SYNTHESIS PAPER

Reflection has been a constant theme throughout my graduate experience. I remain amazed at how little I choose to engage in reflection unless prompted. I suppose the rational is due to the fact that I so often cannot seem to put into words my thoughts or articulate specific feelings or experiences. With this in mind, I ask my audience to bear with me as I attempt to condense two years worth of experiences into the next several paragraphs. While I am now at the pinnacle of my current academic journey, much has attributed to my arriving at this point.

Types of Knowledge

The most important type of knowledge that I have gained is all to do with the student experience. From day one, our cohort was directed to delve into the student experience and begin to make meaning of it. EDH 5045, Student Development Theories, provided a thorough overview of the theoretical foundations of our professions. Right away, I had the ability to begin applying theory to practice in my assistantship with University Housing.

In working with conduct, I could draw connections to moral development. While speaking with students, I saw student growing in terms of self-authorship and intellectual development. This was especially true during my time as a teaching assistant for a leadership course. One of the tasks that I had was grading synthesis papers that were turned in twice a week. I had the opportunity to read about and gain a stronger understanding of my students’ personal growth throughout the semester. As students are at the heart of what we do, a better comprehension of the student experience is vital.

In thinking about the ten competency areas, I am most proud of my growth in the area of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Coming from a private, PWI undergraduate institution, I knew I wanted to further my knowledge in this area from the start. Now, I am able to not only identify my own areas of privilege, but also able to be a strong advocate for students of varying identities. Our Diversity in Higher Education course, EDH5046, provided a foundation for understanding several areas of diversity and how they relate to the students with whom we work. In addition to the course, I found that opportunities for additional learning presented themselves throughout my graduate career.

Early on, I knew that I wanted to work on research. With ultimate goals of obtaining a doctoral degree, I knew that additional knowledge in this area would prove beneficial. During my first semester, I became a research assistant for Dr. Bradley Cox. I was tasked with delving into the data of his LIPSS project. I began to look at specific populations within the dataset. This morphed into an ASHE paper presentation that is now a hopeful journal article. Presenting independently at a national academic conference is the accomplishment during graduate school of which I am most proud. To be able to research and speak on a population with which I do not personally identity (Latino/a) was invigorating and has afforded me the opportunity to better understand the experience of a Latino/a student.

Skills and Abilities

One of the skills that I have gained is the ability to present. During the last two years, I have presented at conferences on the local, regional, and national level. Each experience has taught me about my presentation style that continues to morph and develop. In addition to having the confidence to present information, I have discovered a new love for the visual aspects of presentations. With the help of Jake Frasier, I no longer use templates and attempt to find creative ways to present my information to my audience. Although a small detail, I enjoy putting a bit more individualization in my presentations.

In addition to added confidence in presenting, I now see supervision as one of my strengths. I have definitely come into my own in terms of defining my own supervision style. Courses such as SDS 5040 (Student Personnel Work in Higher Education) and EDH 5630 (Capstone in Higher Education) have encouraged me to explore my personal philosophy and reflect on the idea of leadership. My assistantship provides me with the constant opportunity to supervise my student staff. Everyday, I learn what works for me and what adjustments I should make in the future. Through serving as a teaching assistant, I saw supervision, or leadership, through an academic lens. As my students engaged in self-reflection activities, I too began to think about how I could incorporate aspects of leadership into my supervision style. I know that during my first full-time position I will undoubtedly make mistakes, but I am much more confident in my ability to supervise student staff members.

Area of Improvement

When I came into my graduate program, I had some experience with research. I had written an undergraduate thesis and felt fairly confident in the final product. This foundation of knowledge definitely helped when it came to taking EDF 5481, Methods of Educational Research, during my first year. However, I now have the ability to confidently approach data collection and am able to analyze datasets in SPSS. While I know I have a long way to go, I did not have that ability when I began my master’s study. Overall, I have seen a great personal improvement in the Assessment and Research competency. Several experiences have led to this newfound confidence, including coursework and out of the classroom experiences.

