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A quick look back on the semester

December 18, 2014

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Higher Education Leadership, Corey Fereday:


This past semester in SOLES and at USD has definitely been the most rewarding out of the three semesters I have completed so far. It has been a great few months of learning theory, applying principles and synthesizing concepts into my work as a graduate assistant and as a citizen. Below are just two of the many things I am grateful for as I look back on this past semester.

Through extracurricular work, we have been able to help graduate students (most of them SOLES students) enjoy the beautiful hiking trails around San Diego through the USD Hiking League. This has been a great respite to work and studying. The League has offered me the chance to meet new graduate students and share my passions of fitness and nature with the graduate student community.

Through my coursework, I am proud of the change project that my group recently completed in Leadership and Organizational Change, a course taught by Dr. Nahavandhi. Our team laid out a plan for helping USD become a more sustainable campus through a mock training module that combined the topic of a certain group member’s Changemaker Challenge winning idea and John Kotter’s 8 steps for transforming an organization. Overall, this leadership course offered countless theories and models for recognizing, evaluating and adapting to organizational change, which I think is incredibly fascinating coming from a political science perspective.

I look forward to what the spring semester will bring in terms of learning and exploration outside of the classroom.

A New Perspective for Social Change

December 10, 2014

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management, Lauro Cons:

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It’s hard for me to believe that 2014 is almost over. This past year has been filled with so many challenges, and even more successes. I have found most value in the events that have allowed me to grow as a nonprofit professional, and as an agent of social change. The most notable experience this year has been to establish the Foster Youth Investment Coalition, and to work with Senator Norma Torres to pass Senate Bill 1252 into law. It was a great personal and team accomplishment to have Governor Brown sign this bill that would provide housing support for former foster youth who are pursuing a college degree. To finally have this happen took more than a year-long commitment from many individuals and organizations, but eventually proved fruitful for everyone involved.

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I have always worked with nonprofit organizations and have been involved with grassroots community efforts. I have been accustomed to working with one at-risk youth at a time, one family at a time, or one community at a time. Those experiences were great and worthwhile, where I know I made a positive impact in many individuals’ lives. But, through my experience in working with the state legislature, I have come to understand that being involved in civic engagement activities, and practicing lobbying and advocacy strategies, can have an even broader impact. I have found a new appreciation for grassroots efforts, where it excites me to know that the same tactics can be applied to make changes at the “grass-tops” level, through the state government.

Although it has been exciting, I am not sure if I have found a new calling to work in politics. What I have gained through my experiences as a USD student, with my team members, and working with a State Senator, is an understanding how to create mass social change. You don’t exclusively have to be a grassroots community activist, or a fancy politician. You just need to have the courage and the heart to continue pursuing your passions to accomplish a goal that is worthwhile for yourself, and the communities around you. Let’s see what 2015 has to offer for all of us. Bring it on!

Preparing Your Statement of Purpose

November 25, 2014

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and PhD in Leadership Studies, Elizabeth Castillo:


photo credit: CC (Creative Commons) by Calsidyrose

Pursuing a graduate degree requires a major intellectual, financial, and emotional commitment. To get the most out of your investment, it’s essential to become very clear about what you hope to accomplish.

Your Statement of Purpose is the opportunity to develop this clarity and assess your readiness to make the commitment. R.W. Hamming’s “You and Your Research” is a resource that helped me clarify my research goals. Hamming was a researcher at Bell Labs, where he saw many bright co-workers come and go over his 30-year career. He noticed that only a few of his colleagues found lasting success. He began to wonder why most scientists fail to make genuine contributions in their fields. In a 1986 speech Hamming offered some tips for becoming a success story as a researcher:

