Higher Education Professional
Completing the M.Ed. program in Higher Education Leadership and Social Justice helped me to develop social consciousness and sparked a passion for advocacy, community involvement, and direct action. It is my belief that recent trends in educational policy have rendered education, particularly higher education, as a commodity dictated by the market. When a service is given to the free market, it ceases to be something that is for the betterment of all society. As long as education is treated as something to be bought and sold, there will be factors in place to ensure it benefits only certain groups. Through this program, I came to realize that collective action must be taken among students and educators as a more meaningful path to create equity in education. We as students, educators, and administrators hold the power to create an equitable system of education.
Historically, access to education has been paramount in creating social consciousness by elevating all to develop a deeper understanding not just of the world but also of oneself. Higher education specifically was once hailed as a place where learners and educators gather to critique, discuss, and ultimately grow. However, this is not what today’s education system achieves. In a society that has oppression and injustice in multiple ways, education has become another tool for exploitation. By subjecting education to the market, education has built a legacy of creating a economically self-interested mindset that continues on painful legacies of oppression. Education should not exist to serve the interests of the free market or private parties looking to gain capital – it should challenge every individual to strive for personal development and instill a sense of humanity, leading to true social justice.
In the short term, I would like to work with students in an advisory role. With my background in international education, I believe I am equipped to assist international students and the unique challenges they face. Visas, language barriers, culture shock, and a variety of other factors create unique challenges for these students. Additionally, these students are struggling with being away from family and friends. Having experienced moving to and teaching in a culture different from my own, I understand the hardships that can arise when you feel that you don’t have resources to suceed. While I adapted to my life abroad, I had many people that helped me navigate these same obstacles. Working with these students to help them overcome hurdles and achieve their goals would be supremely rewarding and would help me pay back the kindness and assistance that was shown to me.
In the long term I hope to find myself in a position in an administrative role which allows me to truly agitate for change. It is my belief that class inequality is one of the systemic issues behind much of society’s social injustice. As such, I would like to examine, understand, and change policy and curricula to better meet the needs of low-income students. In particular, I am a firm believer in and advocate for a healthy community college system. Working to continually improve our community colleges is something I believe to be important and strive to one day do.
Above all else, my goal is to build solidarity within institutions of education and all the places they reach. Relying on policy reform to solve issues surrounding access to education is simply not viable. Only together can administrators, teachers, students, and other personnel reclaim education as a social force of good.
Social Justice Philosophy
When examining the fight for social justice, we must judge efforts by the outcome. Have attempts at reform resulted in measurable results? The answer is no. Attempts to reform our systems have largely failed to address social injustice and provide substantive improvement in the positions of oppressed and marginalized groups.
The rapid ascendance of neoliberal policy, that is to say the push to allow the free-market to dictate political, social, and economic decisions, has created a system of winners and losers. This has not addressed any greater issue of social justice, it has simply furthered the divide between the oppressed and the oppressors. What it has achieved is a shifting of blame from larger societal issues to individual merit. However, as we all know, today’s system does not provide all individuals with equal access to opportunity. Therefore it is important to me that I devote my professional energy toward disrupting this slide into privatization as a way of creating equity. As such, my philosophy on achieving social justice relies on the understanding that collective action aimed at dismantling and reconstructing the oppressive systems of state is the only way of achieving true equity. In short, equity is not something that can be “taught” or “reformed.”
In both the classroom and administrative offices we must be prepared to fight for what we believe in. For too long we have accepted “That’s the way the system works.” as a sufficient answer to the question of why are still failing at social justice. It is my goal to never accept this as an answer, because quite frankly, the system is broken.
- I am a firm believer in the power of discourse and hope to similarly engage with other professionals in the field to grapple with how these topics translate from prose to action. As such, book clubs, networking, and similar activities will be vitally important in my continued education outside of formal studies.
