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A Conversation with Dean Knoeppel | Part 1

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“The most important disposition in education is the disposition of dignity of all people.”

Continuing with our tradition of interviewing leaders at William & Mary, the Wren’s Nest spoke with Dr. Robert Knoeppel, incoming dean at the School of Education, in an exclusive virtual conversation.  From at his home office, Dean Knoeppel shared his career path and vision for leadership in the School of Education, as well as his own maturation as a leader.  We ended our time with his musings on community and equity in learning in a virtual education landscape.  His conviction that connection is possible despite physical distance was hopeful and keenly felt—all the more so for being shared virtually.  We hope you enjoy this conversation as much as we did. 

Dr. Robert Knoeppel

When asked about his start in education, Dean Knoeppel described his route as “circuitous.”  He earned a bachelors degree in economics, spending his summers teaching swimming and working with children.  He also taught swimming at the Chapel Hill YMCA, which affirmed his enjoyment in working with youth.  Although his first job was working on the floor of the American Stock Exchange and later in Congress, he relied on a mentor and the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to decide ultimately to pursue a degree in education. 

What was one of most impactful experiences you had with education before you became an administrator?

I feel very lucky that I’ve had a 28-year career in education – I’ve been a school counselor, I’ve been a faculty member, and a varsity coach.  I’ve worked with people across a broad spectrum of ages – aged 3 to 70s.  Understanding the developmental issues of children, working with families in crisis, teaching adults have all shaped my thoughts on education, education policy, forming partnerships and relationships, and communicating.  

When you were younger, what was your dream job?

When I was younger, I do not know that I had a dream job.  I always enjoyed coursework in social sciences – history, political science, humanities, and economics.  I thoroughly enjoyed working with people.  I wanted to do something that I enjoyed, where I could contribute and learn.  I have always sought out jobs that allow you to give and grow. After working on Wall Street and the US House of Representatives, I became much more focused on working in the field of education broadly defined – my focus became on working in a ‘helping profession.’  Throughout my career in education, I have maintained that focus on give and grow – beginning as a school counselor, and then a director of guidance.  I worked as an adjunct at UVA and George Mason before becoming a professor, then program coordinator, department chair and then a dean.  At first, it was hard to leave positions with direct contact with children and students, but I realized that you continue to give and grow in leadership roles – you can impact the learning experiences for students in leadership jobs and ultimately impact more students.

How did your career path lead you to William & Mary?

My strong interest as both a practitioner and as a researcher has been on equity of educational opportunity.  I strongly agree with the values of equity, social justice, and the transformational nature of education.  I was drawn to William & Mary because of the mission of the School of Education – it aligned strongly with my values and I felt that the institution was a good match.

What mindsets are important for current students to consider as they develop into professionals in the educational field?

I think that the most important disposition in education is the disposition of dignity of all people.  As educators, we must be aware of our bias – we all have bias.  However, we have to create welcoming environments that recognize the value of all people – that celebrates the value of all people – that appreciates all cultures and maximizes the social capital that is found in a diverse community.  In so doing, we create critical relationships with the communities that we serve and maximize student achievement.

Where do these convictions come from for you?

I’ve learned through experience.  Working in student services gives an educator the unique opportunity to interact with families in a different way than a classroom teacher.  Perhaps my greatest learning in these areas has been in supervising dissertations on how we prepare and mentor new teachers in cultural competence and culturally responsive pedagogy and educational leaders in social justice and culturally responsive leadership.

You’ve had quite a lot of leadership and education experience. Are there changes you have led that you are proud of or that have positively impacted students?

At Clemson, I was proud to be part of a team that developed a new degree program – an Education Doctorate (EdD) in Educational Systems and Improvement Science.  The program was designed to focus on systematic education improvement for district level leaders.  The three themes of race, rurality, and poverty were chosen to contextualize the degree program for leaders in South Carolina’s schools.  Finally, we focused on using Improvement Science as a way to research programs of whole school reform.

As USF, I was very proud to establish and empower the Office of Field and Clinical Education.  We realized that we needed to improve the partnerships that we had with the local school districts and to rethink the experiences that our student teachers had in the field.  USF is the second largest producer of teachers in the state of Florida (2200 students) and we knew that the opportunity to apply knowledge and to develop pedagogical skill was critically important as part of our teacher prep programs.

Part 1 of 2. (Read: Part 2: Connection and Virtual Education)


Devon Boyers is the Associate Editor with Wren’s Nest. She is currently a master’s student, studying Clinical Mental Health Counseling at William & Mary.

A Trip Inside D.C.’s Education System | Aidan Gossett

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“Urban education has many complex layers and systems, which on top of operating differently throughout the country, makes it difficult to apply broad problem solving strategies.”

As an undergraduate student at William & Mary, I have been able to take multiple courses within the School of Education as I explored different majors. I have stumbled into a lot of great opportunities through these courses and have met incredibly passionate professors who have helped guide me towards different areas of education. This past school year, I was an undergraduate researcher for Dr. Meredith Kier on the ongoing EAGER project, which studies the minority gap in STEM. Although I have enjoyed researching, my favorite education focused experience so far was taking a course titled “Urban Education: Policy, Practice, and Leadership” this past January through the W&M Washington Center. The course was taught by Drew Stelljes and it confirmed for me that when I had signed up for my first School of Education course that it was no accident; education is something I am deeply passionate about.

