Hollie Chessman's Blog and Portfolio

Goal Statement #2

When I chose to come to George Mason University in April 2009, I came for two reasons.  One reason was a tremendous job opportunity and the other was Mason offered a PhD in Education with a specialization on Higher Education.  I began my degree by taking one course a semester at the University of New Orleans.  During my time in the program at UNO, I knew I had made the right decision to continue my education.  I enjoyed my courses and got to explore my ability to do research with an emphasis on critical thinking.

By choosing to specialize in higher education at Mason, I am choosing to follow the path I have been on since I was an Assistant Residence Hall Director at Kent State University in graduate school.  During the past decade, I have been fortunate to work in many areas within student affairs and serve as an adjunct faculty member at several institutions.  I have worked at a variety of colleges and universities, which has offered me the opportunity to contribute in some valuable way to each institution.

Fall 2009 Mason RA Delegation at VACUHO

As I explore my research goals, I am challenged by the plethora of topics and areas that interest me.  The problem with working in so many areas within higher education and student affairs, there is not one I value above all others.  I have always been intrigued by data.  While I do not always understand the high order of statistics that contribute to research findings, it is fascinating to see what the data may be hiding that is not clearly visible without asking the right questions.  By working with my graduate assistant who is adept at stats, we have unearthed correlations that will help inform the work I do with residence life staff.

I have always found qualitative research to be intriguing.  My first foray into this area was in graduate school.  We were assigned a grounded theory project.  We were assigned to identify and interview students from the same race and gender.  Through those interviews we needed to create a grounded theory.   African American females were our assigned group.  Through our interviews we were able to identify a common theme, which was the importance of family in each student’s life.  We presented our grounded theory as “The Family Factor: The Sustaining Vector.”

Throughout my work in student affairs I have always found looking at data to be interesting and it in turn has informed my work.  Whether it is doing pre and post alcohol use assessments, program satisfaction surveys, or calculating the cost per person for each program, I am intentional in analyzing how the results inform evaluations, training, programs, and other services I can influence or provide.

One of my Strengths in StrengthsQuest is Input.  This strength is very evident in my life as one views my array of knick-knacks in my office, or the files in my drawers.  While the word “pack-rat” comes to the mind of my family, I find it to be invaluable to go back to pull on resources I have in my files (even if they are on mimeograph paper).  Due to Input, and my various experiences and interests, I am having a difficult time honing in on a topic that will be meaningful, engaging and informative.  So I will list a few of my ideas here:

  • College students and their faith/spiritual development – the role student affairs staff plays in the student’s faith/spiritual development.
  • New student affairs professionals and ethics – what informs their personal and professional code?  Are they congruent?
  • The role of the new ‘helicopter’ parent in their impact on a student’s perception of independence.
  • Texting and/or social media – what role does it play in roommate conflicts
  • First generation college students – what are the factors that determine their matriculation? Graduation?
  • StrengthsQuest  and Resident Advisors – how does it inform their practice as a leader/community builder?  How often does it need to be talked about to become part of the language?  Do their strengths match what we look for in hiring?  Are RAs with some strengths more successful than others?
  • Shifting organizational culture – how does a university successfully shift from privatizing a service to running it ‘in house’ – what are the cultural morays that make a transition possible?


My aspirations after completing my degree are varied.  I would like to teach in the university environment, whether it be higher education courses or general electives.  I would like to be a Vice President of Student Affairs or Dean of Students at a small private liberal arts college where the focus is on the student and their academic and co-curricualr experience.  I would also like to work at a large institution mentoring student affairs professionals, and helping find ways for them to maintain passion for their work.  I would like to work with staff who are  in middle management roles to mentor their success by coaching them on how to support both their boss and direct reports.

In my past three institutions, I have been part of a major reorganization and been instrumental in creating and writing job descriptions for myself, direct reports, and other positions within the department or institution.  I have been able to conceptualize how something on paper may actually manifest itself within the context of the culture of a department or institution.  I have six solid years of experience in major change and culture shift. This has also been something I hope I can put to use in a role as a consultant or recruiter.

My interests and goals are as varied as my experiences in student affairs.  No matter what I choose to focus my research on, I hope to continue to be a lifelong scholar who will continue to contribute positively to the field of higher education and student affairs.