NECPA Award Winner Spotlight – Cesar Cruz Benitez

Champion of Equity and Inclusion Award – Cesar Cruz Benitez

What do you love most about working at your institution, or higher education in general?

I currently work as an Area Coordinator in the Office of Residential Life at Wesleyan University, located in Middletown, Connecticut.  What I love the most about working at Wesleyan has to be my colleagues and the students that I have the honor of working alongside.  The relationships I have been able to build and the community that welcomed me with open arms makes the work enjoyable.  Even on my toughest days just getting to connect with or be in the presence of these colleagues or the students I supervise automatically makes my day better.  As far as what I enjoy about working in higher education in general, it is without a doubt the students.  More specifically, seeing them develop, hone their passions and advocate for social change on campus and beyond is inspiring.

Who inspired you to get involved in higher education?

A number of people have inspired and continue to inspire me on the journey that is my career in higher education.  The person who first made me aware of higher education as a potential career path was Rachel Head, who is currently the Associate Dean and Director of Student Engagement at Swarthmore College where I attended for undergrad.  Some other individuals who have inspired me to get involved in higher education through their mentorship and simply existing as professionals of color within higher education would be Isaiah Thomas, Ed.D, Assistant Dean of Students at Occidental College; Karina Beras, and Jason Rivera, PhD, Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education & Student Academic Success at Rutgers University – Camden.  Isaiah was my supervisor the first year I was a Resident Assistant at Swarthmore.  I got the privilege of witnessing Isaiah as he went through his doctoral program, which was motivating to me as someone who hopes to earn my doctorate one day.  Karina through her leadership and passion showed me that one can stick to the ‘why’ that brought one into the field of higher education whether that directly is in one’s job duties or not/finding ways to incorporate it into your work regardless of the delineated job duties.  Jason Rivera joined Swarthmore college the summer before my senior year as a Class Dean and Director of the Intercultural Center.  I did not know prior to his arrival, and I actually have not told him this, but seeing him in that position set a goal for me and made me think “he is where I hope to be one day in the future”.

What advice would you offer to new professionals who are starting their first professional position?

There are three things that I would want to share: a. remember that you specifically were hired for a reason; b. do not forget your ‘why’ for entering the field of higher education; and c. utilize all the knowledge and experiences that you have gained in your work. 

There will be times that you will question whether you are the right person for the job, whether that is when the work gets to be overwhelming, you feel that you do not have all the skills or knowledge to be able to do the work, imposter syndrome, or any other reason.  That is okay, those moments and feelings are normal.  I urge you to remember that you were hired specifically because people believe you can do this job (there was a whole search committee, and you interviewed with so many individuals), and you accepted the position (most likely because you needed a job and there are bills to be paid), but really because you too believed that you could do this, so hold on to that. 

Secondly, do not forget your ‘why’. There is a reason why you choose to pursue this field, that job, that degree.  I am a firm believer that you have to honor the ‘why’ that brought you to this field.  As you continue to gain insights into the field of higher education through the lens of your new professional position ask yourself: “how do the knowledge, skills, and insights I am gaining help me work towards my why” both now in your current role and in future positions. 

Lastly, utilize all the knowledge and experiences that you have.  Often times we let the knowledgebase that we have developed exist in the boxes or moments in time we put them in and we absolutely should not.  If you have attended a graduate program prior to this first professional position in higher education you read and learned so much not just to write those papers, take exams, pass your classes, and obtain that degree, but ultimately to prepare you for the field.  With that in mind, what knowledge are you utilizing or can you utilize in your roles to set yourself up for success and enhance the work that your office or department is doing.  The same goes for prior work experience, especially if you held a graduate assistantship in a different functional area.  What skills and abilities did you develop in previous work experiences that would be beneficial to your department?  How do you incorporate the ways in which you approached your work in previously held positions in your current work?  Do those experience position you well to build relationships with specific campus partners?  Knowledge and skills are malleable and we should constantly be using all that we have learned in each new chapter we embark on.

I wish you the best of luck as you embark on your first professional journey!

