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There is a lot of learning in the process

November 17, 2015

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


PhD courses

When I started the PhD program in SOLES, I had a very clear sense of what I was going to research, what I was going to do with that research, and what I was going to do when I graduated. I saw the 4-5 years I would spend in the program as a means to get all of the things that I knew were going to be waiting for me when I was done. A cliché about people’s best-laid plans comes to mind as I reflect on this.

I still find myself feeling attached to forms with which I am familiar. I want a job at a college or university, I want my job title to be one of these few that I believe accurately represents the scope of my skill and work abilities, I want to make a salary within this range, I was to work in these geographical areas of the country, to name a few. I have spent a lot of my time in the program trying to get those exact things, and dismissing the things that came to me that did not meet those expectations.

This isn’t entirely a bad thing, since there certainly are a number of opportunities within higher education that would offer me chances to do the work I wanted to do. Also, there is a degree of discernment that needs to happen, lest I spend every hour of every day applying for every job and researching every topic without and sense of boundaries. I think, now, that I was managing that boundary in a far to rigid way at the time. I spent a lot of time reading only literature related to higher education, only talking about higher education, and only thinking about ways to apply my work to the world of higher education. The nature of the SOLES PhD program, however, often means that my classes had a number of other members (including the faculty) whose field of specialty was something other than higher education.

One of my greatest pieces of learning in this program has been a greater degree of openness to new opportunities and the benefit of new perspectives. Evident in this was been my taking up projects that focused on other areas of education, having the chance to collaborate with peers on consulting work for non-profit organizations, and learn new theories that I can apply to my work, including the work I do within higher education. In many ways, I think this new sense of openness has made me a more effective practitioner in higher education, because it has given me access to greater resources and a wider variety of knowledge sets from which to draw when counseling students, designing programs, and teaching classes.

I’d imagine all of this sounds very easy, but it has been quite a process. Most times we get rewarded for having a very clear goal and an outline of how to arrive at said goal. I don’t advocate for wandering aimlessly through this program (though in other areas of my life this is a favorite past time). Rather, if I were to offer some perspective to those thinking about applying and interested in taking up this process, it would be to have a sense of who you are and be willing to allow the program to contribute to that. There is a lot more that can come out of the process if we think about it as a series of opportunities and not as a series of distractions. I’ve been amazed at what the process has offered me in the moments I have remembered this idea.


Collaborating with some of my peers

Hello again Barcelona!

November 4, 2015

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Higher Education Leadership, Megan Petersen:


Me standing in front of Casa Batilo. This house was built by Antonio Gaudi. His art and architecture can be found throughout the city.

Recently I attended the International Leadership Association (ILA) Conference in Barcelona through a course offered by the Leadership Department in SOLES. The course consisted of four class sessions in addition to the four-day conference. This was a great opportunity to further enhance my leadership skills while getting the chance to travel the world. I left a few days before the conference in order to have time to immerse myself in the city.

Segrada Familia inside

Inside the Segrada Familia

Traveling is one of my biggest passions, and while pursuing my undergraduate career I attended Semester at Sea, a study abroad program that travels the world via ship. One of our stops on our journey was Barcelona; so, I was excited to be able to go back to view the city from a different perspective this time around. I was able to revisit sights that I saw from my previous trip there as well as explore the city more in depth.

Both times in Barcelona I was able to visit La Segrada Familia, a church that has been under construction since 1882. Being inside of this building brought me a sense of peace both time
. It was amazing to see the progression that it made throughout the years and I hope to see it again in the future.

Segrada Familia outside

Outside of the Segrada Familia

I also took time out of this trip to explore The Gothic Quarter by myself, a place I had never been before. Doing this allowed me to connect to the city in a different way and, in a sense, “get lost” in the culture of the city. Looking at all of the intricate architecture and knowing how long ago it was all built made me feel sort of small in comparison, but I felt very connected to the culture and city while I was there as well.

My favorite part of the conference was getting the opportunity to volunteer at the registration desk with students from a similar program as me, who were going to school at an institution in Barcelona. Getting to interact with locals from the area was a wonderful way to really incorporate the international aspect of the conference, besides just seeing sights throughout the city. It was the perfect merging of cultures in an unexpended way.