  • Work on the right problem, at the right time, in the right way. Not every problem is ripe for solving. Time travel, for example, is probably an overly ambitious problem. Instead, Hamming suggests you’ll have more impact by finding a viable entry point for your research. Start by outlining what is known and what questions remain unanswered. Talk about the puzzling aspects to as many people as possible, especially people who differ from you—the more different, the better. This will help you gain a broader understanding of the issue. Connect those perspectives to what you know already. Your thinking will evolve and generate new insights.
  • Articulate a vision about who you are, who you want to become, and where you want to go. In my case, I was a fundraiser who came to see that philanthropy could never have sufficient resources to solve the world’s social problems. Through my doctoral studies I set out to develop a new way of thinking about philanthropy, focusing on resource creation instead of efficiency. By building on past experiences and connecting those experiences to your motivations for graduate study, you will likely discover critical research questions that need answers.
  • Work on problems for which you have an emotional commitment. My friend and fellow doctoral student, Kenyon Whitman, calls this “me-search.” Hamming believed that internal motivation, fueled by personal passion for the problem, is the key to research success. As you seek to solve difficult research puzzles you will invariably experience frustration and setbacks. Having passion and a profound commitment to discovering the solution will get you through those bumpy spots.
  • Develop a tolerance for ambiguity. This was one of the hardest shifts for me to make. Previously I had thought of graduate study as an effort to learn all the answers, an aspiration that seemed impossible. Now I see that graduate school is also about unlearning, creating, and becoming willing to see the world with new eyes. At its core, the essence of research is delving into the unknown. Much like an explorer, you are venturing into the intellectual wilderness. While it feels unsettling at first, it becomes quite thrilling.
  • Create your work in ways that others can build on it. We all want to carve out a research niche and make a name for ourselves so we can get a job after we graduate. Yet there is great risk in becoming too proprietary. By sharing and communicating our research we contribute to building knowledge. It’s up to us to forge connections with other researchers and the public. Who else is working on this problem? Who will be the end user of the solution? Start building a network with these kindred spirits and nurturing relationships with them.

As you prepare for graduate study, Hamming’s insights are a good starting point for developing a compelling Statement of Purpose. You will also find that a clear sense of purpose becomes your guiding compass, helping you navigate a path to academic and career success.

They say “dress for success”…

November 11, 2014

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and PhD in Leadership Studies, Conor McLaughlin:

Often, the way one dresses can have an impact on how they are perceived, and how they are able to take up their role. For example, whenever I am teaching a class, I wear a blazer and tie (though almost never a suit). I do this for 2 reasons: 1) I see teaching and engaging with students in a classroom as an experience that deserves some reverence, and 2) because there are a variety of people who have expectations that I have to navigate in my role as an instructor.


The first point may seem a bit overly dramatic, but I take my work (very) seriously, and I think that entering the space of a classroom and doing the work that goes on in that space should have a sense of occasion. I want to feel like I put some effort into showing up, and one of the ways I try to do that is in the way that I dress. My parents have a deeply engrained notion that going to their place of worship in less than a formal clothing is a sin, and the more I learn about the potential of education and classrooms to be places of personal and spiritual liberation, the more I see them as truly sacred spaces. So I tend to want to treat my most sacred places the way that other people want to treat theirs.

The second point is complicated (as most things tend to be), but needs to be addressed. At any given point during my day, I have to interact with undergraduate students, graduate students, administrators, faculty members, deans, department chairs, and friends. Each of those people probably have a pretty wide variety of expectations for how someone meeting them in their role will dress, and given that I share an office with 6 other people, finding a place to do a complete wardrobe change would be difficult, so I tend to stick with the outfit that works on the more formal side of the expectation scale. I do also need to distinguish myself from the undergraduate students (and sometimes other graduate students), and I do need to take up my role as an administrator, as a member of the faculty, and as a formal authority in many spaces, and dressing a particular way can serve as a short hand for that.

I will also acknowledge that playing with roles can be a good thing. I gave a presentation this past summer with a colleague, and we dressed very differently in our roles as facilitators. I in a coat and tie, she in cut-off shorts and a tank top. While not something we planned, given the topic of conversation the divergence and enforcing of those role expectations actually added to the conversation we were facilitating around assumptions, perceptions, and identity. My colleague and I had a conversation a few weeks later, and we acknowledged that in that space we had a lot of room to play with expectations, but that other spaces, like our classrooms or our formal offices, did not offer us the same amount of wiggle-room.

There are other ways to play with role expectations, and they can be subtle but effective. I am rarely seen in public without my nails painted, and I do this as both a way to disrupt some of the expectations about men and male identity in a formal role, and because I think it looks good on me. I also try to wear at least 3 different patterns in my outfit, which is both attention grabbing and can be a very effective way of letting people know that I like to do things a little different than most, since most people aren’t used to seeing someone in a coat and tie wearing floral, gingham, and polka-dots in the same outfit.

To close out, my hope with this is not to continue to enforce a strict and specific set of values and ideas about dressing for work, but rather to encourage people to think about new, fun ways to take up the roles that they have. While many people still tell me I should be “dressing for the job I want, not the one I have,” I’d like to think that I, and you, could be dressing for being our authentic selves in the roles we have to take up every day. The job I want most is to be me.

