Preview Days Showcase MSHE Program

Preview Days Showcase MSHE Program

Sean KavanaughAlumnus Sean Kavanaugh reflects on his Northwestern direction during MSHE's Preview Days.

Bridget O’Connell (MS17) is a career changer who found “her place” in higher education. After working for more than a decade in engineering, she now helps undergraduate and graduate students explore their career goals and find meaningful employment.

“I liked helping people and mentoring a team; I wanted to do it every day,” said O’Connell, who received her master’s degree in Higher Education Administration and Policy (MSHE) at Northwestern University. “I also wanted to be able to tell my child that I was doing something I was proud of.”

O’Connell, a career adviser and assistant director of student engagement at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was one of four MSHE alumni who shared her story during 2019 Preview Days, a two-day event that showcases the program to newly admitted students.

In addition to engaging with the panel, the prospective students toured the campus, met faculty members, interviewed for internships, attended a research poster session, and decompressed at receptions and over meals.

The program’s dynamic curriculum, tailored internship placements, master’s project, and professional development opportunities are all key aspects of the experience, MSHE Program Director Lois Trautvetter said during a welcome speech.

“If you take advantage of what Northwestern,the School of Education of Social Policy , and our MSHE program offer -- the coaching, the alumni meetups, the workshops and other resources  -- you’ll be in very good shape to make an impact in higher education,” Trautvetter said, adding that more than 90 percent of MSHE graduates have jobs within 90 days of graduating with a degree.

Because of its broad curriculum, students are qualified to work in a wide variety of higher education careers. In addition to O’Connell, prospective students heard from Skyler Adams (MS18), assistant director of undergraduate admissions at Northwestern; Julie Hammer (MS09), associate athletic director for career enhancement and employer relations at Northwestern, and Sean Kavanaugh (MS11), director of student services at Northwestern’s School of Professional Studies.

Kavanaugh, a swim coach in his previous life, was looking for a better work-life balance. His internships at DePaul and Northwestern opened new doors and led to his current job, where he oversees academic and career advising and describes himself as a “higher education problem solver.”

“I’m doing things I had no idea I could, but the program helped prepare me for that,” Kavanaugh said. “The relationships I was able to form with the other students were also incredibly helpful; it’s a smaller program so it’s easy to make intimate connections.”

Adams, who majored in English and studied secondary education at a small liberal arts college, also was hired directly from his internship in admissions. Though he knew his passion was admissions work, he explored other areas to broaden his perspective. At the same time, his class projects allowed him to dive deep into his main interests, he said.

Hammer started the program while working in Northwestern’s athletic department and fit her classes around a busy travel schedule. Her current position was created to establish NU For Life, a unique program dedicated to the professional development of Northwestern student-athletes. “I liked that the classes were at night, and I could work full time,” she said. “I didn’t know a lot about higher education at the time, so the classes were intriguing to me.”

For O’Connell, the career change included a family move, from Seattle to Chicago. She was interested in the ways education systems can support and hinder students and explored the field through her classes and internships. Her master’s project investigated how faculty helps the career development of engineering students.

“I am inspired daily by college students of all cultures and backgrounds who are trying to improve their life situation through advancing their careers,” she said. “When I see students uncover and recognize their strengths through our conversations, and ultimately progress in their careers, there is nothing better.”

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 3/14/19