Our Students

Student-Professional Feature: Miguel Colón

In Higher Education, it is not uncommon for students to balance their studies with a full- or part-time job. Many students enrolled in the programs of the University of Connecticut’s Department of Educational Leadership (EDLR) are not only students, but working professionals in the field. The “Student-Professionals” series will highlight these hard-working student-professionals and how they balance their responsibilities. This feature focuses on a student-professional in the SPM program.

Miguel Colon headshot
Miguel Colón

Miguel Colón, a student in the Sport Management master’s program at the University of Connecticut, works hard to maintain an academic and professional career as both a full-time student and the Interim Associate Director for UConn Community Outreach.

Colón says he never expected to go to school for Sport Management, but ever since he was a little kid he always had a great affinity for sports. Now, close to completing a master’s degree and having worked closely with Community Outreach’s 14 youth development and education programs and the student leaders in those programs for the past 11 years, Colón wouldn’t have it any other way.

As both a student and the new Interim Associate Director for Community Outreach, Colón is faced with challenges every day. Nevertheless, he strives to create a positive environment in every aspect of his academic and professional life. A big sports fan, Colón understands the social implications of physical exercise and applies this knowledge to his daily life – both within and outside of the office.

He sees sport as a vehicle for both personal and social change; as he puts it, “sports reflect society”.

Miguel with a student
Miguel Colón meeting with a student.

A first-generation college student, Colón was well-acquainted with facing challenges and overcoming obstacles long before he began his higher education path. He migrated to the mainland US from Puerto Rico at the age of 14, and says that navigating a new bureaucracy, seeking out help and support, and finding mentors who could guide and direct him were just a few of the challenges of joining a new educational system. In his feature with WNPR, Colón shares more details about his experience as a first-generation college student.

Because of his unique background, Colón says he views college in a way that’s different from most. Although it was difficult at times, he says he enjoyed going through the experience. The most rewarding aspect of his sometimes-demanding lifestyle, he says, is seeing how he’s able to trailblaze through thick and thin. The ability to acknowledge what you have been able to accomplish, he notes, is vital to moving forward in your life.

As a student-professional, Colón appreciates the time he spends working with people and communicating with students, colleagues, and professors. Communication is vital to his area of study, he says, and using and honing these skills not only benefits him in the classroom but also in his personal and professional spheres.

To other student-professionals, Colón emphasizes the importance of having a strong support network of faculty advisors, such as Drs. Burton and Cooper, who strive to put their students’ happiness and well-being before anything else. Even in times of crisis, as in the wake of Hurricane Maria which devastated his family in Puerto Rico, Colón knew he had several shoulders to lean on. But, at the end of the day, Colón admits that self-motivation is huge. Especially in a fast-paced work environment, Colón says committing to a task and following through is crucial; it’s one of the biggest pieces of advice he can offer. “Once I’m ready to do something,” says Colón, “I really act on it.”


Humans of HESA: Denée Jackson

For Denée Jackson (HESA ‘19), pursuing a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs was a natural choice. As an undergraduate student at UConn, she was deeply involved in campus organizations such as the African American Cultural Center and her sorority. This involvement led her to first an internship and then, upon graduation, a staff position in the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life. The opportunity to work with college-age students, says Jackson, is one she cherishes.

“Universities are where magic happens,” says Jackson. “Students are figuring out who they are, how they want to change their world, what they want to do with their little slice of the universe; it’s really cool to be a part of that.”

In the university setting and outside of it, Jackson is dedicated to pursuing equity and uplifting the most marginalized populations. One challenging aspect while she’s in school full-time is balancing her studies with her desire to do community organizing and other activist work. “I’ve had to put some of that on hold for now, at least outside of UConn,” says Jackson. “But I’m always trying to educate myself and stay up to date on social issues.”

