Like many in the field of higher education and student affairs, Dr. Gerardo Blanco traces his career choice back to his undergraduate years. As a very involved undergraduate student, Blanco says, he found mentors who helped him realize that ensuring a positive experience for college students could be a profession in itself. “What was a little different for me than for many others in my field is that pursuing this pathway required international mobility,” says Blanco.
Blanco is originally from Mexico and earned his Bachelor of Arts in Educational Studies from Universidad de las Américas Puebla, an institution he says was rich with student organizations and campus activism. Nevertheless, once he decided that he wanted to pursue further study and a career in higher education and student affairs, he realized that his options in Mexico were limited.
“In my experience,” explains Blanco, “international mobility and the pursuit of higher education have been intertwined.”
Beginning his Master of Education (M.Ed.) at the University of Maine was a crucial moment for Blanco. He completed his M.Ed. in 2007 and continued to deepen his New England perspective at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he completed his Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) in 2013. New England, he says, holds a special significance for him both because of his personal experience and the richness of education in the region.
After earning his Ed.D., Blanco spent five years as an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Massachusetts Boston and spent the summers of 2016, 2017, and 2018 as a visiting professor at Shaanxi Normal University in Xi’an, China. This fall, Dr. Blanco joined UConn’s Neag School of Education, where he brings his expertise to the Higher Education and Student Affairs master’s program.
As a teacher, Dr. Blanco believes that students are in charge of their own learning, and highlights that the relational aspect is the most rewarding part of his work. “Students know what they need,” says Blanco. “My role is facilitating interactions that promote reflection and learning.”
Broadly, Blanco’s research looks at how decision-makers understand quality in the context of higher education, particularly the relationship between quality and internationalization. That relationship might appear obvious on the surface, he says, since the number of international students often plays a role in ranking universities, but for Blanco it’s deeper than that. “My research asks questions such as: How do we understand higher education as an international endeavor?,” says Blanco, “And how does that connect with our ideas about quality?”
“I think higher education has a great potential for empowering people and interrupting inequality, and I’m very interested in how this connects with the international mobility of programs, of people, of ideas.”
At first glance, says Blanco, his focus on assessment, accreditation, and quality can sound a bit dry. But to him this focus on the “everyday” is precisely what he finds so fascinating. “Most of us spend the majority of our careers in tasks that feel everyday, routine, even taken-for-granted,” says Blanco. “Given the volume of these experiences, I think it’s worthwhile to explore them. When we look very closely at the work that we do, we can carry out that work in a way that is more thoughtful, more self-aware.”
Looking ahead, Blanco is excited to pursue new research exploring the experiences of international students and scholars. The topic is not only personally important to him; he’s also interested in the intersections of being an international student or scholar with other personal experiences, like career decisions and immigration status. “We tend to explore all those separate topics, but not always in dialogue with each other,” says Blanco.
The connection between scholarship and practice is central to Dr. Blanco, and he maintains a strong professional network that helps him stay connected with the issues that are pressing for scholars and practitioners across the field. “I always have practice and practitioners in mind as I am conceptualizing a research study,” says Blanco. He also hopes that his research process itself can create a space for reflection for the busy professionals who work in assessment and institutional research. “When I’m conducting interviews, it’s not rare for people to say to me, ‘oh that’s interesting, no one has ever asked me what I think about my work,’” says Blanco. “I hope that the interviews and the research process themselves can be an opportunity for people to reflect about their practice.”
“The more we reflect, the more we can transform our practice as professionals.”