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Why I Came To USD, and More Importantly, Why I Stayed

January 3, 2018

A blog post from SOLES Master’s Credential Cohort Program: Secondary Education Student Ambassador, Matthew Becerra

I am in the third semester of the Master’s Credential Cohort in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences, and am a male teaching candidate of color who is planning on spending the rest of his life working as a public school teacher/educator.

Prior to USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences, I attended public schools (proudly) for 17 consecutive years, all the way through undergraduate studies.

However, when it came to graduate school I was intrigued and excited by the University of San Diego because of everything the school had to offer, particularly in alignment with the school’s mission and vision statements dedicated to social justice and positively impacting communities.

After a month of school, I started to actually question whether or not I belonged at USD. The transition happened so quickly and suddenly that I was personally feeling overwhelmed. Fortunately, I was taking EDUC 581C, Multicultural and Philosophical Foundations of Education in a Global Society, and had Dr. Veronica Garza as my professor. Not only was the class itself rewarding, as we talked at length about inequities in education, but I was able to build rapport with Professor Garza, and now consider her a mentor. She showed genuine care and interest in my learning, by emailing me directly when I missed class, or to thank me for classroom discussion contributions. So when I came to her to express my concerns and doubts, she was an empowering voice of reason and comfort. She routinely would tell me “You DO belong here” when referencing the school and encouraged me to speak my truth. It is because of her support and reassurance (as well as our mutual love for the Los Angeles Dodgers) that I not only stayed enrolled but now have immersed myself into the graduate school community.

I share this to say, first and foremost, thank you Dr. Garza for your support. Secondly, I want all prospect students to know if you are looking for a space where the faculty care about you, truly, then I would recommend attending the School of Leadership and Education Sciences.

– Matthew Becerra


University of Cambridge and ILA Conference in Brussels

December 11, 2017

A blog post from SOLES PhD in Leadership Studies Ambassador, Ryosuke (Reo) Watanabe

We are finishing the semester now. In retrospect, the highlight of this semester was
LEAD 581i, a global study course to the UK and Belgium. I attended the European trip
led by Professor Cheryl Getz with other ten PhD and Master’s students in October.
Thanks to the long-term relationship between Professor Getz and Professor Georgia
Sorenson, the founder of the academy, we were fortunate to attend the opening event of
the James McGregor Burns Academy of Leadership at Churchill College in University of
Cambridge. The academy organized a weekend leadership workshop especially for us.
We had a great opportunity to learn leadership from the British perspective and discuss
the current issues on leadership with various scholars and the students at University of
Cambridge. We then attended the opening ceremony of the academy with other
outstanding scholars and practitioners of leadership studies gathered from around the
world. Burns is called a founder of leadership studies, and his transformational
leadership theory has made a huge influence on leadership studies, so I was personally
excited to attend the special event.

After the visit to Cambridge, we moved to Brussels to attend the International
Leadership Association (ILA) 19 th Annual Global Conference. There, we as leadership
scholars shared the sense of urgency, because the current world is full of leadership
challenges. The growing global instability was a frequent topic in the conference. As
there were so many sessions during just the four-day period, I was able to experience
only a slight part of it, but was surprised to know that many scholars respected and
referred our Leadership Studies program as the pioneering program in the field. I
appreciate the irreplaceable opportunity of networking with scholars outside SOLES and
learning leadership studies from diversified views.

For Those Grads Far Far Away From Home…

November 15, 2017

A blog post from SOLES MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling AmbassadorBetty Desta

Moving more than 9100 miles away from home for the first time can be a pretty big adjustment. Fully getting used to my life here took several months. Thinking back, I wish I could go back and tell myself all the things I know now…perhaps find a way to write myself a letter and mail it to my past self. It would go something like this…


Dear Betty:

Call home as often as you can. Although it may really be fun being away from home and getting to live life as an adult (finally!!!) it can get a bit lonely sometimes. Remember how much your sister used to annoy you when you were back home? Believe it or not, you now talk almost everyday. She has been the person you call when you happy, sad and bored. Sometimes calculating what time it is back home can be hard, but on the other hand, you may find yourself on the phone at 3 am in the morning, laughing hysterically about old memories and trying not to wake up your roommates.

Find a place that sells food from back home. In your first few months, not having food from back home will make you truly homesick. You will try a few shops and restaurants that will leave you disappointed (and slightly more homesick) but then when you do find a place that makes decent food that is reminiscent of back home, it will all be worth it!

