are excited for everything that ACPA 21 has to offer, we are particularly enthusiastic about the five programs that were accepted from faculty and students in the HESA program. We have provided a full list of these sessions below. Convention registrants can access all of them, and the other great convention content by logging in with your ACPA account information to the virtual convention platform.
Date & Time
Monday, March 8, 2021, 2:30-3:30pm
The Personal is Professional: Exploring Emerging Student Affairs Professionals’ Intimacies
Ashley N. Robinson, Sade Erinfolami, Tania Flores, & Trevor Madore
Monday, March 15, 2021; 1:15-2:15pm
Anti-Blackness and the Monolith Construction of Higher Education Latinidad
Monday, March 15, 2021; 3:45-4:45pm
An Institutional Transformation Approach to Recruiting Racially Minoritized Faculty
Milagro Castillo-Montoya, Ashley N. Robinson, Luz Burgos-López, & Jillian Ives
Tuesday, March 16, 2021; 2:30-3:30pm
Finding Our Voice: Combating Anti-Blackness and COVID-19 in Higher Education.
The theme for the 2020 Conference is Advancing Full Participation. The association noted that:
Advancing full participation requires dismantling racism, classism, sexism, and other forms of oppression that systematically disadvantage different individuals and groups. It requires that we construct and study “architecture of inclusion” (Sturm, 2006) at various decision points, across sectors, and between siloes. We need to understand the mechanisms most likely to foster inclusion and full participation across public, private, national and international contexts.
Indeed, the scholarship and research that our UConn scholars are sharing during the conference is aimed at advancing full participation, incorporating qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-methods approaches, and addressing wide-ranging topics from pedagogy and learning, to policy, to student development, to global education. If you are planning to participate in the annual ASHE conference, we hope that you will take time in your schedule to support and learn from the excellent work of our UConn scholars. You can refer to the compiled selection of sessions with UConn presenters, chairs, or discussants below. Of course, we recommend using the official conference schedule for the most accurate and up-to-date information.
Making Space for Community, Support and Healing in Racial Equity Higher Education Work
Fri, November 13
12:45 to 2:00pm EST
Council for Ethnic Participation Virtual Pre-Conference, Bulbancha Room
As we reach the end of Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), we want to highlight and celebrate some of our HESA faculty and educational leadership doctoral students’ recent contributions to scholarship, practice, and activism in higher education. Our faculty and students are uplifting Latinx voices and experiences, contributing to the policy and public discourses, and centering, celebrating, and pushing the boundaries of Latinidad in student affairs and higher education.
In this post, we highlight program faculty Dr. Milagros Castillo-Montoya and Dr. Kenny Nienhusser, recent graduate Dr. Joshua Abreu (‘20G), and current Ph.D. student Luz Burgos-López. Though all of their work integrates and spans research, public engagement, service, and activism, we have put specific publications and projects into those categories below. We hope that you will learn more about and engage with their work as we end this month of celebration and uplift, and well beyond.
Castillo-Montoya, M. & Verduzco Reyes, D. (2020) Learning Latinidad: The role of a Latino cultural center service-learning course in Latino identity inquiry and sociopolitical capacity, Journal of Latinos and Education, 19:2, 132-147, DOI: 10.1080/15348431.2018.1480374
Nienhusser, H. K., & Oshio, T. (2020). Postsecondary education access (im)possibilities for undocu/DACAmented youth living with the potential elimination of DACA. Educational Studies, 56(4), 366–388. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131946.2020.1757448
Nienhusser, H. K., & Oshio, T. (2019). Awakened hatred and heightened fears: “The Trump Effect” on the everyday lives of mixed-status families. Cultural Studies « Critical Methodologies, 19(3), 173–183. https://doi.org/10.1177/1532708618817872
While Dr. Nienhusser’s scholarship does focus on undocumented students and about 80% of undocumented immigrants are Latinx, he does not hold this as synonymous to Latinx. In other words, the undocumented community comprises a diverse membership of individuals from a wide array of racial/ethnic identities.
