“From the first contact with a recruiter at a high school college fair to the career counselor who assists with post-baccalaureate employment opportunities, the positions and roles in Student Affairs assist students throughout every stage of college life,” said Dr. Henrietta Pichon, assistant professor and coordinator of NSU’s Student Affairs in Higher Education graduate program.
According the national organization for the profession, the National Association for Student Affairs Administrators (NASPA), student affairs professionals provide “services, programs, and resources that help students learn and grow outside of the classroom.”
“For more than 50 years, Northwestern State has proudly served as an educational foundation for many professionals in this field through the Master of Arts in Student Affairs in Higher Education (SAHE), which was previously named the Student Personnel Services (SPS) program. The newly redesigned program enables NSU to extend its reach to a larger and more diverse group of current and future Student Affairs practitioners across the nation,” Pichon said.
The success of the SAHE program is reflected through the success of the program’s alumni who are currently making a difference on college and university campuses throughout the country. Tara Hawthorne, a 2009 graduate, represents one of the many alumni who embody the beliefs, philosophies, practices of the SAHE program and the Student Affairs profession. An Ohio native, she was recently promoted to the coordinator of New Student Programs at Murray State University in Murray, Ky. Previously she served as the as the coordinator of Greek Life and Student Organizations at Murray. In her current position, Tara is responsible for new student orientation and programing for first year students. The position allows her to create new retention initiatives through the Student Success First Year Program.
“It’s exciting working with students and to see their excitement about the college experience,” Hawthorne said. “It is equally rewarding to have an active role and witness their growth and development while at the institution.”
During her time at NSU, Hawthorne participated in the Student Personnel Association and held a graduate assistantship in the Office of Student Activities. In 2008, she joined the NSU Student Affairs professional staff as the coordinator of New Student Programs. Coming into the graduate program with previous higher education work experience, she was pleased that curriculum and experiences enhanced and expanded her skill set and knowledge base. Courses such as counseling skills, group dynamics (leading groups), and organization and administration of student affairs in higher education allowed her to gain a deeper perspective and understanding of the profession.
Northwestern State’s graduate degree in Student Affairs in Higher Education is a 36-hour program within the College of Education and Human Development that is 100 percent on-line. The concentration was renamed and redesigned earlier this year to clarify program goals and streamline coursework for students interested in pursuing careers in a post-secondary setting, such as at a university or community or technical college.
“Our program is about meeting the needs of students and engaging the students. Our program completers learn to connect with individuals and help them navigate the university,” Pichon said. “These individuals will help undergraduates work through social, developmental and academic issues.”
The track is designed for individuals interested in a career as an academic advisor or coordinator of programs that meet the needs of student populations such as student activities, student life, financial aid, Greek life or new student programs. Students take administrative courses and learn to make assessments and recognize trends in higher education. Meeting the needs of undergraduate students and engaging them in campus life correlates to retention, Pichon said.
“My advice to anyone interested in a career in student affairs is to seek out a graduate program that will provide opportunities for hands-on experience, to attend national and local Student Affairs conferences, and to connect with faculty and staff at your respective institution,” Hawthorne said.
Hawthorne is active in a number of professional associations and organizations including the National Orientation Directors Association (NODA), Kentucky Association for Blacks in Higher Education, as well as Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. As part of a study aboard program, last summer she visited Ecuador. She plans to eventually return to the school and pursue a doctoral degree or a law degree.
For more information on Northwestern State’s graduate program in Student Affairs in Higher Education, visit delt.nsula.edu/student-affairs-in-higher-education