Grad Student Spotlight: Joel Kost

Where are you working right now?


I am the graduate student fellow for the Promise Program at Merrimack College. Promise is a new academic coaching initiative within the college’s Academic Success Center designed to help optimize first-year students’ success as they transition to college. I am one of four success coaches, and we serve about 90 students. As a graduate fellow, I am in the office roughly 25 hours a week and have a caseload of 10 students.


What do you love about working there?


This is Promise’s pilot year, so it has been a blast learning how programs are created and sculpted to best serve its student population. It is energizing being in a work environment that allows freedom to try out new practices and adjust them based on results. The Promise experience is new for the coaches and the students; we are all working together to craft the best resource we can. I also enjoy being able to have frequent, one-on-one time with students. Wherever my career takes me, I want to continue to work face-to-face with students, and Promise is helping me build the foundational skills for such positions. The Promise Program and Success Center staffs are amazing, too.


When you aren’t working, how do you spend your free time?


What free time? (Kidding). You’ll find me searching for the latest breweries, catching up with friends from high school and college, and playing video games. Lots of video games. I have been a gamer since I was 6 years old, and nothing lowers my stress levels and clears my head more than diving into some of the creative worlds today’s games offer.


What is your favorite grad school class and why?


My favorite class is a tie between “College Student Development” and “College Counseling and Advising.” Grad school taught me that I’m a pretty big theory nerd, and both courses introduced me to many foundational, and also more recent, student development theories. Learning about them provided depth to my interactions with students and provided answers to some past experiences of my own. It’s pretty cliché to say that I’ll take these classes everywhere I go, but the lessons and discussions honestly made me a better higher ed professional week after week.


Who inspired you to get involved in Higher Education?


I can thank all of my old residence directors from college for instilling a passion in higher education. They played such an influential role in their own unique ways in my life as a developing college student. Whether or not he is aware of this, my freshman year RD helped me come out of my shell (I was a pretty shy first-year student). My sophomore year RD was just the coolest guy, and I think of him whenever we discuss educational outreach in a residence hall. We had many insightful conversations about education, life, and philosophical beliefs. My junior year RD was my supervisor during my time as an RA, and she did such a wonderful job bringing the staff together during training. She was also main point of contact when I was searching for grad programs. Basically, my RDs were awesome, and they showed me what it means to build a great community.


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


Don’t be hard on yourself!! It’s easy to think you’re not doing a great job or not doing right by your students when you have to manage meetings, papers, job applications, capstone work, and somehow salvaging a social life. There will always be ups and downs in this field, but chances are you’re providing a wonderful service to your students. Allow the bad days to run their course, and reflect back on why they seemed so challenging.


What is on your Higher Ed bucket list?


I want to earn my Ph.D. and direct a program similar to Promise. I would also love to work at my alma mater (University of New Hampshire) someday, but I want to experience all types of institutions too. Contributing to Inside Higher Ed or the Chronicle of Higher Education is also on my list. I earned my B.A. in English/journalism, and I still have that itch to write.


What advice would you offer to undergraduate seniors who are staring to search for grad programs?


Keep an open mind if you’re looking at fellowship/assistantship positions. I went through the application process thinking that residential life was the only place for me, and I could not have been more wrong. The Promise Program opened my eyes to the world of academic affairs, a field I would have never looked twice at had I been hired as a graduate hall director. While I still have strong aspirations to become a residence director, I now know that there some pretty amazing opportunities on the academic side of higher education.

Be honest with yourself about institutional fit, too. A master’s in higher ed is a lot of work, and it will be way more enjoyable if you like where you work and what you are doing. If you have a few offers, take the time to carefully make your decision!

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