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Sofia Van Nostrand Statement of Professional Philosophy and Program Preparation

As a part-time student pursuing my Masters of Arts in Student Affairs at New York University, I was excited to have the opportunity to take courses while working full-time at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. I was incredibly eager to take in as much knowledge as possible and figure out where my future was headed in the world of higher education. I began this program with so many questions about myself, my interests and most importantly how I could make a difference in the lives of students. Each semester the coursework would arm me with an arsenal of information, tools and inspiration to take my job and research a step farther, and gave me a confidence in my abilities as an academic and as a practitioner. When I entered this program my understanding of my own values as a student affairs professional were basically limited to knowing I wanted students to succeed, and that I would go above and beyond for them. The structure of the curriculum during this program made me delve deeper and ask, Why? From my first semester to my last semester, I have been forced to challenge myself, reshape and expand my values and beliefs. It was pleasantly overwhelming discovering so many theorists with which my values aligned, and I found myself being especially drawn in by researchers like Sanford, Lewin, Bensimon, and Valencia, all of which have played major roles in inspiring my values, beliefs and philosophy.

As a program coordinator for the Office of Academic Services and Instructional Support (OASIS) on the Newark campus of Rutgers University, I had many roles. One of them was being in charge of the appeal process for the Summer and Winter Session Office. It was a part of my job I took very seriously and disliked because of the rigid rules forced upon the process. It went against my values as a practitioner to set students up for what felt like failure because I was not allowed to do more than hand them the one page appeal and tell them to fill it out. I was limited from answering questions, giving them examples, doing anything that would assist them in figuring out the proper way to submit the document. When I compared our processes with Sanfords Challenge and Support Theory, one of several key inspirations in my professional philosophy, I felt we challenged them and gave no support, nor cared for their readiness or ability to fill out this document. I agree whole heartedly with Sanfords views on student learning being critical both in out of the classroom, and I felt very strongly that learning how to properly submit an appeal (gather evidence, explain your plea appropriately, submit professionally) was a very useful life lesson that would serve those students throughout their lives. I used Sanfords theory as a way to fight for better support for our students, and even now still attempt to find that delicate balance every time I work with a student. Sanfords Challenge and Support Theory inspired my philosophy to use teachable moments with students and help them make the most out of the challenging experiences they have in college, both in and out of the classroom. The way I trained my staff was also greatly affected when Dr. Mayhew enlightened my Foundation of Higher Education class with equity minded and deficit minded approaches to students. It became a corner stone in the mission statement I presented my staff and used this

as a foundation to drive the department with an equity minded approach. This framework, combined with the basic foundation Kurt Lewin proposed in group dynamics, that people support what they help create, lead to in depth conversations during training about how each worker can be equity minded and creating a more developed mission statement they expanded so that they would each buy into this new mind set. Combining the lessons learned from these two researchers changed the way I trained my staff and the experience students had at the front lines of our office. It helped me better understand why certain administrators reacted the way they did and gave me a tool to help combat deficit minded individuals and get them thinking in a more equity minded manner. Taking this one small lesson from one class during this program changed the way I ran my staff and dealt with other administrators who did not share the same philosophy I have. The philosophy I strive to follow as a student affairs professional focuses on helping students learn to succeed, assuring learning outside of the classroom will assist them in their day to day lives, and providing my staff the leadership and resources they need to be able to do their jobs according to our mission and philosophy. I strive to continuously educate myself in the new trends and research coming out within higher education so that I can continue to grow as a professional and to continue to build upon the foundation I developed during my masters degree. I am driven to document and assess the outcomes of programs for and interactions with students so that we can grow as a department and find what works best for the students at that time. I am committed to challenging students with teachable moments and having those difficult conversations so that they learn and grow with proper support commiserate with their abilities. I constantly remind myself to approach every issue and problem with an equity

