Author: Meghan Farrell

Higher Education and Student Affairs Names New Program Director

The Neag School’s Department of Educational Leadership welcomes Kari B. Taylor as the new program director for Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA). She begins her new appointment as the HESA program director and as an assistant professor-in-residence on July 31.

Kari B. Taylor joins the Neag School as the Higher Education and Student Affairs program director.
Kari B. Taylor joins the Neag School as the Higher Education and Student Affairs program director. (Photo Credit: Shawn Kornegay/Neag School)

Taylor joins the Neag School after most recently having earned her Ph.D. in higher education and student affairs at The Ohio State University (OSU), where she conducted research into the process of developmental growth among undergraduate and graduate students who participated in an international service-learning experience. Her dissertation focused on how a service-learning course helped students develop critical consciousness, which represents a complex way of making meaning of one’s self in relation to one’s social world. In her third year as a doctoral student, she received the Porterfield-Dickens Graduate Research Support Award in support of her dissertation research.

Rising Up the Ranks

Taylor’s interest in the learning and development of students in higher education was ignited during her second year as an undergraduate at the University of Missouri, where she served as a peer advisor for the Freshman Interest Groups, an immersive living-learning experience that creates cohesive communities where students study, take classes, and live together. At the time, Taylor, who majored in journalism and biological sciences, was also working for a local newspaper. While she enjoyed her work as a reporter, she says she always found herself eager to return to her advisees at the end of the day, ultimately prompting her to pursue graduate study in the realm of higher education and student affairs.

“[Kari] deeply cares about students and their development, which will make a meaningful contribution to the experience that our students have here.”

— Milagros Castillo-Montoya, assistant professor and former interim HESA director

Going on to complete a master’s of science degree in college student personnel at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in 2006, Taylor began serving as assistant director for academic and co-curricular support at Miami University’s Honors and Academic Scholars programs. In this position, Taylor provided holistic advising for a large group of high-ability students; developed academic, social, and community service student programming; worked with the university’s Office of Residence Life to oversee the Honors Living Learning Community; and assisted in recruiting, training, and supervising instructors for the introductory honors seminar.

By 2011, she had been promoted to senior associate director, developing and supervising academic support policies and procedures for the university’s Honors Plan for Liberal Education, which allows honors students to meet general education requirements through an outcomes-based framework. She also supervised assistant directors; facilitated ongoing refinement of the program’s electronic portfolio process; and implemented training modules for academic advisors as chair of the professional development subcommittee of Miami’s Undergraduate Academic Advising Council.

It was this commitment to student learning and development that led Taylor to her Ph.D. program at OSU. Describing her work as “bringing passion to practice,” Taylor says she looks forward to being a heavily involved leader and mentor for the HESA program.

“I was drawn to the program at UConn because of the sense of community and the opportunity to work specifically with master’s students,” says Taylor, a native of Topeka, Kan. “I was very interested in the system of graduate assistantships and practicums that HESA offers, and am excited to assist graduate students in their development as educational leaders.”

Practitioner and Scholar

“We are excited to welcome Kari Taylor to the HESA program and to the department. She brings a blend of practitioner and scholarly experience with her, as well as a focus on issues of equity that will be a great fit,” says Jennifer McGarry, professor and head of the Department of Educational Leadership.

Taylor succeeds Neag School assistant professor Milagros Castillo-Montoya, who served as HESA’s interim director this past year.

“Kari brings expertise and experience that will be a strong value to the program,” says Castillo-Montoya. “She also deeply cares about students and their development, which will make a meaningful contribution to the experience that our students have here and the strong reputation we have as a program for supporting the development of higher education and student affairs administrators.”

Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools Visits EDLR Students

“Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.”- John C. Maxwell


On April 24, 2017 students in Professor Joshua Hyman’s class, EDLR 6322: Economics of Education Reform were able to learn about and discuss the characteristics of this kind of servant leadership in education from the first hand account of Superintendent of Hartford Public ScEDLR students engaged in classhools, Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, who was recently appointed after having served as interim superintendent since December 9, 2016, and her leadership abilities embody this quote.

Torres-Rodriguez was an ELL, English Language Learner, student in Hartford Public Schools and having worked in the Greater Hartford Area for the past 22 years, has a strong connection with the community. Student Michael Corral commented, “She is invested in the city of Hartford, and is not trying to use it as a stepping stone to some other position or district.” The Superintendent herself expressed how important the success of the Hartford school district is to her personally, and not just as a job. She understands the families and students as she once felt she was a “disenfranchised” student of the school district, and now strives to be an agent for positive change and open ear for the concerns of the community.

Dr. Torres-Rodriguez maintains her relations with her constituents by being transparent, honest, accountable, and using feedback to focus on how policy and school leadership can improve. With an increasing number of ELL students and 20% of students being special education; she is mindful that change for the district is moving towards a more diverse population, and therefore requires policy to accommodate student needs. The superintendent brings an important humanistic element and strong academic qualifications into the field with her background in Human Development (B.S, University of Connecticut), Social Work (M.S., University of Connecticut), and Educational Leadership (Ed.D Central Connecticut State University). She believes that her less traditional path has furthered her skills as a leader in education as she brings an anthropological background to her passion for education.

During her visit, the superintendent gave insight into many of the challenges of her position as well as how she is managing these new challenges. Students in Professor Hyman’s class benefited from this discussion, as they were able to listen to her first hand experiences and see a glimpse of how a large local school district superintendent operates.