A building lit up in the Gothic Quarter

Nighttime at the Gothic Quarter

I always enjoy traveling to new and old locations and I am very grateful for the opportunity I had to return to Barcelona.

And so it begins!

October 21, 2015

A blog post from SOLES Temporary Admissions and Outreach Coordinator, Lena Vanda:

And so it begins…

There’s nothing like graduate school. Being immersed in a subject you genuinely have a passion for, surrounded by a close knit community of others with the same passion, reading… lots and lots of reading, squeezing every drop out of the 24 hrs allotted in each day. Learning the most you can, developing into the professional you want to be, all while trying to keep that balance thing going that helps us still feel like human beings in the process. I never thought I’d have to choose between a shower, dinner, and sleep. However throughout graduate school I became a wizard at problem solving through these delicate decisions.

Over two years out of this season I just described, I now have the privilege of watching over 150 prospective students from all over the world start the process. We watched over 150 students get excited over the coursework, and anticipated assistantships at our Annual SOLES Fall Prospective Student Open House. I overheard deep insightful questions asked of our faculty members who were gracious enough to promote their programs to the next generation. I saw individuals arrive early with their families, significant others, and friends anticipating the event, walking around campus and taking in the amazing scenery USD is known for. Individuals collected information to take home and soak in.

In the midst of it, it gets easy to take graduate school as a burden or inconvenience. And of course there are disappointments in the journey. Not everyone who applies will be accepted into our programs and for the ones who do there will always be goals strived for that aren’t achieved. And the reading. Lots and lots of reading.

However, This weekend I was reminded in the midst of all of that what an amazing privilege many are yearning for out of a passion for education. I am excited for the next class entering in Fall 2016 and wish them the best through the process.

Tips for Surviving Graduate School

September 22, 2015

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Counseling with specialization in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Lara Touckley:

Grad School Energy Levels

  1. Find Your Balance

It’s hard to believe that pushing yourself academically, socially, as well as at home and at work, can be strenuous! As much as we’d love to finish all readings, assignments, AND do well in other areas in life, at times, it might be difficult to do it all (probably when you have 2 midterms, 3 papers and 5 assignments due). It’s important to remember, that although it’s recommended to finish your readings before class; it’s not punishable by death if you don’t! After all, there are only 24 hours per day. So prioritize! Deadlines are, after all, deadlines. Read some chapters before class, and leave others for when you have more free time. (But don’t forget to read them eventually; if they’ve been assigned to you then they’re [most probably] important.)

  1. Self-Care

Prioritize yourself! You’re acing everything; you’re on an academic roll- great for you, IF you’re taking care of yourself too. We oftentimes forget about our needs and ourselves. Well newsflash: if you’re not mentally and emotionally okay, then the perfect GPA you’ve worked so hard to achieve will start suffering the consequences. In short, everybody loses! So give studying your all, but give yourself your all too! Remember those things you once enjoyed and performed so often? Oh yeah, hobbies! Remind yourself of what they are and make sure you spoil yourself a little. (Don’t go neglecting school though..)

  1. Know How You Work, And Plan Accordingly

After years (and years and years) of studying, we all know how we work. If you read slow, give yourself extra time to finish the readings. If you’re a master at writing papers (then you’re in the right place!), then you know that it takes you less time to write an A-paper. Manage your time according to your strengths and not-so-strengths (I like to believe we don’t have weaknesses. Yes, some might call that denial). Do you understand best in class, or do you need to spare some time for office hours with your professor? Do study groups work better for you than studying individually? Ask yourself all these questions and go for it! Try to be as efficient as possible in as little time as possible.

  1. Get Involved

Psht, we heard that a lot right? Well, there’s a reason for that- it’s important! Dig around and find things that might be helpful for you in your professional development, and go for it! Have you already had plenty of experience? Perhaps performing research and reading articles might be helpful. Likewise, if you’ve done a lot of research, then volunteering and getting involved in the community can help!

It’s as important to do well academically, as it is in the community. As a professor once told us, “you write your own reference letter.”

  1. Rent Books

You can rent books from the library in order to save money, and then buy the book if you really like it! Otherwise, you can just rent your books online! If you enjoy reading off of a screen then that’s even better! Renting (and even buying) e-books are cheaper, and you can access them right away!

