Higher Education and Student Affairs Master’s Program
Class of 2025 Cohort
Undergrad: University of Connecticut
Major: Human Development & Family Sciences
Minors: Business Fundamentals, Human Rights, Women's Gender & Sexuality Studies
Hometown: Stratford, CT
Assistantship/Employment: UConn Hartford Academic Achievement Center
Bio: As-Salaam-Alaikum! My name is Fatima Ali. I am a Pakistani Muslim American immigrant woman. I graduated in May 2020 from the University of Connecticut with a Bachelor's of Arts in Human Development and Family Sciences with minors in Human Rights, Business Fundamentals, and Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies. I took a nice break after college and spent time with my family during the pandemic. I traveled to Pakistan in 2021 experienced many pivotal moments. I married the love of my life, and had my reception last year in May 2022. I have met wonderful people a long the way while working many different roles. All of my experiences ignited a beautiful period of self actualization.
When I leave this earth, I want to be remembered as compassionate, hardworking, articulate, a lifelong learner, and an individual who made a positive contribution to society. The field of Higher Education combines my passions, skills, and dreams into one space. Working in higher education will allow me to support the next generation of leaders into achieving their personal and professional goals. I am so grateful to be apart of the HESA program and excited for what the future holds.
Undergrad: Vassar College
Hometown: Amherst, Mass
Assistantship/Employment: Leadership & Organizational Development
Bio: Hi! My name is Kelly Bernatzky (she/her/hers) and I grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts. I went to Vassar College for my undergraduate degree, where I studied Anthropology and minored in Education and Greek/Roman Studies. While at Vassar, I served as a Student Fellow in Residential Life (similar to an RA) and was involved in multiple student organizations. The Vassar Residential Life model emphasizes restorative practices & non-violent communication as well as peer mentorship, which was influential in my undergraduate experience and inspired my decision to pursue a career in higher education.
Between graduating from Vassar and entering the HESA program, I held professional roles as the Program Coordinator for a college preparation program primarily serving low-income & first-generation students in the Poughkeepsie area, as a Development & Communications Associate at a non-profit organization, and most recently as an Area Coordinator in Residential Life at Mount Holyoke College. As a higher education practitioner, it is my goal to implement and sustain holistic, trauma-informed, and intersectional approaches to supporting students as they navigate their undergraduate experience. I love learning and growing in the HESA program among equity-driven colleagues who share aspirations of creating more inclusive and supportive institutions of learning.
Undergrad: SUNY Cobleskill
Major: Animal Science BT, Liberal Arts & Sciences: Psychology AA
Hometown: Croghan, NY
Assistantship/Employment: Pre-College Summer
Bio: Hey everyone!! My name is Kelsey and I use she/her pronouns. I am originally from a small town in Northern New York called Croghan. I graduated in May of 2023 with a BT in Animal Science and an Associates in Psychology with minors in Agricultural Education and Honors. Throughout my time in undergrad, I found myself involved in many different ways on campus, and the connections I made with professional and student staff alike that helped me discover my love for student life.
The most impactful opportunities I was apart of were being a Senior Resident Assistant and Resident Assistant for three years, in addition to an Orientation Leader, VP and President of the It’s On Us Chapter, Campus Engagement Leader, and Multicultural Educator. Through this work, I’ve discovered my passion for advocating for students in addition to teaching them the tools they need in order to advocate for themselves. As a first-generation student, I have developed a passion for helping first year students navigate the transition to college and supporting them through one of the biggest changes in their young lives. In my free time, I enjoy hammocking, hanging out with my cat, spending time with friends and family, listening to podcasts/music, bingeing my latest tv show obsession, or making my lastest Target run!
Undergrad: College of the Holy Cross
Major: English with Minors in Education & Middle Eastern Studies
Hometown: Port Orchard, WA
Assistantship/Employment: Residential Life Student Welfare
Bio: Hi! My name is Sarah Cooper (she/her) and I am from a small town outside of Seattle, WA. I come from a military family so I have lived all over the country, but I call Washington State my home! In my free time, I like to spend time with my friends, FaceTime my family way too much, and play games on my Switch! I recently graduated from the College of the Holy Cross with my Bachelor of Arts degree in English.