Aidan (back right) with other W&M students at a networking dinner with the Dream Project, a non-profit organization that supports immigrant students

My biggest take away from this course was that the education system in DC is incredibly complex and dominated by socio-economic status. PK-12 education in DC is split between 3 main types of schools: independent (commonly referred to as private), public, and charter. Each independent school in DC has a Board of Governors who oversee the school and together, and together these schools have a collaborative council that oversees their operations.  Public schools fall under both the Chancellor of DC Public Schools (DCPS), which handles personnel, and The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), which handles policies and curriculum for DCPS. Lastly, public charter schools are overseen by the DC Public Charter School Board, which grants new charters, monitors performance, and closes underperforming schools. Some charter schools are a part of a larger charter school network like the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) and these schools often have their own regional Board of Directors.  

Personally, I had no idea how perplexing the education system in DC was, even though I grew up only an hour away. To gain a better understanding we visited many different schools on site visits, like Sidwell Friends School (independent), KIPP DC (charter), and a Literacy Lab site within Raymond Education Campus. Each school visit gave us a glimpse into their world, which we used to create a deeper class understanding of how they are compare with one another. While the site visits were informative, each school focused mainly on their achievements and other positive aspects, which meant we did not always get a full picture. To provide a broader district view, we had meetings with prominent DC education figures like Hansuel Kang, the State Superintendent of Education and Sharona Robinson, the Community Action Team Coordinator for Clusters 1, 9, and 10 of DCPS, who herself is a DCPS graduate. Both leaders provided valuable insight on the positives and negatives of the current education system in DC and how they are working to improve it. Something echoed by both Sharona Robinson and Hansuel Kang was that there is limited understanding of the entire education system in DC by parents and even by some professionals within. 

This limited understanding became a common theme throughout the course no matter where we went. Sharona Robinson told us that every year she is flooded with calls from parents, who do not know how the DC public education system functions, to help them understand how they can give their children the best opportunities possible. To acquire a spot within a DC charter school or a public school outside of where a student is zoned, you have to get lucky in the DC school lottery. Sharona explained how the lottery plays heavily into what makes the education system in DC so confusing, along with how it reinforces socio-economic separation. To help combat this, Sharona works tirelessly to help parents win at the lottery system, advising parents to not put all their marbles on a school that only has a few open slots, compared to one with over a hundred. What I found so heartbreaking about this was that these parents are fighting for their kids and yet continuously hit roadblocks because of their family means. This limited understanding sometimes extends to teachers as well, some of whom do not understand intricacy of the leadership structures. During a networking dinner, a DCPS teacher said that if he could ask Superintendent Kang one question it would be, “why they are not hiring more teachers?” When we met with Superintendent Kang the next day, her response to the question was, that was not her office’s role, instead the role of the Chancellor of DC Public Schools, the office which handles DCPS staff. For me, this highlighted the complexity and if even those within the education system do not understand it fully, how can families understand it?

“The most important lesson I took away from this course was that transparency and simplicity increase community understanding and districtwide equity.”

Urban education has many complex layers and systems that simply do not exist in suburban or rural area and makes it difficult to apply broad problem solving strategies. I grew up in a suburban area without charter schools, three private schools in a 30 miles radius, and the vast majority of students attended public school. Like many districts, some schools had better reputations than others and there were conflicts over proposed rezoning, but nothing compared to the complexity of DC’s education system. The most important lesson I took away from this course was that transparency and simplicity increase community understanding and districtwide equity. I urge anyone and everyone to take the time to research their local education system, because one day you may be a parent fighting for the best possible education for your child. 


About the Author: Aidan Gossett is a sophomore at W&M studying government and global education concentration and is set to graduate in May 2022. He is currently involved in research within W&M School of Education’s Center for Innovation in Learning Design and as a student advisor in the Conduct and Honor Advisor Program.

Practicing What We Preach | John Griffin, M.Ed. ’19

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“We dedicate time to promoting holistic and intentional practices, but in our efforts to champion this cause, we often forget to apply these lessons to our own daily actions. The processes, deadlines, and stress of our job responsibilities pull us all away from fully being there for our students in the ways that they truly need from us.”

As higher education professionals, our student affairs best practices rapidly evolve to meet today’s student and societal needs. Students face an increasing number of pressures during their college experience, and in response we have elevated our advocacy for wellness and mindful habits as the best tools for overburdened students. 

We encourage students to cultivate mindful and intentional practices, no matter how busy their life gets or how many projects they have on their schedule. We dedicate time to promoting holistic and intentional practices, but in our efforts to champion this cause, we often forget to apply these lessons to our own daily actions. The processes, deadlines, and stress of our job responsibilities pull us all away from fully being there for our students in the ways that they truly need from us.

Author John Griffin participating in VIMS new student orientation where they travel to their Eastern Shore lab and spend the day on the water

The stress and work requirements placed on higher education professionals increases with each year as the funding and support we receive dwindles. To stay viable, many institutions have adopted a results-oriented mindset that focuses on the quantifiable outcomes that we can produce. No matter our role on campus, we all have results and expectations that we feel pressured to achieve. These work outcomes that we now focus on are the low hanging fruits of our roles as they are the easiest achievements to express. For instance, when people check-in about the status of the current admissions season, they are asking about application numbers, GPAs, and test scores involved in the process and not the individual student stories or accomplishments. In admissions, these numbers and figures are the easiest results to express and our emphasizing their value pulls our attention away from getting to know individual applications closely. In contrast to the outcome focused mindset, the meaningful interactions we have with students are difficult to quantify. Paradoxically, the additional roles and responsibilities placed upon our work and the stress to prove our worth prevents us from achieving the most important part of our jobs: supporting students. We are asked to add value to our institution in a system that poorly measures the core components of our jobs.

