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


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


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

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.

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.


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

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

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, 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!


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! We look forward to reviewing your work!

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


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.


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


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

Dean Niles: On the School of Education


By: Mary Kate Watkins, M.Ed. ’19

In the first half of my interview with Dean Niles, we focused on his experience as a student and his advice for students seeking a career in education.  

How do you view your role at William & Mary?

My motivation is really around identifying ways that my service can be useful to our faculty, students and staff.  A primary goal I have is helping people and programs achieve their goals.  I strive to create a climate within the school where people feel valued and aware that their presence matters.  Higher education is so much a hierarchy, right?  Undergrad, Master’s, Doctoral, Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Professor, and wherever it goes from there. In terms of what we learn from each other, however, we know that the learning process is mutual and multidirectional.  Personally, I learn important things every day from our staff, students, and faculty.

Part of what I value, as a person who’s been in higher education for a while, is that you don’t have to be in an administrative role to be a leader.  Everyone has a role to play in leadership.  Faculty do this by mentoring students, staff do this in the ways they make our school better through their dedicated service, students do this when they are fully engaged in the learning process.  In my work with students, I have been very intentional about engaging students in that process.  In a way, it is my opportunity to pay forward what was offered to me by my advisor when I was a doctoral student.  I have about 150 publications and probably about 140 of them are with students because it’s so important to me that I can help other students feel that sort of empowerment that I experienced as a student.  One of the things I like least about being a Dean is that I don’t have the opportunity to work as frequently with students as I would like.  I do know that I will finish my career as a as a professor again because I really value that sort of work opportunity.  Being part of a student’s developmental process is a real honor. 

What makes the William & Mary School of Education unique?

That’s an easy one.  Our faculty really do care about your personal and career development.  Our faculty and staff are incredibly committed to the work that they do in the School of Education.  Your presence and your contributions are incredibly important to what we are as a School of Education.

I think for deep learning to happen people have to feel like who they are and what they bring to the work that they do, whether it’s faculty, staff, or student, is sufficient to contribute. And it’s not about always “getting it right.”  There’s much more learning that happens when it’s not perfect.  We’re all operating from a coping model when it comes to who we are how we live and what we do.  And when we acknowledge that, we engage in our work and our interactions with others with genuine humility that creates the space for us to take risks and grow into the best people we can be – it shifts the focus from whether we are failing or succeeding to learning.   If we lose a sense of humility, then we move into dangerous territory because then we assume a level of arrogance that is detrimental to the learning process.

Another piece that’s important is that we have to take the time to reflect upon what our daily experiences have to teach us about our place in the world.  Paying attention and engaging in mindful practices are essential for being able to integrate our experiences into our self-awareness.  When we aren’t intentionally reflective, we tend to gloss right over this process. Instead, we focus on human doing and exclude human being.  We get too caught up in probability thinking, which is always there at some level, but it’s much more essential to focus on the possibilities because that’s usually where the creative solutions to complex problems reside.

How would you describe your leadership over the School of Education?

Here, we try to be transformational for students schools and communities. One of the ways we can help be transformational is by committing to our own transformation. We have many faculty doing very transformational work.  As a leader, I try to join them in that process by taking on a service orientation to leadership. Shared governance is important for many reasons, but one is that is allows for group ownership of solutions to our challenges.  We hire very strong people as faculty and staff, and we admit outstanding students – that is a powerful confluence of resources that collectively is transformative.

What would you like everyone reading this to know about you?

First of all, what I’d like to say is that there’s a standing invitation to people; if there are ways that I can be useful to them, then I genuinely want to help. We’re here to work on things together and learn together.  It’s a real honor to be connected to this school and the people in this school.  We have an important commitment to continuous improvement.  And one thing is very exciting is that we have a president that really exemplifies that commitment. I think she is already energizing us as a university and leading us into some very exciting places.

Part 2: On Being a Student

____________________________________________________________________________ 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

Scholarship in Practice | Justine Okerson Ph.D. ’16


In academia, a dedication to lifelong learning and the pursuit of knowledge to enhance our practices is critical for higher education administrators, as demographics continue to change and impact our current vision of what “college” looks like.  I was attracted to William & Mary’s Higher Education Program as it would allow me to continue my work as a practitioner in the field focused on admission visitations, while also challenging me to design my own research on college choice and the campus visit, eventually defining my own college choice theory.

When I finished my Ph.D. in 2016, I knew the educational experience provided me with the historical knowledge and research experience to back up my practitioner-based expertise with college choice and the campus visit.  I improved my problem-solving skills, fine-tuned my academic writing, and prepared for the next steps on my career trajectory, as I plan to become a Dean of Undergraduate Admission.

My experience at William & Mary will forever inscribe the Tribe in my heart, but also assisted me in making the jump to working at Duke University with the Office of Undergraduate Scholars & Fellows.  In my role as the Associate Director for Merit Scholarship programs, I direct the annual recruitment of 150 merit scholars out of the top applicants at Duke University.  I lead the campus visitation program/interview process for all merit scholarship finalists, and my team and I support over 500 scholars programmatically throughout the year.

When I reflect on my ability to implement scholarship into practice, I immediately consider all the techniques I learned from my experiences with research, reflection, and assessment at William & Mary to put positive change into practice.  When I first arrived at Duke, the schedule for programming for the year was set, and I learned quite a bit during that first year about what I personally observed to be working and what needed some additional tweaking.  I utilized surveys and conversations with my scholars in order to better inform the work for my second year.  Over the summer, I was able to utilize the feedback I had received, create collaborative spaces for discussion, and draft and revise a new programmatic plan for the current academic year.

