Hasseler: SESP Experience 'Transformed My Life'

Hasseler: SESP Experience 'Transformed My Life'

Susan HasselerAs president of Muskingum University, Susan Schneider Hasseler (PhD94) routinely draws on some of the life-changing experiences she had while pursuing her doctorate in learning sciences at School of Education and Social Policy (SESP).

More than 35 percent of Muskingum students are the first in their family to attend college. Located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in southeastern Ohio, the school attracts students from nearby Columbus, Cleveland, and West Virginia and as far away as China, Japan, and Europe.

When Hasseler moved to New Concord, Ohio last year, she threw herself into learning about the different backgrounds and cultures of the students, as well as the organizational structures of the university itself.

“SESP taught me about the power of education to transform and about the deep complexities of building a system that actually empowers and engages learners,” she says. “It helped shape me as a leader.”

Like many of her fellow alumni, Hasseler has long embraced a core SESP philosophy: A deeper knowledge of organizations -- including businesses, schools, neighborhoods, and families -- can improve education policy and practice, ultimately benefiting both individuals and society.

As one of the few schools in the nation to bring teacher learning and policy under the same roof, the SESP emphasizes that problems can’t be solved by targeting just one person or by solely looking at the larger system.

Instead, SESP educates the next generation of leaders by examining how people connect with organizations and the larger world around them, and how these organizations and contexts can serve as elevators or obstacles in life.

For Hasseler, who has a background in special and gifted education, the focus on the larger system complemented and bolstered her previous work with individual learning.

Initially, Hasseler studied literacy and individual learning at a micro level to create technology-based learning systems in the Institute of Learning Sciences in 1990.

But then she began working in a school on the South Side of Chicago with Carol Lee, the Edwina S. Tarry Professor of Education and Social Policy and a professor of learning sciences.

Lee introduced Hasseler to “cultural context” — the idea that learning is closely connected to what happens both inside and outside of the classroom as well as the experiences of the students.

“It was an amazing learning experience that transformed my life,” says Hasseler, who focused on multicultural and anti-racist education both in the U.S. and South Africa after receiving her PhD in 1994. “Learning about the incredible richness and diversity of experiences that learners bring to the classroom and how you integrated this cultural capital into teaching was extremely valuable to me. I draw on it all the time as president.”

Hasseler, who is more than a year into her presidency at Muskingum and is married to Ken Hasseler (PhD93), often describes her invigorating job as her “calling.”

“It’s a complicated position in terms of keeping track of federal and state developments and our own constituents while keeping the focus on the students,” she says. “But I thrive on that complexity.

“My experiences at Northwestern prepared me to both observe and explore this rich educational environment and to design and lead strategic initiatives to help us empower our students to transform their own communities going forward," she says.

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 8/22/17