Alumni Putting Program’s Commitment to Diversity, Social Justice into Practice
Twenty years after being part of the first cohort of the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Higher Education Administration Doctoral Program, Patricia Neilson ’02 is seeing her dissertation on the reasons for a lack of Asian American administrators in higher education come full circle.
Since 2011, Neilson has served as director of UMass Boston’s Asian American Student Success Program (AASSP), serving refugee and immigrant, first generation students, as part of a five-year U.S. Department of Education Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI) grant.
“Most of our students are immigrants and refugees. They come and they’re doing their best to succeed here, so if we can understand some of those hardships, then we can assist them. My research reflects on the future generations—that’s what this work is doing for me,” Neilson said.
On Thursday, June 20, the Higher Education Administration Doctoral Program kicked off its 20th anniversary with a panel discussion, reception, and dinner in UMass Boston’s Campus Center Ballroom. The program’s alumni and their families were invited to attend.
Adrian Haugabrook, vice president of enrollment management and student success and the chief diversity officer at Wheelock College, said not a day goes by that he’s not applying what he learned as part of the 1995 cohort.
Haugabrook’s dissertation looked at the correlation between non-cognitive factors and college persistence for students of color. The 2002 graduate said he chose UMass Boston because he wanted a program that would be focusing not only on the current state of higher education, but its future.
“UMass Boston’s program really spoke to change in education, focusing on higher education, where I felt my work and role was going to be, addressing issues in diversity in higher education. I felt all three of those aims and purposes were the kinds of things that were going to be what’s trending in higher ed. I thought these would be long-term challenges and issues. Almost 20 years later, we’re still talking about these issues, maybe at a different level of maturity,” Haugabrook said.
It should come as no surprise to learn that many of the program’s alumni are continuing to explore issues of diversity in their current positions. One of the program’s defining characteristics is its commitment to diversity and social justice. Sixty-five percent of the 90 alumni are women; twenty-five percent are part of under-represented racial and minority groups. The current student makeup is seventy-five percent women and forty percent minority.
Another one of the program’s defining characteristics is its focus on fostering organizational change. Ralph Kidder, vice president for financial affairs and treasurer of Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, was part of the 2001 cohort. He said he has benefited from explorations of organizational theory, organizational change, and leadership, as well as the program’s cohort model.
“I have gained a set of very meaningful relationships, a devotion to the profession, and a devotion to being a practitioner-scholar. I already was a VP of finance when I entered the program, but the learning opportunities made me a much better administrator,” Kidder said.
Kidder serves as secretary-treasurer of the History of Education Society; Neilson serves on the Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education (APAHE) Board of Directors and mentors Asian Pacific Americans, the same group that she looked at in her dissertation.
“There was so little research done on Asian American administrators because there were so few. Less than one percent are Asian American presidents and we have more than four thousand colleges and universities in the United States. There are some very big misconceptions that Asian Americans don’t have leadership qualities--that they don’t have much to say. It’s not so much racism as misinformation,” Neilson said.
About UMass Boston
With a growing reputation for innovative research addressing complex issues, the University of Massachusetts Boston, metropolitan Boston’s only public university, offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s ten colleges and graduate schools serve nearly 16,000 students while engaging local, national, and international constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service activities. To learn more about UMass Boston, visit www.umb.edu.