Dr. Nienhusser on the Hablemos de Política podcast. The podcast episode, which is in Spanish, though it did not focus on the U.S. Latinx population, provided an overview of the U.S. higher education system and current issues, including cost of college, international students in US higher education, and undocumented students. The podcast audience is for Spanish-speaking audiences in the US and abroad.
In a recent article in The Crime Report, which was informed by his dissertation research, Dr. Abreu critiques and provides recommendations for criminal justice education. Dr. Abreu highlights the importance of examining instructional equity in Criminal Justice education, “given that about 40 percent of criminal justice degree recipients are either Latinx or Black college students.”
Service and Activism
At UConn, Dr. Nienhusser serves as the faculty director for La Comunidad Intelectual, which is a learning community with a residential community component focused on supporting students who are a member of or have a strong appreciation for the Latinx diaspora.
Luz has also recently co-founded Colectivo Bámbula, a coalition of anti-racist Eduvists cultivating Puerto Rican liberation politics, artistry and scholarship with the intent to re-imagine and honor ancestral knowledge and work towards the decolonization of the past, present and future.
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.
Dr. Milagros Castillo-Montoya, Assistant Professor in the Higher Education and Student Affairs master’s program, has devoted her career to investigating, pursuing, and implementing inclusivity and access in higher education. Castillo-Montoya’s passion for educational equity stems from her own life. A first-generation Puerto Rican, she was the first in her family to earn a college degree and later graduate degrees. Raised in a family with very little financial means, education served as her entry to a new world. The further she advanced in her education, however, the less Castillo-Montoya found other students who looked or sounded like her or who shared similar lived experiences. During her undergraduate years, she committed herself to serving minoritized students and improving their college educational experiences in the hope that it would support their retention and graduation. A graduate of Rutgers University (B.A., M.S.W.) and Teachers College, Columbia University (Ed.D.), Castillo-Montoya’s research focuses on educational equity for historically underserved college student populations, with a particular emphasis on learning and development for Black and Latinx students.
As a researcher, she is the author of an impressive body of scholarship, and her excellence in research has earned her the Emerging Scholar award from ACPA-College Student Educators International. In 2016, Castillo-Montoya was the co-recipient of a grant from the White House Collaborative on Equity in Research on Women and Girls of Color. In June of 2018, she and Dr. Daisy Verduzco Reyes co-published a study about the impact of Latinx cultural centers on Latinx students’ identity development. And most recently, she is co-authoring a 2019 publication in New Directions for Teaching and Learning that explores how drawing on minoritized students’ funds of knowledge– what they know from their lived experiences– can support their academic learning.
As a teacher, Castillo-Montoya is an innovator who excels at connecting research and practice. She teaches the “Leading in a MulticulturalEnvironment” course (EDLR 5126), in which students engage in equity inquiry projects in which they focus on how practitioners’ beliefs and values shape their practices in support of minoritized college students. Through this project, students use a theory to analyze their findings and inform practice through recommendations for staff and/or faculty. Students sometimes even have the opportunity to share their findings with the offices they have studied in order to help them develop more equity-minded policies and practices. Central to this course, and indeed to all of Castillo-Montoya’s teaching, is an emphasis on humanizing the many inequities that students experience on campus.
She challenges her students to consider what it would mean to center minoritized students in their practice through everyday interactions as well as policies.
And at the heart of Castillo-Montoya’s teaching is a commitment to fostering meaningful connections with her students; in a 2016 article highlighting Castillo-Montoya’s work, HESA alumna Alessia Satterfield (‘16) noted: “There is more than just teaching going on in her classroom; there is constant love and support.”