This year I implemented a first-year program series for all first-year scholars across 10 different merit scholarships at Duke University.  In this program, I introduced them to the benefits and responsibilities of being a merit scholar, allowed them to engage with a life-values inventory and reflected on what they hope to get out of their college experience. I also brought in author Tara Westover from the New York Times best-selling book Educated to teach them grit, resilience, and gratitude, including their introduction to the world of the arts in Durham, outside of the Duke bubble. 

But the learning in my job does not stop here.  Much as the programming has become more intentional and more successful this year thanks to the tools I learned in Educational Planning and Evaluation & Assessment at William & Mary. There is always room to continue growing and improving.

My time at Duke has been a whirlwind: I was asked to serve as my high school’s Chair of Ideas and deliver a speech about my career to students; I use research and focus groups to create more equitable scholar selection and recruitment practices; I utilize texts and articles frequently in staff trainings/meetings; I presented research at the NACAC conference with over 10,000 attendees;  I enrolled in Managing at Duke and attended a series of Racial & Social Equity trainings, and I applied for a Fulbright IEA Seminar for Higher Education Administrators.  I attribute these successes to my time and education at William & Mary in the Higher Education Program.  I will forever exercise my intellectual curiosity, desire to improve myself and others through Higher Education, and passion for research and scholarship.

Dr. Justine Okerson is the Associate Director for Merit Scholarship Programs in the Office of Undergraduate Scholars & Fellows (OUSF) at Duke University. Justine earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from William & Mary, where she completed her dissertation on college choice and the campus visit.

Image: Duke Today

Virtual Reality as a Social Skills Intervention | Daria Lorio-Barsten Ph.D. ’22

Cute little child girl playing game in virtual reality glasses.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects one in 68 children (Centers for Disease Control and Prevalence, 2014). As the numbers of identified individuals with ASD rise, students with ASD continuously underperform on the requirement of graduating with a standard diploma. The national graduation rate for students with disabilities is 61% (Samuels, 2015), yet students with ASD graduate at a rate of 40% (or less) (Barrat et al., 2014). Social, economic, and employment outcomes for adults with ASD also remain poor (Parsons, 2016).

Individuals with ASD demonstrate persistent deficits in the areas of social interactions across a variety of contexts, which lead to deficits in forming and maintaining relationships (APA, 2015). Consequently, these deficits lead to an increased risk for loneliness and social isolation (Didehbani, Allen, Kandalaft, Krawczyk & Chapman, 2016). Special education teachers frequently struggle with developing and delivering effective instruction on social skills due to a strong academic focus within the schools and a lack of training or existing curriculum for social skills.

However, to improve graduation rates and, more importantly, social and employment outcomes for students with ASD, schools must find a way to address the need for effective social skills instruction. Using virtual reality (VR) can be one of the potential solutions to the current lack of an instructional match to the students’ social skills deficit (Parsons, 2016; Didehbani et al., 2016; Lorenzo, Lledo, Pomares, & Roig, 2016; Irish, 2013).

Among evidence-based practices for individuals with ASD are social skills training, video modeling, and technology-aided instruction and intervention (National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder, 2014). VR as an instructional option combines technology-aided instruction and intervention, social skills training, and video modeling. Depending on the VR design, additional evidence-based practices of prompting and reinforcement may also be simultaneously implemented with intentional design.

Didehbani et al. (2016) proposed that VR allows individuals to practice socially challenging interactions with less anxiety than more traditional social skills interventions. This is accomplished by providing opportunities for repeated practice in a constantly changing and dynamic environment within a safe context. Traditional instructional methods cannot create such intricate contexts. Within a VR setting individuals with ASD can make social mistakes without the fear of rejection or intense anxiety. Additionally, computer technology can frequently be highly motivating as well through immediate feedback and dense sensory input.

Complexity and variability of VR experiences impact the effectiveness of VR as an intervention (Parsons, 2016).  Most current VR environments display visual experiences on a desktop computer screen for single users (Lorenzo et al., 2016) while others allow students to collaborate with additional students in a virtual learning environment (Wang, Laffrey, Xing, Ma & Stichter, 2016; Parsons, 2015).

A recent application of VR provided an immersive virtual reality experience through the use of L-shaped screens, robots with eye-in-hand camera system, sound system, and software with an algorithm that identifies and quantifies the user’s basic expressions of anger, happiness, sadness and surprise (Lorenzo et al., 2016). Using VR to improve social skills may be a promising practice (Parsons, 2015; Didehbani et al., 2016; Irish, 2013), though most studies include small samples and lack longitudinal and follow-up studies (Irish, 2013). Questions remain if the participants can generalize those skills across other settings and real people. 

Costs and installation present practical barriers for the use of VR as an instructional strategy within a school system. Investing in a costly, not-yet deemed evidence-based practice is likely to present a challenge. Additionally, special education teachers may not possess a strong knowledge base in VR design or the ability to troubleshoot technical aspects.

Statista (2017) forecasted the total number of active virtual reality users to reach 171 million by 2018. As more VR is developed further studies should explore using VR as an intervention strategy for students with ASD. However, VR should not be an intervention in itself. Instead, VR should be one of the tools to enhance student engagement and success. VR designers and special education teachers need to engage in interdisciplinary collaboration in order to combine the exciting possibilities of a dynamic and safe VR world with effective teaching practices.

Daria Lorio-Barsten is a Ph.D. student in the EPPL K-12 Administration program at William & Mary. Her interests include special education, behavior management, and creativity. @DariaLorio


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Image: Yuganov Konstantin