These metrics we have adopted do not account for the times we check in on students and make sure they are doing okay, or when we sit and listen to a student talk about the anxieties they have about campus or their future. These are all things that we seek to accomplish each day, but these are not the things we are rewarded for or that consume most of our working hours. This mindset of achieving expressible outcomes shifts the focus of all student affairs administrators away from our most crucial responsibilities and it instead emphasizes the aspects of our roles that exhaust us.

Author John Griffin at a Marine Science conference highlighting VIMS along with other Virginia peer institutions

The work expectations in higher education that form our essential responsibilities have shifted away from student interactions and toward the number of emails we send, meetings we attend, and revenue generated. All that work is important for institutional success, but we cannot lose sight of engaging holistically with our students as we perform our jobs. We must consider students beyond the outcomes and numbers our job wants to frame them as. To do this we must disengage from the expectation of producing clearly defined outcomes as the purpose of our job and instead realign our focus on the intentional and impactful interactions we have with students as the top achievements of our day. 

As we advocate wellness and mindfulness practices to students, our best advice is to slow down and take experiences one at a time rather than get wrapped up in the stressors of student life. This mantra is the exact lesson that student affair administrators must embody in their work. My biggest piece of advice to all current and future higher education professionals is simply to place students at the heart of your daily work. You never know what small event will reverberate deeply in a student’s experience and we therefore must always be a catalyst for student engagement. This means that we must seek out regular student interactions and be present in their lives. Too often we get caught up in meeting our work expectations and spend our days hiding behind our computer monitors, eating lunch in our offices, and going the whole day only talking to work colleagues. If that is how we fill our time, then there is no difference between our jobs and a regular office job. Our roles are not meant to be simply office jobs though! We are in higher education because we sought out a career to support and develop students because that brings us joy and fulfillment. Therefore, if we center our work days around the actions of our jobs that give us purpose and energy, then we will be both practicing wellness and deepening the experience that students have with our campuses. There are many ways to practice wellness in our roles, but one of the easiest is to reallocate your daily energy back into the areas of your job that you love – engaging with students and being a presence on campus.


About the Author: John Griffin is a Colorado native who came to Virginia to earn his M.Ed. from William & Mary’s School of Education and graduated in 2019. He is currently the Assistant Director for Admissions & Student Affairs at William & Mary’s School of Marine Science at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

My Internship Experience at Cal (UC Berkeley) | Jenny Fam, M.Ed. ’20

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In the EPPL Higher Education Administration program, students are required to complete a 140 hour internship experience designed to allow students to explore new areas of higher education and gain experience outside of their graduate assistantships. Jenny Fam completed her internship this summer at UC Berkeley and her experience exemplifies the purpose of the internship experience.

Jenny Fam is a second year Master’s student in the EPPL Higher Education Program

I’ve never lived on-campus during my college years, so when I accepted my internship to be the Assistant Resident Director at the University of California, Berkeley (Cal), I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was excited for the new experience. I’ve always had a very specific path that I wanted to follow, but this internship opened up other doors that I hadn’t explored.

The community at Cal will always have a special place in my heart. As someone who had no prior residence life experience, I had to adapt and learn quickly. Everyone was supportive and understanding, especially my student staff. They were patient when I could not answer their questions immediately. I supervised a large group of Resident Assistants (RAs), it was challenging but helpful in building up my competencies in supervision. My student staff members were of diverse backgrounds and each of them brought their own unique stories and experiences to the table. While I was their supervisor, I learned new things from them ever day through our daily conversations. 

As a top public university, the stress culture at Cal was similar to that of William & Mary. However, the students showed me their resilience through their determination to achieve their goals. The RAs were aware of the need to maintain a work-life balance and the need to communicate its importance to the community. To do this, they often hosted programs with the intention of promoting student wellbeing. Burnout was common at the staff level as well, which the administrators often took the extra mile to ensure the wellbeing of staff through frequent check-ins and strategic on-call rotation shift schedules. This created a top-down effect, where the student staff saw how the administrators looked out for them and they wanted to do the same for their residents. 

These opportunities allowed me to envision my fit in different types of institutions moving forward.

Jenny Fam, M.Ed. ’20

The Cal team also provided us the opportunity to visit several institutions that serve a very different population of students including professional students in a medical school and a private Jesuit college. The Director of Student Affairs for each institution was able to meet us to provide us insights into the institution, such as how the structure and framework is different from a 4-year public institution, what different approaches were adapted to meet students need, and so on. These opportunities allowed me to envision my fit in different types of institutions moving forward.

I was also able to meet with several inspiring leaders at Cal, one of them was Cathy Kodoma, the Director of Wellness Center. We had a great coffee talk about the wellbeing of students, what barriers were present and what initiatives the institution had put in place to spread the awareness of wellness. She also inspired me to focus my master’s project in the wellbeing of students, specifically international students, that very few researchers focus on. With the Healthy Campus 2020 campaign and the Eight Dimension of Wellness at William & Mary, the Wellness Center has launched many programs and it will continue to expand within the near future. I wanted to dive deeper into the effect and efficacy of these steps taken to raise the awareness of wellbeing. 


About the Author: My name is Jenny Fam and I’m from Malaysia! I’m a second year Master’s student in Higher Education Administration and the graduate assistant for the Office of Sustainability.

Rising Higher & Looking Forward: Finding a Professional Home in the Region | Alexis Michalos, M.Ed. ’20

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Conferences are not only a key opportunity for professional development within higher education, but can be a source of rejuvenation and inspiration. This year’s SACSA Conference did just that and more.