Castillo-Montoya has a lot on the horizon: she has publications forthcoming in the Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, the Review of Higher Education, the International Journal of Qualitative Research in Education, and more. She currently serves as principal investigator for a research project entitled “Teaching Through Diversity,” in which she is investigating faculty professional development vis-a-vis diversity. Castillo-Montoya’s commitments to diversity and inclusion go far beyond the buzzwords: they are throughlines in her research, integral to her teaching, and central in her life. As the title of her co-authored 2012 article (“Thriving in Our Identity and in the Academy: Latina Epistemology as a Core Resource”) posits, Castillo-Montoya’s work aims to change the academy in ways that supports the most marginalized to thrive in their identities within and outside of the academy.
Dr. Kari Taylor, Assistant Professor-in-Residence and Program Director of the UConn HESA program, says her path in the field of higher education and student affairs started in her freshman year of college – although she didn’t know it at the time. As a high school student she had a passion for journalism, and she decided to leave her home state of Kansas to pursue an undergraduate degree in magazine journalism at the University of Missouri. As an incoming student, she took part in the university’s Freshman Interest Groups (FIGs) program, in which small groups of first-year students live in the same residence hall and take three classes together. She ended up loving the FIGs program, especially the faculty who served as facilitators within the FIGs . “When I got to college, I was looking for an experience of advanced learning, so I was struck by the number of teachers who were giving very standard lectures and then getting back to their research,” says Taylor. “The FIGs teachers were really focused on teaching and learning, and I appreciated that.”
By her junior year, Taylor had become a peer advisor in the FIGs program, and she found herself wanting to spend more time on those responsibilities than in the newsroom. “I liked reporting and writing, but I was always more excited thinking about how to have conversations with residents in my living-learning community, how to design the curriculum for the extended orientation course I was helping teach,” says Taylor. It was then that she started looking into a master’s degree in the field of higher education and student affairs.
Her search led her to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. The school was farther away from home than she ever imagined herself going, but it offered a unique graduate assistantship as the editorial assistant for a higher education and student affairs publication. In addition to her assistantship, the Miami curriculum allowed Taylor to specialize in college student development and college student cultures, a combination which she found “really exciting.” After graduating with her master’s degree, she took a position in Miami University’s Honors Program. She found the role to be diverse and dynamic, and because she kept “finding ways to grow and develop,” she chose to hone her professional practice there for seven years.
Toward the end of her tenure at Miami, Taylor found herself wrestling with some difficult questions. She found herself asking: how do diverse college students develop at a predominantly white institution? And are we doing enough to prepare students for a fulfilling life after college? “Students could do everything right: honors, straight A’s, a long list of co-curricular activities, and be well suited to go off to graduate school or pursue any position they wanted,” says Taylor, “but they hadn’t really thought about who they were or what they really valued.” High GPA alone, she realized, would not set students up for success in the “real world” and, in fact, might set them up to have some real challenges.
Her desire to investigate these questions further led her to a Ph.D. program at The Ohio State University. She started the program thinking she wanted to return to undergraduate administration, but along the way she found herself drawn to preparing graduate students for the field and conducting research. As she prepared to return to full-time work within higher education and student affairs, she started looking for a faculty position within a cohort-based master’s program that emphasized the connection between classroom and practice. UConn met this criterion, and the program director role had the component of leadership and vision-setting for a program that excited her. So in the fall of 2017, Dr. Taylor came to UConn.
Broadly, Taylor’s research focuses on college students’ processes of learning and meaning-making. Her Ph.D. dissertation, which was a case study involving a civic engagement course, investigated students’ capacity to develop what scholars term “critical consciousness.” Developing students’ capacity for critical consciousness, says Taylor, means not only helping students learn about who they are but also about who they are in society, amidst systems of privilege and oppression. “I hope my research helps administrators understand that there’s a difference between promoting intercultural understanding and critical consciousness,” says Taylor.
“We focus a great deal on intercultural understanding, perhaps because it can be a little less politically charged. But I hope my research will show that critical consciousness is equally important in preparing our students for the diverse democracies that they will live and learn in, both in and beyond college.”