While at Holy Cross, I was involved in the Office of Residence Life and Housing as a Head Resident Assistant and Summer Intern, served as a Peer Career Assistant at the Center for Career Development, and was involved in the Student Government Association! These experiences and the mentors I gained along the way ultimately drove me to the field of Higher Education. I hope in my future to serve as a mentor for students to help them be successful in their college journey!
Undergrad: University of Bridgeport
Major: English, Creative Writing
Hometown: Bridgeport, CT
Assistantship/Employment: African American Cultural Center (AACC)
Bio: I’m Lex Greene (they/she). I am a multimedia artist and aspiring English professor within higher education. Within my poetry and academic writing, I combine my knowledge of language systems, literary terminology, and poetic structures with my knowledge of traditional classical studies and contemporary psychological and philosophical theories. I hope to use my unique voice as a writer and positionality as an educator to expose the oppressive epistemological frameworks of which comprise our daily speech and behavioral patterns.
My creative backgrounds in music, performing arts, makeup artistry, and poetry inspire passions for activism, digital learning, and grassroots community-building. During my time as a graduate assistant at the AACC, I have introduced Ink Drip creative writing workshops as well as strategized the re-branding of The Vision, the Black Arts & Wellness journal. I hope to provide students with the language and tools to creatively express themselves—and provide social and cultural tools for navigating the higher education system. As someone who is the product of the undergraduate transfer process, I hope to inspire students with my non-linear educational journey. My mission is to remind students that they are divine architects of their academic careers, capable of infinite methods of academic and artistic expression.
Undergrad: University of Connecticut
Major: Allied Health Science
Hometown: Kingston, NH
Assistantship/Employment: Center for Students with Disabilities
Bio: Hi all, I’m Ruth (she/her) and I am from a small town in southern New Hampshire. I graduated from UConn in 2022 with a B.S. in Allied Health Science. Coming into college, I intended to pursue a career as a Physician Assistant. However, upon getting involved with UConn’s First Year Programs and Academic Achievement Center, I developed an interest in working with college students. I also enjoyed being involved with UConn’s Adventure Center and Women’s Center.
Currently, I have a graduate assistantship with UConn’s Center for Students with Disabilities - specifically their Beyond Access program. I’m passionate about learning about, working with, and advocating for students with disabilities.
In my free time I enjoy listening to music, going to the movies, reading, spending time outside, and hanging out with my loved ones <3
Undergrad: Louisiana State University (LSU)
Major: Political Science & Sociology
Hometown: Watson, LA
Assistantship/Employment: Major Events and Programs; Department of Student Activities
Bio: Hi Everyone! My name is Sara Martin (she/her). I was born and raised in Louisiana and graduated with dual degrees in political science and sociology from Louisiana State University (LSU) in May 2023. During my time at LSU, I was a student in the Ogden Honors College where I was a part of the Louisiana Service and Leadership (LASAL) program and the director of the honors college service organization Project 225.
I became interested in the higher education field as an LSU student employee. I first became a Student Coordinator of the Student Success Help Desk under the LSU Office of Retention and Student Success where I aided LSU students and supporters in any LSU related questions. Under this same office I transitioned into the role of Orientation Team Leader where I helped to program orientation for incoming LSU students and managed a team of orientation leaders. I decided to pursue a masters in higher education because I want to help students make the most of their college experience. I think it is a great place to explore yourself and your goals! I chose UConn because of HESA’s focus on experiential learning through the graduate assistantship and practicums.
Undergrad: University of Connecticut
Major: Speech and Language Pathology
Hometown: Salem, MA
Assistantship/Employment: Student Activities
Bio: Hey everyone- my name is Sophie (she/her) and I grew up in the UConn area, but spent the last decade moving around the US before returning home. During that time I attended the University of Colorado Denver as a Fine Arts and Psychology major, and later transferred to UConn and ended with a degree in Speech Pathology in 2016.
When I started working in the Student Activities department, I was instantly attracted to the student-facing aspects of the work. I find joy in problem-solving alongside students, helping them navigate complex institutional structures and overcome systemic barriers. My philosophy centers around an assets-based approach, valuing individuals from all backgrounds and walks of life, and I firmly believe that there is no singular definition of what a scholar should look like. Higher education should serve as a platform for students to explore their passions and grow holistically. I am thrilled to be working alongside passionate faculty and classmates who share this vision.
In my free time, I enjoy dance/ movement classes, getting engulfed in philosophical debates on reddit, and being outside with my dog and my two-year-old son.
