When Liana Acri decided she wanted to pursue a graduate degree in 2014, she knew she wanted to study at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). It was a decision six years in the making, and one she had thought through carefully.
When Liana received a rejection letter from OISE, it made her question all of her plans and choices.
“It made me question whether this was the right career path.”
Getting rejected by OISE sent Liana back to the drawing board. In the end, she made the decision to reapply, submitting what she admits was a much stronger application the second time.
This time, she got in.
Liana hadn’t taken the decision to apply to graduate school lightly. When she finished her undergraduate degree in 2008, she knew that any further education she undertook had to be an intentional decision. She attributes the completion of her undergraduate degree more to her experiences outside the classroom, and much less to her non-existent love of the subject matter, and she didn’t want to find herself in that situation again.
By the time Liana applied to OISE, she had been working as a Student Life Coordinator at the University of Guelph-Humber for six years. When Liana started in this role, just two days after she wrote her last undergraduate exam, she was only supposed to be covering a one-year maternity leave. She ended up staying – she still holds the position to this day — and eventually decided student affairs was the career path for her. This made her decision about further education a natural one.
In an episode of “Beyond the Plant Wall” by the University of Guelph-Humber, Liana explains her role as Student Life Coordinator.
“My undergraduate degree was in business, so I wasn’t trained in the field,” says Liana. She knew that she had more to learn about education, about post-secondary governance, and about her chosen field. While she had received plenty of professional development while at Guelph-Humber, through workshops and conferences, it was largely skills-based, and she was looking to learn more about the theoretical aspects of her work.
Insert the Master of Education programs at OISE at the University of Toronto. Not only did this program cover the content Liana was looking for, but it also checked a number of other boxes. She was looking for a Canadian program, since she worked in the Canadian context, and OISE’s part-time option was perfect, since she didn’t want to give up her full-time job. The opportunity to attend class in-person and participate in lectures and discussions aligned with her preferred method of learning, and sealed the deal.
Liana started class in the fall of 2015.
Officially, Liana is working towards her Master of Education (MEd) – Student Development and Student Services in Higher Education. She is just over halfway through the program, and is currently working on course number six out of ten. So far, she has taken courses in theory, recurring issues, research methods, more theory, and is currently studying the community college system in Ontario.
At this point in her degree, Liana admits that her intentions when entering the program were a bit naïve.
“It doesn’t have all the answers,” she says. When she started the program, she had this idea that she could just take a theory and plop it into a fully formed program. She has since learned that is not the case, but doesn’t hesitate in saying that the degree has benefitted her work and provided numerous opportunities for self-reflection.
“You just don’t know what you don’t know.”
Liana is a certified strengths coach and manages her institution’s Clifton Strengths project, so it’s no surprise that she talks about one of her top 5 strengths, discipline, when discussing the workload. Between attending class, keeping up with the readings, and completing essays and reflection papers, finding time to get it all done can be difficult on top of working a full-time job.
Liana’s planning begins at the beginning of the semester, when she sits down with the course outline, and starts strategizing. Weeks, or even months, in advance, weekend dates will be given over to work on assignments. Assignments will be broken into chunks to make them more palatable. Readings will be downloaded in a digital format.
“It takes a lot of time to really understand the content,” says Liana. And so she’s become the person who reads on the bus, while waiting for an appointment, or even a really long lunch line.
Liana admits that succeeding in her masters degree has been a learning process full of trial and error. Throughout her undergraduate degree in business at the University of Guelph-Humber, her classes were small, and were typically project based. Writing essays and conducting research weren’t really a part of the curriculum.
When she started at OISE, her first assignment was a 20-page essay. She got it done, but was left wishing she had come into the program with more writing and researching experience, and a better idea of the time commitment required to complete a large paper.
Liana doesn’t pretend that deciding to pursue her master’s hasn’t affected other areas of her life.
“There are times I have resented my degree,” she says, particularly because it takes time away from friends and family, and she places high importance on people.
There are days she has to leave work early in order to get to class on time. She bought her first home during her first semester, and delayed moving in for two months while she adjusted to academic life. She used to volunteer at her church, but has since given up those responsibilities. She cooks less, and started meal planning more often.
Despite the impact pursuing her MEd has had on her life, Liana is confident she made the right decision when she decided to apply – twice. Importantly, she’s learned that she’s not alone in her MEd journey. From her employer, who lets her flex her hours when needed, to her family, who sometimes makes her care packages, to her classmates, who have become important allies, support can be found almost everywhere. And that’s Liana’s key message for those who may be feeling challenged, intimidated, or scared at the idea of pursuing a masters degree.
You’re not alone in going through this, and it’s worth it.
Master of Education (MEd) – Student Development and Student Services in Higher Education
This program will help student affairs professionals acquire evidence and experientially-based knowledge and skills to provide leadership in various types of post-secondary institutions. Student will learn and understand:
- The history, philosophy, and foundations of student development and services, including theories and conceptual foundations.
- Relevant characteristics of students and their experience in postsecondary education environments.
- Administration and organization of student services in postsecondary education.
- Assessment, evaluation, and research.
- Broader issues within postsecondary education systems and their relationship to student development.
Interested in joining Liana at OISE? Learn more about the program!
*all information in this box was taken directly from OISE’s website, linked above.