At UConn, Taylor continues to enrich the field of higher education and students affairs with her scholarship and teaching. The through line of all of her work, says Taylor, is learning. The specifics, however, are always evolving, and she knows that she won’t pursue the same topic for the rest of her life. Staying curious and relevant is crucial to who she is as a scholar, a practitioner, and a teacher.
“We’re always trying to prepare students for a world that isn’t yet here, that we don’t yet live in,” says Taylor. “This places a responsibility on us and also an opportunity to keep asking new and different questions.”
Like many in the field of higher education and student affairs, Dr. Gerardo Blanco traces his career choice back to his undergraduate years. As a very involved undergraduate student, Blanco says, he found mentors who helped him realize that ensuring a positive experience for college students could be a profession in itself. “What was a little different for me than for many others in my field is that pursuing this pathway required international mobility,” says Blanco.
Blanco is originally from Mexico and earned his Bachelor of Arts in Educational Studies from Universidad de las Américas Puebla, an institution he says was rich with student organizations and campus activism. Nevertheless, once he decided that he wanted to pursue further study and a career in higher education and student affairs, he realized that his options in Mexico were limited.
“In my experience,” explains Blanco, “international mobility and the pursuit of higher education have been intertwined.”
Beginning his Master of Education (M.Ed.) at the University of Maine was a crucial moment for Blanco. He completed his M.Ed. in 2007 and continued to deepen his New England perspective at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he completed his Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) in 2013. New England, he says, holds a special significance for him both because of his personal experience and the richness of education in the region.
After earning his Ed.D., Blanco spent five years as an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Massachusetts Boston and spent the summers of 2016, 2017, and 2018 as a visiting professor at Shaanxi Normal University in Xi’an, China. This fall, Dr. Blanco joined UConn’s Neag School of Education, where he brings his expertise to the Higher Education and Student Affairs master’s program.
As a teacher, Dr. Blanco believes that students are in charge of their own learning, and highlights that the relational aspect is the most rewarding part of his work. “Students know what they need,” says Blanco. “My role is facilitating interactions that promote reflection and learning.”
Broadly, Blanco’s research looks at how decision-makers understand quality in the context of higher education, particularly the relationship between quality and internationalization. That relationship might appear obvious on the surface, he says, since the number of international students often plays a role in ranking universities, but for Blanco it’s deeper than that. “My research asks questions such as: How do we understand higher education as an international endeavor?,” says Blanco, “And how does that connect with our ideas about quality?”
“I think higher education has a great potential for empowering people and interrupting inequality, and I’m very interested in how this connects with the international mobility of programs, of people, of ideas.”
At first glance, says Blanco, his focus on assessment, accreditation, and quality can sound a bit dry. But to him this focus on the “everyday” is precisely what he finds so fascinating. “Most of us spend the majority of our careers in tasks that feel everyday, routine, even taken-for-granted,” says Blanco. “Given the volume of these experiences, I think it’s worthwhile to explore them. When we look very closely at the work that we do, we can carry out that work in a way that is more thoughtful, more self-aware.”
Looking ahead, Blanco is excited to pursue new research exploring the experiences of international students and scholars. The topic is not only personally important to him; he’s also interested in the intersections of being an international student or scholar with other personal experiences, like career decisions and immigration status. “We tend to explore all those separate topics, but not always in dialogue with each other,” says Blanco.
The connection between scholarship and practice is central to Dr. Blanco, and he maintains a strong professional network that helps him stay connected with the issues that are pressing for scholars and practitioners across the field. “I always have practice and practitioners in mind as I am conceptualizing a research study,” says Blanco. He also hopes that his research process itself can create a space for reflection for the busy professionals who work in assessment and institutional research. “When I’m conducting interviews, it’s not rare for people to say to me, ‘oh that’s interesting, no one has ever asked me what I think about my work,’” says Blanco. “I hope that the interviews and the research process themselves can be an opportunity for people to reflect about their practice.”
“The more we reflect, the more we can transform our practice as professionals.”