Undergrad: University of Connecticut
Hometown: Stamford, CT
Assistantship/Employment: Office of Leadership and Organizational Development
Bio: Hi everyone! My name is Gaby (she/her) and I am originally from Stamford, Connecticut. I graduated from UConn in May of 2023 with my undergraduate degree in English with a focus in teaching as well as literary histories and legacies.
During my time in undergrad I had the opportunity to work in several high school districts near the Storrs campus which exposed me to the most amazing and intelligent students from all different backgrounds. The time that I spent over several semesters serving as a teacher's aid caused me to pursue HESA because I am passionate about education and working towards equity within these spaces. Additionally, as a first generation college student and Peruvian-American individual, my hope in the future is to support other Latinx identifying students along their journey in higher education. Outside of my academic pursuits, I enjoying spending time with my family and my dog Cubby, as well as listening to bachata music!
Undergrad: University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)
Major: Sociology, LGBTQ Studies Minor
Hometown: Riverside, CA
Assistantship/Employment: Rainbow Center
Bio: Hello! My name is Lene [pronounced like “Lean” in “Lean on me”], my pronouns are they/them. I grew up in the Greater Los Angeles area, and moved to LA in 2017 for my undergrad at UCLA. I graduated in June 2021, then continued living in LA and working full time until moving out here to Connecticut! In my full time roles before coming to UConn, I worked for Snapchat and for the LA County Department of Public Health, Division of HIV and STD Programs, working on health education projects for community members and healthcare providers in Los Angeles.
At UCLA, I worked in UCLA’s LGBTQ Campus Resource Center, UCLA Residential Life, the UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television, and as a Campus Ambassador for GLAAD. All of these roles are where I found my passion for working in the HESA field, and I especially want to focus on student identity development and equity-focused support, advocacy, and community-building among queer and trans students. In the period between UCLA and UConn, I grew a passion for supporting the needs of students at community colleges. Now at UConn, I'm happy to be returning to this work, both at the Rainbow Center where I oversee the Center's peer mentoring program and serve on a task force dedicated to inclusion, retention, and support of trans and nonbinary students interested in Experiential Global Learning (or study abroad).
I am deeply passionate about LGBTQIA2S+ representation in TV, Film, and Music. I've led discussion groups, written articles, and guested on podcasts and panels on the subject! I'm so excited to be at UConn to learn from the students I work with in my graduate assistantship, as well as the other students in my cohort.
Undergrad: University of Mary Washington
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Assistantship/Employment: Human Rights Institute- Human Rights and Action Learning Community
Bio: Hi everyone! My name is Arianna Rodriguez (she/her), I’m a first generation student originally from Brooklyn, NY. I graduated from the University of Mary Washington in 2022 with my bachelors in Sociology and I also double-majored in Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies. During undergrad, I was really involved in a number of different organizations and held some on-campus jobs as a student. It was through the job I held my senior year where I got to help create a program for incoming first year students that I discovered my interest in connecting with students and working within student affairs.
This past year, I spent working back at my undergrad in their Student Activities office, where I got to lead their leadership program for first year students. I learned a lot about Student Affairs and decided that this was a career that I wanted to pursue. My goal is to create more spaces where first generation and BIPOC students can feel empowered and safe within higher education.
During my free time I love to read, romance and fantasy are two of my favorite genres, bake and cook! I also really enjoy writing when I’m not doing class work or work for my GAship!
Undergrad: Merrimack College
Major: English & Teacher Education
Hometown: Palmer, MA
Assistantship/Employment: Office of Institutional Equity (OIE)
Bio: Hi all, my name is Lily Schaefer-Calderon (she/her). I graduated from Merrimack College in May 2023 with a degree in English and Teacher Education and a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies. During my undergraduate studies, my time was marked by many experiences that were hugely influential in my life and ultimate decision to pursue higher education. From being an Executive Board member for the Admissions Ambassador program, volunteering as a DEI Ambassador, serving as the Dean of Students Intern in Community Standards, to working as an Orientation Coordinator, I was heavily involved in the community. Following graduation, I completed an internship at New York University in their Office of Residential Life assisting and supporting the summer program residents and RAs in Founders Hall.
I joined UConn HESA not just to further my education, but to continue my journey as a lifelong learner who aims to pursue diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in all my future endeavors.