  1. Ask Away!
  • Your colleagues might be able to help you if you ever need it. If they can’t, then the realization that you’re not the only “lost” student is a self-esteem booster! I would then advise to directly ask your professor about your inquiries.
  • As for research opportunities, don’t be afraid to ask professors to work with them! Ideally, you would work with a professor whose interests are close to yours.
  • Your advisor is there to, well, advise you! Personally, my advisor was a huge help to me. She/he can give suggest different places to volunteer, help you improve academically, etc.
  • You can also ask us, SOLES Ambassadors, any questions you have and we’ll do the best we can to answer them!

Adventure Awaits at SOLES!

September 8, 2015

At many times, San Diego feels like paradise-lush palm trees, beautiful sandy beaches, and clear blue skies. What more could a Seattleite ask for? In early August, I packed my bags and embarked on an exciting adventure to pursue my Masters in Higher Education Leadership at USD and begin my graduate assistantship with SOLES Admissions & Outreach.


School of Leadership and Educational Sciences: Mother Rosalie Hall

Prior to relocating to San Diego, the thought of leaving an established life in Seattle was daunting. Yet something about SOLES felt right-even prior to my campus visit earlier this year in February. Maybe it was their personal, caring approach in our initial interactions, but I was sold. I actually confirmed prior to visiting the campus! Upon admission to the program, I was immediately met with the warmth and kindness of SOLES students, staff, and faculty. Based off my experiences so far, I firmly believe that I could not have made a better decision.Not only does this campus radiate physical beauty with its breathtaking Spanish architecture and phenomenal landscaping, but USD’s core values speaks volumes. The desire to provide a compassionate, diverse, and inclusive environment for students has deeply resonated with my personal values and I eagerly look forward what these next two years with SOLES will bring. I hope to carry that into my work following the completion of the program.

SOLES Networking

The possibilities at SOLES are endless! The First Lecture of the year & SOLES Networking Events

Reflecting on my time at USD, my transition to SOLES has brought forth tremendous growth opportunities. This past month in San Diego has proved to be a humbling, thrilling, and rewarding experience. Not only have I discovered a new found responsibility and independence, but I also have been challenged to incorporate leadership in the classroom, work force, and everyday life. From the task of learning a new job to learning about USD’s culture-I feel so incredibly blessed for this opportunity to pursue my goals as a Higher Education professional.

So cheers to new friendships, experiences, and perspectives!
*Continue to check our blog or subscribe to read posts from our various student ambassadors.


Some of my wonderful cohort from the MA in Higher Education Leadership program

La Jolla

Breathtaking Sunsets at La Jolla


Beautiful Coronado Island

A taste of Bali, Indonesia

July 1, 2015

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Counseling with specialization in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Miguel Martinez:

The international requirement in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling (CMHC) program was one main contributing factor to my decision in attending USD SOLES. As I finish my first year in the CMHC program I think about the amazing opportunities this program has offered, and the privilege we’ve received as graduate students for studying abroad. I reflect back and I do not regret my decision for choosing USD and traveling across the world to Southeast Asia. I love exploring new places, and my interest in learning about new cultures and languages has taken me to countries in Europe, and now I can check off Southeast Asia from my bucket list.

Traveling and seeing new cultures for the first time is an indescribable feeling, and this feeling motivates me to pursue new adventures. In this academic year (2014-2015) we were given the option in the CMHC program to travel to Bali or Jamaica, and I selected Bali, Indonesia. Without hesitation I selected a country in Southeast Asia because I wanted to gain knowledge about their culture, spiritual beliefs, and their overall views of society.

During our Bali trip, we visited three different locations: Ubud, Amed, and Mengwi. In Ubud, we visited incredible places such as the royal palace, temples, rice fields, and we had a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness the cremation ceremony of a princess in Bali. As a cohort, we then traveled to the coastal strip of Bali and visited Amed. It was one of the most relaxing parts of the trip, and having class in an open area with a view of the Indian Ocean was breathtaking and surreal. During our stay in Amed, we also witnessed the beautiful sunrise over the Indian Ocean as we rode a sailboat into the sea. Before we departed Bali, we made a quick stop in Mengwi where we stayed in a community-based hotel called Puri Taman Sari own by Agung Prana, a founder of the Coral Restoration Project in Bali. In Mengwi we visited one of the prominent temples in Bali called Tanah Lot, which means Land in the Sea. This temple was located on a rock just offshore and it was a beautiful sightseen.

