Since my last post, I’ve really been working on editing my personal statement. My initial draft is good, but it’s WAY too long. Having to cut it down is difficult for me because how do I cut down my story. My journey is such an important part of who I am and why I want to pursue a career in the profession. I don’t know how to take a snapshot of it and still get the same effect across. I’ll eventually do it and my mentor has helped a lot.
In this process, I’ve also been thinking about what I really want. I’ve always been the kind of person who could easily say what I don’t want, but could never formulate the words around what I do want. My grad school search is forcing me to say what I want. I have to know what I want because I’ll be spending the next two years of my life at these institutions and I should be happy wherever I go.
To figure out what I want, I looked at why I want to enter the field. What do I love about being a RA? What do the organizations I’m a member of say about me? Well I love being a RA because I love seeing the growth students go through. I love seeing where they are at the start of the see and then where they are at the end of the year. Knowing that I’ve contributed to that growth really speaks me. It makes my heart melt. I think about the end of my first year as a RA when my residents were moving out. So many of them would tell me, as they are checking out, that I was such an amazing RA and helped them out so much. And then I flash forward to this year, where those same residents are asking why I’m not their RA again.
In addition to wanting to see and be a part of a student’s growth, I want to learn about student development, how students learn. We are learning all the time, but the way people learn varies. No two people learn the exact same way. I want to study how students learn and how I can help with their learning and development. The mentors I’ve had, I believe were well-versed in student development theory because they knew exactly how to assess a student’s situation and find the best way to help them succeed.
Another thing I know I want from a grad program is a passion for social justice. I’m a black male who is attracted to men. These are two identities that are commonly oppressed. At first, I didn’t think of myself having a strong social justice background because I’d look at other people and see that they are all super activist. I’m not that. But then I think about the courses I’ve taken and my stance on oppression; I’m beyond social justice educated. It’s something that’s extremely important to me. All people should be treated equally and have the same opportunities, but that’s not the case. I want a grad program that brings that into light because many people don’t have exposure to that and therefore forget about the privilege they hold.
The last I know I definitely want from a program is a theory-to-practice experience. I want what I learn in the classroom to be applicable to the work I’m doing. It is rather vexatious in undergrad when I have to take courses that I’m not good at and probably won’t use in my daily life or career ever. I know it’s the whole “we want you to be a well-rounded student” concept, but it’s stressful. In grad school, everything I learn should be applicable in both my assistantship and the future positions I’d hold. Going back to student development, I know I learn through application. If I want to retain information, I need to be doing something with it. You can talk to be about concepts and theory all you want, but until I am putting those things into practice, they won’t stick. It’s something I know about me.
Coming up with those three things that I want was really hard. It took a lot of looking within and thinking about what I want for the future. I feel like the schools I’ve shortlisted have those three things. Now to jump ahead, today I sat through my very first graduate level course. It was absolutely amazing. The course was “History of Higher Education” taught by Dr. Richard Reddick, the coordinator of the M.ed program here at The University of Texas at Austin. I was nervous when I walked into the room because I’m just an undergrad observing a grad course. Though initially intimidated, everyone was so warm and welcoming; I felt completely comfortable after the first hello. The course began with a group presentation on University Branding. The group started off with presentation with a game of name that University based simply off their logo. After the game, they went off to discuss the origins of university branding, reasons for branding and then talked about universities who’ve had to rebrand themselves due to various issues. They ended the presentation with splitting the room into groups and having us rebrand four universities. Dr. Reddick then took over and introduced the guests in the room (myself and a girl from LSU). He then proceeded to talk about how the American Higher Education system was influenced by both British and German systems.
What amazed me most about attending this course was the participation from the students. It didn’t feel like Dr. Reddick was lecturing, it felt like he was having a conversation with his students. When a question was asked, the students responded and created a dialogue that was engaging, riveting and intellectually fulfilling. My undergrad courses are nothing like this…well maybe a few specialized courses. In most of them, the professor simply lectures away while the students take notes and when questions are asked only 1 or two people respond. This was not the case, everyone had something to contribute. I even got a chance to contribute.
Today was great. I’m really excited to be taking grad courses starting next fall. I can hardly wait.