This is a reflection on my learning experiences throughout the Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education (HALE) MA program. My experiences have been intensely personal and professional. I will reflect on the personal and professional nature of my experiences as I discuss the three greatest themes of my learning experience: collaboration, leadership, and online learning. Before I get to those themes, I want to address some of my personal and professional experiences that have infused this learning process.
Choosing to enroll in a Masters program was a significant step in my personal life. I was the first person in my extended family to earn a bachelors degree. When I graduated from MSU in 2004, my parents and I felt immense pride. When I realized I could earn a Master's degree as part of the professional benefits of my employment at MSU, I realized I should take advantage of the opportunity. I would be the first person in my extended family to earn a Master's degree. I felt nervous that I might not have what it takes to achieve that goal, but three years after I took EAD 870 as a Lifelong student, my first class in the program, I am set to achieve the goal! I have sacrificed many weeknights and weekends with family and friends along the way, but I am proud of working through the challenges.
Enrolling in the HALE MA program was also an intensely professional choice and experience in my life. After I finished my bachelor's degree, I had no plans for a higher degree. I was interested in starting to work, preferably in higher education. I was lucky to begin my job as the Honors College Admissions Counselor in September 2004. After I had gotten my arms around the duties of my job, Bess German, Honors College Director of Admissions & Students Affairs and my supervisor, began to encourage me to pursue more education. She was in the midst of a Ph.D. in the HALE program and thought it could be a good fit for me. I experimented with EAD 870 with Dr. Reitu Mabokela. The class was interesting, the students dynamic, and Dr. Mabokela encouraged me to apply for the HALE MA program. I could not have balanced work and school without the support of Bess German and the two Honors College Deans I have worked for: Dr. Ron Fisher and Dr. Cynthia Jackson-Elmoore. All three of these people supported me by allowing me to take class, take some time off for educational release time, and general encouragement. The HALE MA program provided me the opportunity to reflect on my professional experiences in a thoughtful and scholarly way and for that, I am extremely grateful.
In reflecting on my learning experiences throughout the HALE MA program, my most significant area of improvement and the area where I still have room to improve is collaborative learning. Part of my excitement in enrolling in the HALE MA program was becoming a part of a cohort. My excitement was confirmed and stoked in the first class sessions of the Pro-Seminar. It was great to hear what different professional and personal backgrounds we all came from. The cohort would become a significant source of support and joy for me throughout this process. One way this happened was through my involvement in the HALE Master's Student Association. In my first year, I heard about this group was being founded by a few second year HALE MA students. I was excited to get involved because I felt many people, including myself, could benefit from a student group. The gatherings of this group that I have helped organize, including potlucks and game nights, have energized my soul, leading me to feel like I could overcome all the challenges I face in balancing school, work and life.
Collaboration was also clearly evident In the classroom. In most of my in-person courses, professors asked the class to divide into small groups to discuss issues. I learned so much in these small groups. Professors also frequently asked for group projects in classes, such as papers and presentations. These situations called for compromise and patience. I am a controlling person by nature, so I often needed to release control and embrace the benefits of collaborative learning. This included the value of multiple people thinking on the same issue and coming from different mindsets.
The benefits of collaborative learning are also reinforced through my professional experiences. I do a significant amount of collaboration with my supervisor. We brainstorm on new initiatives and she challenges me to be more creative, which I feel I have become throughout the HALE MA program. Additionally, I am involved in the Student Affairs Team at the Honors College. This Team consists of the six people in our college that work on student affairs issues. We bounce ideas off one another and work together to improve our work with students. My collaborative learning experiences within the HALE MA program have helped me improve my professional collaboration.
With this reflection on my experiences with collaborative learning, I realize I still have room for improvement. I feel like I have become a person that is more willing to seek out collaboration in both professional and educational settings. I strive to continue this collaboration in my future professional and educational endeavors.
Leadership issues have pervaded my personal and professional lives throughout the HALE program. For personal leadership growth, my involvement with HMSA has been tremendous. Once HMSA was established last spring, the first-year students involved in the group were asked to consider nominating themselves for the positions of Executive Director, Communications Director, Finance Director, Professional Development Director and Social Director. My first inclination, based on years of enjoying positional power was to go for the Executive Director position. But upon more careful reflection, I realized my true passion for HMSA was for bringing people together for fellowship and fun. I was able to release myself from desiring positional power and instead focus on where I could most utilize my passion and talents.
In my professional life, I have been privileged to observe many leadership issues and strong leadership examples. My greatest leadership example comes from Bess German, my supervisor. She demonstrates many of the characteristics of transformational leadership. I have also been able to observe a major transition in leadership. In 2007, the Dean who had hired me to work at the Honors College retired from that position and a new Dean came to the Honors College. Observing this transition, as well as the transitions between three Assistant Deans at the Honors College has taught me the importance of leadership during transitions. I plan to use what I have learned about leadership through my academic experiences alongside what I have learned about leadership in my professional experiences to be a strong leader now and in the future.
Online learning has not only been beneficial for me personally but also professionally. In my work as an Admissions Counselor, it is important for me to understand high school students. These students are learning online more frequently so it is helpful for me to have a personal understanding of online learning. Additionally, high school students and their parents are increasingly going online to learn about higher education. The more I can understand and utilize the strengths of online learning, the more innovative and successful I can be in my professional role. For example, I recently attended on online forum that focused on utilizing online experiences in the college recruitment and decision-making processes. Because of my experiences in online learning, I now better understand how to take advantage of technology. Finally, at the Honors College, we are currently discussing the idea of asking our Honors College students to create an online portfolio for their graduation requirement. I am able to talk about my own experiences with an online portfolio and contribute to the shaping of the Honors College future.