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GA Spotlight: Nicole Sood

Ever wondered what it’s really like to juggle the demands of being a graduate student while diving headfirst into the world of professional work? We’ve asked some of our incredible graduate assistants (GAs) in the Division of Student Affairs to share the inside scoop, from the challenges faced to the triumphs celebrated.

Nicole Sood ’24 works in Residence Life and Student Housing and is pursuing an M.S in Computer Science from the Lyle School of Engineering. Read her insights below!

What is your favorite thing about your academic discipline?

I love the creativity and innovation that drives the development of the field. Additionally, it provides so many opportunities for growth and personal development in terms of how you approach problems and can be applied to so many different fields.

What are your career plans after graduating?

After graduation, I will be working as a Technical Consultant – with hopes to branch into Project Management.

What skills and experiences have you gained from serving as a GA?

Serving as a GA has allowed me to grow as a leader. I have gotten such great mentorship from my supervisors, which in turn helps me to support my own team. Additionally, this GAship allowed me to deeper my connections with the Greater Dallas community and take part in some amazing learning opportunities such as the Place Based Community Engagement Symposium.

What is your favorite Dallas (or Texas) experience so far?

My favorite Texas experience definitely has to be all the good food that Texas has to offer! Especially in Dallas, having access to so many different cultures – leading to some amazing snacks!

If you were in a yearbook for the Division of Student Affairs what would your “Senior Quote” be?

“In my GA Era”

Do you have any advice for future GAs?

Take all the opportunities the department has to offer! You will not regret it. Student Affairs has such a diverse population of employees, all with different backgrounds and experiences. Everyone is willing to have a conversation and support you in whatever you need.

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GA Spotlight: Victoria Monteros

Ever wondered what it’s really like to juggle the demands of being a graduate student while diving headfirst into the world of professional work? We’ve asked some of our incredible graduate assistants (GAs) in the Division of Student Affairs to share the inside scoop, from the challenges faced to the triumphs celebrated.

Victoria Monteros ’24 is the graduate assistant for Student Center and Activities and is pursuing a Masters in Higher Education at the Simmons School of Education and Human Development. Read her insights below!

What is your favorite thing about your academic discipline or program?

I love that I have been afforded the opportunity to learn about what makes a quality student affairs professional by directly working with students and applying what I learn in class to better serve them. 

What are your potential career plans after graduating?

I plan to continue to work in student affairs and hope to land a position similar to what I do now, which is advising students in Program Council and helping them plan events on campus. 

What skills, experiences, or relationships have you gained from working in the Division of Student Affairs?

I have gained so much knowledge about what working with college students is like. I have also learned all about event planning at a university, as well as experience with other administrative tasks and projects.

What is your favorite Dallas (or Texas) experience so far?

Definitely going to The Boulevard! In fact, I have gone numerous times with my family and this fall, we plan on getting our own tent! 

If you were in a yearbook for the Division of Student Affairs what would your “Senior Quote” be?

“If you believe in yourself, with a tiny pinch of magic, all your dreams can come true!” -Spongebob Squarepants

Do you have any advice for future GAs?

Always be positive! This is a tremendous opportunity to learn about your future field! Take as many opportunities as you can, ask questions when you don’t know the answer, and get to know as many staff members as possible. You’re going to love it here!

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GA Spotlight: Navi Kaur

Ever wondered what it’s really like to juggle the demands of being a graduate student while diving headfirst into the world of professional work? We’ve asked some of our incredible graduate assistants (GAs) in the Division of Student Affairs to share the inside scoop, from the challenges faced to the triumphs celebrated.

Navi Kaur ’24 works as a graduate assistant in the Hegi Family Career Development Center and is pursuing a Masters in Counseling at the Simmons School of Education and Human Development. Read her insights below!

What is your favorite thing about your academic discipline/program?

I love building connections with people who share similar passions and getting to know all the wonderful professors in my program!

What are your career plans after graduating?

I plan to work in the mental health profession helping individuals with a wide variety of issues such as relational challenges, anxiety, depression, career exploration, decision making, and self worth. 

What skills, experiences or relationships have you gained from serving as a GA in the SMU Division of Student Affairs?