driven mind set so that students never feel they set up for failure. I believe in the potential of each and every student and hope that after interacting with me or anyone on my staff, they walk away a little bit better off than before. As I move forward in my career toward my aspiration to become a Dean at Rutgers University, I am confident in all the knowledge and resources I have acquired. While accumulating my capstone professional development points I impressed Stevens Institute of Technology and was offered an opportunity to design, implement and teach a leadership program. I built from the ground up a curriculum rooted in theory for a three tier certificate program and after teaching 4 classes, taught over one hundred students in what I dubbed the Stevens Leadership Education and Diversity Seminars (LEADS) certificate program. The year I spent working through this program and arming these students with information and tools to be better leaders in their organizations and careers, was the most rewarding experience of my life. It gave me the opportunity to do pre and post assessments to collect data and see the impact this program was having on these leaders. This opportunity, combined with an incredibly inspirational instructor I had at NYU, made me realize that the thing I wanted most was to pursue a doctorate and do research to help promote student development. Until this experience I knew I wanted to be a Dean, but because of what this gave me, I allowed myself to accept the possibility of things I had secretly wished in my mind and never felt confident enough to even think about: getting a Ph.D. During the course I took with Loni Bordoloi Pazich, she went above and beyond as an instructor. She took the time to speak to me about my future and what I could do. She gave us

incredibly detailed feedback in how to grow as students and gave us assignments that challenged us academically. Her course made me get past a slew of fears I had gathered a s a student and she single handedly inspired me to pursue my dream of getting a Ph.D. Luckily, with her and several other incredible faculty members support, I was accepted into my first choice program and coming this fall will be pursuing my doctorate in Social Psychology and focusing on student development research. I believe NYUs Masters program in student affairs has thoroughly prepared me for the next five years of grueling coursework and research. I began my academic journey here with a course on college student learning, and am ending with a large database statistics course; all of which will serve me well as I move forward to my terminal degree. My hope is that with the research I conduct at Rutgers University, and with a couple years of teaching at the college level under my belt after I graduate, I can move into a Dean position having earned my place in the academic community and be able to rally support for student success with faculty buy in as well as administration. I believe that the best way to move academia forward is to have Deans and Presidents of universities with backgrounds in both student affairs and as faculty. Having grown up in a household where my father was a faculty member in the sciences at Rutgers University and my mother an administrator at Princeton University, I grew up with a healthy appreciation of both sides of the isle. Since working in higher education and exploring other schools, I see that in many schools faculty and staff seem to support students separately, but not together. It is even more challenging when there is another group of business people as trustees who also have different perspectives on what needs to be done to ensure the success of the university. However, I believe firmly that

having leadership with both faculty and administrator experience will hugely benefit any institution. I hope to be able to accomplish that and am incredibly proud that NYU has supplied me with a proper foundation in student affairs to assist in accomplishing my dreams. This program has given me so much. It has given me vast amounts of knowledge supporting why a well-educated and aware student affairs staff is so critical. It has given me the opportunity to meet other professionals through classes and professional development opportunities. It has given me the academic confidence I was in need of to be able to accomplish the things I wanted to do so deeply. My time in Steinhardt has made me a better academic, student affairs professional and researcher. The faculty inspired me, supported me, and challenged me in ways I looked forward to every semester. As I reflect on my journey through my degree, and think about what a different person I am in comparison to the young professional who sat in Dr. Marcus practicum clas s about problems in higher education, I am so thankful for the growth this masters program allowed me to have. I am so thankful for the opportunities I was given to improve and grow, and for the many role models I now have after meeting so many faculty members who truly touched and changed me. This program allowed me to be a better practitioner and will continue to leave its mark on the lives of every student I work with because it truly changed the way I perceive higher education as a whole. I truly believe I leave this program completely capable, prepared for the next stage in my career and to leave a mark of excellence in the field of student affairs.


Harris III, F. & Bensimon, E. M. (2008). The Equity Scorecard: A collaborative approach to assess and respond to racial/ethnic disparities in student outcomes. In S. R. Harper & L.D. Patton (Eds.), New Directions for Student Services: Responding to the realities of race. San Francisco: JosseyBass.

Lewin, K. (1952). Group decision and social change. In G. E. Swanson, T. M. Newcomb, & E. L. Hartley (Eds.), Readings in Social Psychology (pp. 197-211). New York: Henry Holt & Company.

Sanford, N. (1966). Self and society: Social change and individual development. New York: Atherton. Valencia, R.R. (1997). The Evolution of Deficit Thinking: Educational Thought

and Practice . London: The Falmer Press.