Goal Statement #1
Upon successful completion of a Doctorate of Philosophy in Education, I, Hollie Chessman, would continue my career path as an administrator in Higher Education to eventually serve in the role of Dean of Students or Vice President of Student Affairs. I have spent the last 10 years working in higher education exploring residence life, student leadership development, orientation, family programs, campus programming, comprehensive first year experience programs and serving as adjunct faculty. Through these various areas of higher education, I discovered where my research interests intersect with my experiences. These interests were more formally explored when I began a PhD in Higher Education Administration at the University of New Orleans.
My initial exploration began with my graduation from Kent State University with my MEd in College Student Personnel. My first step on my professional higher education journey would lead me to Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. My role as an Area Director of a twelve story first-year building with twenty-two resident advisors was an introduction to the complexities, challenges, and fulfilling work of higher education. I spent three years in
residence life at Tulane learning about student leadership development and crisis management. I entered Tulane University thinking I had all the answers as a newly minted master’s graduate, and as I left Tulane and New Orleans I found myself searching for answers to more questions.
These questions would lead me to Lake Erie College (LEC), a small private liberal arts college in Northeast Ohio. At LEC, I developed my ability to engage students in their leadership development. As the Director of Campus Involvement, I was responsible for working with students and college constituents to offer opportunities for campus engagement. During the late night hours of programs and working within the constraints of a small budget, I was able to assist in the development of a vibrant campus life at LEC that provided many opportunities for student leadership. I worked with the Student Activities Council, student organizations, student employees, and non-traditional students on programmatic offerings. I found by being intentional in my advising, the students developed intentional events and explored their role as campus leaders. Two of campus leaders I directly worked with decided to pursue careers in higher education.
I was at Lake Erie College when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. I was horrified as I watched the news. On a CNN report, they panned the crowd of people gathered at the Convention Center who were pleading for help; I saw one of the cleaning women from my residence hall at Tulane in the crowd. I knew I had to return to New Orleans to help support the rebuilding. However, I did not know when or how that would happen. In the meantime, I worked with the students at Lake Erie to assist in gathering donations and support for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
An opportunity to return to New Orleans presented itself almost a year after Katrina. A position at Loyola University New Orleans opened, and I felt as if the job description had been written for me. I applied to the Associate Director of Co-Curricular Programs position by highlighting my diverse experiences in residence life, leadership development, and programming. I received an interview and was offered the position, which I accepted.
While at Loyola the Vice President of Student Affairs mentored me, and looked to me to execute special projects and develop engaging campus programming. During my second summer, I was charged with re-shaping the new student orientation program. As I worked to restructure the program to meet best practices, I spent hours talking with faculty, deans and associate deans. Through these conversations, I began to realize my desire to pursue a PhD in Higher Education.
My research interests emerged as I compiled a resource manual on all the Jesuit First Year Experience programs for Loyola’s faculty-run First Year Experience Committee. The collection of this information led me to explore my interest in retention and attrition rates. I wanted to understand why Loyola’s retention rate was lower than most of the other Jesuit institutions. This also piqued my interest in the Sophomore Experience, as Loyola’s attrition rates were the highest between the sophomore and junior years. I began the exploration of these topics after I was admitted to the University of New Orleans’ PhD program for higher education. I spent three semesters taking courses; I knew that I had made the right choice in pursuing a Doctorate.
When a job opened at George Mason University in January 2009, I was excited about the opportunity. Even though I had started my PhD, loved New Orleans, and was growing in my current position, I knew going to Mason would provide a great new challenge and further my career development. The Associate Director of Residence Life opening was a search run by Spelman and Johnson, after talking the position over with my colleagues I decided to apply. After a series of interviews and multiple reference checks, I was offered the job with a start date less than three weeks away. After talking the offer through with my mentors and other university colleagues at Loyola, I knew it would be the next step to my career aspirations of becoming a Dean of Students or Vice President of Student Affairs. I accepted the position.
As the Associate Director of Residence Life, I have learned a great deal about Mason and myself. I want to continue to explore my interests in student leadership development and attrition rates. I started exploring these topics in the PhD program at the University of New Orleans, but want to continue to develop these topics and others, and learn much more about research methodology. Based on this personal narrative of my professional development, I hope to have provided you with the impetus to enroll me as a candidate in your PhD in Education with a specialization in Higher Education program at George Mason University.