I have gained direct one on one experience career counseling students where I have learned how to ask students what would be most meaningful to them in that moment and deliver information that is curated to their needs. From the other counselors I work with, I have learned different ways to approach mock interviews, resumes, and networking, which has helped me develop personally and professionally. 

What has been your favorite Dallas (or Texas) experience so far?

Going to Velvet Taco with classmates after the last day of class. 

If you were in a yearbook for the Division of Student Affairs what would your “Senior Quote” be?

Breathe and take it one day at a time!

Do you have any advice for future GAs?

Know that you have so much support from SMU faculty when you are a GA and reach out if you need anything!

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GA Spotlight: Jordan Mitchell ’25

Ever wondered what it’s really like to juggle the demands of being a graduate student while diving headfirst into the world of professional work? We’ve asked some of our incredible graduate assistants (GAs) in the Division of Student Affairs to share the inside scoop, from the challenges faced to the triumphs celebrated.

Jordan Mitchell ’25 works in Student Center and Activities as the graduate assistant for Leadership Programs and is pursuing a Masters in Higher Education at the Simmons School of Education and Human Development. Read her insights below!

What is your favorite thing about your academic discipline?

School has always been my sanctuary, so it is really cool analyzing how school is or is not a sanctuary for other people, and how we working in higher education can make things better! Ultimately, I want to help students feel safe and secure in higher education like I always have, and I wholeheartedly believe that this program will help me do that.

What are your career plans after graduating?

Coming from a sports journalism background, I would love to either work in athletics as an academic counselor/learning specialists or in a student-athlete success-esque position. Eventually, I want to earn my doctorate and contribute to research regarding how academic counseling strategies can positively/negatively impact student-athlete academic success.

What skills, experiences and relationships have you gained from working in the Division of Student Affairs?:

By serving as the Leadership Programs Graduate Assistant for the past semester, I have grown immensely as an event planner. I now can confidently plan an event that requires indoor/outdoor reservations, catering/food, activities and equipment such as tents. I have also become more comfortable with adapting when things go awry. This will be a marketable skill to put on my resume, as I have intentions to apply to jobs that require programming.

What has been your favorite Dallas (or Texas) experience so far?

Watching Texas beat Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship. Hook ‘Em!!!

If you were in a yearbook for the Division of Student Affairs what would your “Senior Quote” be?

BRR, it’s cold in here! 

Do you have any advice for future GAs?

SMU is special in that it is really easy to connect with the people that can help you make things happen. So if you have a big idea, go for it, because there are so many people that want to help you succeed!

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Dr. Sidney Gardner Transitions to New Role

On Sept. 27, Dr. Sidney Gardner began her new position as Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the Office of Student Advocacy and support. After almost 20 years running LGBTQ+ and gender centers, this move is an exciting transition for Dr. Gardner to continue supporting students through support services, crisis management, and advocacy. 

How do you see your work as the Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the Office of Student Advocacy and Support intersecting with your experiences from the Women and LGBT Center?

“It intersects in a myriad of ways. That’s probably one of the things that I really wish people understood about running a shop like the Women and LGBT center is that there is so much that you don’t see. There are the front-facing parts that are all about programming and student advising and such, but then there are the parts happening behind the scenes–there is a lot of supporting students in crisis and students that are navigating really difficult situations, whether it be homelessness, food insecurity, financial issues, or anything related to Title IX. I have helped students navigate these issues throughout my career, but it’s part of the things that people don’t typically see us doing because it’s not front and center.”

What got you interested in the work you will be doing in your new position?

“I’ve been in the field for a long time, and again, a lot of it has to do with having navigated working with students in crisis for so long. But also, there was a time before the current iteration of Title IX, when a lot of support services fell under women’s centers on campus. I’ve also been doing that work for a really long time–in my previous position at another institution, I had been the deputy Title IX coordinator, I have worked with Title IX investigations, I’ve also served as the confidential support in these sorts of things. So that piece, I have a really strong background in, on top of just working both on campus and off campus to support students that are going through all kinds of personal crises. Because of that, I had really been interested in this type of position for a while—and then it was just good timing.”

