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Finding Happiness in HESA

Written by Zandra Cook, 2nd Year HESA Student

Finding Happiness in HESA

It was a hard decision for me personally to return to school after working in the “real world” for three years. I decided to pursue my master’s degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs though because I fell in love with working with students at the college level. My undergraduate experience at Baylor was extremely influential in who I am today, and I wanted the opportunity to touch students’ lives in the way that I had been impacted by other student affairs professionals.

After being in the HESA program for about 17 months now, and as a second-year in the program, I have come to learn that it is extremely important to find things that make you happy while trekking your way through this 22-month journey. Outside of pursuing my studies, I have found comfort in three things: my apprenticeship, a practicum I love, and my amazing friend group.

Finding Your Fit in Your Apprenticeship

I can promise you it is never a dull day in my life at the office. I currently work as the Graduate Apprentice in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions Visit Experience at the Visitor Center on campus. In the midst of serving over 55,000 visitors that come to visit Baylor each year, I have the fun, crazy, and sometimes overwhelming opportunity to supervise about 70 student workers that give tours of Baylor. In our tiny little office, I have had the chance to develop lasting relationships with not only all 70 of my students, but also strong bonds with some of the colleagues I work with. Over the past year and a half, these relationships have been integral to my experiences in my apprenticeship. These professionals have allowed me to grow in various areas and have believed in me enough to allow me to coordinate and oversee events that host over 250 prospective students and their families.

In working with my students, I have also seen how being a graduate student can help you become a role model for undergraduates. My students often ask about what I’m studying or what I want to do with my degree. Sometimes I even see the awe in their eyes as they realize that I work in the office 20 hours a week and I take nine hours of classes per semester. More recently, many of them have come to me for advice about taking the GRE or applying to graduate school as well. Being able to answer questions for them, while allowing them to gain experience by working in our office, has been a fun and rewarding part of my apprenticeship. I have been able to serve in a mentor-like role for some of them, while I have found guidance and advice from my colleagues throughout my own professional journey.


Finding a Practicum To Fulfill Your Interests

Outside of my apprenticeship, it has been important for me to find a practicum that would complement my HESA academic experience. Even though my apprenticeship has allowed me to develop many of my professional skills and competencies, I was also interested in finding a practicum experience that would build my resume while simultaneously be fulfilling and exciting. I have been lucky enough to find just that in a practicum experience.

Over the past semester, I have also been working as the Program Coordinator for the Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) Learning Resource Center, as well as the Program Coordinator for The Power of Two Mentor Program. Under the supervision of Emily Sandvall, Associate Director for Undergraduate Programs in the School of ECS, and working alongside one of my cohort classmates, Allison Everett, we have been able develop these two great resources for ECS students at Baylor. The Learning Resource Center is an area that has been created for ECS students to have a collaborative study space, access to a computer lab, and the opportunity to take advantage of ECS tutoring. Along with opening this space, the three of us have also built a new program for first-year ECS students. Through this mentor program, called The Power of Two, first-year ECS students who do not currently live in Teal Residential College on campus (which is specifically for ECS majors) can receive mentorship from an upper-division ECS student as they navigate this challenging major during their first year at Baylor. We have even received a grant from Halliburton to fund this initiative. Additionally, the faculty we are working with have applied for a $1 million grant that we are hoping to receive!

Overall, I have been so fortunate to find a practicum that is not only fulfilling, but it has also allowed me to gain experience in areas that are not covered in my apprenticeship—such as programming, learning how to building a program from the ground-up, and having the opportunity to develop faculty relationships outside of the HESA department. I am so glad I decided to participate in a practicum experience during my time in the HESA program, and I would recommend to everyone pursuing this degree. Practicums can be tailored to your needs and wants, and they provide ample opportunities for you to work with other student affairs professionals on campus that you may not have met or developed relationships with otherwise. It is also important to remember that you can do a practicum in almost area you are interested in! I also have a love for first-generation students. In order to gain some experience with them, I reached out to First In Line, which is Baylor’s first-generation program. After working with them to develop an experience that would beneficial to me, I have decided that I am going to begin doing a practicum with their department in the spring by co-teaching a transitional class for transfer, first-generation students. If I had not sought out the opportunity though, I would have never been given this great chance to focus on an area I’m interested in!

Find Friends in Your Cohort

Beginning our HESA journey, we were constantly told that we were going to meet some of our best friends in the program’s cohort. I never believed this statement when I first began. I often thought, “Yeah, I’m going to make some good friends, but we’re only going to be together for less than two years.” Little did I know that some of these people were absolutely amazing human beings. Through HESA, I have made some wonderful friends and I am so thankful that they are in my cohort. Sometimes people may advise you to make friends outside of your cohort, but I’m thankful my small group of cohort friends can relate to everything I’m going through. Not only do we text each other during late-night paper writing sessions, but sometimes we cry from laughing too much, provide much-needed advice in times of struggle, and even spend entire weekends hanging out together! They are my people and I am eternally grateful I have found friends in my cohort. I advise anyone in this program to make an effort to develop friendships within their cohort. Having others that you can truly relate to in your struggles, joys, and stress is extremely beneficial in being successful in the HESA program. And believe me, after 22 months together, it’s going to be hard to say goodbye come May.


As I reflect back on my experience in the HESA program so far, I am grateful that I have developed professional relationships with my colleagues in my apprenticeship, that I have found multiple practicums that have provided me with new skills and experiences, and that I have fostered real friendships in my cohort. If you can find a way to incorporate all of these elements into your HESA experience, I can guarantee you that your time at Baylor will be much richer!



Written by Zandra Cook, 2nd Year HESA Student

megan_lamb • January 9, 2016

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