TC Student Ambassador Athena Abadilla reflects on her first year in the Higher & Postsecondary Education M.A. program

In Professor Anna Neumann’s Curriculum & Instruction course, a core requirement for the Higher and Postsecondary Education program, we discussed, in depth, the importance of social context. Our conversations revolved around acknowledging that while individuals may bring insightful knowledge and experiences to the classroom, we may also implicitly carry not-so-constructive biases that impact how and what we learn. Put very simply, we as educators must be conscious and critical of the ‘not-so-good’ stuff in order to actively make space for more of the ‘good stuff’ to enter. 

As we all know, education does not stop at the classroom door (or in this day and age, when the Zoom room ends). At Teachers College, I’m encouraged to fully embrace the lessons I learn in class and, not only apply them to my practice as a student affairs professional, but also to my personal life. Fall 2020, my first ever semester in grad school, was admittedly a rough one and marked with so much inexplicable loss. Nevertheless, though it wasn’t exactly the lesson that was being communicated in class, I continue to keep in mind what Dr. (Anna) Neumann said about allowing good things to enter. Here are a few of the good things I’ve centered in my life this past school year as a HPSE student: 

Cohort Friends & Community 

For me, so much positive growth has come from being a part of the TC and Columbia community. The professors in my department have not only proven to be intelligent scholars and changemakers in their own respective work, but have also gone above and beyond to extend a level of care during this challenging year that continues to uplift and inspire me. 

A special shoutout to my fellow HPSE classmates Mina Mizutani, Robin Kim, and Kai Santiago whom I had the privilege of bonding with through Zoom breakout rooms in the Fall and then in-person in the Spring. Our friendship and casual self-acknowledgement that we are the “Asian American Dream Team” you wish you had during grad school brought so much joy to the academic year. 

Career Trajectory & Confidence

The HPSE program provides us with the opportunity to pursue a graduate assistantship while completing our degree. I found myself taking up the role as the Graduate Assistant for Inclusion and Belonging at The Cooper Union. Through working with an Office of Student Affairs led by a TC alum himself and also connecting into professional networks that span across the U.S., I can surely say that I have gained more direction this year. I’m excited for upcoming opportunities on the horizon that align with my higher (and higher ed) self. 

Connecting Theory to Collective Action

After committing to TC, I made the decision and had the privilege of remaining in New York City throughout the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. From rallying support for frontline workers to standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, 2020 taught us all so much about the value of mutual aid networks and community organizing in demanding racial and socioeconomic justice from a broken system. 

In my experience, ORLH4042 Student Personnel Administration: Programs & Services with Dr. Corlisse Thomas, ORLH5044 Theories of Diversity with Dr. Noah Drezner, and ORLH5525 College Student Development Theories with Dr. Maria Anderson-Long was the trinity of classes in my program that presented the opportunity to dive deeper into those questions of justice and discuss solutions for both our school systems and society at-large. In particular, it has become so affirming to trace the connections of critical theory to 1) my role as a student affairs practitioner and 2) my engagement with social justice actions both here in NYC and back home in Hawaii.

So what’s next? As I am a part-time student, I will be completing my M.A. in the upcoming school year, and I am so excited to continue sharing my experience with you all. Stay tuned!

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