In addition to EDF 5481, the course that contributed the most to my growth in the area of Assessment and Research would be SDS 5624 (American College Student). During this course, I was able to conduct my own small-scale study and analyze the dataset using SPSS. I am a hands-on learner, so being able to conduct my own research was a great experience. I would love to go back to that study, which was about the effects that binge-watching has on academics, and further explore the topic.

My two positions as a research assistant were additional opportunities to develop a better understanding the research process. In working with Dr. Lara Perez-Felkner, I worked on data entry and entering handwritten surveys into Qualtrics. Although a fairly simple task, it gave me a better appreciation for the entire research process. Working with Dr. Bradley Cox also contributed to my growth in that I had the opportunity to work with a different part of the research process. From analyzing the data, we moved into creating the paper for ASHE. Getting to experience an academic conference was exciting and completely different than my professional conference experience. We are currently working through the publication process and I am hopeful that we will find success in that endeavor.

Personal Growth

To measure how much I have grown during the last two years is certainly a tall order. When I arrived in Tallahassee, I was a naive recent graduate that was ready to change the world, starting with one student at a time. While this is not necessarily a negative outlook to have, I had an optimistic viewpoint that was fairly idyllic. A now established realist, I understand that change comes slowly and the impact you can have on a student will not always look the same. To this extent, I believe I no longer wear rose-colored glasses. I certainly maintain the desire to have an impact, but I have a greater comprehension of strategies and best practices that may affect that change. Two years ago, I would say that I knew all the answers. Today, I would tell you I have barely scratched the surface.

Graduate school is a very humbling experience. I have made so many mistakes that to list them would be a separate synthesis paper altogether. These mistakes have been the foundation of my personal and professional development. Through each experience, whether it was entering timesheets incorrectly or butchering APA formatting, I learned how to better my approach to certain situations. I would be remiss not to mention the professionals, both faculty and staff, that have guided me along the way. Their investment in my experience and professionalism has influenced me beyond measure. I hope to one-day give back to a graduate student in the same way.

Level of Preparedness

Coming into graduate school, I was not completely sold on my assistantship choice. Having spent three years working for my undergraduate’s housing department, I knew housing was not my end goal. However, after meeting various individuals during Visiting Days, I knew that it was the best opportunity for me. I could not be more grateful for the opportunities that have presented themselves through my assistantship. I have had the chance to co-supervise a staff of 18 and co-manage a residence hall of 706 students. For a soon-to-be residence life professional, having these experiences is wonderful. I feel very confident in my ability to lead a student staff and manage a building. I have grown so much in the areas of Advising and Helping, Leadership, Personal Foundations, and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. I feel that I have the skills and knowledge to be an advocate for various identities and act as a knowledgeable resource for students.

If I were to change one aspect of my academic coursework, it would be to enroll in EDH 5405: Legal Aspects of Higher Education. I think that the area that I feel least prepared in would be Law, Policy, and Governance. While I do have an understanding of certain legal policies, such as Title IX, FERPA, Clery Act, Marchman Act, and Baker Act, I would like to develop a further understanding of state and federal laws and their impact on higher education. One of my future goals is to complete a course in this subject area at some point in the near future. In the same vein, I would like to delve further into the history of higher education through independent study. One of the aspects that I enjoy most about this field is the opportunity for learning through professional development opportunities. Conferences present a chance to seek out specific presentations that cater to certain topical areas. Attendance at these sessions is another way that I plan to overcome areas of which I feel least prepared.

These last two years have been a voyage full of unexpected obstacles and incredible accomplishments. There have been times that I have never felt more vulnerable and others during which I felt incredibly strong. I have learned the value of living an authentic life and the power of intentionality. I could not feel more prepared to begin my professional career and will remain forever thankful to this program, faculty, and professionals that made this journey possible. 

Download a pdf version of my paper here

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