Higher Education & Student Affairs

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Jumping Ship: Connecting your seemingly unrelated undergrad degree with your HESA pursuits by Nick Blair

Nick Blair, Grad Hall Director, Brooks Residential College

Nick Blair, Grad Hall Director, Brooks Residential College

A year ago, if you asked me what I would be doing right now, it would not be graduate school for higher education and student affairs (HESA). In May of this year, I graduated with a degree in computer engineering. For anyone reading this blog, potential HESA candidates or not, I hope to share a little bit of my experience entering the education world as well as offer some encouragement to anyone coming from a seemingly-unrelated field.

As I mentioned, a year ago I had very different plans. I had outstanding job offers from technology companies across the country where I would put my rapidly-ending undergraduate studies to work. However, a conversation with a friend and fellow engineering student had stuck with me throughout the entire job application process. Towards the end of our junior year, we had both become slightly alienated from the idea of being professional engineers after graduation. During a trip to the grocery store, my friend said those fateful words that many of you entering or looking to enter this field have likely heard:

‘Have you considered studying higher education after you graduate?’ 

That innocuous question set off a chain of events that would lead to many searching conversations, times of prayer, and applications to schools across the country. At the end of my fall semester, with no word back from any graduate programs, I declined all the remaining engineering job offers still on the table. I haven’t looked back since.

For some of you reading this, you may have had similar thoughts or experiences; encouragement from a mentor or innocuous questions from a friend which quickly led to a possible new career path. If you are like me and you have started along the way to something different, take solace in the fact that even if your post-undergrad position doesn’t line up with the words on your degree, you still have valuable things to offer a team or cohort. In the STEM fields, I learned many soft skills that transfer well to my new graduate experience. The easy things that come to mind are critical thinking and time management; something many college graduates have been exposed to in various levels.

However, from my computer engineering experience specifically I had years of interaction and familiarity with the inner workings of consumer electronics like those found in the classroom. When a projector or desktop goes haywire during a presentation or class, my professors turn and ask if I can take a look (and call me the ‘class MacGyver’). The student leaders that I work with every day in Brooks Residential College have thanked me for my attention to detail, honed from years of writing lab projects, in creating reports and handling administrative tasks. Whatever background you come from, you will have equivalent skills ready to be offered in a new and exciting way for the betterment of young leaders and scholars.

As the graduate application process begins, take time to reflect on the skills you have gained in your various fields of study. Something out of the norm of education can be just as valuable in a time where diversity of thought is just as important as diversity of background. And if, like me, you’re struggling to explain your decision to jump ship from a STEM, business, or other field to professors and friends, reflect on these words from Time magazine that helped me through many such coversations:

“Colleges and universities are catalysts of economic development, stewards of public health, incubators of social policy and laboratories of discovery. Nearly every great national challenge — from the raising of our children to the quality of our food supply, from the hunt for clean energy to the struggle against insurgent enemies, from the quest for opportunity to the search for sustainable prosperity — depends for a solution on institutions of higher ed. Classrooms and labs are today what mines and factories were a century ago: America’s regional economic powerhouses, one of the few certain engines of growth in good and bad economic times.”


Drehle, D. V. (2009). The big man on campus. Time Magazine, online. Retrieved from: http://ti.me/1vunNbv

yolande_graham • December 6, 2016

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