Triumphant and prepared, 2018 graduates are ready to lead

May 12, 2018

Graduates charged to create just and equitable systems

By Ross Brenneman

Education Counseling student Leslie Ann Picazo prepares to receive her master’s degree. More than 600 master’s and doctoral students graduated from USC Rossier this spring. Credit: Josh Krause for USC Rossier

There’s a new reality for the 334 doctoral students and 314 master’s students who graduated from USC Rossier this week. They’ve put in the time, the effort and the money for a degree, and now they’re expected to use it.

“The sky’s the limit,” said Nora Melgar, a graduate of the Learning Design and Technology program and one of the flagbearers at Friday’s master’s degree ceremony.

At those proceedings, Dean Karen Symms Gallagher noted the awesome position in which the triumphant graduates now find themselves.

“When we rewrote our mission statement last fall, we deliberately emphasized that we prepare leaders to achieve educational equity through practice, research and policy,” Gallagher told them. “Yes, you are ready to be teachers, counselors and administrators, but we have prepared you to be leaders in advancing educational equity in your careers, and you are up to the challenge.”

The ceremony’s keynote speaker, Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, echoed the dean’s sentiments.

“I know that you and your work will lead us in creating just, equitable and high-quality education opportunities, and that you and that work will in turn lead us in creating a just, equitable and prosperous America,” Mitchell said. “Leave here today inspired by your friends and families and teachers to let your light shine everywhere, and everywhere brightly.”

Bright paths

Leadership will take on many different forms for the graduates.

Sarah Toutant, a graduate of the Postsecondary Administration and Student Affairs program, will be entering USC Rossier’s PhD program. In remarks at the ceremony as student speaker, she urged her fellow graduates to open doors and pull others through with them.

“In the near future, I will be one of the few Black women tenured professors in higher education, and I’m bringing more of us with me along the way,” Toutant said. “Invest in yourself, and remember that you did not go through years of graduate school to deal with anything less than what you deserve.”

For Robert Nelson, graduating from USC Rossier is familiar—he’s a Double Trojan, having earned his bachelor’s degree from USC Rossier as a first-generation college student in 1991. But now he’ll be taking the knowledge he’s gained from the Organizational Change and Leadership doctoral program and applying it to his work as superintendent of the Fresno Unified School District.

Fresno, the fourth largest school district in California, is in the midst of a culture shift, Nelson said, and is working to address its equity issues, such as the disparate discipline rate of students who are Black, male and in special education—the focus of Nelson’s dissertation.

“We’re working on surfacing bias, and then once you surface it, that’s all well and good, but how do you change the daily interaction with people?” Nelson said. “All of that came as a result of my studies here at USC.”

And online MAT graduate Kristyn Wayne, meanwhile, will be leading from the classroom. A teacher at a Catholic school in San Fernando, and aspiring toward a PhD, Wayne has been working on something that often challenges leaders: Accepting new ideas.

“I think the elements that my professors provided, I took every single bit—even the ones I didn’t like—and incorporated them into my own instruction,” she said. “Teaching means always keeping an open mind.”

Did you miss Commencement? The doctoral hooding ceremony and the master’s degree ceremony are available through the USC Rossier Facebook page.

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