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NARRATIVE REFLECTION

Higher Learning in Higher Education: A Narrative Reflection


When I think back to February 2013, the month I got accepted into the M.Ed. program at
Loyola University Chicago, I think about how different my life was then and how different it
could have been had I not decided to become a Rambler. I was perfectly content working full
time. While I wasnt exactly thrilled with my current position, I had a relative sense of stability.
However, I saw issues in my current institution that troubled meissues with leadership, power,
authority, and operations management. I knew there was something wrong, but I couldnt
articulate quite what was bothering me. I desired to know more about how institutions work,
what makes them tick, and how I fit into the system.
So not long after I got my acceptance letter, I chose to attend Loyola for the Fall 2013
semester. I knew that if I wanted to advance my career and have a chance at solving the issues I
faced at my previous institution, I needed some more experience and education in the field. I quit
my job, moved to the city, and started a new chapter, completely unsure of how it would all
work. I took a riska risk that I still question at timesbut a risk that, as I reflect now, I know
was worth it. I know now that Ive learned more about higher education, myself, my professional
goals, and how to work toward social justice than I ever knew before.
My Educational Journey: Social Justice & Spheres of Influence
While in the program, Ive had the opportunity to learn from great scholars and
practitioners in the field. I am so grateful to hear from the folks who share a passion for higher
education and who inspire me and empower me to affect my spheres of influence. This was
probably the most important content I learned from my coursework in the program. I recall my
first semester, sitting in Multiculturalism for Social Justice in Higher Education, feeling utterly
hopeless about the state of things and guilty about my privilege. I wondered how I could possibly

NARRATIVE REFLECTION

make a difference in the world, how I could impact students who felt marginalized and oppressed
feel empowered, competent, and valued. Thats a big job for one person. I wondered how I could
set the world of higher education on its ear, how I could make college more accessible, more
approachable, and more about community. I felt responsible for making these changes and that
weight was crushing and stifling.
It wasnt until I took Student Development Theory with John Dugan that I felt a little
relief from this responsibility. In this class we talked about spheres of influence. We all have a
network of folks that we are close with and have an influence on. My sphere, as of now, consists
of the students I advise, my supervisors and co-workers, my family, and my close friends.
Whether I try to model inclusive language, or make space for those whose voices are often
silenced, I can make a small difference within my sphere. Maybe its about having a conversation
with my parents about institutionalized racism in Fergusonand maybe its ending that
conversation with an agreement to disagreebut that conversation affects my sphere. It plants a
seed. It sends a message. And perhaps it will inspire another conversation or a more thoughtful
perspective.
While this lesson of spheres of influence seems small, it makes the rest of the content I
learned more actionable. For example, if I develop a new program that I want to implement, its
very important to use my spheres of influence to build a coalition to support it. Or if I want to
implement an assessment for that program, its important to understand what needs to be
assessed, and my sphere of influence can help inform that assessment. Learning how important
my spheres of influence are has been incredibly powerful. I may not be able to change the world,
or even change my own institutions system, but perhaps I can influence those around me who
will then influence their spheres and so on until we live in a better world.

NARRATIVE REFLECTION

Personal & Professional Growth: Through Humility Comes Strength


Some days, I think these past two years have flown by. How can it already be time to
graduate? But sometimes I feel as if these past two years have been the longest of my life.
Adjusting back to school was more challenging than I expected, and changing assistantships
presented hardships I had not anticipated. I have been truly humbled by my experiences; Ive
learned what it means to work hard and to sacrifice in the pursuit of passion.
During my first year in the program, I was terribly unhappy. I was stuck in an
assistantship that I didnt find fulfilling, I felt lost in the classroom, and I experienced some
extreme vocational dissonance. I frequently asked myself, what am I doing here? To be honest,
Loyola was the only program I had applied to and the assistantship the only one I was offered. I
did not see a choice before me; if going to graduate school for free meant staying in a functional
area I didnt love, then that was what made sense. The choice I made followed me through that
first year. While I did not hate my first year, it was more of a struggle than I ever expected. But
the team I had on my side, the champions in my corner, encouraged me and supported me to
make a change.
I had always been passionate about advising. My favorite part of working in residence
life departments was working with my student staff members one on one, talking about goals,
dreams, and the future. Even when I was working full time in residence life, I found a way to get
involved with career advisingI craved building more positive relationships with students.
Residence life surely taught me so much and gave me so many transferrable skills, but the
functional area just wasnt for me. I made the very difficult decision to leave my assistantship in
search of a new opportunity.

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At the start of my second year, I found myself facing a plethora of new experiences: and
internship at UIC, an assistantship with the School of Communication at Loyola, and a part-time
job at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. While my goal was to gain new and
diverse experiences, I did not account for all that entailed. I found myself overloaded and
overwhelmed. And on top of my busy schedule, I was dealing with many personal
responsibilities: planning a wedding and helping my parents through a challenging situation. It
felt like overnight my world had shiftedand it had shifted onto my shoulders.
It was at this time that I realized the weight of pursing my own goals. I wanted different
experiences so I gave up a full-tuition assistantship that provided housing and a decent income,
and when I felt the weight of my burdens bearing down on me, I almost regretted it. But after
several conversations with the most supportive peers, my partner, and my supervisor, I realized
that my dreams are worth it. I am worth it. And its okay to lean on the people around me in
times of great stress.
Opportunities come at a cost, and they may have overwhelmed me, but I learned from
them. I learned that no matter what I do in the future, I need developmental interaction with
undergraduate students. Theres something about having those real-life conversations about
choosing classes, managing family obligations, and finding ones path that keep me coming to
work every day. Without those interactions, I feel stifled. I also learned that I crave a fun
workplace. I enjoy spending time with people who also love their work and feel energized when
working with students. I am incredibly thankful for the experiences I had working with students
during my two graduate assistantships and internship. They confirmed my desire to serve
students and furthered my passion for one-on-one advising.

NARRATIVE REFLECTION

Again, I think back two years. I gave up quite a bit in that time, but gained so much more.
I gained more confidence in my future, more confidence in myself. I gained lifelong friendships
and longstanding working relationships. Ive built a network of people who want to share best
practices and grow with me. Im not sure I know exactly who I am or what Ill be doing ten years
from now, but I think I know whats next for me and I feel so much better informed to pursue
that next step. This program has provided me the education I needed and the opportunities to
inform my practice. The people Ive met have enriched my life and have marked my heart. I will
forever be grateful for these two yearsthey have made me more humble yet stronger as a
student, a partner, a friend, and an educator.