In my free time I can be found curled up on the couch with a book, in the kitchen trying a new recipe, or spending time with my biggest supporters, aka my family!
Undergrad: Roger Williams University
Major: Psychology & Elementary Education
Hometown: Tolland, CT
Assistantship/Employment: UConn School of Engineering Advising Team
Bio: Hi! I’m Jen Steszewski and I am from Tolland, CT. I graduated from Roger Williams University with a B.A. in Psychology and Elementary Education. After graduation, I served as an elementary school teacher and a service coordinator at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston Salem, NC. During my time as a service coordinator, I counseled families and the oversight of services for my assigned caseload ensuring equal access to services for children as outlined in federal law IDEA, Part C.
Upon relocating back to Connecticut, I began working at UConn as an office assistant. I had a passion for coaching and mentoring students and after a year as an office assistant, I took a position in the School of Engineering here at UConn directly supporting students. Over the past few years, my position has evolved and I am currently an Advising Program Coordinator and co-manage the Engineering Peer Advisor Program along with many other student support services within Engineering. In addition, I am a mom of two boys who bring so much joy to my life.
I am proud to be a member of the UConn HESA community! I look forward to building upon my knowledge of best practices within higher education and implementing strategies in my career that directly impact student success.
Undergrad: Southern Connecticut State University
Major: Interdisciplinary Studies: Concentrations in Psychology & Exercise Science
Hometown: Wallingford, CT
Assistantship/Employment: Asian/Asian American Cultural Center
Bio: Hi there everyone! My name is Elisa Tolentino (she/her/hers), and I am a proud Latinx (Dominican) student from Wallingford, CT!
My undergraduate journey into Student Affairs in my path of being a being a Resident Advisor, Orientation Ambassador, Special Projects, and Research Intern in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, along with working in Student Conduct and being a part of the Anti-Bias Task Force, have led to my desire to create meaningful and mindful positive change in the communities I enter! My passion for pursuing Higher Education stems from challenges in witnessing and experiencing injustice and having my undergraduate journey be super nonlinear.
Please have faith and trust in yourself as all things will work out the way they were meant to be! My main goal is to push positive messages forward based on intentionality and create brave spaces for individuals to use their differences and life barriers as tools to connect in acknowledgment and acceptance.
In my free time, I love to spend time with my partner, family, and friends! I love shopping, all things health and wellness, along with binging Netflix shows and taking way too many cooking tips from Gordon Ramsay!
Undergrad: University of Connecticut
Major: Psychological Sciences with Minors in Crime and Justice & Human Development and Family Sciences
Hometown: San Juan, PR
Assistantship/Employment: Dean of Students Office
Bio: My name is Alanna Torres-Laboy (She/her/Ella), and I am a proud Afro-Latina from San Juan, Puerto Rico. I was raised in Hartford, CT for most of my life.
I recently graduated from the University of Connecticut in May 2023. During my time as an undergrad, I was involved in various roles. I worked as a Senior Resident Assistant (SRA) for the La Comunidad Intelectual Learning Community for three years. I became a sister of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc., and served as the Chapter Recruitment and Retention Advisor. I worked as a Peer Advisor in the Psychological Sciences Undergraduate Advising Office. Lastly, I was lucky enough to work at the UConn Child Development Laboratories in the Infant Blue/Green Room which was truly rewarding. Working as an SRA in the only Latinx cultural learning community on campus brought me great joy and purpose. As someone who deals with multiple intersecting forms of marginalization, I understand the importance of enhancing the student experience specifically, for those with marginalized backgrounds. I have spent hours counseling students who face issues with their identity, socioeconomic background, lack of academic support, and difficulty navigating within the collegiate environment.
One of my many gifts is “The ability to make people feel like home”. This is why I put more effort into creating a safe environment where students are supported culturally, socially, psychologically, and academically. Within higher education, I intend to create a holistic approach to supporting students that accounts for their various identities and experiences. Outside of HESA, I love to dance, spend quality time with family, visit my amazing sorority sisters, read, play with my dog, and cook/eat. Ask me about my goddaughter and nephew, I can talk for hours.