Every November, the Southern Association for College Student Affairs (SACSA) and NASPA Region III gather somewhere between Maryland, Florida, and Texas to hold an annual meeting.  This meeting, though, is much more than an excuse to use a gavel.  

Last fall, I attended my second SACSA conference.  In many ways, I was pressured into my first one by a friend from my undergraduate institution, Molly; it was held in my hometown and after receiving funding from the School of Education, I thought I might as well visit my parents and see what I could learn.  What I did not expect to find were endless engaging presenters, a mad dash at the end of a heated silent auction, and various levels of higher education practitioners enjoying the company of life-long connections.  

The warmth and welcome was only amplified this year, despite the chilly weather that hit Raleigh, NC, as we all convened over the weekend of November 2nd to 4th.  Over the three days, I participated in a case study with a first-year master’s student from West Georgia University, learned about wellness and marketing strategies, and met new faces at familiar institutions (such as the Dean of Students from my undergraduate, the University of South Carolina!).  

The theme of this year’s conference was Rising Higher in Raleigh: Connecting Theory, Practice, and Purpose; central to many of the presentations were student success and empowerment.  Discussions ranged from activism on campus to finding ways to motivate your students, colleagues, and selves to understanding inequity on different campus types. Even the case study this year focused on food insecurity, a campus food pantry, and social media riots from an upset student body. 

One idea that resonated with me came from the very first keynote, Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, President of Amarillo College in Texas.  Amarillo College is an institution vastly different from William & Mary—a community college designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) that enrolls non-traditionally aged students.  The study body is familiar with poverty, and many are one car malfunction away from having to drop out.  However, Dr. Lowery-Hart focused on the culture of care he has cultivated. He challenges his campus’ leaders—and us—to be willing to say yes.  With this mentality, they have created emergency funds easily accessible for students, and retention has increased. I often forget that students like this exist, especially since most of the ones I interact with are between 18 and 22 and still supported by family of some sort.  However, as I prepare for the next stage in my professional career, it is sobering and inspiring to reconsider how I view my role and the limits that my no’s might contain to students’ whose backstories I do not fully understand.

My favorite part about conferences is how I leave—rejuvenated and with a fire to spark change.  SACSA comes at the time in the semester where I need just this, and spending three days with people who truly care about me personally and professionally definitely provided what I needed after busy weeks of student appointments.  I left the conference this year ready to continue taking advantage of every last minute of my graduate program before May’s graduation.  After several conversations with the SACSA’s Newest Member committee, I also left with a leadership position as co-chair for coordinating the 2020 graduate student case study, despite the fact that I may not be employed within the region.  But that is another thing about SACSA: you can always come back.Professional development is so important for those within the field, no matter what part of that path you are on.  I am excited to have an excuse to be back next year, as it will bring me back to Southeastern Virginia in Norfolk.  If you are looking for something to do the weekend of November 7th to 9th, 2020, I would highly recommend joining me as SACSA “Advanc[es] our Vision” through inclusiveness, professionalism, and collegiality!


About the Author: I am a second year graduate student pursuing a Masters of Education in Higher Education Administration. When not in class or running around the School of Education, you can find me in campus center as the Graduate Assistant for Academic Enrichment Programs in the Dean of Students Office.

Human Anatomy: How A Non-Traditional Approach to Undergraduate Instruction is Preparing Students for the Future | Ashleigh Everhardt Queen, Ed.D. ’20

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Photo by Addie Berard & Joe McClain

The human anatomy labs at William & Mary allow for students to learn the structures of the human body through viewing this in a human cadaver. This hands-on experience aids students in being successful in graduate school and their eventual career in healthcare as they learn the anatomy in the system that they will be working with in their careers


Science laboratories have been a part of my educational experience for as long as I can recall, both as a student and as a lecturer.  I have had the opportunity to be a part of many different types of lab courses in my past and present, but the commonality that across these courses is that they provide a hands-on application of theoretical concepts.  This application of principles is especially true for anatomy. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines anatomy as “the art of separating the parts of an organism in order to ascertain their position, relations, structure, and function.”  While an anatomy lecture course can provide information related to the various structures in the human body, the anatomy lab experience aids students in grasping organ arrangement in real-time.

At William & Mary, the Kinesiology & Health Sciences Department houses a Human Anatomy Cadaver Lab, which contains two to three human cadavers per semester at any given time.  This lab provides a unique experience for our undergraduate students that is not the norm. In fact, William & Mary is one of the few institutions in the state that allows undergraduate students the opportunity to dissect and observe a human cadaver to learn the anatomical arrangements of the human body.  Having taught anatomy lab courses at three different institutions, I can attest to the differential experience that William & Mary students receive in this course. For instance, at most institutions, including the two that I previously worked at, animals are used in place of human cadavers. While this does allow students to work with actual tissues, animal specimens do not provide students with a clear understanding of the structure of the human body

Teaching an anatomy lab with human cadavers is a very different experience than working with animal specimens, and as such is handled with care here at William & Mary.  In order to help acclimate the students to the lab environment, each instructor opens the course with an explanation of the importance of using human cadavers to study human anatomy.  One clear rationale that we provide to our students is the fact that most, if not all, want to pursue careers in the health sciences, and therefore they will need an understanding of how the human body is structured.  Through the practice of dissecting and viewing a human cadaver, students have the ability to see the structural arrangement and are able to begin to understand how the arrangement of tissues is connected to their function.  Regardless of the specific path, there is a common thread: the patients that our students will encounter in their careers will be human. By having the experience of interacting with a human cadaver, William & Mary students are better prepared for graduate school, which often begins with a dissection human anatomy lab, and their eventual careers working with human patients.  