NECPA Award Winner Spotlight – Maurisa Li-A-Ping

Innovative Programming Award Winner – Maurisa Li-A-Ping

What do you love most about working in higher education at your institution, or higher education in general?

What I love most about working in higher education is the ability to cultivate the growth and development of diverse students. 

Who inspired you to get involved in higher education?

I was inspired to work in higher education by all the professionals that guided me through my collegiate journey.

What advice would you offer to new professionals who are starting their first professional position?

I would encourage new professionals to create sustainable work-life boundaries and always find ways to grow and make their experience meaningful.

NECPA Award Winner Spotlight – Corinna Kraemer

Graduate Student of the Year Award Winner – Corinna Kraemer

What do you love most about working at Goodwin University, or higher education in general?

I love working at Goodwin because it is an innovative and exciting place to be. Goodwin students are highly career driven and have the opportunity for so many hands-on experiences such as clinicals, internships, and more. As an Academic Advisor I love helping these students meet their goals and to pursue their passions in and out of the classroom.

Who inspired you to get involved in higher education?

For the longest time I was not sure whether I wanted to work in secondary or higher education. When I stepped foot in Dr. Patrick Love’s classroom and he described with so much passion about his career in higher ed. I knew I was hooked – that this field would allow me to make a difference in the lives of so many students.

What advice would you offer to new professionals who are starting their first professional position?

To new professionals – don’t be afraid to try anything that interests you. Saying yes to committees, volunteer opportunities, and networking can help you build a strong foundation for a great career.

NECPA Graduate Spotlight August – Sarah Mayer

Smiling woman, Sarah Mayer

Name:  Sarah Mayer

School: Bay Path University

Program:  Higher Education Administration

Type: Master’s

Current employer: Labouré College as an Administrative Assistant and LPN-RN Program Coordinator

What do you love about working there?

We have a very unique population of students that consist of mainly non-traditional age women coming back to college to pursue a higher education. A lot of our students have overcome tremendous odds to pursue a degree in Nursing, which is even more commendable in our current healthcare situation in this nation. These men and women inspire me everyday because they see how frightening it is to be a healthcare worker in this new COVID-19 world, yet they are diving into the field, head first. It’s incredibly rewarding to work with this specific population of students even more so now in this unprecedented time we are currently living in.

How do you like to spend your free time?

I really enjoy cooking in my spare time. Being stuck at home right now I’ve really pushed myself to be more adventurous in my culinary endeavors.

What is your favorite grad school course/experience and why?

My favorite course would have to be my Women in Higher Education course. Women in Higher Education was extremely enlightening to the unique needs of women in higher education, specifically how we can really be receiving an incomplete education as many college courses are taught solely from a male perspective, often by a male professor, with systemically sexist undertones that many of us are not even aware of. This course emphasized the value of female perspective and how it should be used to shape all fields in higher education (and society at large) to be more progressive and inclusive.

Who/what inspired you to get involved in higher education?

I did have a lot of encouragement from family and friends, but I really pushed myself to go back for my master’s in higher education administration because I was feeling uninspired in my previous career field and always felt a natural pull towards higher education since I first attended my undergraduate school, Rhode Island College. I worked there while attending classes and didn’t realize until a few years after graduating that higher education is where my passions truly exist.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in your career (so far)?

Voice your opinion! Even if you feel like the lowest person in the hierarchy of your institution, your perspective is a valuable asset, no matter your position. If an institution’s executives do not see that, they’re missing out on an opportunity to grow and become more efficient and effective.

What is on your Higher Ed bucket list?

I definitely plan on going back to school for my doctorate. I’ve come this far and I need to go all the way!

What advice would you offer to those who are starting to search for grad programs?

In this day and age, find a school that has experience working in an online setting. Higher education is already seeing a massive shift in its structure and an institution that is already well-versed in completely online learning is going to set you up to be successful.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Please wear your mask and listen to healthcare workers! My institution can only graduate so many nurses so fast to combat this pandemic and thank you nurses everywhere! You are the real superheros in the world today!

Do you have someone you’d like to be featured as NECPA’s graduate student of the month? Nominate them here!