Student, Sarah Redlich, commented,

“I found her discussion of the different stakeholders she works with and how she considers the implications of decisions for the operation of the Hartford school system to be very interesting. The perspectives Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez shared helped me explore the important decisions and considerations that are involved with being a school leader.”

This comes from a discussion about the multifaceted nature of being a superintendent. Dr. Torres-Rodriguez, does not just service Hartford Public schools, but she is in charge of overseeing the placement of Hartford students in other districts, a transition that Hartford funds, as well as some oversight over the cities’ magnet and charter schools. Because of this she must have strong community ties and an eye for good policy. She enlightened the class on managing funding, ensuring good relations with these other schools, and how to insure the academic and emotional well-being for a diverse population of students in the cities’ schools. Student. Michael Corral, particularly benefited from her discussion about the complexities of acquiring funding and developing a budget as he noted, Michael Corral engaged in discussion

“It was nice to listen about the application of funding models and how they are formulated with the best of intentions but can - at times - perpetuate many of the injustices they are supposed to address.”

It is key to note that the formula for a successful school district is not always easy, but Dr. Torres-Rodriguez shed light on how to weigh issues, remain transparent, and work with other stakeholders to develop good policy, and leave it adaptable as the nature of education is not static.

The class was highly engaged as they asked Dr. Torres-Rodriguez questions about her approach towards fiscal policy, diversifying student needs, maintaining enrollment in schools while respecting parent-school choice, and interacting with key stakeholders, such as the board, school leadership and her constituents. After these in-depth questions about her experience, student, Daron Cyr, asked a very important question, ‘How does she do it all?’

Dr. Torres-Rodriguez said that it was a combination of self-care, having a network of other educational leaders, who see things from the same systemic viewpoints, and her drive to help Hartford schools and students succeed. She emphasized her passion by saying, “If there was a hill I would die on, it would be this.”  Meaning she is ready to do everything she can to work for this community. As a product of the system, and as someone, who has worked in Hartford for a long time she admits she has seen the city’s failures, but she also sees great potential, and this is what she is working towards.

This was a high-energy and inspiring conversation that the students actively benefited from. It brought life to the issues and policies the Ph.D students have learned about in professor Hyman’s class, and throughout their education. Professor Hyman commented on this experience,

“While my hope is that my students learn a lot about education policy from the course readings, discussion, and lecture, there is really no substitute for engaging with and learning from a long-time teacher and district administrator serving in disadvantaged communities.”

The Department of Educational Leadership extends a warm thank you to Dr. Torres-Rodriguez for providing insight into the inner workings of developing a budget, editing and adding policies all while maintaining a relationship with the community. This type of hands on experience offers our students an opportunity to engage with a local, yet high profile professional which contributes to their interactive classroom experience that Dr. Hyman works to create.

Dr. Rincón to Serve in Upcoming Leadership Capacities

Head shot of assistant professor Blanca RinconThis past fall she was named co-principal investigator for a five-year $3.5 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant dedicated to expanding diversity in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics field. Most recently, Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs, Blanca Rincón, has been elected to serve on the directorate for the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) Commission for Professional Preparation (CPP), and as a programming committee member for the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Division-J.

As a scholar and researcher, Dr. Rincón continuously shows dedication and passion for higher education, and student affairs. She has a Ph.D. in Education Policy Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with areas of expertise in underrepresented minority students in STEM, diversity in higher education, and Latinxs in education. She is most looking forward to serving with ACPA’s CPP and AERA’s Division-J because both have been systems of support and encouragement for her as she transitioned into her role as a new faculty member in higher education and student affairs. She is especially excited to continue her work with AERA’s Division-J. She had previously served as a graduate student representative for two years.

The American College Personnel Association (ACPA) Commission for Professional Preparation is a program committed to student affairs professional preparation through a diverse directorate that creates opportunities that embrace critical values of the profession including, development of the whole student, diversity and ethics; and pursues the professional development of faculty in higher education through collaborative efforts for networking, scholarship and service with colleagues. As a member of the CPP directorate, Dr. Rincón will serve a three-year term where she will represent the interests and concerns of faculty and staff involved in the professional preparation of student affairs professionals. Some of the resources provided through CPP’s directorate include: a clearinghouse for syllabi and teaching materials, networking opportunities, faculty grants, and awards.

The American Educational Research Association Division-J, is aimed at encouraging the advancement of research, policy, and practice in various areas of post-secondary education. It is made up of policy makers, faculty, graduate students, and researchers from around the world. Dr. Rincón will be co-chairing the college student access section—one of the largest in Division-J. Part of her responsibilities will include coordinating reviewer panels and helping to shape the Division J program for the AERA Annual Meeting 2018 in New York City. She is extremely thankful for this opportunity, and humbled to be selected to serve in such a capacity with Dr. Ana Martínez Alemán of Lynch School of Education at Boston College, as Vice President.

Through her research, involvement, and clear concern for the field of higher education, Blanca Rincón is making great strides in achieving her goal, and helping others achieve theirs. We look forward to seeing Dr. Rincón take on these new positions within the ACPA and AERA Division-J, and to continue her development as a higher education professional, leader, and advocate for change. With her new responsibilities also comes new learning opportunities, and a chance to enact change at the University and beyond.