One of Jackson’s most rewarding experiences as a HESA student was her practicum last fall with ScHOLA2RS House, which is a learning community for Black men on campus. The HESA practicum program gives HESA students the opportunity to gain experience with effective facilitation and the design of intentional learning environments. For Denée’s fall 2018 practicum she mentored a group of students in ScHOLA2RS House, connecting with them regularly to make sure they had the resources they needed. A highlight, says Jackson, was going with her students to the annual conference of the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C. She enjoyed the practicum so much that she’s stayed connected: for spring break this semester she will be joining ScHOLA2RS House for a study abroad week in Brazil.

Through Jackson’s successes as a student, life has not always been easy. Her mother, who she describes as her “biggest cheerleader and advocate,” passed away in November of 2018. “It’s going to be a challenge going into this next semester without her,” says Jackson. “But I have my brother and my dad, I have my friends.” The HESA community has been there for her, too.  “Faculty, staff, my supervisors, my cohort,” she says. “They helped ground me and remember that there are bigger things beyond 

grades, beyond HESA. They’ve been really supportive.”

Jackson’s current goal for her upcoming final semester (and beyond) is balance. “I’m working on looking at my life and my well-being holistically,” she says. “I’m trying to feed my soul on all levels. Cooking, going to the gym, doing yoga, meditating, travel: it can all seem like a stressor when I’m busy, but then when I do it, I find it helps so much. It becomes a pillar.”

As a HESA student, Jackson likes being able to design her experience to suit her goals. Many students move directly into their careers after completing a HESA master’s program, but Jackson is pursuing a different path: she plans to begin a doctoral program after graduation.  

“There’s a path that’s sometimes considered to be ‘typical’ student affairs, but if your interests don’t align with that, it’s okay,” she says. “There are lots of ways to pursue what you’re interested in, and people will support you along the way.”

Student-Professional Feature: Diana Kelley

In Higher Education, it is not uncommon for students to balance their studies with a full or part-time job. Many students enrolled in the programs of the University of Connecticut’s Department of Educational Leadership (EDLR) are not only students, but working professionals in the field. The “Student-Professionals” series highlights these hard-working student-professionals and how they balance their responsibilities. This feature focuses on a student-professional in the Ed.D. program.

For Diana Kelley, a student in the Department of Educational Leadership’s Ed.D. program, balance is key: in addition to her studies, she works as the Director of Special Education for Glastonbury Public Schools.

Kelley’s path in the field of special education began when she was a busy stay-at-home mother. As her children started to get a little older, she was ready to rejoin the workforce and decided to go back to school to become a paralegal. At the same time, she got a job as a special education paraprofessional. She found that she greatly enjoyed working with children in a professional setting and was particularly interested in special education. Education, she realized, might be the right career for her. As a result she stopped her paralegal studies and transferred to Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) to complete her teaching degree.

Diana Kelley
Diana Kelley

Managing the multiple and often competing demands of work, school, and family was a challenge as she completed her degree. “I would take my schoolwork to my kids’ sports games,” remembers Kelley. Upon successfully completing her bachelor’s degree, she started working as a special education teacher at Gideon Welles School in Glastonbury, CT. In that position, she also took on numerous building-level leadership roles, including serving as a team leader and serving on the Teacher Administration Liaison Committee. Her interest in leadership led her back to CCSU to complete a master’s degree and then to Sacred Heart University to earn an administrative certificate. When the opportunity arose, Kelley took a position as Special Education Supervisor at Glastonbury High School. When the Director of Special Education position for Glastonbury Public Schools opened up several years later, Kelley applied, and she has been in that role ever since.

For Kelley, the decision to pursue an Ed.D. was multifaceted. “I like being in school; learning about the most current practices and research is very helpful in my career,” she says, adding that earning a doctorate has always been a personal goal as well.

She chose UConn’s Ed.D. program for its proximity, affordability, and cohort model, which she says is very important to her. “The cohort is very supportive; it helps everyone stay connected and hold each other accountable,” she says. “And from a networking standpoint, it’s wonderful to get to know people and understand where they’re coming from.”

At this point in the program, Kelley’s research largely focuses on teachers’ beliefs and attitudes about students with disabilities, and she intends for her research to have real-world impact. “I want to find out things that will help guide me and my staff in terms of best practices to support students and teachers,” she says. “The growth mindset is important to me: believing that all students can learn.”