Photo by Addie Berard  & Joe McClain; Author with students working in W&M’s cadaver lab

Another equally important item that we discuss with our students is that we always work from a place of respect for our cadavers.  Cadavers are available to educational institutions because individuals donate their bodies for the educational benefit of others. With that in mind, we strive to appreciate the cadaver and the person who allowed us to have this unique educational experience.  In addition to this, we also begin the anatomy lab each semester learning about the anterior and posterior surfaces of the thigh. This has a two-fold purpose. First, the structures and muscles in this area are those that most students are familiar with, such as the hamstrings and quadriceps.  This also is a bit more impersonal than starting at other areas of the body. For instance, the hands and feet of a cadaver tend to elicit stronger responses due to the distinctly human nature of these body parts. We have found that by beginning on a large portion of the leg, far from these more personal areas, the students tend to acclimate to the lab more easily.  This is not to say that it is a “normal” experience during their first class period, but it does help the students ease into this unusual undergraduate learning experience.

The Human Anatomy Cadaver lab presents a distinctive educational experience to undergraduate students at William & Mary.  Many of our former students who are now in graduate school programs across the country return to us with an appreciation for this lab course, as it helped to set them up for success in the early weeks and months of their graduate programs.  In Kinesiology & Health Sciences, we pride ourselves on providing this rare undergraduate educational experience to students as we feel that it is an important preparation for their future educational experiences and careers.

Working in Kinesiology & Health Sciences, I have had the opportunity to work with students in lab and lecture settings.  I teach all of the Human Physiology Labs, a course and lab on microbiology, and our large introductory course, Intro to the Human Body.  While all of the classes are varied in nature, they all allow me to work with students, my true passion and reason for teaching. I originally enrolled in William & Mary’s School of Education in order to learn more about higher education and learn ways to better serve my students.  The education that I have gained through the School of Education has empowered me to be a better instructor to the students who come to our department. My dissertation research stemmed from this desire to provide students with the resources they need to be successful, specifically through academic advising.  The courses that I teach, including the anatomy lab, have led to interactions with students that allowed me to become their advisor. Through my research, I hope to understand how advising, specifically in transfer student populations, can aid in student success. The School of Education and my career as a Senior Lecturer at William & Mary have allowed me the opportunity to serve students and aid them in completing their academic journeys


About the Author: Ashleigh Everhardt Queen is an Ed.D. ’20 student in the Educational Policy, Planning, & Leadership program. In addition to this, Ashleigh is a Senior Lecturer in the Kinesiology & Health Sciences Department at William & Mary. Her dissertation research is related to understanding how academic advising can play a role in the transition process of STEM transfer students.

Teaching and Counseling in Era of Climate Crisis and Youth Activism | Alex Hilert, M.Ed.

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LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 15: Thousands of youth strikers gather in Parliament Square in central London to protest against the governments lack of action on the climate change and destruction of the environment. The 1st UK-wide youth strike is part of a global FridaysForFuture movement inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg who protests in front of the countrys parliament every Friday since September 2018 and is determined to carry on until the Swedens climate policies are in line with the Paris agreement. February 15, 2019 in London, England. (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

“Adults in positions of power such as teachers and counselors can play a major role in supporting young people in responding to the climate crisis through meaning-focused coping”

The movement for climate justice consists more and more of young people demanding a socially just and equitable transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy (Fisher, 2016). Most recently, sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg ignited the international school strike movement that culminated in more than one million young people protesting for climate justice (Marris, 2019). Indigenous youth and youth of color from around the world living in frontline communities disproportionately affected by climate change have led numerous protests and advocacy efforts including the Dakota Access Pipeline protests (Wikler & Yakupitiyage, 2019). Organizations such as the youth-led Sunrise movement have led political advocacy efforts and 21 youth activists have sued the U.S. government for a clean and safe environment (Juliana et al., v. the United States of America, 2015). Spurred by a growing sense of frustration from the inaction of older adults in power, youth are no longer waiting to take their cues from adults in responding to the climate crisis. Researchers believe this is a powerful tactic because adults view youth as having more moral authority (Marris, 2019). 

At the same time, many youth are struggling to make sense of a future in a world that is in peril. Learning about the climate crisis frequently induces experiences of worry, anxiety, frustration, and hopelessness (Ojala, 2016). These emotional responses can be considered adaptive for their role in promoting pro-environmental behaviors (Verplanken & Roy, 2013). Yet they can also lead to avoidant coping, which is associated with the development of mental health issues (Burke, Sanson, & Van Hoorn, 2018). Alternatively, psychologists describe meaning-focused coping as an optimal strategy for promoting well-being and environmental engagement (Burke et al., 2018; Ojala, 2016). In meaning-focused coping, individuals “draw on their beliefs, values, and existential goals to evoke positive feelings that can help them to bear the worry associated with the threat of climate change, without having to minimize or deny its reality” (Burke et al., p. 35). Examples of meaning-focused coping can be seen in youth-led activism, as described by Greta Thunberg: 

I lost a lot of weight, because I was just so depressed. Nothing seemed to matter anymore. But then I started to come back, to become better, to feel better. And a reason for that was because I saw that there are actually things you can do, and I realized that I can do things.… I became a climate activist. And that helped a lot. And I think the more involved I became … the better I feel, the happier I feel, because I feel like I’m doing something important, something meaningful. (Democracy Now, 2019). 