The word students often use to describe Dr. H. Kenny Nienhusser is “passionate.” From the very beginning of his career, passion has been a driving force for Nienhusser. His first professional position was as a Residence Hall Director at Stony Brook University in New York, and it was there that the idea of a career in higher education and student affairs occurred to him.
“It was the first seed of thinking, wow, there’s this whole field that exists,” says Nienhusser. “The residential program I worked in was very focused on making the bridge between theory and practice … it was very deliberate in thinking about how professionals could better meet the needs of students by making ourselves well-informed practitioners. This was achieved by reading scholarly work. And that was the first time I thought: wouldn’t it be cool to one day publish in one of these journals I’m reading, to help inform practice?”
He was a Hall Director at Stony Brook for three years while he worked simultaneously on his master’s degree in social work (MSW). In 2001, he completed his MSW and decided he was ready for more. “I come from Latino immigrant parents and education is a very important
value in my community,” Nienhusser says. “Education was always something I wanted to further pursue.” By this point, his passion for higher education and student affairs was growing. He accepted a job at Teachers College, Columbia University and soon after that began his doctoral studies there.
Over the next nearly 10 years, Nienhusser ‘chipped away’ at his Ed.D. while working full-time at Teachers College, first as Assistant Director of Housing and then as Director of Academic
Administration. Since completing his Ed.D. in 2011, he has taught at Teachers College and University of Hartford, and now brings his expertise to UConn.
Dr. Nienhusser’s research focuses broadly on the high school to college transition of underrepresented minoritized populations in higher education, and especially the undocumented and DACAmented communities. DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a U.S. federal program that provides a stay of deportation for some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16. Recently, Dr. Nienhusser has been investigating how higher education professionals obtain awareness, knowledge, and skills in relation to issues that affect undocu/DACAmented students’ postsecondary education access.
The complexity of this question, although challenging, is also one of the most compelling parts of his research, says Nienhusser. “It’s a complicated and fascinating phenomenon to examine,” he says. “You’re tapping into federal policies, state policies, and institutional policies. And you’re also looking at how these policies are implemented at the individual level by education institutional agents. The financial aid officer, the admissions counselor who’s sitting behind a desk working: how do they make meaning of this complex policy environment along with their personal beliefs and professional values?”
Dr. Nienhusser says he hopes his work informs and supports higher education institutional agents as they try to meet the needs of the undocu/DACAmented student population.
“What undocu/DACAmented students are living through is so very troubling,” says Nienhusser. “If I can make a positive impact at even one or two institutions, I’m happy.”
The reach of Dr. Nienhusser’s work extends far beyond one or two institutions, however. Just as he once imagined during his time at Stony Brook University, he has published in the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, the Journal of College Admission, Research in Higher Education, Community College Review, The Review of Higher Education, among others.
His current project is something he says he’s really excited about: working with a group of scholars in the field to disseminate work related with the undocu/DACAmented community. For this project, the Association for the Study of Higher Education’s (ASHE) Presidential Commission on Undocumented Immigrants (of which Nienhusser is co-chair) UndocuScholars (at UCLA), and UConn’s Neag School of Education have partnered to create a research brief dissemination series this academic year, and Nienhusser is kicking it off this October with a Twitter chat regarding his brief, “Implementation of Public and Institutional Policies for Undocu/DACAmented Students at Higher Education Institutions.”
When asked what advice he would give to students and emerging practitioners, Dr. Nienhusser’s passion for his work once again shows through. “Never stop learning,” he says without hesitation. “I always say that to my students: I’m learning with you. It is so important that as practitioners we never stop learning.”
Dr. Nienhusser’s Twitter chat (“Implementation of Public and Institutional Policies for Undocu/DACAmented Students at Higher Education Institutions”) will take place on October 16, 2018 at 11 a.m. PST. Those interested can RSVP here, join the conversation using the hashtag #UndocEdu, and follow Dr. Nienhusser on Twitter at @kennynien.