Immersing into the Balinese culture taught me a lot about myself, and showed me the potential I have to work with culturally diverse people as a future clinical mental health counselor. I met Balinese locals (youth and elder) and every interaction was a new learning experience. Here are a few snapshots of my trip in Bali. Enjoy!


Miguel 1

The Balinese cuisine is made with a lot of spice

Miguel 2

Puri Agung Peliatan Royal Palace

Miguel 3

Balinese Royal Cremation ceremony: The body of the princess was placed at the top of the tower.

Miguel 4

Balinese architecture is very detailed and grandiose

Miguel 5

I met Gigi at the Elephant Safari Park!!

Miguel 6

Tirta Empul Temple


Miguel 7

The Indian Ocean was striking and beautiful

Miguel 8

Beautiful scenery during our boat ride in the India Ocean


Miguel 9

The Tanah Lot Temple (Land in the Sea in Balinese language)

Miguel 10

A beautiful commnity-based hotel called Puri Taman Sari

What Road Trips Teach You About the Classroom

June 11, 2015
Colleen 4

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and Master’s Credential Cohort (MCC) 2-year, Colleen Stevenson 

To fulfill my international experience requirement, I chose to go on a road trip with other members of my cohort to the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. Here’s a few ways the experience influenced my perspective of teaching:

  1. Students need to get outside.

So much of what we discuss in our classes at USD surround the importance of creating culturally relevant lessons and connecting what students are learning to the real world. During our road trip we stopped at various national parks between California and New Mexico. It was amazing to see how the educational practices and theories that I was learning in school began to connect in the real world as we ourselves were learning about new cultures and historical sites. When opportunities to teach beyond the classroom walls arise it should be taken. Not only does it allow for a break outside of the norm, but it shows students that learning can happen anywhere.

Colleen 3

  1. If can’t get out of the classroom, bring the outside to them

Making real world connections is key to student engagement and lesson retention. So when the real world comes into their classroom it’s hard to look away. During our trip we visited the Petrified Forrest National Park in Arizona and while the three of us all teach different subjects we each found a connection from the park to bring into the classroom.

For history, the park’s ancient ruins became a resource for how societies form including hierarchies and social structure. The park’s petroglyphs sparked conversation about language through visuals and in an English classroom could be a text for what communication can look like. And for the elementary or science classroom, students could discuss how the markings stayed on the rocks after all these years.

Be it pictures, mementos, or artifacts students deserve to see the world around them. We need to show students that school is not bound to four walls but bridges the gaps to the world around them.

Colleen 2

  1. Don’t Take a Picture and Read About it Later

Do your research. The more you understand on a topic the more appreciation you will receive. In my placement, I talk to my students about the importance of knowing when a text is written and the background of the author. The more you know, the more you can infer why a text was written, and in turn the larger purpose or message. Without the previous knowledge, the Petrified Forest would seem like a large space of rocks. The layers within the Grand Canyon would seem like neat shading, and the alien themed storefronts in Roswell, New Mexico would seem out of place.

Giving your students the background they need increases their access points to the text or lesson while also expanding their ability to make deeper, stronger, and more meaningful connections. Additionally, asserting the background knowledge of your students’ unique personalities into a lesson is helpful towards increasing classroom engagement.

Colleen 1

  1. Don’t be Afraid to Ask

Be it for directions, background information, or the nearest gas station. Freeways were a new territory, just as many of the skills we teach in the classroom are new territory for our students. When students are afraid to ask questions, they could end up wasting time doing a project incorrectly, only to have needed 2 minutes of clarification to have properly understood the assignment. Same goes for new teachers (maybe even double). Don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues, mentors, or administration for help. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

Speaking up is a powerful skill, one that our students can even learn from our example. It’s the difference between staying in the dark for fear of looking foolish and turning on a light because being in the dark isn’t helping.

Or in our case, waiting at a rest stop for a tow truck to bring us gas when we only needed to ask the rest stop manager for help.

Head ups: They always have extra gallons to spare.


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