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Becoming a Student Again

February 2, 2016

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Counseling with specialization in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Kimberly Macias:

I just started my second semester at USD in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program and I couldn’t be happier with my experience so far. iStock_000021029111SmallIt’s hard to imagine now that I almost didn’t go to graduate school, but it was a major possibility for me. You see I, like others I know, didn’t jump straight from undergraduate to graduate school; instead I took a few years off and worked. My job path was a promising one. But I had always told myself that I wanted to continue my education and just needed a little break. But as the years went by, I found that it was hard to get myself to apply for graduate programs. Looking back now I realize it was because I was comfortable were I was at career wise and was afraid of the unknown that came with quitting and getting back to school.

work-experience-before-grad-schoolLuckily, I remembered my promise to myself and got motivated to apply for programs in counseling. However I felt nervous still about the prospect of going back to school. I was worried about going back to school and needing to study again. All through the interview process and even after I accepted the offer here at USD I was worried about whether or not I was making a mistake. I didn’t know if I had what it takes to go back to school. I am sure that many who start graduate school, even start straight from undergraduate, feel daunted at the prospect, but there was also some excitement as well.

Now, after completing my first semester I am so glad I took the leap and went back to school to get my masters. At first it was strange having to study and taking classes again after so long working, but I know I made the right choice. I am looking forward to the rest of my time here at SOLES in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program to reach my educational and career goals.

A Mother’s Journey in Higher Education

January 12, 2016

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management, Desiree Del-Zio:

The University of San Diego, specifically SOLES, has been my home away from home for the past two and a half years. Several nights a week I sat in classrooms absorbing information, sharing ideas, and developing a skillset of leadership and higher level thinking. Several other days and nights of the week I sat in study groups or in the library, preparing presentations, writing documents, generating power points, and the other necessary tasks meant to demonstrate my awareness and development. And other days and nights of the week I gratefully spent with my two beautiful daughters.

Des and girls

My beautiful daughters and I 

As a single mother with a full time job in nonprofit management and a full time graduate studies schedule it is safe to say that these years included a tremendous amount of time and emotional management, careful decision making, and incredible growth – for all three of us. The result of all of these efforts: a master’s degree in Nonprofit Leadership and Management from a university campus that is as beautiful as it is prestigious.

It is simple and easy to share that the result of these years is the tangible piece of paper that designates my education level, and allows me to update my business cards with a little alphabet soup behind my name. But the truth is the results of this journey are far greater than that. In these past years my daughters have learned to take tremendous responsibility for themselves and have also witnessed my accomplishments with great pride. We have worked as a team to ensure our home, our pets, and our wellbeing was managed in the healthiest manner possible. We have been challenged in ways we did not expect and met those challenges with bravery and conviction. In addition, although my girls were always college bound, our conversations about higher education now include the discussion of both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. This was an unexpected but quite welcome side effect of these years of work.

Moreover, my time at USD has included an incredible experience in the study of leadership, multiple courses that explored organizational management through a lens of change rather than administration, and a deep appreciation for the relevance of self-reflection and self-awareness in professional development.

The SOLES experience has afforded me the opportunity to learn and to teach, to journey to Guatemala and meet with their public servants, to complete 40 units, to gain tremendous insight into my field of study, to work as a student consultant to the nonprofit community, to present my academic and professional development to colleagues and professors, to be accepted into the International Honor Society for academic excellence in philanthropic education, and to share this with my daughters as a mother, a mentor, and a role model.


Life in the classroom

It is with humility, great pride, and tremendous gratitude that I step away from this experience having demonstrated to both myself and my children that anything is possible for anyone. The invisible barriers, which exist in the minds of single mothers, could have prevented me from taking the first steps into this experience. But with their permission, the unending support of my family and friends, a few tears and a whole lot of smiles I now take my learning into the professional world: a little wiser, a lot more reflective, and with two daughters who enthusiastically talk about walking in my footsteps. There can be no doubt that in the past two and a half years I earned a lot more than a piece of paper – I earned a whole new life!

My Ode to You… and Me

January 12, 2016

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Higher Education Leadership, Lan Yang:

If your semester has been anything like mine, you’ll have experienced the extreme highs of moving to the absolutely breathtaking city of San Diego. You’ll have experienced the hint of nervousness from leaving those you love behind and leaving the familiar faces and places that you’ve spent so many years with. You’ll feel the lightness of a new journey, a new chapter and the darkness of loneliness and fear for new beginnings.

My dear, this semester, you will begin a professional job and be challenged in and out of the classroom. Many times you will feel like this guy on the right.Hanging Man Your ideas of professionalism will be stretched and your willingness to conform will be tested. How do you perceive yourself and how do others perceive you? What are you willing to give and what will you fight to keep? Your courses will ask you to dig deeper, to find the true meaning of the very essence of you. What is your purpose? Where do you find meaning in life? My advice to you? Embrace it. With open arms. Many questions will arise, cause discomfort, bring memories. Hold all of it. And hold it some more. It’s going to feel a bit like this…

As if new academic and work environments weren’t enough, you just may happen across this thing called personal life, too. There’s a chance that within your 1st week here, you’ll find a strong emotional connection with another human being. Yes, I’m talking about the romantic kind. Chances are one in a million, but my friend, do not discount it because it will bite you in the butt. So what happens then? I’m just going to tell you that the pressures of school and work are multiplied tenfold when you have a personal life as well. Let this be your warning. DO NOT HAVE A PERSONAL LIFE. Just kidding! Love or not, heartbreak or not, my best advice to you will forever be to embrace your life. Embrace the journey. See a trend? Seriously, give your all, be vulnerable, and share in the most authentic way possible. That’s what makes life beautiful and worthwhile. Also, love Brene Brown.