What are you most excited about as you make the transition to your new position?

“I’m just excited about being able to support students in a different way—I still get to do some of the work that I love and am able to support students, but I get to be able to do that for our entire campus community and not just students that intersect with my previous position in the Women and LGBT Center. I’m also excited about being able to figure out things like best practices and how we can do an even better job of supporting our students going forward. Those are some things that I’m really looking forward to.”

What are some goals you would like to achieve in your new position?

“My predecessor had built this office from the ground floor during a time when these positions were just starting on campuses, so I think this is a perfect opportunity to be able to look at the work that we currently do and be able to take that to the next level. Now that we’re in a different day, so much of our campuses have changed, the world has changed, our students have changed–so what are their needs? What does the support that they need look like? How can we tailor what we do to have the greatest impact on our students? How can we get them to persist to graduation? That is the goal, but we want people to be able to do that in ways that they feel supported.”

What is your vision for the future of the Office of Student Advocacy and Support?

“My hope is that we are a space that our entire campus community really sees as somewhere that when you send students to, they know that they will be taken care of and that they will have the support and the resources that they need. I hope that other students will feel confident when they say to a friend about us, ‘Hey, you know who really helped me? You should reach out to them too.’ I think we do have some of that dialogue already, but my hope is that throughout the campus community, we’re seen as that space that is really all about exactly what our title is—student advocacy and support. I hope that people really value and express how much the work that we do means to them.”

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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

It was a sunny September Thursday on the Hilltop, and Hispanic Heritage Month had just begun.  From September 15th to October 15th, Lauren Searle—SMU’s Office of Social Change and Intercultural Engagement Coordinator—independently directed six on-campus events for Hispanic students. 

Lauren, who began her planning in June, made it her mission to enhance the Hispanic Heritage Month programs after the pandemic.  Her favorite part of the job is using her creativity to inspire positive change on campus. 

Beginning on September 15th with a screening of the popular Disney animated film Encanto, which features a Colombian family and their community, the month was off to a great start.  From there, Lauren put on another movie screening, a silent disco, a faculty-led discussion, an alumni panel, and a visit from a content creator. 

Every detail was coordinated with careful intention.  Whenever possible, Searle sourced food for her events from local businesses across Dallas, whose cuisine was in line with the cultures being represented.  She collaborated with on-campus organizations, from the Hegi Career and Development Center to the College Hispanic American Students organization.

Searle wanted the events to be both fun and educational, highlighting intersectionality whenever possible.  This was especially present during the October 5th screening of Real Women Have Curves.  Put on in collaboration with the Women and LGBT Center, this film promoted positive body image among Hispanic women. 

Perhaps the most impactful event, Searle feels, was the silent disco.  Organized with the help of Mary Hay, Peyton, and Shuttles Commons, the silent disco brought students together to have fun while listening to Latin-American music.  Many came in to escape the stress of college life. 

Another successful event was the Lunchtime Lecture with Dr. Alberto Pastor. Students across campus originally came for extra credit opportunities, but ended up sparking an incredible discussion with thoughtful questions.

Ultimately, it meant a lot for Searle to put this on.  As a Hispanic woman, she doesn’t always feel represented in Dallas.  She hoped to embody that representation for students across the Hilltop who may not have grown up in communities like SMU. “Everyone is welcome and accepted on this campus, and everyone is supported on this campus,” says Lauren, “it really was important for me to showcase that any way I could.”

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Princess Igwe-Icho selected as NASPA Undergraduate Fellow

Written by: Dr. Dustin Grabsch, Assistant Provost of Undergraduate Education & Academic Success

SMU Sophomore Princess Igwe-Icho, a member of the First-Generation Research Team, has been selected as a NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program (NUFP) fellow!

“I found out about the NASPA Program through Dr. Dustin Grabsch when we were doing our research project together. To be able to utilize the mentorship program and see myself in higher education was something that was so new but something I contemplated doing when coming to SMU my first year,” Princess said. “Dr. Dustin discussed his experience with the program and the individuals that were involved, which were all individuals that I found to be inspiring and who I strived to be like in the future. It only seemed like the right thing to do with all the experiences I encountered at SMU.”

