Rome, Kalymnos, Kalamazoo: Coming Full Circle

For Stasia Lopez, a student in WMU’s Master’s program in Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA), her university experience has taken her on unexpected paths, with surprising rewards. Stasia began her undergraduate study at Robert Morris University (Pittsburgh, PA), studying Business Administration with a concentration in Hospitality and Tourism Management. But a desire to break out of familiar places led her to study abroad, first visiting her extended family’s home in Greece and then journeying to Rome, hoping to trace her own roots in both countries. At the start of her trip, Stasia chose not to call or contact her extended family; from Greece, she simply hopped on a boat for the twelve-hour journey to the island of Kalymnos, her ancestral home. Miraculously, after wandering through streets and finding her maiden name (Diamantis, Greek for “diamond”) plastered everywhere, she located her relatives within mere hours of getting off the boat. Beginning a life-changing and vastly rewarding experience, Stasia continued her pilgrimage, arriving in Italy days later. While taking Italian language and culture classes at the American University in Rome, Stasia made Italian friends who helped her to discover much more about the city and its hidden treasures – off-the-beaten-path cafes, shops, and nearly forgotten landmarks and spaces, as well as new Italian friends and families – than she would have discovered among her enclave of American peers. From learning to think and speak in another language to navigating an ancient city, Stasia recalls that there was never a dormant moment for her… she felt completely alive, captivated, and challenged the entire time.

a photo of Stasia Lopez

When Stasia returned stateside in 2008, she found a seismic shift had occurred in her life, with her goals and outlook completely changed. She observes that “when you can foster relationships with anyone, especially international friends, who can tell you about differences in culture, perceptions, and perspectives… it breaks you out of thinking that your home is the only way to live and you see a wider swath of the world, or the world from another viewpoint.” This experience also changed her career path; when Stasia returned, she turned down a marketing internship to intern in the Study Abroad Office at her alma mater. Her experiences abroad and in that office blossomed into an advocacy and love for education that she continues in her work as a graduate student at WMU.

As a graduate assistant in Career & Student Employment Services (CSES), Stasia plans a variety of programming at WMU. In fall 2012, she helped to open the Career Zone in Ellsworth Hall, which offers individualized drop-in and group advising. According to Stasia, “the career advising offered by CSES helps all students in what they can do with their majors, writing their cover letters and resumes, and also provides one-on-one career counseling with our doctoral students. Additionally, we also help students in planning for jobs and internships and have assessment resources to help match students with careers and internships.” Stasia finds that some of her most rewarding work comes in advising first-generation college students. As a first-generation college graduate herself, Stasia understands the importance and difficulty of balancing work, school, and life, and completing a degree program quickly, issues of special concern to this group of students. After completing one of her program internships in the TRIO Student Success Program at WMU, which primarily works with first-generation students, she realized more than ever how much she loves academic advising, especially first-generation and exploratory advising students.

Stasia also finds that her work for the Career Zone and CSES dovetails beautifully with her coursework. For each student in the HESA program, the curriculum is very broad-based and leadership focused. Stasia has taken a diverse array of courses encompassing higher education and student affairs from student development to diversity and equity. Through her work as an advisor, she is able to combine the theory learned in class with experience in the field. In a course on student development, for example, Stasia regularly gets to work with students and see them develop throughout their degree programs. In any given semester, she may encourage students to reflect on their study abroad programs, or listen to international students’ perspectives on American education and how they’re settling here, or help students to find their passions, choose majors, and locate resources to help them land internships or determine their career paths. Through it all, Stasia sees her work as a career advisor and her coursework in the HESA program as inextricably linked, creating a truly experiential learning experience for her. “Experiential learning,” says Stasia, “is how we learn, grow, and gain qualifications for careers.”

Hoping to pursue a career in Study Abroad herself, Stasia has advocated that this life-changing experience be available for students of all backgrounds. In 2009, she created a Facebook group called the International Cultures Group to inform a global audience about the benefits of international study and perspectives. From the start, she posted serious statistics about international cultures and Study Abroad programs alongside fun posts about foreign food, world holidays, and mini-celebrations. Her audience on the site grew to almost 400 and, last year, Stasia was nominated by GoAbroad (one of the leading websites concerning study / intern / volunteer / work abroad) for its 2012 Innovation Award for the site she created. Not content to rest on her laurels, Stasia has continued her advocacy as a writer for sites like Wandering Educators and Go Overseas; she has also attended several regional NAFSA (Association of International Educators) conferences and has applied for grants to attend many of them, the first with her work for the online resource AbroadScout.

