‘English at Work’ Panel Spotlights Alumni Working in Higher Ed

Left to right: English alumni Melissa Dwelley ’12, Reece D’Angelo ’11, Megan Vo ’13 and Monica Mordowanec ’17 discuss their current jobs in higher education.

Written by Jordan Corey

The English Department at Eastern Connecticut State University welcomed four alumni on Oct. 22 to discuss their experiences working in higher education student affairs. The event was part of the “English at Work” series, which highlights the universal nature of an English degree.

The panel consisted of Reece D’Angelo ’11, Melissa Dwelley ’12, Megan Vo ’13 and Monica Mordowanec ’17. They covered a range of topics, including extracurricular engagement at the undergraduate level, going to graduate school and occupational responsibilities.

Panelists highlighted the importance of getting involved on campus. “I was considering a lot of different options as an undergraduate,” said Dwelley, who works as a communications officer for the Young Global Scholars Program at Yale University. During her time at Eastern, she worked as a tutor and peer advisor. “I enjoyed the administrative side of it.” Dwelley now has a Master of Education degree in student personnel administration.

Other panelists cited working in the Student Center, taking leadership roles in clubs and working as a resident assistant (RA) as gateways to deciding their career path. However, as former president of Eastern’s Education Club, D’Angelo noted that students must be careful not to overextend themselves. “Pick one or two things.” With a Master of Science degree in counseling and higher education, she is an academic specialist at Quinnipiac University.

In addition to undergraduate efforts, graduate programs have allowed the panelists to gain access to higher education in different capacities. They touched on becoming familiar with unexpected components of student affairs, such as counseling, and the financial weight that can accompany pursuing further degrees. A suggestion for a manageable transition was applying to programs that provide stipends or payment for working. “There are ways to have grad school paid for, but they are competitive,” said D’Angelo.

In the realm of higher education, job descriptions vary. Mordowanec, who will receive her Master of Education degree in higher education and student affairs this May, works for residence life at Salem State University. She oversees all daily operations of a traditional-style residence hall of approximately 290 first-year students. Her favorite part, she revealed, is the conduct hearings that take place when a student gets into trouble.

“During those moments is when I really get to change students,” she said, explaining that she prefers to give constructive punishments, such as requiring the student to join a program or club, as a means of changing their behaviors.

“I have my hands in all things student affairs,” said Vo. She earned her Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction and will be completing her Master of Science degree in autism and applied behavior analysis in May. She is the head of the Office of Residential Life at the University of Saint Joseph. With a smaller university, she noted, comes different responsibilities, but there is an “intersection of opportunities” seen across student affairs. “We’re all here for the students.”

Vo also noted that, with any task, the English skills she has acquired assist her in being articulate and concise. D’Angelo agreed, stating that her experience as an English major has helped her in learning how to see outside perspectives and better understand her own positions. Mordowanec utilizes the social justice qualities that she picked up from her English studies on a regular basis.

“One of the reasons I went into student affairs is because there was so much opportunity,” said Dwelley. The panelists agreed that the field is versatile and, in many cases, they discovered what they liked best or what information was most valuable along the way. While student affairs may seem daunting as a profession, the experience gained is invaluable, and success can be achieved with the right balance. “Be realistic with your expectations of yourself and others,” concluded Vo.