ANDREA FAITH YBANEZ
Undergrad: University of Connecticut, Hartford Campus
Major: Honors BA Psychological Sciences, Minor in HDFS
Hometown: Plainville, CT; Cebu, Philippines
Assistantship/Employment: Student Health & Wellness: Health Promotion Team & School of Engineering
Bio: Kumusta! My name is Andrea Faith (she|her). I was born in Cebu, Philippines and migrated to the United States with my mom when I was 5 years old. I graduated from UConn Hartford with an Honors B.A. in psychological sciences and a minor in human development and family sciences.
During my undergraduate career at UConn, I held many on-campus positions including: Vice President of the UConn Hartford USG, President of the Asian American Pacific Islander Association, President of the UConn Hartford Tennis Club, Vice President of the Student for Diversity Alliance, Orientation Leader, and Academic Advisor. As an immigrant, I value the opportunities that UConn provided for me to engage in my growth as a leader.
When I am not studying, I love engaging with my community. I volunteer with the Bristol B&G Club as a performer during our annual fundraiser shows and on my weekends I coach junior tennis clinics in my hometown. As a form of stress relief, I like to go shopping with my best friends, listen to music, play the piano, and sing (karaoke machine readily available – Filipinos wya?).
I am beyond excited to join the HESA program and grow with this cohort!
Class of 2024 Cohort
ERIKA BECERRA GUTIERREZ
Undergrad: Berry College
Major: Communication with concentration in Public Relations
Hometown: Calhoun, GA
Assistantship/Employment: Student Support Services (SSS)
Bio: Hi! My name is Erika (ella/she/her/hers), and I am from Georgia. I graduated from Berry College in Rome, Georgia in May of 2022 with a degree in communication and concentration in public relations. Outside of student affairs, my past employment and expertise falls largely within the realm of social media marketing.
As an undergraduate student, I was involved most heavily as a student coach on the speech and debate team on my campus, and later co-founded the first-generation college students' club. As a first-gen student and Latina, my interests within student affairs mainly involve providing career development programming and advising support to first-gen and undocumented students.
Currently, I am the graduate assistant for UConn's Student Support Services program, where I provide holistic support to first-gen and low-income students. I love my job because it allows me to work with bright and compassionate professionals and students.
Undergrad: Ohio University
Major: Visual Communication: Interactive Multimedia
Hometown: Milton Mills, NH
Assistantship/Employment: Leadership & Organizational Development
Bio: Hello everyone! My name is Ellie Burke and I use she/they pronouns. I grew up in a tiny town along the New Hampshire/Maine border, but I’ve spent the past eight years living in Southern and Central Ohio. I attended Ohio University for my undergrad degree in interactive media (web design) and graduated in December 2021.
I started working with Ohio University’s undergraduate orientation programs in the summer of 2019, and quickly started to realize how much I enjoyed working with students. Throughout my time with orientation, I learned a lot about myself and grew exponentially as a student leader and an individual. When I started working with orientation, I was incredibly quiet and shy, and by the time I worked my last summer program in June of 2021, I was confident enough in myself that I was able to present our orientation welcome presentation.
After being introduced to higher-ed themed student leader roles on campus, I started finding other opportunities to be a mentor to students. I worked with our Learning Community Programs and was a peer mentor with one of our multicultural student support offices. Additionally, I spent a lot of time as a student worker with our First-Year and Student Transitions office, supporting our FYE programs. I enjoy working with students and connecting them with resources to be successful on campus throughout their time in their programs.
Undergrad: University of Rhode Island
Major: Psychology and Gender & Women's Studies
Hometown: Cumberland, RI
Assistantship/Employment: Center for Career Development
Bio: Hello there! My name is Avery (they/them/theirs) and I am from Cumberland, Rhode Island. I graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 2020, where I majored in Psychology and Gender & Women’s Studies. In 2019 I began working for the Gender and Sexuality Center at URI, starting my student affairs journey. While there, I facilitated the Trans and Non-binary support group, co-chaired the Trans Inclusion Committee, and had the opportunity to help plan and facilitate various programs and events. I want to continue to create spaces in which college students can develop while being able to be their full, true selves fearlessly. My long term goal is to work as a leader in the field of Diversity and Inclusion in higher education.
My undergraduate studies and post-graduate experience have greatly informed my passions and approach to student affairs. An overwhelming amount of students with marginalized and intersecting identities report feeling unwelcome and unsafe on college campuses, which impacts their ability to grow into themselves, their studies, and too often can lead to them discontinuing their education. It is crucial to remove barriers to success in higher education and accessibility rooted in racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and classism if we want to create a more just and equitable world.