Adults in positions of power such as teachers and counselors can play a major role in supporting young people in responding to the climate crisis through meaning-focused coping. Ojala (2016) argues for the potential of transformative and transgressive pedagogical approaches that include a focus on addressing the emotional aspects of climate change, such as anxiety and despair. Teachers and counselors can do this through role-modeling and evoking a sense of hope.

Teachers are powerful role-models when it comes to emotional regulation and expression. In a study of environmental and sustainable education, researchers found that high school students who believed their teachers would not validate their negative emotions concerning social issues were more likely to de-emphasize the threats of climate change than students who perceived their teachers as validating and supportive (Ojala, 2015). In the aftermath of climate-change related natural disasters and other climate change-related headlines, teachers and counselors should create spaces for students to openly process their feelings relating to climate change. Teachers and counselors can engender a sense of hope by drawing attention to the success of social movements throughout human history, discussing concrete pathways towards social change and environmental sustainability, and promoting individual agency by discussing ways students can become involved in advocacy efforts.  

In conclusion, climate change presents an existential threat which threatens the livelihood and well-being of future generations. Young people all across the world are already beginning to wake up to this reality and take political action. Teachers and counselors can follow their lead and act as supportive allies and role-models in this fight.

References

Burke, S. E. L., Sanson, A. V., & Hoorn, J. V. (2018). The psychological effects of climate change on children. Current Psychiatry Reports, 20, 1-8. doi:10.1007/s11920-018-0896-9

Democracy Now. (2019, September). “We are striking to disrupt the system”: An hour with 16-year-old climate activist Great Thunberg. Democracy Now. Retrieved from https://www.democracynow.org/2019/9/11/greta_thunberg_swedish_activist_climate_crisis

Fisher, S. (2016). Life trajectories of youth committing to climate activism. Environmental Education Research, 22, 229-247. doi:10.1080/13504622.2015.1007337

Juliana et al., v. United States of America, F. Supp. (D. Or. 2015)

Marris, E. (2019, September). Why young climate activists have captured the world’s attention. Nature: International Journal of Science. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02696-0

Ojala, M. (2016). Facing anxiety in climate change education: From therapeutic practice to hopeful transgressive learning. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 21, 41-56. 

Ojala, M. (2015). Hope in the face of climate change: Associations with environmental engagement and student perceptions of teachers’ emotion communication style and future orientation. Journal of Environmental Education, 46, 133-148. 

Wikler, M. & Yakupitiyage, T. (2019, October). 11 young climate justice activists you need to pay attention to. Vice. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/8xwvq3/11-young-climate-justice-activists-you-need-to-pay-attention-to-beyond-greta-thunbergVerplanken, B., & Roy, D. (2013). “My worries are rational, climate change is not”. Habitual ecological worry is an adaptive response. PLoS One, 8, 1-6.


About the Author: Alex Hilert, M.Ed. is a 3rd year doctoral candidate in Counselor Education and Supervision at William and Mary. He is currently pursuing research in culturally competent counseling practices and mindfulness meditation.

Welcome Back!

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Welcome Back! 

We hope that everyone had a fantastic summer and are excited to begin another year with the Wren’s Nest. Our mission is to provide a space for students, alumni, faculty, and other members of the School of Education community to engage with ideas that focus on applying scholarship beyond the classroom. We are excited to introduce two new additions to our editorial team, Bronwynn Terrell and Devon Boyers, as well as welcome our returning staff Ryan Patterson and Sam Nussbaum. 

Bronwynn is a current Curriculum & Instruction student in the Elementary Education 5th Year Master’s Program. She graduated this past May with a B.A. in English and Anthropology from William & Mary. For the past six months, she has been involved in two archaeological research projects, one regarding sacred trees and temple sites on the island of Mo’orea and the other involving Numismatics at Jamestown. Children’s literature, however, is her greatest passion and hopes to translate this passion into her classroom. Bronwynn is so excited to be a member of the Wren’s Nest team and can’t wait to see what this year will bring! 

Devon Boyers is a first-year master’s student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at the School of Education. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and minored in linguistics at William & Mary, where she had the opportunity to complete an undergraduate honors thesis on the Victorian female Bildungsroman during her senior year. She was also able to study abroad at Christ’s College in Cambridge through a William & Mary-sponsored program, fulfilling a life-long dream to visit and study in the United Kingdom. Devon spent this past summer working as the Assistant Program Coordinator in the Center for Gifted Education at the School of Education, facilitating the execution of the SEP and Camp Launch programs. The intersection of her interests in personal narratives, wellness, and social contribution led her to pursue her master’s and licensure as a counselor, which she hopes to use both in private practice and in program and curriculum design. Additionally, Devon currently holds a graduate assistantship at the Cohen Career Center.

Ryan is a developing higher education professional with an academic background in history, women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, and Spanish. In 2016, she earned her undergraduate degrees from the University of Oregon and she is currently enrolled in the Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership-Higher Education master’s program. Ryan’s interdisciplinary research interests include gender and health, internationalization in higher education, transnational histories, and modern social movements and revolutions. She has published research in The Yale Historical Review and the University of West Florida’s Feminist Spaces. One of her most recent research projects, “Disrupt, Defy, and Demand: Movements Toward Multiculturalism at the University of Oregon, 1968-2015,” will be published in the Berkeley Review of Education in the upcoming Spring/Summer 2020 edition.