I’m realizing this Ode if much more for me than you, and that just sheds light on the constant tensions I feel throughout my life. Currently, it’s this tension of wanting to share my experience while wanting to share something more general that everyone may easily connect to. FaceplantWhat I have learned though is that tensions don’t have to be polar opposites.
I can share this piece about myself and my experiences AND this piece can be a space for others to find connections for themselves and their experiences. (Now, let’s hope you did found that connection and that the theory is true…). Don’t make me feel like this hippo.

In all seriousness, this semester has been a rollercoaster ride and so insightful. Yes, it brought about more questions than answers, and yes, it brought about more challenges than triumphs, but by golly, I could not be more grateful for each and every one of those experiences. For example: I am currently sitting on my bed IN THE LIVING ROOM typing this because San Diego can’t handle rain. Legitimately had to move my bedroom into the living room so they can replace the drywall that is no longer dry. So, this semester? It’s been everything. But hey, I was never able to watch TV from the comfort of my bed before, so hellooo New Girl!

I’ve never really been into the New Year resolutions thing (minus 13-year-old Lan) and was invited to participate in choosing a word as an intention instead. What better word than EMBRACE for the year of 2016. 2015 was all about change and growth, and I want 2016 to be a practice in embracing all of that more fully. To embrace myself and others more fully. May that be my gift to you. Embrace yourself, others, experiences, and everything in between to your full capacity. Life’s going to throw some funny things at you, and life’s got good aim. But so what? You have this awesome blog post, an amazing SOLES community, and a pint of ice cream to get you through. ;)


Life in the Women’s Center

January 5, 2016


A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Counseling with specialization in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Tamar Cassell:

Women's Center

Our staff at the Women’s Center

Since July 2015, I’ve had the invaluable opportunity of working as a Graduate Assistant for the C.A.R.E (Campus Assault Resources Education) program in the Women’s Center here at the University of San Diego. In this role, I assist in the development and implementation of resources and education pertaining to sexual and relationship violence, as well as aid in increasing advocacy and awareness efforts on campus. I also help maintain the structure of the C.A.R.E program by organizing monthly meetings and facilitating C.A.R.E trainings. As this position has been both challenging and rewarding, working in the Women’s Center has provided me with much more than I could have imagined.


Women of Impact

Our Women of Impact

The Women’s Center is a space that allows me to think critically about living by the principles of social justice, and is a place where I can fully embrace my identity as a woman. Additionally, I have had the opportunity to work alongside wonderful colleagues, graduate students, and undergraduate students. Each person challenges me to think about the intersections of life in diverse ways, and I have ultimately grown as a person and gained insight and perspective since embarking on this journey. In short, getting involved as a Graduate Assistant through SOLES has been one of the most significant aspects of my graduate career, and I believe that there is a place for everyone.


For further questions about the C.A.R.E program or Women’s Center, Tamar Cassell can be reached at: or 619-260-2396 ex. 7869

Some Food for Thought

December 8, 2015

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Counseling with specialization in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Tamar Cassell:


Be present-yoga can help with that!                                                                   Photo

End of the fall semester always feels like a complete whirlwind—finals, papers, presentations, holiday parties, gearing up to visit family, and so much more. During such chaotic, but also festive and exciting times, how does one stay balanced? As graduate students, how do we get through finals without feeling like the world is falling upon us, or that all we can think about is hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps? Here are some tips.

  1. Try and do one thing each day to stay in the present—whether that be a hike, yoga, leaving your phone behind as you go for a ten-minute walk, or simply a stroll on the beach; I have found that it is much easier to focus on finals if I can truly absorb the material and be present with the work. Easier said than done, but usually allocating some “me” time to recenter helps!
  2. Self-care, both physically and emotionally. Sometimes in the midst of presentations and papers, I can get so wrapped up and forget about the little things, like lunch or breakfast. Listen to your body, and always make time for yourself!
  3. Use checklists. Everyone has a different way of reminding themselves of important deadlines or balancing time management, but for me, seeing the tangible check marks for work completed truly feels like an accomplishment, and one less thing to do.
  4. As the fall semester is such a hectic time for all, reflect and look back on all that you have achieved this semester. What were the highlights? In what moments did you feel proud of yourself? Where has your work shined through? This could be in the classroom, in your office, at home, outside of the classroom, or beyond. At the end of the year, it can be empowering to remember where you’ve been, and where you are now. Stay true to yourself, and Happy New Year!


    A little fresh air will do the trick!

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.


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