Last week, Drs. Milagros Castillo-Montoya and Erica Fernández, two EDLR faculty members who are connected with UConn’s El Foco research community, organized and supported Dr. Gilda Laura Ochoa, the featured guest speaker who joined UConn’s faculty, staff and students for an engaging discussion on education, during the annual plática. The event pushed participants to identify power, privilege and silences within the classroom and encouraged students to be successful while and reminding teachers to be mindful.
When she graduated in 2004 with an MA in Higher Education Administration (now the Higher Education and Student Affairs program), Meghan had already been immersed in the UConn community for a good while, having received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Storrs. Upon graduating, she began a national job search and thought a change of scenery might be nice. Then a unique opportunity
presented itself: the UConn Tri-Campus School of Business program (which has since disbanded) needed a program coordinator for their new undergraduate Business and Technology program. Meghan recognized that the position would be a special one, especially for a young professional like herself. As the coordinator of a dynamic new program, she would have lots of room for growth, development, and entrepreneurship. She decided she couldn’t pass up the opportunity, and thus began her career.
For almost 10 years, Meghan remained in that same type of role in the School of Business, albeit with a number of changes in position and a great deal of upward mobility. Teaching, advising, managing, serving as a faculty liaison, and working with student and orientation services: she did, as she puts it, “everything you can imagine from a program-level role.” She was instrumental in many vital projects such as the signing of articulation agreements with local community colleges to create transfer programs, and rolling out the Honors program to UConn regional campuses. Best of all, Meghan loved her job. “It was phenomenal,” she says.
As she approached her 10-year anniversary working with the School of Business, Meghan decided she was ready to take on a new challenge. It was then that the leadership team of UConn’s West Hartford campus (which has since moved to Hartford) pitched her an exciting opportunity as the Associate Director of Business and Student Services for UConn West Hartford. The position, which Meghan describes as a regional-level Dean of Students position, was exactly what she was looking for. In her two-year tenure in that role, she managed an “amazing” team and was able to bring her expertise to new institutional areas such as health services, First Year Experience courses, disability services, and community standards. “It was always what I’d dreamed of, going deeper into student affairs,” says Meghan.
“I was inspired by the work of my team, and I loved what I was doing.”
Soon enough, however, opportunity came knocking once again. The School of Business was conducting a national search for a new director of the MSBAPM program, and thanks to the strong relationships Meghan had built within the School over her career, the hiring committee thought of her. At first, she was reluctant to apply since she still felt inspired and challenged by her role at UConn West Hartford, but as she learned more about the role, she began to reconsider.
At the time, Meghan was serving on a number of committees to find directors of regional campuses, and she had started to notice a trend. People applying for these upper leadership roles had either exclusive undergraduate or exclusive graduate experience, but never both. “The two things I didn’t have experience with at that time were working with grad students and working with international students,” says Meghan. Not only was the MSBAPM a graduate program, but it had a significant international student population. With these factors in mind, Meghan intentionally applied for the job. She was selected as the new director, and she remains in that position today.
Meghan admits that her first year as the director was challenging. “It was an unfamiliar environment,” she says, “I missed my undergrads.” Instead of giving up, however, she realized she had to dig deep and figure out how to bring her unique skill-set to the position and “be a value-add to the institution.” Two years in, she’s made a total 180 from that challenging beginning: “I’ve realized that my background is so valuable at the graduate level,” she says. “I’ve found my niche, and we’re doing great.”
When asked what she’s most proud of having accomplished since graduating from UConn, Meghan tells a powerful story. Not long ago she ran into a former advisee of hers while she was taking her nine-year-old son to get a haircut. With Meghan’s support and his own remarkable determination, the advisee had gone from not having completed high school to graduating from UConn. He has a wife and children, a house, and he’s currently completing a UConn MBA program. When they saw each other at the barber shop, the advisee turned to Meghan’s son and said, “I need to tell you something: your mother changed my entire life.” She says this moment is one of many that keep her strong when she feels stuck or frustrated.
“Having real impact on students is what it’s all about.”
Meghan says she’s grateful to HESA for the deep foundation it gave her in student affairs. “The HESA program taught me so much about the critical roles that student affairs and services play in an institution,” she says. “HESA gave me the tools to be able to articulate the importance of that role, to advocate for it.” What’s more, Meghan is currently working on a research project with three senior faculty members at UConn Hartford. HESA, she says, gave her the educational foundation that makes her research possible.
Meghan’s advice for current HESA students and emerging practitioners can be summed up as follows: stay relevant, find your mentors (across disciplines), and be open-minded. “Even when things are challenging, figure out how you can learn or gain something from the experience,” she says. “Everything is an opportunity!”
The Department of Educational Leadership's administrative assistant, Lisa Nesbitt has dedicated her career to the University of Connecticut and after 37 ½ years, she is planning to retire at the end of this month. In a recent interview with the Neag veteran, she reflects,
“The Neag School and UConn have been good to me and a good place for me to work and retire from.”
Lisa has worn many different hats over the years as an Administrative Assistant, from classroom scheduling to travel reimbursements to managing payroll to even cleaning out the department refrigerator, she's done it all. Throughout her career, Lisa has spent approximately 66 percent of her life at UConn, which translates to 452 months, 1,808 weeks, 8,800 days and 72,320 hours of work.
During this time, Lisa has impacted so many lives, some of whom have shared their sentiments of gratitude and love as she embarks on her new journey;
“We will most definitely miss her daily positive presence. She greets all with a smile, hello, and question about how the person is doing...truly representing the spirit of the Neag School.” - Sandy Chafouleas, Director of Research
“Lisa supports each and every person in the department in a way that makes them better at what they do. She takes care of things before we even know they need to be done. I appreciate all that she does to support the department, and all she has done over the years.” - Jennie McGarry, Department Head
“Lisa has always been willing to pitch in and contribute for the good of the whole School, right down to providing coverage during holidays over the years so others could take the time off. She is truly a one-of-a-kind person with a very straight-forward, no-nonsense attitude that is both admirable and approachable and I know she will bring this same energy on to this new chapter of her life and I couldn't be happier for her. Her departure is TRULY our loss, but we wish her all the best!” - Christine North, Administrative Assistant
Lisa’s commitment to the students, faculty and staff in the Department of Educational Leadership has been nothing short of remarkable these past three-plus decades, and her spunky sense of humor will surely be missed.
“Laugh at yourself once in a while and try not to take things too seriously,” she says. “As our friend and colleague Valerie Pichette would always say, ‘it’s not brain surgery.’”
Lisa also shares three key lessons she learned over the years: Be patient, be compassionate and be understanding.
While remaining lighthearted, Lisa says she will miss the everyday interactions she has had with staff, faculty, students and colleagues across campus, the most. But the truth is, we are going to miss the everyday interactions with her. On behalf of the faculty, staff and students from Neag School and Department of Educational Leadership, Lisa, thank you for being an outstanding friend and colleague. It will be impossible to replace your dedication and commitment to each of us and we wish you all the best as you begin a new chapter in life.
Her plans for this next chapter will begin by "spending more time with family and friends and working on my house" which she purchased early of last year. Her other hobbies include: her 1965 Ford Mustang, walking and hiking, bowling, crocheting and sewing.
If you would like to stay in touch with Lisa, please contact her by email.