Stay in touch with your old friends. Life gets busy, and it’s hard to stay in touch with old friends when life is taking you in such completely different ways. Yes, friends will go through lots of changes while you’re gone and you will experience major FOMO  and it’s okay. Make a point of checking in with your friends and catching up at least once in a while.

Explore all the new opportunities you have available now. You will find that the college experience is completely different here. You will feel awkward around the faculty because back home, a casual and warm relationship with professors is unheard of. There will also be so many new opportunities to get involved in research, clubs and other activities both on and off campus. It may feel overwhelming at first, but just make the first step – it’s always the hardest. Email your professors, join that student org, volunteer or get an internship off campus. These will help your career development immensely.

And most of all, don’t forget to have fun!

Happiness is Not a Limited Resource

November 1, 2017

A blog post from SOLES MA in Marital and family Therapy Ambassador, Taylor Valdivia:

As I embark on my final year in the Marital and Family Therapy Master’s program, I have learned that ‘adulting’ is everything it is hyped up to be…and then some. Balancing work, school, practicum, family, responsibilities, a social life and self-care all in a day’s work is a heck of a challenge; but one that I am always ready to take on.

Taking on each day is a battle in it of itself, but I am lucky to have such an incredible support system every step of the way. My fellow cohort members, professors, supervisors and family are walking beside me, picking me up when I fall, cheering me on and giving me unconditional love and support through it all. Every shoulder I have cried on, coffee order taken, ear I have talked off, late night food run, snap chat exchange, GIF battle and laugh shared…I have won the lottery with the people I am thankful to have in my life. These are the people who have seen me at my best and my worst and choose to accept me for both. Accepting me for who I am, supporting me, loving me and challenging me to be the best me that I can possibly be.

Being a graduate student is difficult and challenging, but one of the most rewarding journeys that I am blessed to be embarking on.  Some days are triumphs, others are tribulations, but each day I learn something new about the world, others and myself that I never knew before.

A lot goes on in balancing life as a graduate student, but just know that you are never alone. In this journey of pursuing higher education, I have found that I am a lot stronger than I thought I ever was. Facing challenges, emotions and feelings that I have tucked away for so long, I have been able to face them head on, with an entire support team behind me.

As you embark on your graduate school journey, I encourage you to find your happiness. I have found my own happiness and it continues to grow each and every day.  It’s in the quality time I share with my family, the relationships I have with my friends, the meditations I do at the beach, the workouts I have at the gym, the taste of coffee in the morning, reading before I go to bed, seeing my dream of becoming a therapist become a reality…everywhere I look, happiness awaits.

“The decision to be positive is not one that disregards or belittles the sadness that exists. It is rather a conscious choice to focus on the good, and to cultivate happiness – genuine happiness. Happiness is not a limited resource.”  – Christopher Aiff



Finding Balance as a Graduate Student

October 18, 2017

A blog post from SOLES MA in Higher Education Leadership Ambassador, Novien Yarber:

As you may or may not know, graduate school is an entirely different dynamic than that of undergraduate studies. Grad school, more particularly within the School of Leadership and Education Sciences, demands not only more of you but a different and more mature/reflective you. As a graduate student in this program you will be challenged to understand and unpack all aspects of your being—who you are, why you are the way you are, and what you do with that awareness of self.  Not only does the work of graduate studies get arduous, life is still happening and you must learn how to find balance so that you are getting through your graduate career both successfully and healthily. As I too am on my quest for healthy balance I will share a few tidbits that have helped me along the way.

  1. Find community; having people to debrief with and bounce ideas off of is imperative to your growth and sanity. Sometimes it’s hard to talk about your studies with family and friends because they may not get it, but you’re fortunate to have SOLES’ welcoming community as support.
  2. Find your space; it’s quite appropriate that I’m writing this blog while in one of my favorite beach spots. San Diego has a plethora of restaurants/cafés/quiet spots that are great places for you to read, study, and decompress. To keep it fresh I switch my spots often (i.e. Café Bassam- Balboa Park, The Living Room- La Jolla, Lestats-Hillcrest, Halycon- Gaslamp). Go explore the wonderful city and find your spot!
  3. Find time to reflect outside of the course assignments; you will be prompted to do a lot of reflection within your courses but the true “A-HA” moments derive from when you’re left to reflect on your own time. Don’t let the work stop once you leave the classroom.
  4. Listen to your body, don’t force it; it’s safe to assume that you are somewhat of an overachiever—I mean, if you’re at this point of your educational career you have to have some sort of drive that makes you want to do and be more. With that being said, you have to recognize that you can’t do it all and do if you do it all it won’t be perfect. Sometimes you must take a break to practice some self-care—for all you over-achievers, self-care is being productive, as you can’t successfully do your studies on an empty tank!