The NUFP is a program that allows students to “increase the number of historically disenfranchised and underrepresented professionals in student affairs and higher education” and “have opportunities for scholarships, on-campus mentorship, and professional development events.” As a fellow, Princess will have access to NASPA national and regional conferences and the ability to participate in semi-structured learning experiences.

“I can’t wait to start my mentorship program and learn more about the areas of student affairs as well as meet the individuals that make student affairs what it is. I hope that with my experience and skill set, I can offer more to NASPA and also gain skills from the program that I can utilize in my future career,” Princess said. “Furthermore, I hope to attend the leadership programs and see how intersectionality comes to play when interacting with students and within the workplace.”

Fellows and mentors apply to the program as a pair. Assistant Provost of Undergraduate Education & Academic Success, Dr. Dustin Grabsch, will be Princess’s mentor for the program. Congratulations to Princess Igwe-Icho!

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Dr. K.C. Mmeje Selected as Aspen Index Senior Impact Fellow

Congratulations to SMU’s own Dr. K.C. Mmeje, Vice President for Student Affairs, on being selected as an inaugural Aspen Index Senior Fellow with the Aspen Institute! 93 community stakeholders, youth, educators, and scholars have come together to advance the future of youth leadership development.

Impact Fellows representing a diverse mosaic of sectors, geographies, and areas of expertise will advance an urgent agenda focused on the research, interventions, and strategies necessary to accelerate the access to and quality of youth leadership programs nationally. The goal: Lift youth exposure to high-impact leadership programs above 50% over the next 5 years.

Impact Fellows will aid in the development, optimization, and beta-testing of the Aspen Index along with co-creating the supporting learning architecture to ensure its success. This work dove-tails with major reports to be released on the future of youth leadership research and practice. Together, the Aspen
Institute is working with Impact Fellows to create a movement of greater access to and quality of youth leadership programs.

“I am humbled by my selection as an ASPEN Senior Impact Fellow with the Aspen Institute Leadership Development Index. Together, the Aspen Institute is working with Impact Fellows to create a movement of greater access to and quality of youth leadership programs. I am eager to advance this important work.”

Dr. K.C. Mmeje, Vice President for Student Affairs

The Aspen Institute Leadership Development Index (Aspen Index) is a digital tool that measures key leadership capacities to accelerate personal and professional growth. Leveraging 20 years of ground-breaking, peer-reviewed empirical research, the Aspen Index assesses individual capacities, maps team assets, and evaluates program impact—each with the option for additional 360 feedback. By comparing an individual’s scores with national and career-specific benchmarks—and by breaking down the distinct knowledge, behaviors, attitudes, and skills that cultivate effective leadership—the Aspen Index provides a strategic roadmap to elevate one’s potential and deepen one’s impact.

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners. For more information, please visit www.aspeninstitute.org.

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Careers in Student Affairs Month #CSAM22

Careers in Student Affairs (CSAM) is a month-long initiative each October developed by a number of professional associations related to Student Affairs. CSAM is dedicated to the celebration of a career in student affairs, education and awareness in the profession, and engagement with professional associations and peers in the field. More directly, the goals of Careers in Student Affairs Month are to:

  • Celebrate the field of student affairs through opportunities to reflect on individual journeys and experiences
  • Provide professional development for student affairs administrators in higher education
  • Encourage and promote the profession in order to grow the field of student affairs
  • Cultivate spaces for dialogue related to pertinent topics within student affairs

Throughout the month, Student Affairs at SMU will be sharing reflections from functional leaders within the Division highlighting various career pathways and advice for those seeking to obtain those roles in the future. We will also host pop-up brown bag lunches for current staff and graduate students to have a more intimate conversation with functional leaders.

We are also hosting two open activities for graduate assistants within the Division of Student Affairs.

Thursday, October 13, 2022
Lunch and Learn: Professional Paths in Student Affairs
12-1, HTSC 226 – Lunch will be provided

Thursday, October 25, 2022
Resume and Job Search Workshop in connection with the Hegi Family Career Center
11:30am-1:00pm, HTSC 226 – Lunch with be provided

 

There are also a variety of resources available from professional associations during October.