- I aim to spend more time volunteering. I have already begun this by volunteering at a local stray animal rescue clinic. This particular initiative lacks relevance to my professional goals, but I believe it is important nonetheless. Additionally, I’ve been in contact with a local charity that works with families in the Klong Toey, Bangkok’s largest slum. Their mission aligns with my own values of mitigating the burden of poverty as a vital step towards equity. Seeking out more organizations with the core mission of alleviating and addressing poverty will be an important step for me.
- I would like to use my experience gained volunteering to begin creating my own direct-action initiative. In the past I have worked inside small organizations and clubs to organize charity drives and similar actions, but I would like to take more ownership of such projects.
- I would like to improve my professional networking. Some organizations that align with my personal mission are:
- American Council on Education (ACE): ACE is focused on improving access and enabling student success.
- Association of International Educators (NAFSA): NAFSA focused on advancing international higher education.
- Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education (NASPA): NASPA is dedicated to the student affairs profession through initiatives that cultivate student achievement.
- Continue developing the aforementioned initiative, expanding in scope, personnel, and resources. Ideally by year three this can begin to take a more formalized structure that reaches more of the community.
- Expecting that I have found a position in higher education by this time, I would ideally be positioned to join a union. Unionization is something I feel strongly about, and believe it is one of the most powerful factors in creating a fair workplace.
Student Development, Characteristics, and Learning Experiences
The M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership and Social Justice program has exposed me to a variety of new topics – one such being theories of student development. In particular, I have benefited from exposure to how learning experiences are shaped by factors inside and outside the institution. While I’ve long understood that not all students are equal, and have different learning styles, obstacles, and goals, I now am equipped with the knowledge to better articulate this while also proposing and arguing for my own ideas.
In the first supporting piece, Psychosocial Theory: Personal Development, I analyze my own experiences as a developing student using Erikson’s Identity Development Theory and Chickering’s Developmental Vectors. This exercise was helpful by allowing me to gain familiarity with these theories by first analyzing my own experience. I built upon this knowledge in the second supporting piece, Southeast Asian American Students’ Experiences in Higher Education. This piece is one of my favorites from the program, and my interest in working in International Student Advising (or a similar role) can be directly traced to the research and work I did here. In addition to the professional importance, this piece was also personally significant. While I have lived and worked in Southeast Asia (SEA) for several years, and also interacted with SEA students in their home environment, I had never considered their experience as students in my own home country. I believe that this piece is one of the most thorough examples of my interests personally and within higher education.
Finally, I wrote an opinion piece on the importance of international students in community colleges. In The Need for International Students in Community Colleges (supporting piece three) I examine how many community colleges, and by extension the communities they serve, often lack an international community. I argue for the importance for community colleges, particularly those outside of major cities (e.g. New York, Los Angeles, Miami, etc.), to begin focusing on creating a more international environment on campus. The benefits of this will be reaped by the existing students and community with an increase exposure to new cultures, and the international students who will have an opportunity to explore an often unseen section of America, while also minimizing costs and stress that are associated with larger four-year institutions.
LEADERSHIP AND ORGANIZATIONAL THEORIES
Prior to the M.Ed. program I did not hold much interest in leadership. This changed when I began to research and understand the theories behind leadership. I found that I viewed leadership through a very narrow lens. The reality of leadership is that it manifests itself in many different ways. In particular I enjoyed researching the practices of Transformational Leadership, Authentic Leadership, and Servant Leadership, as well as the theories (e.g. Path Goal Theory, Leader-Member Exchange Theory, etc.) behind these.
During this research I felt myself pulled towards Authentic Leadership in particular. Authentic Leadership is a relatively new theory, but the generally accepted definition of an Authentic Leader is one who builds legitimacy through honest relationships built on ethical foundations. Authentic Leaders are understood to be those with positive and truthful selfconcept. In summary, authenticity is a collaboration built on the relationship between a leader and the followers.
This was a stark contrast to my previously held ideas of leaders always being strongwilled and dominating personalities. Learning these new forms of leadership inspired me to rethink my own ideas on leadership and how I can begin exhibiting the qualities of a good leader in my everyday life, with the eventual goal of becoming a leader in education.