In my down time I like to play video games and tabletop games, read fantasy and horror novels, listen to music, and cook good food to share with my loved ones. I’m beyond excited to start my journey in the UConn HESA program to learn the tools I need to support the wellbeing and growth of college students and make connections along the way! Go Huskies!
Undergrad: UC Berkeley
Major: Social Welfare
Hometown: Montebello, CA
Assistantship/Employment: Puerto Rican and Latin American Cultural Center (PRLACC)
Bio: Hi all! My name is Ulises (he/him/his/él). I am a first generation Latino (Mexican) student from Los Angeles, California. During my first year of undergrad, I lived in a residential theme program that housed 30 self-identified Latinx students. That space became my home away from home and I had the honor of serving as the Resident Assistant for the program for three years. I also worked in orientation, public service, and multicultural student development while at UC Berkeley. Following graduation, I studied abroad in Barcelona for six weeks before returning home. During this time, I served as a case manager for a non-profit organization assisting low-income, marginalized families with child care subsidy and then worked at a high school as a resource navigator.
I am eternally grateful for the abundance of love and support I have received throughout my time in (and away from) education and I am excited to be back! My purpose in this field is to facilitate introductory conversations on language and social identity development and challenge one another through honest self-reflection and critical dialogue. Consequently, I hope we can curate our biases, bring communities together, generate a sense of belonging for all students, and support their holistic development and well-being.
Undergrad: Ohio University
Hometown: Germantown, MD
Assistantship/Employment: UConn Law School: Graduate & International Programs
Bio: Hi! I’m Raquel Gleicher and I am originally from Germantown, MD. I graduated from Ohio University with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication studies, minor in Journalism, Diversity Studies certificate and Social Media certificate. I am a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) which has cultivated my passion for people and minimizing barriers in communication.
During undergrad, I was a Hiring Manager in Culinary Services where I discovered my interest in connecting with students. Upon graduation, I moved to Cape Cod, MA where I was an Assistant Innkeeper at Luxury Boutique B&B. While I was welcoming guests across the globe, I pursued a TEFL (teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate.
Amidst the pandemic, I became an online English teacher to students in China (although my students were the true teachers). A few months later, I was blessed with the opportunity to serve as the Academic Coordinator to the Provost and Faculty Secretariat to the Faculty Senate at the College of Charleston. It is not one experience, but the accumulation of all that has led me to pursue a career in Student Affairs. I am enlightened to be a part of the HESA community and to learn how to foster an accessible and transformative student experience.
I am a lifelong learner of tarot, astrology, and meditative practices. When I am not binge watching the newest reality dating show (bad habit, I know) I’m in nature or planning my next adventure!
Undergrad: University of Connecticut
Major: Psychological Science and Communication
Hometown: Farmington, CT/ Manila, Philippines
Assistantship/Employment: Pre-College Summer
Bio: Hello! My name is Megan (she/hers) and I grew up in the Philippines before moving to Connecticut. I graduated with a B.A in Psychological Sciences and Communication, and a minor in Global Studies from UConn. (“Students Today, Huskies Forever”, right?) I was heavily involved on campus, including the Undergraduate Student Government, Greek Life, multiple mentoring programs, and various organizations under the Asian American Cultural Center. Being active within the cultural center played a significant role during my undergraduate years since my culture and roots are an integral part of my identity. To wrap up my senior year, I conducted my independent study on the diaspora of Filipino Nurses and their role during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
When I wasn’t running around campus, I was exploring Europe during my study abroad in the Czech Republic. After graduating, I taught English as a Second Language in Taiwan on a Fulbright Grant. Upon returning to the US, I became a Financial Assistant for UConn’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Business Center while applying to graduate school. I’ve always been drawn to the education field but I finally decided to narrow it down to higher education and was admitted to the 2024 HESA Cohort. My previous experiences as a Faculty Intern for The Loomis Chaffee Summer Program prepared me for my graduate assistantship with the UConn Pre-College Summer Office and I am looking forward to working with both college and high school students throughout the year.
In my free time, I enjoy going to the gym, going on walks, doodling, and writing short stories, but above all, I love traveling. As someone who has been to 25 countries (and counting!) and has lived in 3 continents, I’m always ready for a new adventure! Can’t wait to see where HESA takes me next!