ACPA – College Student Educators International

ACPA is offering a series of webinars throughout the month as well as discounts for Graduate students on membership and the Annual Conference.

Check out more information on their CSAM website.

NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education

During Careers in Student Affairs Month, NASPA and NASPA Constituent Groups sponsor educational sessions for students and professionals of all levels. Unless noted otherwise, 2022 NASPA Careers in Student Affairs Month webinars are free for members and non-members. Check out the schedule online. Additionally, they are offering a discount on select books related to career trajectory.

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Engage Dallas: Beyond the Hilltop

Engage Dallas is a place-based community engagement initiative via SMU’s Residential Commons to address community needs focusing on South and West Dallas. The initiative is a long-term, university-wide commitment led by students to partner with local residents, organizations, and other leaders to positively impact the community. There is equal emphasis on campus and community impact stemming from the initiative.

Engage Dallas launched Fall 2020 with each of our 11 Residential Commons focusing on one specific community-identified need. Each Commons partners with non-profit organizations in South and West Dallas serving to address these needs. The 11 community-identified needs are: Homelessness, Food Insecurity, College Access & Preparation, Arts as Social Impact, Environmental Injustice, STEM Education Access, Immigration and Refugee Support, Community Wellbeing, Child Poverty, Childhood Literacy, and Community Rebuilding.

 

My volunteerism at Geneva Heights Elementary School here in Dallas the past two semesters has significantly contributed to my personal growth in many ways; the service has revealed to me that I can be spiritually fulfilled in helping these young students. While the objective is directed towards their growth and improvement, it has internally also contributed to my growth and knowledge of the English and Spanish language. Moreover, this service has given me greater social understanding and greater diversity exposure; I tutor two young girls that are Hispanic. Learning about their culture and experiences in education has broadened my innate perspective and challenged my views about early childhood education consequently. I have always had a passion for childhood literacy, and so the fact that I had this opportunity has just strengthened my affirmation for it. I am so incredibly thankful for it. My commons’, Virginia-Snider, directed audience is childhood literacy. I am appreciative of this implication in volunteerism because childhood literacy is truly a factor that will continue to aid students into furthering their educational pursuits. Due to this, the importance of having a good childhood literacy experience is crucial to young students’ growth. My residential commons’ puts forth the effort to bring awareness to this, and I have had the pleasure to be a part of assisting that social problem through volunteering at a local elementary school in Dallas ISD, which has impacted me as a student, as a young adult, and as a Dallas resident. I would not have been able to do this if it was not for Engage Dallas that offers access to these programs–and it allows for students to gain their CEPE in an impactful manner.

Gracie Holder, ‘25
English and Social Innovation & Nonprofit Engagement Majors
Virginia Snider Commons

 

Volunteers are the lifeblood of our organization. Like most organizations of color, we have a small staff who wear several different hats. Our relationship with Engage Dallas has been a godsend. The young people who volunteered in February during our one-act festival arrived on time. They were professional and courteous, definitely representative of our brand. We look forward to a long and continued business relationship.

Teresa Coleman Wash
Executive Artistic Director
Bishop Arts Theatre Center

 

I was excited about the opportunity to work with Engage Dallas this year because doing so presented a unique opportunity for me to put my research into practice and to have an impact on both SMU and our community. My research focuses on the relationships universities have with external organizations and how those relationships shape what universities do and the impact they have on their stakeholders. For example, Engage Dallas has created a number of partnerships between SMU and community-based nonprofits, I want to understand how these partnerships impact all parties.

To that end, I joined Engage Dallas to help create a tool for evaluating the usefulness of the partnership between Engage Dallas and the respective community organizations. This tool will help to answer questions like whether or not this partnership helps the community organizations to better achieve their mission, or allows them to expand their services. Contributing to Engage Dallas to help build this evaluation tool is a welcome opportunity to put my research knowledge and expertise into practice in the hopes of ensuring that Engage Dallas benefits the community, the nonprofit partners, the students, and SMU.

Dr. Sondra Barringer
Assistant Professor, Education Policy and Leadership
Simmons School of Education & Human Development