Stasia currently balances these activities with her coursework in HESA, her work in CSES, and four internships, one of which involves creating a series of workshops on re-entry for all WMU students returning from their study abroad experiences. While she feels she has found her voice and purpose in advocating for international study, she sees her life coming full-circle in her work. The first of her family to graduate from college, she was also the first to make it back to their ancestral home. Finding that her life changed and her eyes opened by this experience of traveling abroad, she now helps other students to navigate the life-changing and eye-opening experiences of higher education, and advocates the importance of new perspectives and adventures for all of her peers at WMU and beyond.

The Career Zone, located across from the writing center on the first floor of Ellsworth Hall, is open Monday thru Friday 12-5pm. All students are welcome to receive drop-in advising on resumes, cover letters, interviewing tips, to find out what they can do with their majors, and more! For more information call: 269-387-2745

From the WMU HESA program website: “The master’s degree concentration in higher education and student affairs (HESA) is designed to prepare students for entry and mid-level professional positions in colleges, community colleges, and universities. Typically, these positions include administrative roles in admissions, academic advising, residence life, student activities, financial aid, career services, and offices designed to support and retain historically underserved student populations (e.g., multicultural affairs, LGBT Services, services for students with disabilities, women’s centers, veteran and military services, offices for foster care youth, etc.)”

Graduate College Welcomes Faculty Fellows

The Graduate College appointed two Faculty Fellows at the beginning of Spring 2013. They will be in the position until the end of Fall 2013. Each of them brings their own set of skills to the job, and each has unique responsibilities tied to their job description. Dr. Jon Adams, an associate professor in the Department of English, has the focus area in student and faculty engagement and success. He is working with Academic Affairs, college deans, graduate program directors and chairs and the Office of Faculty Development and the Office of Student Affairs.
A photo of Graduate Faculty Fellows, Dr. Louann Bierlien Palmer, and Dr. Jon Adams
When asked what led him to apply for the position, he specified his excitement over the new direction Dean Susan Stapleton has been taking the Graduate College and her determination that the Graduate College be a part of every conversation. Dr. Adams is especially interested in the aspects of his position that include student and faculty engagement and success. His whole career has been informed by his wish to see students succeed and this position gives him a chance to be a part of that success individually and institutionally. Besides the engagement piece, it is a professional development opportunity as well.
If he could narrow his position to one point, it would be student engagement. Studies show that student engagement is one major predictor of retention and the Graduate College is serious about not only recruitment but retention. Dr. Adams will work with the Graduate College Ambassadors, a group of twelve grad students from each college who represent Graduate College interests across the campus. He will also interact with the Graduate Student Advisory Committee (GSAC). This is a flourishing registered student organization that advocates for graduate education and graduate students. GSAC represents graduate students at Western Student Advisory council meetings and funds activities proposed by graduate student groups.
During Spring 2013 and Summer I and II 2013 Dr. Adams will be working on an online orientation program for graduate students who cannot attend on-campus orientation. Students who are off-campus need training for teaching assistant and graduate assistant positions as much as on-campus students, and this online training can be expanded to offer supplemental orientation activities and alternative types of training.
His work as a Graduate Faculty Fellow has taught him a great deal about Western’s history and current administrative and personnel climate. Talking with constituents from all over campus, including deans and associate deans as well as graduate students, has given him knowledge about the people who make Western happen. This helps him know how to help them in his function as faculty fellow.
Dr. Adams studies representations of war and masculinity in American literature and culture. He teaches upper level, graduate and special topics classes in American Literature and upper-division and graduate courses in Literary Theory and the Novel. He received the WMU Distinguished Teaching Award in 2012 and serves on the Graduate Studies Council and as the Director of Graduate Studies in English. He received his Ph.D. from University of California-Riverside.
Dr. Louann Bierlein Palmer is a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, Research and Technology whose Faculty Fellow position includes a focus area on graduate admissions and enrollment. She will work with Academic Affairs, the University Student Enrollment Management Committee, Extended University Programs, admissions, college deans and the graduate program chairs, directors and academic units.
She earned her Ed.D. in Educational Administration from Northern Arizona University. Dr. Bierlein Palmer teaches EDLD courses in the areas of School Community Relations and Cultural Competency, Policy Development and Analysis, and Leadership Theory. Her research interests include a broad array of K-12 and higher education reform and policy issues, and she often uses survey research and case study analyses. Prior to joining WMU, Dr. Bierlein Palmer served in various policy research and leadership roles, including the Governor’s Office in Louisiana, and state and university policy centers in Louisiana and Arizona. She is also considered a national expert on quality charter school laws and authorizing policies.
Because her area of interest is in leadership and policy analysis and reform, she applied for this position to use this opportunity to become involved at the systems level at WMU. Most of her students are working professionals, so the faculty fellow position allows her to reengage in the practical leadership aspects of higher education. She is working on streamlining policies and procedures to stretch limited resources farther.
One of Dr. Bierlein Palmer’s goals is to establish more regular communication with graduate advisors, especially on issues relating to admissions and recruitment. Currently she is also working on a merged version of the Graduate Catalog with the Graduate Advising Handbook to create a document which more accurately reflects the needs of advisors and other users. The new Graduate Catalog will be more user-friendly and up-to-date. She is also working with Graduate College staff and University Relations on creating a new Graduate College brochure to use for recruiting purposes. In addition to making changes to the interior of the current brochure, including the listings of programs to make it easier for recruiters to use, she is creating one page handout templates that each department or program can use to customize the information provided.
Dr. Bierlein Palmer states, “It is a privilege to work with Dr. Stapleton and others in the Graduate College, and to work on the larger goal of promoting high quality graduate education within WMU…As a systems thinker, I treasure learning more about the many pieces needed to support the broader university.”