Undergrad: Eastern Connecticut State University
Hometown: Athens, Georgia
Assistantship/Employment: The Women's Center
Bio: Hey y'all! I'm Daniela Iniestra Varelas. I grew up in Athens, GA after immigrating to the U.S. from Mexico at the age of 6. Growing up in this vibrant and busy college town in many ways shaped my views towards higher education. My education and experiences were tailored to make me the perfect candidate for university life; all I was missing was the legal status that the Georgia Board of Regents required.
Because of this, I had to search for other opportunities. After trials and tribulations and never ending searches and applications I was awarded the Opportunity Scholarship from thedream.us to attend Eastern Connecticut State University for my undergraduate studies. Starting a new life at 19 across the country was no easy feat, but I worked towards finding my new community at ECSU.
I held various leadership positions within the Office of Housing & Residential life and was involved within cultural and social justice organizations on campus. My participation in both fueled my love for Student Affairs. Through vulnerable and conscientious conversations, meaningful collaborations, and diligent coursework I understood that the fight and need for equitable and accessible education is still just as present as it was when I first started my search.
I graduated from ECSU in May 2020, becoming the first college graduate in my family. Since then, I have served as a proud member of the first cohort of the UConn College Advising Corps, working at Windham High School. My ambition for growth hasn't stopped, I am proud and ecstatic to be joining the '22-'24 UConn HESA cohort. I hope to keep growing my perspectives and keep fighting for accessible, equitable, and empowering education for first-generation, underrepresented, and underserved students.
Undergrad: University of Connecticut
Major: English, Gerontology minor
Hometown: Waterbury, CT
Bio: Hello folks! My name is Jaelie Jackson, I am from Waterbury, CT and recently graduated from the University of Connecticut this past Spring with a Bachelor's of Arts in English and a minor in Gerontology.
My experience at UConn has directly impacted my passion for supporting college students. I had an extremely difficult first semester and ended up on academic probation. From there, I utilized all the resources UConn had available to me and was able to improve my grades and get involved in mentoring other students on academic probation. I have worked at the Academic Achievement Center since my sophomore year as a UConn Connects Mentor, an Academic Coach, and a Master Coach. Being a Black first-generation college student had enormous challenges and I hope to support and advocate for these students so they are able to succeed and thrive in college just as I was able to.
From being an Orientation Leader, a Resident Assistant, to even working in the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, I have found that many college students face numerous difficulties that do not even deal with academics! I hope to be able to work in Student Support Services or become a Dean of students to provide holistic support for all students.
I believe that my struggles in college have shaped who I am today and have given me insight on the trials many students go through and I plan on using these experiences to further develop my passion for Higher Education and Student Affairs.
Undergrad: Miami University
Major: Sociology & Spanish
Hometown: West Chester, Ohio
Assistantship/Employment: Center for Fraternity & Sorority Development
Bio: Hello, everyone! My name is Sydney Jefferson and I am from a suburb outside of Cincinnati, Ohio called West Chester, Ohio. I graduated this spring from Miami University with a degree in Sociology with a minor in Spanish. During my time there I was Division 1 Student-Athlete on the Track and Field Team, a Student Orientation Undergraduate Leader, and Vice President of the National Panhellenic Council & the Zeta Mu Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and Chief of Staff for the Office of ASPIRE on campus. Through all of these experiences, I knew that I had a burning passion for supporting college students and I am excited to continue this work in a professional capacity. With that being said, I am incredibly happy to continue my education and support students through the UConn HESA program in the fall.
Hometown: West Haven, CT
Assistantship/Employment: UConn School of Business Office of Diversity Initiatives
Bio: I have over 20 years of Higher Education experience advising and retaining high-risk students, promoting and developing creative diversity recruiting and retention programs for students, staff and faculty at the High School and College levels.
I have authored and implemented retention specific outreach programs to monitor student academic progression to ensure the achievement of the school's diversity-initiated goals and outcomes.
I take pride in promoting diversity in Higher Education and is strongly committed to the value of cultural, racial, and socio-economic equity within the business world as a whole.
I believe that along with other components, including age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, nation of origin, disability, and life experience, contributes to academic diversity, which is one of the driving forces of scholarly analysis. With this in mind, I strive to promote an atmosphere that fosters a helpful, friendly, and holistic environment for all.