In the first supporting piece, Organization Study: Belmont University, I explore the practical aspects of leadership in higher education. Using Belmont University as my example study, I examine the mission, policies, organizational structure, and governance of a higher education institution. This exercise was helpful in helping me understand the realities of higher education bureaucracy. A university is like a large ship – changing direction can be difficult and time-consuming. This impacted me because I then realized that as an individual you have little power, regardless of your position. I viewed this as an optimistic challenge – as an individual you may not be able to change the course of a large ship, but you can work to create a shared vision and solidarity amongst others who can inspire much larger and more dramatic change.
In the second supporting piece, Competencies for Community College Leaders, I attempt to rectify my desire to inspire change within the existing confines of leadership roles. This piece was important to me because of the high regard I place on the role of community colleges. In this piece I attempt to find a position within a community college that allows for one to have the maximum impact on both the institution and the community it serves. In the piece I explore the idea that a community college president is an ideal role because it allows one to instill the idea in faculty and staff that the institution is not apart from the community, it is the community, thus allowing for progress.
Research, Evaluation, and Assessment
I must admit that when I entered the M.Ed. program research and evaluation were not particularly high on my list of interests. In complete sincerity, they were aspects of higher education administration I had never really stopped to consider. As I began the coursework I was intimidated, particularly when it came to evaluation. Assessment protocols and mapping, developing and evaluating learning outcomes, and similar processes were very challenging. A large part of my transformation occurred when I began to better understand outcomes-based education (OBE). When assessing and evaluating students in relation to their peers, we often lose track of the pupil’s personal development. As educators, we must understand that every student is unique, with different backgrounds, personalities, and goals. In order to uplift students to better themselves and achieve their goals, I understand the importance of holding them accountable to objectives instead of median performance.
I also was able to identify the potential drawbacks of OBE. When focusing specifically on an outcome, learning runs the risk of becoming too narrow. My personal belief in education is that it is generally a holistic undertaking with every piece of one’s knowledge informing another piece. Additionally, when focusing on OBE assessments and evaluation methods can become too mechanical. Students must be able to learn the practical application of their knowledge. What this means is it’s vital for our assessment and evaluation to be carefully crafted.
Research, on the other hand, was something I quickly attached to. Understanding research techniques is a skill I now consider to be of the utmost importance. This is what allows someone to not only to backup their positions and arguments but also do so in a way that is concise and sensible. Of all the practical skills I learned in the M.Ed. program I consider my ability to conduct and communicate research to be one of the most important to my personal development.
One project that best represents my development consists of two documents: Assessment Map (supporting document one) and Assessment Map Summary (supporting document two). This exercise used a hypothetical case study of an Academic Success Center (ASC) and challenged us to create our own cyclical assessment plan. In the plan, I was able to use my own creativity to measure a variety of standards. Practically speaking, I enjoyed examining the ASC and having the creative input into how the learning outcomes were actualized and measured. In the corresponding Summary, I explain not only the methods to be used, but also how social justice thought is incorporated.
In the third supporting document, Assessment Protocol: Marketing Campaign Project, I again used the hypothetical situation of an Academic Success Center (ASC) and its marketing internship program. This allowed me to create a plan of action for completing an entire assessment project. While the specific assessment plan itself was not created, the goal was to create a document that could easily be used by any professional in a similar role. This was an interesting assignment because at the time of writing I was working in marketing. Being able to combine my professional knowledge with my coursework helped create an immediate attachment that motivated me to be as thorough and thoughtful as possible. Overall I believe I succeeded and seeing this plan brought to life one day would bring great personal satisfaction.
One of the most important facets of my M.Ed. experience was the real-world professional knowledge gained through various channels, including conversations with professors and classmates, conferences and events, and the internship portion. While much of the coursework was valid, I feel that getting the above-mentioned insight is what truly helped me in my own development. Through this exposure I was able to more clearly understand the workings of higher education and in turn develop my own professional and personal goals.