Being a student-professional can certainly be a challenge, says Kelley. Her job is demanding and she is sometimes exhausted by the time she gets home at the end of the day, which makes hitting the books for her program difficult.

While it can be difficult at times, Kelley says being a student-professional is also uniquely rewarding. “I like being able to relate what’s said in class back to my job,” she says. “It helps me keep my practice current and relevant, and it helps me provide useful professional development for my staff.” Plus, Kelley adds, the busyness of her schedule actually helps her appreciate the calmer moments. “Sometimes it makes me appreciate being in the moment more.”

“Balance and prioritization is key,” says Kelley. “My advice is to stick to a schedule and have some structure. I try to get my schoolwork done on weekends and one night a week. And it’s so important to carve out time for yourself: some time to go to the gym, whatever it might be. Sometimes I just take one night and say ‘I’m not going to not think about school or work tonight.’”


HESA Student’s Group Wins Case Study Competition

Congratulations to Katrina Camerato (‘19) whose group recently placed first for the Northeast Association of College and University Housing Officers (NEACUHO) New Professionals Case Study Competition!  The annual competition, which takes place during the NEACUHO Annual Conference in October, offers new professionals (including qualified graduate students) an opportunity to put their skills to work and network with other new professionals.  

This year’s case study was an “all-encompassing case for HESA practitioners,” says Katrina.  While the case focused broadly on addressing increasing mental health issues in residential spaces, it also included obstacles such as budget cuts, an overworked staff, and issues with student satisfaction. Katrina was partnered with her group members on the first day of the conference, and they presented their proposal on the conference’s final day. The group proposed a year-long initiative that involved both campus and community partnerships in order tokeep their intervention low-cost.  

Katrina says she has her HESA program assistantship at the UConn Department of Residential Life to thank for helping her develop the practical skills and knowledge that allowed her to succeed in the competition.  “UConn has a flourishing Department of Residential Life, and I have really learned a lot from my time working with colleagues and students there,” says Katrina. She also credits her practica at Title IX offices for giving her practical experience, as well as her law and ethics class (EDLR 5119) for teaching her “how to properly read a case, find the holes, and propose solutions.”

For other students interested in getting involved in a case study, Katrina recommends reaching out to supervisors and colleagues. With her assistantship in Residential Life, Katrina was a member of NEACUHO and learned from professionals in her department that she could apply for funding through NEACUHO to cover conference costs.  After receiving full funding for the three-day conference, she began looking into what else the conference had to offer and found the case study competition. “I highly encourage students to look deeper into their professional organizations,” says Katrina. “Whether they are involved with NODA, NASPA, ACPA, ACUHO-I, or another organization, many of these professional organizations offer these types of opportunities!”   

Student-Professional Feature: Bethany Rataic

In Higher Education, it is not uncommon for students to balance their studies with a full or part-time job. Many students enrolled in the programs of the University of Connecticut’s Department of Educational Leadership (EDLR) are not only students, but working professionals in the field. The “Student-Professionals” series will highlight these hard-working student-professionals and how they balance their responsibilities.  This feature focuses on a student-professional in the UCAPP program.

Bethany Rataic headshot
Second year UCAPP student and first-grade teacher at Lake Garda Elementary School, Bethany Rataic.

Bethany Rataic, a second year student in University of Connecticut Administrator Preparation Program, manages her academic work with her day-job in a different type of scholastic setting – as a first grade teacher at Lake Garda Elementary School in Burlington, CT where she has taught for the past 8 years.

She applied to UCAPP for the same reason that she wanted to pursue a career in teaching; because she loves working with kids and wanted to have a positive impact on their educational development. Through the UCAPP program, she is hoping to broaden her perspective and prepare herself to have a greater impact on the lives of more students as an administrator.

Rataic’s current principal, Stefanie Anderson, has been a great mentor and support system in her decision to enter the UCAPP program and pursue her 092 certification. When Rataic first considered this career step she was concerned that it would take her attention away from her classroom, but Anderson reassured her of her ability and reminded her of her mission as an educator – to inspire and empower greater learning in the lives of as many kids as possible.

