Preview Days matches higher education master's students with graduate assistantships
A recruiting process geared to convince master's-degree candidates in higher education to attend Penn State, earn an assistantship and learn about town and gown isn't nearly as difficult as it might sound, according to a student who helps navigate the program.
"Truthfully, I do not think we need to 'convince them' to do anything,'' said Kerri Musick, a second-year master's student who helped conduct the College of Education's Preview Days program in early March. "The program was designed to speak for itself. All we have to do is get out of its way and let it do its job."The academic experience in Penn State's program is top notch. As such, it attracts high-caliber students who are also looking at other impressive programs. What sets this program apart is the authentic, thoughtful and kind-hearted people who give it life,'' she said.
David Guthrie, associate professor of education in the Department of Education Policy Studies, is in charge of Preview Days. He invited about 30 students who had been admitted to the program but had yet to officially commit. There were 18 graduate assistantship positions available and prospective students participated in nearly a half-dozen interviews prior to a matching process.
"It goes fast and it's very stressful for the candidates, but it's a great experience,'' Guthrie said. "Other places do it too and we have great students who come in. We're glad we can offer them jobs and the offices that hire them are really glad to get great people while they come here and do the two-year master's program. It's sort of a win-win-win for everybody, it seems to us.''
GA positions that students sought were in student activities, the Presidential Leadership Academy, admissions, the BLUEprint program (a peer mentoring program), Career Services, fraternity and sorority life, student conduct, LGBTQA and service leadership within Student Affairs, Guthrie explained.
Julia Muscato, who earned a Penn State degree in human development and family studies, was one of the participants who earned an assistantship with Career Services in programming.
"I think it was extremely helpful to be able to meet and speak with the current graduate assistants who are attending Penn State in this program,'' Muscato said. "To hear their own accounts and talk to them about why they chose this specific program was what made me feel the most connected to the higher education program here.''
Guthrie said the candidates are looking for a way to get a master's degree in higher education in a way that they'll have tuition paid for and a stipend.
"That's what these positions are,'' Guthrie said. "That's why they come, that's why the offices who offer these assistantships are very interested to participate because they are looking to find somebody to work in their office for the next two years.''Also provided is information about Penn State, more details about the program, an opportunity to meet faculty and current student and a "full-orbed sense" of what the whole program and institution is about, Guthrie said. Students rank the positions for which they'd like to be considered, the various office personnel rank the students they'd like to interview and the matching process continues.
Jake Edmunds, who will graduate in May from Messiah College with a degree in accounting and minor in English literature, said Penn State's Preview Days were a "highly influential factor" in him choosing a graduate program. "The welcoming atmosphere of this program, including such events as a Google Hangout for accepted students, all helped me to feel as if I was already considered to be a part of the community,'' he said.
"The chance to meet face-to-face with each of the GA providers was also incredibly helpful and encouraging. There were many factors that drew me to the College of Education. Ultimately, though, my experience at the Preview Days event, the testimonies of the current students, the emphasis on the cohort model and the availability of the graduate assistantship and research opportunities all convinced me that Penn State is the place for me,'' Edmunds said.
Muscato said her alumni mentor told her it would be beneficial to apply to Penn State because a lot of the research and scholarly writing that she would be studying would be written by many of the faculty at Penn State. "I always kept this in the back of my mind that by attending this university, and more specifically studying in this program, I would have my professors and faculty as an in-person resource,'' she said. "This is what ultimately led me to apply to Penn State.''
Current graduate students also enlightened candidates about the general State College area, such as where to live, affordability, bus services, local recreational opportunities and much more. "You're going to be living here for a couple of years, you need to know what it's going to feel like to live here for a couple of years,'' Guthrie said.He also said that Stephanie Knight, associate dean for undergraduate and graduate studies, spoke at a human level about the pressures involved. "She said, 'yeah, I know this is kind of stressful, and you have interviews tomorrow but it will be OK,''' Guthrie said. Knight added that students should be themselves and relax "because we want to see who you are,'' according to Guthrie.
Not all students decide on Penn State; they opt for other institutions. "Our guess is you're not going to come here and pay full freight and work for nothing or not do any work,'' Guthrie said. "We know that part of the sell is to connect them with an office that in addition to the coursework that they'll get up here, they'll get two years of great experience and get good mentoring from the offices that they're in.
"They'll meet current students and many of the faculty and they'll say, 'ah, that seems like a pretty good place to go, and if I get an offer there, I'm gonna go,' because they liked what they saw in that day and a half/two-day event.''
That's the chord that resonated with Musick, who is from Southgate, Michigan, and graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a bachelor's degree in public administration and social studies. "My time as a GA has exposed me to incredibly talented colleagues who are now my friends and who helped me discern my professional pedagogy,'' she said. "This experience has made me not only a better professional but a better person.''
Musick, who experienced Preview Days as a prospective graduate student in 2015, knows Penn State's program isn't for everyone, and that's OK, she said. "Sure, in part, (this) can be a recruiting tactic. That is not the reason we do it. This approach is honest and what is in the best interest of the candidates,'' Musick said.
The pitches typically are on target, according to Guthrie. "The good news is this: People want to come to Penn State,'' he said.
"Almost all of these folks are easy, fast yesses. They got the word from me, then they got the terms of the contract from the office where they'll be working and it's a yes. They want to come. It's a good program and they have a great experience here.''
Jim Carlson (April 2017)