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 education.
She’s now a student advisor for online programs at Wiley Education Services, which provides student support for partner schools’ online programs.
“I work with a lot of non-traditional students, which I love,” she 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 Oleska did.
“Having been on the student side of things several times, this program provided the depth and breadth to transition into higher education administration,” Oleska said. “I was able to secure a job in higher education while enrolled and after completing my degree and received a promotion. Dr. Donald "DJ" Mitchell Jr. was a wonderful advisor and provided suggestions for professional development, networking and publication.”
Mitchell is chair of the program and serves as 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.
“I think higher education generally continues to wrestle with ways to provide access to higher education, make it affordable, and ensure colleges and universities are responsible to various stakeholders,” he said. “The United States is becoming more and more diverse, and higher education institutions must center social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion to deliver on their promises of graduating well-equipped citizens to enter a diverse, global society. That can't fully be realized without access for more people, making higher education affordable for more people and holding institutions accountable when they fall short of serving students and communities.”
Mitchell said these and other social justice issues guide every aspect of the program.
“There are social justice, diversity, equity or inclusion components in every course,” he said. “We discuss 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.”
Oleska 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 challenges.”
Mitchell said he takes 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 we deliver, even in an online program,” Mitchell said. “Maybe it is just me, but it doesn’t feel like an online program because I stay connected with our students, invest in them, push them and support them throughout the program. Sometimes an online program can feel ‘clinical,’ if you will, but not our program—we build a community.”
Oleska said the online aspect of the program was convenient, especially when she started her 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.”