Balancing a career as an educator with the responsibilities as a student of higher education is a challenge as both demand a large time commitment and mental capacity. Rataic explains that in order not to over dedicate herself to one role or the other, she has to hold herself accountable and continuously look at her priority-setting. As UCAPP is only a 2-year program, it has gone by fast and she wants to ensure that she is getting the most out of all it has to offer without sacrificing her work-quality in the classroom.

Rataic attributes her success as a student-professional to a commitment to her core values. She is dedicated to her goals and sees no other option than to persevere through challenge. In high school, Rataic’s guidance counselor told her that she would never get into UConn. Today, she holds multiple degrees from UConn including a B.A. in Human Development and Family Studies, a B.S. in Elementary Education and a M.S. in Curriculum and Instruction in addition to her current enrollment in the UCAPP Program.

Bethany Rataic with her class of students
Bethany Rataic reading to her first grade class.

Rataic has not only taken advantage of opportunities in her career, like studying and working in London as part of her Integrated Bachelor’s/Master’s degree, but she’s turned challenges into growth opportunities. She did not get into UConn, the Neag School nor UCAPP in the traditional admissions cycle, but she never let that rejection deter her from her goals. She is determined and quick to ask for feedback, including talking to Richard Gonzales, UCAPP Administrator, concerning the rejection of her application. This initiative and eagerness was recognized, and she was admitted into the program. Her commitment to growth and her end-goal has been a key factor in her success, and an asset as she balances the challenges as a student and a professional.

To other student-professionals, Rataic encourages them to self-reflect and recognize that there are going to be challenges. She explains, “Rely on your support system to help and motivate you, and be confident in your ability to meet these challenges.”

Sport Management’s 5th Annual Career Night in Sport

Jennie McGarry, Jamelle Elliot, Danielle DeRosa, Laura Burton
Pictured from left to right: Dr. Jennifer McGarry, keynote speaker Jamelle Elliot, Danielle DeRosa and Dr. Laura Burton, October 2018

The saying goes, “it’s all about who you know” and this fall, UConn’s Sport Management Program successfully facilitated an incredible night of networking with sport professionals, at their annual Career Night in Sport Event, for its fifth year.

Although the idea of networking comes hand-in-hand with any profession, the event strategically hosted 22 sport management program alumni including current graduate students, who are now working in the field as sport professionals. Through various breakout sessions in addition to the keynote speaker, alumna Jamelle Elliott, the event focused on diversifying the networking experience by exposing its students to recent graduates and current graduate students in the Sport Management program.

This year featured a new approach which included six break-out forums, in the following areas:

  • Broadcasting and Journalism
  • Finding a Career in Sport
  • Graduation to Graduate School
  • Navigating the Field
  • Sport in Education and Community
  • Women in Sport

Students were invited to participate in two forums that appealed to their professional interests. Allowing students to choose these sessions exposed them to working professionals who shared real life experiences, their roadblocks and lessons, while simultaneously connecting them with local alumni as a means to hone in on their networking skills.

Department of Educational Leadership’s Program Specialist, Danielle DeRosa alluded to these changes and how these forums made the night’s more intimate and informative.

“This year we decided to reformat the event and change the structure to reflect one that was used a few years back. This allowed students and alumni to interact with each other in smaller groups that more directly aligned expertise and interests. In looking at the event feedback, it seems like both students and alumni really enjoyed it!”

The event also included valuable lessons shared by Jamelle Elliot, UConn’s newly appointed Associate Athletic Director. Elliot spoke about the ups and downs that relate to sport stating,

“A career in sport is never guaranteed, but with a combination of hard work, dedication, and proper goal setting, you will get to where you want to be.”

It is events like these that help UConn’s students realize their true potential and further prepare them for a competitive industry. The program continues to strive to provide opportunities like this throughout the year and appreciates everyone who contributed in making this a successful event.

Please visit the Neag School of Education's Facebook page for photos from the event.