Undergrad: Brandeis University
Major: Politics with double minors in Legal Studies and Anthropology
Hometown: Nashua, NH
Assistantship/Employment: The Graduate School
Bio: Hello! My name is Tori Sanchez (she/her/hers) and I am originally from Nashua, NH. I graduated from Brandeis University with my BA in Politics and double minors in Anthropology and Legal Studies. During my time at Brandeis, I worked in housing, both in the capacity as a Community Advisor and as an Office Assistant. In addition to my work with Community Living, I had the opportunity to work with Academic Services and Student Accessibility Support. The mentorship I received from those three offices is where my passion for student advocacy and support was shaped.
My long term student affairs goal is to combine my undergraduate degree in Politics and my passion for student support to work in disability services and advocacy on college campuses. I know first hand how important it is to have support from disability services and I hope to become that support for students in the future. I firmly believe that all individuals should have the tools that they need to succeed both in, and out, of the classroom.
Undergrad: Saint Michael's College
Hometown: Boston, MA
Assistantship/Employment: Rowe Scholars Program Graduate Assistant
Bio: Hey what’s up! My name is Frantzy Suffrard and I am from Boston Massachusetts. I attended Saint Michael’s College in Colchester VT for my undergraduate years and obtained my degree in Psychology. During my undergrad, I dedicated my summers giving back to UMass Boston Upward Bound Program, which focused on assisting low-income, first-generation college bound high school students in the successful completion of secondary education and preparing them academically and socially for enrollment and completion of higher education. Through this program, I was fortunate enough to several years tutoring, mentoring, teaching, and empowering students that the path to postsecondary success is feasible and will test them in many ways. Those years showed me the importance of Black men taking space where there are not many and how impactful we can be.
While at UConn, I would like to study and analyze the upcoming trends of college student development and incorporate a holistic approach to serving students. I am also interested in developing early indication systems that help faculty and staff members distinguish between a student not performing well and if it contributes to a lack of support, confidence, or the stress of personal situations. I am excited to build relationships with members of the HESA family and UConn community.
In my free time you can find me listening to or creating music, doing something sports related and either cooking or eating with family and friends.
Undergrad: Wellesley College
Hometown: Tacoma, WA
Assistantship/Employment: Student Union
Bio: Hi! My name is Abby Webster (she/her), and I am so excited to be a part of the 2024 UConn HESA cohort. I am from Tacoma, Washington and attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where I studied Classics with a minor in English.
My time at Wellesley was where I realized my love of student affairs and my desire to work in higher education. My favorite parts of my college experience were working as a Resident Assistant, serving on different administrative and advisory committees, and taking on various projects to build community on campus (e.g., creating a permanent outdoor recreation space, hosting the first Wellesley Community Conference, and delivering handmade valentines to every student on campus). I hope to work in orientation and new student advising in the future to help students feel welcomed and excited about the start of their college journey! It can be scary for college students to lean into joy and connection, and I want to keep myself rooted in finding and creating moments of joy for myself and everyone around me.
Some fun facts about myself are that I love doing theater (I’ve been performing in musical theater since I was 10), I enjoy spending time walking or hiking, and I hold two Guinness world records! I’m also a big fan of being outside in the snow, meeting new people, dancing whenever music is playing, and dad jokes.
Undergrad: The Pennsylvania State University
Major: Political Science
Hometown: Sugarloaf, PA
Assistantship/Employment: Community Outreach: Political Engagement and Dialogues
Bio: Hi all! My name is Cami Wilson (she/her). I graduated from Penn State University in 2020 with my Bachelor’s in political science with minors in civic and community engagement, and communication arts and sciences. During that time, I worked with Campus Vote Project, which provided me with direct experience and knowledge of democratic civic engagement work on college campuses and connected me with student affairs professionals who were doing this work. Meeting these professionals had me thinking: "This is exactly what I want to do.” I'm passionate about the role higher education and student affairs play in developing students into engaged citizens and leaders in their communities and the world, as well as learning what parts of the college experience promote or hinder civic engagement and deliberative democracy. My goal is to help college students develop into engaged citizens and leaders in their communities and the world, who make collaborative decisions, make those decisions with justice and equity in mind, and do service through the lens of public work. I’m passionate about social justice, mental health, and service-learning.
JESSEY WENDY ANTWI
Assistantship: Academic Center for Exploratory Students
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