Higher Education Leadership: Lessons learned in SOLES

November 6, 2014

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Higher Education Leadership, Corey Fereday:


I am currently completing my second and final year in the MA Higher Education Leadership program in SOLES at USD. My experience up to date has been rewarding as I learn to apply successfully and understand more fully the role leadership and organizational development theories have in higher education.

I believe the leadership focus of the MA program that will allow me to work more dynamically and broadly at a higher education institution is very practical as I attempt to begin my career in higher education administration and work for positive change in a field that has been traditionally weary of deep structural shifts. Below, I have listed some lessons as I reflect on my experiences over the past year in SOLES in terms of successes and challenges:

  • I have been pushed to tap into various sources of interpreting experiences so that I can better balance objective and subjective understanding.
  • I have been challenged to identify underlying biases, assumptions and values thereby promoting greater self-actualization and intuitive understanding.
  • I have been offered opportunities to identify clear connections between theories and my work as a graduate assistant.
  • I have been given opportunities to partner with individuals who come from very different intellectual, spiritual and professional backgrounds.
  • I have been offered amazing support, advising and mentorship services by supervisors, colleagues and professors.
  • I have been called frequently to infuse and sustain meaning and purpose in my work.
  • I have been given tools to view organizational development, change and leadership in radically new ways.
  • I have been given ample opportunities to develop more mindful academic and professional skills.
  • I have gained a greater perspective on my interconnected roles in groups, organizations and society from a systems perspective.

These lessons are continuously emerging. I am excited to complete my degree and know that these lessons complement one another in a way where theory and practice are not mutually exclusive.

Higher education institutions are known for reacting slowly to external forces. Therefore, I believe that these lessons learned from my studies will help me more positively, uniquely and effectively engage with change efforts as I seek to work with students. I am particularly interested in helping students clarify their personal values and align them with academic and vocational pathways. My professional pathway may be admissions, residential life, student conduct or academic advising. Regardless, I hope to continue my education rooted in my initial SOLES experiences so that I am always thinking outside the box, considering alternative perspectives, and challenging myself to be better.

Came so far, yet so much the same

October 29, 2014

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Leadership Studies, Elijah Bonde:

One year ago, I was in a much different place. I was one month into my first year as a MA in Leadership Studies student. I was taking LEAD 550: Leadership Theory and Practice and LEAD 589: Organizational Theory and Change. I was also in my first year as Assistant Principal at my school and very recently engaged.

The experience of having this many new beginnings was overwhelming. I had to work on finding a balance between work, grad school, and my personal life. I found a way. My classes challenged me more than I have ever been challenged. I grew significantly throughout the year.

This year, I find myself having gone full circle. I just finished my first month of my second year. I am taking LEAD 580: Consulting to Group, the TA class for LEAD 550. I moved up to Principal this year and got married over the summer.

I find it fascinating that after one year in the program, I am so much farther along in my learning and knowledge and yet I am back at a similar starting point. Life moves in cycles and I am starting my second loop of grad school, looking forward to and preparing for my first loop after I graduate.

Get Involved as a First-Year Grad Student

October 20, 2014

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Counseling with specialization in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Adriana Del Vecchio:

I will never forget the day I realized all of my worldly possessions could fit in my car. That was the day I left for graduate school. I left for my intrepid journey across the country with a feeling of apprehension, nervousness, and excitement that my new home would be San Diego. The San Diego Zoo! The Pacific Ocean! Fish tacos! The apprehension and nervousness related more to the fact that I was starting graduate school. It truly didn’t hit me until I looked at my car filled to brim. All I can say is it’s been some of the most transformative years of my life.

But that’s looking at the big picture- graduate school as a whole. What about how to deal with the daily minutiae? The moment of terror when you receive a syllabus from a professor and its 22 pages long, when you realize the only possible way to get everything done is to cut your sleep in half, or what activities to join and how to “get involved” as a graduate student. Those are all thoughts I grappled with during my first year.

The number one best piece of advice I can give is GET INVOLVED. I spent my first semester frantically searching for a part time job. While that was necessary for my financial stability, it didn’t leave me much time to socialize with my peers, and soon to be colleagues, or become more involved in the USD community. I went from not being involved in anything my first semester, to currently being a SOLES Ambassador, actively involved with research for multiple professors, participating in a number of academic conferences, a member of the SOLES Student Graduate Association, and enjoying my practicum experience. When I look at my subjective well being from my first year to now in my third year, I am much happier. My student loans may be a bit higher and my bank account a bit lower, but I feel connected and invested in the USD community. I am reaping the benefits of what SOLES has to offer and making important connections that may help me down the line, both professionally and personally. Find your passion, get involved, and enjoy these pivotal years of your education.


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