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Beyond access – belonging

CSSA alumna and faculty member Kim McAloney sits in conversation with a colleague who is out of focus in the left side of the frame. Kim is in focus, and wears a black and white shirt and black cardigan; she is smiling slightly as she listens to her colleague.

“There’s been a handful of folks in my own life that have been really influential. How do I position myself to be that for the students I work with?” Kim McAloney is just one of many student services professionals asking herself this question as she seeks to transform the higher education experience through Oregon State’s College Student Services Administration program.

By Julie Cooper
May 2, 2018

Student success matters. And for those who have dedicated their education and career to supporting students, the drive comes from within.

At Oregon State Ecampus, students in the college student services administration (CSSA) master’s program online are compelled by their own experiences to create more equitable access, involvement and retention for all students.

“People have their own unique student experience, whether it was a marvelous one or one characterized by struggle,” says CSSA director Larry Roper. “That initially gives them a framework around student development.”

In its 50th year at Oregon State, the CSSA program offers on-campus and now online learners an education rooted in social justice and practicing theory outside the classroom.

An alumna and faculty member of the CSSA program, Kim McAloney faced many obstacles throughout her early years in higher education. As a first-generation student and a person of color from generational poverty, she struggled to navigate the transition to college without support and temporarily dropped out.

When she returned to school at Oregon State, it was the personal attention of an advisor that made her feel she belonged there.

Watch the video above to learn more about why students are drawn to the CSSA program and student services careers.

Her advisor didn’t just suggest that Kim access student support services; the two walked to the office together. That thoughtful act ensured Kim was connected with the resources necessary for her success.

Kim’s college experience became knowledge she could draw from to better serve students like her. She strives to cultivate a sense of belonging for first-generation and underrepresented students who face self-doubt within the university.

Experiences like Kim’s, Larry says, enrich the Oregon State CSSA program as well as student services as a whole.

“They have their own unique life experience and personal story they can contribute to the CSSA learning community and the profession.”

“Everyone can bring something to the table. Even if they’re just getting started, good theory is good autobiography,” he says. “They have their own unique life experience and personal story they can contribute to the CSSA learning community and the profession.”

Kim is now a doctoral student in Oregon State’s Language, Equity and Educational Policy program. She puts her student services education to work as a CSSA faculty member and an academic counselor in the Educational Opportunities Program (EOP), where she advises students who face systemic barriers to higher education.

She seeks to guide students with a key principle she sees in the many academic mentors who have impacted her life since that first advisor: listening, advising and instructing in ways that make people feel valued.

“I don’t know everything. Hearing multiple voices helps expand my knowledge, helps me grow and learn,” Kim says. “We discuss issues facing students today, which sometimes means hard conversations, sometimes disagreements; those are the places where we get pushed out of our comfort zones and grow.”

To reach her professional pathway, Kim pursued her degree with a specialization in access and equity in higher education through the CSSA program’s flexible electives.

While the program’s flexibility prepares both on-campus and online students for a wide range of student services careers, its internship requirement facilitates their entry into practical professional experience in their chosen field.

Students are not the only ones engaged in applying their knowledge to real-life scenarios. With great depth of knowledge and experience in student services fields, CSSA faculty are setting the example.

“What sets our program apart is our faculty practitioners. I think there’s some real power to having an educational experience with people who are currently doing the work,” Larry says.

For Oregon State’s CSSA graduates, student services careers offer not only the potential to impact and uplift individual students, but also to dismantle barriers within the larger academic system, cultivating belonging for all.

Julie Cooper is a student marketing writer for Oregon State Ecampus.

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