I hope this post provides some sort of comfort as you enter/continue your studies here at USD. Take it all in stride and learn all you can!


How I Chose to Become a Higher Education Practitioner

October 2, 2017

A blog post from SOLES MA in Higher Education Leadership Studies Ambassador, Bianca Chau:

I was not involved on campus as an undergraduate student back home in Hong Kong. There were a couple of reasons to that. First, being involved was not emphasized like it is here in America. Second, even though I wanted to get involved, there was no such thing as intramurals, clubs, or student orgs. There was no middle ground for students like me who just wanted to play sports or music for fun or for self-development. So, I stopped looking for opportunities and resources that would enrich my college life until I heard about the opportunity to study abroad. I chose to study abroad in America and ended up at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) where I spent three months being the college student that I truly wanted to be. Involved, proactive, and most of all, happy!

Being at UC Davis made me realize that I do not ever want a student to graduate from college feeling unfulfilled and unready to face society. That was when I realized that I wanted to work in the education sector, preferably with high school students/emerging adults. So, I first entered this field when I was offered a position as an admissions officer at an K-12 international school in Beijing, China. There, I met my first, who I now know to call, mentor. She was the Director of Enrollment Management and the University Counselor at the school. I worked directly for her and caught more than a glimpse of the joy that such jobs can bring to not only the students served but to the server himself/herself. After a year in the position, I started looking for graduate programs that would prepare me to work primarily in the higher education setting. So here I am!

I am privileged to be able to work with the International Student Organization Executive Board who I learn so much from. This is a group who I will have a professional relationship with for a year and I am so excited to not only watch them grow but also grow with them! I am looking forward to all the ups and downs that may come our way because no matter what, I know that this is my community that I can rely on and trust.

SOLES Internship: The National Hispanic Institute

September 15, 2017

A blog post from SOLES MA in Leadership Studies Ambassador, Andrea Madeleine Medina:

This summer, I had the opportunity to connect two huge passions of mine: SOLES and The National Hispanic Institute. The National Hispanic Institute, more concisely referred to as NHI, hosts a series of 15 intensive summer leadership programs for high school students at colleges and universities both nationally and internationally. I have been involved with NHI for almost ten years now, beginning my journey as a freshman in high school back in my hometown of San Antonio, Texas. It just so happens that one of NHI’s annual summer programs is hosted right here at the University of San Diego, and it made perfect sense that I would conduct my SOLES Internship with an organization that has played such a huge role in getting me to where I am today. In fact, I first found out about the SOLES Leadership Studies program at an NHI College Fair in the first place. Full circle, am I right?

Anyway, I am going into my second year as an MA in Leadership Studies student here at USD, and really sought out this experience to deepen my learning with NHI in a new, more theoretical and academic capacity. Since I am focusing on youth leadership development and public speaking coaching as key areas of interest for my graduate studies, I was thrilled to have the chance to make connections between NHI pedagogy and the modern leadership theories I have been learning about in my program. To break it down, my summer internship (June-August 2017) consisted of three main components: academic writing, staffing the 2017 California Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session as an Assistant Educational Director and Senior Counselor, and serving as an NHI at San Diego region organizer.

On top of getting to know and work with over 120 brilliant students from all over the United States and Mexico, I also got to thoroughly unpack the learning, dynamics, and systems at play throughout the course of the nine-day program. In addition, getting to serve as a regional organizer has been a such re-energizing experience, working alongside local students to envision a direction and strategize a plan to build a community of strong, smart, and invested young people in the greater San Diego area. Providing spaces for students to visualize their futures, develop innovative ideas, inquire deeply, and discover who they really are and what they truly believe in is vital in a world where young people are constantly told what to think and how to act. NHI cultivates these environments where students are able to harness their imaginations freely, collaborate with peers from all backgrounds and walks of life, confront technical and adaptive challenges, and create their own realities.

I feel so lucky to be a part of an organization whose sole mission is to inspire young people to challenge themselves and reach their fullest potential. I look forward to taking my work and learning beyond my internship experience, continuing to serve as a regional organizer, and finding opportunities to further make connections between the work of SOLES and NHI.