Sam graduated from William & Mary in 2018 with a B.A. in history and classical studies and is currently pursuing an M.Ed. at the School of Education in Higher Education Administration. Originally from Northern Virginia, she hopes to move anywhere cold after graduation and work in career services or admissions. She joined the Wren’s Nest in the fall of 2018 and now serves as the Associate Editor for the 2019-2020 year. This summer, Sam served as the Assistant Student Life Manager for Northeastern University’s Pre-College Programs and will continue her assistantship at the Cohen Career Center as the liaison for education careers. Sam is excited about the space that the Wren’s Nest provides as an alternative to publishing in a formal academic journal and she enjoys reading insights from across the School of Education. Her interview with Dr. Katherine Barko-Alva is her favorite piece she has published thus far and is looking forward to another great year with the Wren’s Nest.

Wren’s Nest publishes pieces on a monthly basis so look for new content at the end of every month!

We are currently accepting submissions for publication! If you have a piece you would like to publish (reflection from a summer internship, book reviews, policy briefs, etc) please send it to wrensnest@email.wm.edu! We look forward to reviewing your work!

Bridging the Gap: Engaging with Faculty from the Other Side | Anna M. Tognazzini, ’14 M.Ed.

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Work in higher education long enough and you’ll learn that faculty have a tenuous relationship with university administration. Listen in on any faculty meeting and I’d wager you will overhear someone complain about “The Administration” at least one or twelve times. This tension has the potential to hurt the ability of student affairs practitioners and faculty connect with each other.

In a piece entitled, If Student Affairs-Academic Affairs Collaboration is Such a Good Idea, Why Are There So Few Examples of These Partnerships in American Higher Education, Dr. Victor Arcelus (2011) points out that the issue goes deeper than merely preventing joint programming between faculty and staff; it is something more akin to a cultural divide and lack of understanding. While it is a recent trend for academic departments to offer interdisciplinary courses, for example, but those partnerships rarely if ever include student affairs.

Arcelus (2011) attributes this, at least partly, to a lack of clarity about the purpose of higher education, is it to educate the mind or the whole student? As faculty turn more toward their discipline and student affairs staff increasingly take on more supporting roles outside the classroom, the question I am left with is how can collaboration better connect our two worlds? Students need both.

It’s an open question whether student affairs practitioners ‘count’ as administrators. At times that term seems to mean the President/Provost/Deans, and other times it seems to indicate any non-faculty employee; so there is a risk that student affairs staff members are being lumped into a category they don’t actually belong to. In any case, we as higher education professionals may face some serious evasion, confusion, or even distrust when working with academic departments to develop programming, form committees, or get responses to queries. It can be incredibly frustrating.

Based on my observations and sixteen years of experience in higher education, working as an administrative assistant, policy analyst, faculty support coordinator and student advisor, I submit these suggestions. They are not necessarily applicable to everyone. In her book “Working Effectively with Faculty” faculty member Susan Corcoran Christy lays out a much more in-depth framework. My experiences cohere well with Christy’s research, and what follows are a few observations to help bridge the gap:

  1. For the most part, staff members’ first allegiance is to the institution. We wear our university t-shirts with pride and feel solidarity with everyone who works at our institution. But faculty often seem to have a different connection to the university community, seeing themselves as primarily committed to their departments, or their disciplines, rather than the university writ large. Understanding this distinction is crucial because it helps inform what will motivate a faculty member. They may not be moved by campus-wide needs or interests or strategic plans, whereas appealing to something that relates directly to their department or discipline will encourage deeper engagement.
  2. Many faculty members are allergic to buzzwords, so avoid “administration-speak” when emailing a faculty member. Being overly formal or using a lot of jargon can easily lead a faculty member to disengage. Also: try to keep emails SHORT and to the point. Being clear about what is needed and why can help encourage faculty involvement. In addition, some student affairs practitioners may prefer to use “feeling” language, and this may not be the communication style of many faculty members. Relatedly, most faculty members are trained to think critically and often question ideas or policy. That is essentially part of their job, so try not to take it personally (it’s not usually intended as mean-spirited) and respond honestly.  They appreciate and value direct communication and frank conversation – be open and straightforward.
  3. Many faculty members I have worked with at various institutions across the country don’t quite understand what professional staff are for or what they do. I suspect that this at least partly stems from how staff are trained up to always defer to faculty desires. Faculty rightly view their job as central to the university (universities are here to teach students, after all), but at the same time they may fail to appreciate the equally central place of, say, the Registrar’s Office. When approaching a situation with a faculty member, try to resist the urge to be overly deferential. Be courteous and professional, but that doesn’t have to mean downplaying the importance of non-teaching components of the university. By the same token, feel free to take opportunities to help faculty members better appreciate the importance of the work you do outside the classroom.
  4. Don’t forget that faculty members are regular people (who knew, right?!) and just like any other colleague, finding common hobbies or outside interests can help facilitate friendly relationships. Every summer I work orientation with the same core group of faculty and maintain good relationships with them because we have bonded over sharing stories about registration fiascos and parent questions.

Our academic colleagues face enormous pressure in their work, in a way that differs from our own. Depending on their discipline, serving on a student conduct committee or working at orientation may genuinely hinder progress for their career as they work furiously against the tenure clock or try to stay current with their research. Assuming positive intent can go a long way in encouraging positive working relationships with the faculty you encounter. Keeping the concepts above in mind has helped me to build stronger relationships with faculty, which at the end of the day benefits students and the healthy functioning of the university as a whole.

References

Arcelus, V. J. (2011). “If Student Affairs-Academic Affairs Collaboration is Such a Good Idea, Why Are There So Few Examples of These Partnerships in American Higher Education: Transforming Our Approach to Education: Cultivating Partnerships and Dialogue.” In Contested Issues in Student Affairs: Diverse Perspectives and Respectful Dialogue, edited by Peter M. Magolda and Marcia B. Baxter. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 61-74.

