Brandon Smith: The Best Kind of Difficult

Brandon Smith. Program: MEd - Higher Education (Leadership cohort), OISE; Job: Manager, Residence Life & Education, Ryerson University

Brandon was heading off on an adventure when I asked him to chat about his grad school experiences, and answered these questions while waiting to board an airplane. Responses have been edited for clairty.

Why did you decide to pursue your master’s degree?

I’ve always had a passion for learning and feel there is always more to know. My work is largely connected to the identity of being an educator outside of the classroom. I wanted this degree and this specific program to meet my personal needs, and to gain a better understanding to build on my foundation of being a practitioner.

Why OISE, and why the leadership cohort?

I learn best with others. I had heard amazing things about OISE and knew many people whom I respect who had completed the MEd within the leadership cohort, which isn’t offered every year. I loved the idea of being a part of a small group of professionals – all with different experience levels within an institution – learning together, collaboratively, and from each other. While demanding, it’s a unique opportunity with the flexibility of working in class and on my own.

When did you decide you wanted to do your master’s degree? Why did you decide the time was right?

Quote: There is a sense of expectation, I feel, that all new professionals should have a MA/MEd early in their career. I encourage peole to slow down and think abou they want and what they need.Over the years, I had applied to many programs, in the USA and Canada. Some I was admitted to and others I wasn’t. This program (OISE’s Master of Education (MEd) – Higher Education) became an opportunity at exactly the right time in my life and my career. There is a sense of expectation, I feel, that all new professionals should have a MA/MEd early in their career. I started this 8 years in, and was one of the youngest in my class. I feel my context leading into the degree has truly added value to my experience and learning. I encourage people to slow down and think about what they want and what they need – they are both important, and matter.

What support has your institution provided?

Support varies by institution, position, etc. I’m incredibly grateful for the support Ryerson has provided me, especially from my Director, including time! I’ve received so much personal support, too, from peers reviewing my work, offering me resources, etc. I love the collegiality that has come from pursuing a degree, which isn’t just limited to Ryerson. CACUSS (Canadian Association of College and University Student Services) and OACUHO (Ontario Association of College and Univeristy Housing Officers) colleagues, friends in the field, they have all contributed to this support.



Brandon received support from all over the student affairs Twitter community when he launched his research project.

Tell us a bit about the program.

Sample Course OptionsThe program consists of 10 courses that you take one at a time, with the same people, over 2.75 years. It’s non-stop, and there are no terms off. Courses take place on Fridays from 2pm – 8pm and Saturday from 8am – 2pm every 3-4 weeks. Assignments are due in the interim. The first class was ‘recurring issues in higher education’, which gives you the foundation and history of higher ed. Classes along the way include specific topics, such as student/adult development, organizational behaviour, human resources and equity, research methodology, economics in higher ed, etc. The last class is a capstone project, continuing your research proposal (ch 1-3 of a thesis) into the experiment, and the next three chapters.  It’s demanding but worth it.

What type of work can one expect to be doing?

Leadership forum advertisement
The program wrapped up with a leadership forum organized by the cohort. Read Brandon’s blog post summarizing the event.

My program is intensive, and focused on reading, discussion/class/presentations, research, and writing.

What are your favourite and least favourite parts of the program?

I like the collegiality and comfort of the cohort. It’s gone from feeling 1st-day-of-class jitters to many of us being closely connected colleagues. Additionally, I feel like I’ve had some of the best North American experts/professors in the field. There isn’t anything I don’t like about it, except for the summer I didn’t make it to the beach because of class on Saturdays.

Quote: I think this has been difficult and challenging in the best way possible.What has been the most difficult part?

The question implies difficulty is bad. I think this has been difficult and challenging in the best way possible, and has helped me understand what I want for my career, and for higher education.

How has your degree influenced your work so far? Where do you expect it to take you in the future?

I’ve influenced my school work from my career experiences, and my career has, in turn, been influenced by my school work. I try to integrate this knowledge if/when possible.

What have you learned about yourself and the field, broadly?

Higher education is a complicated puzzle. Each piece/aspect of it is important, and they all don’t connect at times, but they are all necessary to complete the picture. I feel like I have a better understanding now of administration, faculty, students, stakeholders, government, and public/private needs.


Master of Education (MEd) – Higher Education (Leadership Cohort)

This course-based, professional degree program is designed for higher education professionals looking to advance their understanding of the issues confronting their institution and the postsecondary system.

It best serves students seeking research-informed knowledge on how colleges and universities work in order to pursue or advance administrative and policy careers related to higher education.

The focus of the cohort stream, available in select years, is on leadership in higher education, and the expectation is that students have experience in, or are aspiring to, work in that professional capacity in colleges or universities.

Interested in joining Brandon at OISE? Learn more about the program!

*all information in this box was taken directly from OISE’s website, linked above.

Nicole Crozier

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