Dr. Amy Gullickson, Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Evaluation

Dr. Amy Gullickson received her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Evaluation (IDPE) in December, 2010. Following her graduation she worked in the College of Education and Human Development as the Senior Research Associate to the Dean and served as a graduate faculty member for the college’s Educational Leadership, Research and Technology department. In November 2012 she moved to Australia to take a tenure track position as Senior Lecturer at the Center for Program Evaluation at the University of Melbourne.

A photo of Dr. Amy Gullickson

As a professional evaluator, Amy’s job is to help organizations understand the effects of their actions. She serves as independent observer, reviewing context, activities, and results. She then gives reports on what they are doing right or wrong and recommendations on how they might improve. She gained experience doing evaluation in a variety of settings throughout her PhD program, including four months in Southeast Asia over four years as a team member on the Heifer International Impact evaluation. Through Heifer International, people in developing countries receive gifts of animals, from ducks to pigs to bees, learn how to raise and care for them, and then pass on the gift of animals and training to another family. As she talked to farmers, government officials, and non-governmental organizations, she learned valuable lessons about working with people from different cultures and languages on an evaluation project.
Also during her PhD work, Amy was fortunate to study at The Evaluation Center with several of the field’s foundational thinkers: Dr. Daniel Stufflebeam, Dr. Michael Scriven, and Dr. James Sanders (who served on her dissertation committee). Her dissertation, “Mainstreaming Evaluation: Four Case Studies of Systematic Evaluation Integrated into Organizational Culture and Practices,” explored evaluative practices in National Science Foundation-funded Advanced Technological Education centers. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the IDPE, she found one of her biggest challenges was to put together a dissertation committee. Dr. Nick Andreadis, Dean of Lee Honors College served as her committee chair, with committee members Dr. Sanders, and Dr. Chris Coryn, Assistant Professor in Education, Measurement and Research and Director of the IDPE program.
As Senior Research Associate to the Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, Amy interviewed all faculty and staff to understand the culture and practice of the various departments with regard to evaluation. She then debriefed the various departments with her findings in order to help them move forward with creating systems to collect evaluative data for strategic planning, continuous improvement, and to provide evidence of their impact. Her data analysis has also been used to inform college level strategic planning.
When asked what she had gained from the Graduate College, Amy stated that she was grateful to receive two travel grants, which she used to attend the American Evaluation Association Annual Conference. In addition, she participated in a dissertation writing workshop sponsored by the Graduate College. She encourages all graduate students to take advantage of the dissertation formatting workshops sponsored by the Graduate College and run by Jennifer Holm, Coordinator of Theses and Dissertations. Amy states that she did not attend one of the formatting workshops, usually offered several times in the Fall and Spring semesters, and wishes she had!