Christy, S. (2010). Working effectively with faculty: Guidebook for higher education staff and managers. Berkeley, CA.: University Resources Press.


Anna Tognazzini, ’14 M.Ed., is a Pre-Healthcare and Graduate School Advisor at her undergraduate alma mater, Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. Faculty and staff relations are close to her heart as she is married to a tenured faculty member in Philosophy.

Dean Niles: On Being a Student

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By: Mary Kate Watkins, M.Ed. ’19

“We each have painful experiences in our lives, especially when we’re young, that capture our attention. They become a preoccupation. We try to turn those early life preoccupations into a later life occupation to make a social contribution.”

In the first half of the interview, Dean Niles shared about his own career in education and gave some advice for current and future students.

As we talked, Dean Niles shared personal experiences, leadership perspectives, and valuable insight on applied theory in his animated descriptions of how he came to be in the position he currently sits. Speaking with Dean Niles, I was captured by his exciting, motivating, and inspiring perspectives on career development and student participation. Enjoy this peek into the path that led Dean Niles to the School of Education, and read carefully for pieces of career advice from a true expert in the field.

How did you get started in education?

I think this is often the case in education, I come from a long line of teachers. My parents, my grandmother, my sisters, my aunts and uncles – were all teachers. It was sort of like the family business. My Mom was a high school Spanish and English teacher, and I grew up around stories of some of the things that she would do as a teacher that seemed cool. I tried different majors as an undergraduate student, but I was always volunteering to work with kids in one capacity or another. I really enjoyed it and seemed to be good at it, so that led me to education. Then I got introduced to the idea and the option of counseling and decided to go in that direction.

What kind of impactful experiences did you have along the way that helped you guide and shift that career path?

There’s a saying based in Adlerian psychology that addresses factors influencing career pathways, and the phrase is “we’re each trying to actively master what we at one time passively suffered.” We each have experiences in our lives, especially when we’re young, that capture our attention. They become a preoccupation. We try to turn those early life preoccupations into a later life occupation to make a social contribution. The experiences that tend to capture our attention the most tend to be painful ones. So, like everybody I have my story in terms of that.

Another related Adlerian phrase connected to actively mastering what you passively suffered is that “we each seek to move from a felt minus to a perceived plus.” One way we do that is by identifying particular people as role models, heroes or heroines.  In this process, we have selective attention and identify models that seem to offer ways out of our predicaments in life. We are drawn toward people whom we perceive as having actively mastering what we have passively suffered.

 I never saw myself as an academic at all. In my first semester during my doctoral program, my advisor, who was a major figure in the counseling field, shared that he had been invited to author a manuscript for a journal, and invited join in on this with him. I thought, ‘you can’t be talking to me!’ I remember feeling really anxious, and I told him, “I’d like to but I don’t really know how to do that.” His response to me was “that’s okay – it’s a developmental skill and I can teach you.” That statement was made to me forty-three years ago, and I can remember it like it was yesterday because it changed the course of my life. I didn’t believe it when he said it, but I figured he knows a lot more about this stuff than I do. So, if he believes it, I guess I’ll trust him for now.

He was the first professor in the College of Education at Penn State to be named a distinguished professor, which is a title limited to ten percent of the faculty at Penn State. So, many years later when I was named a distinguished professor at Penn State, the first person I called was him. I told him that none of this would have happened if it weren’t for his mentorship. And I totally meant that. It’s really important to have somebody who believes in you, somebody who you respect and admire, and communicates that to you.

It was these processes that led me to education and counseling and wanting to help others actively master what they had passively suffered in their lives.  My specific focus in that work has been in the area of vocational and career development.  I view career development as the way that people make sense out of their experiences in life and then translate that meaning into an occupational direction. In that process, what really becomes important is not the job title, which is the ultimate objectification of any career, but the more subjective experience of the you’re work you’re doing and whether that work provides the opportunity to focus on the particular purpose you express through your work.  Put another way, whether that work provides you with the opportunity to continue actively mastering what you at one time passively suffered.  

You have a strong background in Career Development, what advice would you offer to education students as they begin their career paths?

I’ll use an analogy here. It’s similar to when you’re working out and you develop your little routine in terms of that what you do when you go to the gym. But then suddenly a trainer starts working with you. And that opportunity is a real boost to your workout routine. It adds a whole new dimension to your workouts. You are more fit, and you can do things physically that you couldn’t do before you started working with a trainer. There are some parallels in terms of what I think about the things that boosted my career like a trainer might boost a workout. At the start of my career, the opportunity to work with more senior scholars taught me so much about scholarship, research, and writing for publication.  Our faculty are eager to help their students develop their scholarly capacity.  I know personally, I can’t think of a time when I’ve ever said no to a student who has asked to participate in my research.  I think that is true of our faculty in general.

There are a lot of opportunities here [at William & Mary’s School of Education] for students. Our faculty are committed to our students’ careers and being helpful in ways that we can be. Sometimes that means engaging in research and other activities professional activities that make you stand out. The academic curriculum in most programs is probably very similar across universities in terms of the courses students take. So, it is the things you do outside of the curriculum like research with a faculty member or participation in a national conference or organization, those are the things that add value to your program of study. They may not be required, but they begin to distinguish one person from another when it comes time to find a job. I encourage students to take full advantage of those opportunities while they are here.

____________________________________________________________________________  Mary Kate Watkins is an Editorial Assistant for Wren’s Nest and a M.Ed. ’19 student in the Educational Policy, Planning, & Leadership program at William & Mary.

Image: Joshua Chung