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Inside Education and Health Sciences

The Vital Role of Student Affairs

By Emily Clemenson

Maria Ryan '19 '24 has found her vocation in helping community college students transfer and succeed at four-year institutions. 

Ryan, who herself transferred to the University of Dayton as part of the UD Sinclair Academy, is now a graduate of the Higher Education and Student Affairs master's program. The program encourages its students to incorporate their passions about higher education into the classroom, and Ryan has been able to analyze and research various aspects of the transfer student experience.

Ryan was studying education at Sinclair Community College when the UD-Sinclair Academy was first introduced. She jumped at the opportunity to transfer to UD and graduated in 2019 with a bachelor's degree in middle childhood education.

While working in the classroom, Ryan kept thinking about her experiences in college at Sinclair and UD, and the higher education professionals who helped her achieve her goals. So in the fall of 2021, Ryan started the Higher Education and Student Affairs program at the University of Dayton while continuing to work as a teacher. 

"I was originally nervous to complete the HESA program because I was still teaching full time," Ryan said. "I quickly learned that the curriculum of the classes help highlight the experiences and perspectives of everyone, no matter where they are in their journey."

She also had some meaningful conversations with other HESA program alumni, one of whom completed the program while working as a classroom teacher. This support gave her the confidence she needed to move forward.

The Higher Education and Student Affairs program can be completed in as little as two years with a full-time course load. Many students, like Ryan, choose to balance the program with a full-time job and take only one or two classes at a time. Part-time students usually graduate in three to four years.

The HESA curriculum includes coursework in student development, diversity, social justice and learning design. One vital component of the HESA program is the fieldwork experience. Students who are not currently working in higher education enroll in two separate 3-credit internships.

"I was able to participate in different areas within higher education and at different institutions to help me explore the departments and narrow down what matches my interests," Ryan said. "I was also able to begin networking, which was very helpful when it came time to apply for positions."

Assistant professor and program coordinator Graham Hunter says many students choose this program because of positive personal experiences in their own college career.

"Our students often know firsthand the powerful influence that a mentor or advisor can have in a college student's journey," Hunter said. "They are passionate about paying forward the help that professionals gave them in working with the next generation of students."

Ryan graduated with her master's in Higher Education and Student Affairs in May 2024 and has joined a network of hundreds of program alumni committed to working with college students and adult learners. She is working as a transfer specialist, helping students at community college get ready to transfer to a 4-year institution to complete their bachelor's degree — just like she had done a few years before. 

"My greatest takeaway is how important it is to reflect on our stories," Ryan said. "We all have different experiences that have guided us to where we are today and each moment served a purpose."

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