Megan Oleksa graduated from Bellarmine University in Spring 2021 with her MEd in Higher Education Leadership and Social Justice and has already transitioned from the medical field, where she worked as a Physical Therapist Assistant for 10 years, into higher
She initially landed a job as a student advisor for online programs at Wiley Education Services, but now works at Bellarmine as an academic advisor in the Student Success Center.
"...this program provided the depth and breadth to transition into higher education," Oleksa said.
Bellarmine’s 30-hour, fully online master’s program provides students with the knowledge and professional experiences to be able to lead and serve in a variety of entry and mid-level positions in higher education.
Many students use the degree to progress in their university professions or change careers, as Oleksa did.
"I really enjoy working with first-year students and providing support and assistance for that often very difficult transition to college," she said. "Navigating college can be overwhelming (particularly for first-generation students), so normalizing that for them and getting to know how I can best support them throughout their journey has been rewarding for me (and I hope for them too)!"
Dr. Donald "DJ" Mitchell previously served as chair of the program and was Bellarmine’s Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer. He was instrumental in creation of the program, which launched in 2018.
The emphasis on social justice makes the program unique and a necessary addition to the field, Mitchell said.
"...higher education generally continues to wrestle with ways to provide access to higher education, make it affordable..."
“There are social justice, diversity, equity or inclusion components in every course,” he said. “Discussions include campus climate, first-generation college students, students of color, critical theories, social justice and law, among many other topics. Additionally, a diverse set of higher education scholars and practitioners teach the courses, which is essential in a program that highlights social justice. So, we are very intentional about the topics we cover, the readings and authors we assign, the assignments we create, and the professionals we recruit to teach.”
Oleksa said the coursework and discussions helped her grow and develop personally and professionally.
“This program helped to highlight how marginalized groups are impacted by various policies and how to keep social justice issues at the forefront during decision-making processes,” she said. “I strive every day to
provide inclusive and equitable service to not only my students, but also my colleagues and institutional partners. As an advisor, it is important for me to actively listen and understand that every student is an individual and facing different
Mitchell said he took pride in the tight community the program builds, even in the online format, which creates rich classroom discussions and lasting relationships and networks.
“Another thing that makes the program unique is the Bellarmine hospitality, even in an online program,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes an online program can feel ‘clinical,' but not this program—it builds a community.”
Oleksa said the online aspect of the program was convenient, especially when she started a new position.
“I discovered an interest in research and assessment through this program, so I hope to build on that experience and involvement in the future, particularly around online learning and engagement.”