At first, I was taken aback by the amount of bureaucracy in higher education. My romantic notion of a single leader revolutionizing an institution was quickly squashed when I realized just how little power most individuals hold within the system of higher education. The stifling of progress is compounded because alongside this lack of singular power there is also a diffusion of responsibility. Staff defer to administrators who defer to presidents who defer to a governing board who defer to donors. Following this chain it’s easy to see why universities are stagnate when it comes to social justice – the reason being funding rules the decision-making process, and the steady march of capital does not consider the needs of the oppressed.
In the first supporting document, Internship Reflection, I summarize and reflect on my experience interning with Dr. Matt Gregory, Dean of Students at Texas Tech University. In summary, I spent my internship working directly with Dr. Gregory to create a ‘healthy masculinity’ program aimed towards the university football team. Not only did I gain valuable experience in researching and creating a program, but I also gained insight into the inner-workings of a university. I was able to discover the life-cycle of this type of program, from conception through implementation. I feel very lucky to have had an internship experience in which I was granted so much autonomy and influence over a program that is not only in use by Texas Tech University, but has now been adopted by Bellarmine University as well.
I was also given the chance during the M.Ed. program to reflect on my own background with a revitalized perspective. In doing so I was able to see how I was complicit in much of the reactionary criticisms that come from the public, a voice that can often drown out the wheel of progress. Supporting document two, Educational Autobiography, is a deeply personal reflection on my own development as a person and how higher education played a role in that. The reflection is sometimes embarrassing, sometimes enlightening, but a very important piece contributing to my self-development over the past few years. Reflecting on my own journey of personal growth through higher education gave me a great starting point in examining the realworld implications of higher education.
Access, Opportunity, and Success
Of all the learning outcomes and competencies ingrained in the M.Ed. program I personally resonated the most with this one, and as such I take the most pride in my development and body-of-work. In all the courses I took I attempted to find the underlying driver of social justice through equitable access and opportunity. Whether it was research and assessment, law, development, or any other subject, I always worked towards ensuring my output was aligned with the ultimate goal of increasing access, opportunity, and success.
Above all else, my experience in the M.Ed. program has shown me that there is no social justice through simple training, conferences, or other passive endeavors. Similarly, the system of oppression and exploitation that American higher education is built upon will not succumb to reform. In order to truly achieve equity, we as a collective body of administrators, educators, and students must work to disrupt and reshape the landscape in front of us. The first step in doing this is by fighting for equal access and opportunities for all.
In the first supporting piece, History and Continued Implications of Brown v. Board, I attempt to examine one of the pillars of case law pertaining to access – Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. In short, this piece adequately addresses my issues with our current focus on reform. Brown v. Board, and many subsequent holdings, have meant to inspire and force reform to improve access and opportunity. It goes without saying that society has collectively fallen short of making this progress. By reviewing the decision and its implications in this case, along with the various effects it has had over the years, we can begin to better understand the continued struggle of Black Americans (and other minority and marginalized groups). Only through this commitment to understanding the shortcomings of our current systems can we truly under the real cause behind inequity and lack of opportunity.
The second supporting piece, Challenges and Opportunities for Rural Community Colleges, is a piece of work I hold in the highest regard. This piece is perhaps the most thorough examination of my personal and professional goals and interests, partly because it is so intertwined with my own background having come from a rural community and studied at such a community college. This piece combines several of my biggest motivating passions – community outreach, direct action, and a specific niche of community colleges that is often overlooked and undervalued. In particular, the focus of this piece is on generational poverty and economic depression and how these factor into the ongoing struggle for social justice and solidarity in rural America. With our society trending towards globalization, it is more important than ever for those living in these overlooked communities to understand they have more in common with one another than not. Race, sexual orientation, gender, and various other identities must not be barriers preventing these community members from banding together to reshape their shared experiences and lift their community from the cycles of exploitation. Only with a commitment to solidarity can rural communities begin to address the much needed changes required to keep pace, and this piece examines how to achieve just that.