Elon University graduates inaugural Master of Arts in Higher Education class

These 14 students on Wednesday became the two-year program’s first alumni, and leave Elon prepared to pursue careers in a wide range of higher education environments.

Elon University welcomed the first graduates of its Master of Arts in Higher Education program into the alumni family on Wednesday, with these 14 students receiving their degrees following the completion of the two-year program of study.

For the past 24 months, these students participated in extensive coursework, internships and apprenticeships that placed them into roles across Elon’s campus. The program focuses on learning and practicing the principles for effective education, exploring the functions, issues and leadership of higher education; and prepared them for leadership roles in colleges and universities. They completed the program with a capstone project, and leave to pursue a variety of professional opportunities.

Shannon Finney offers remarks on behalf of her cohort during the ceremony.

In pre-recorded remarks, keynote speaker Bryan Dewsbury encouraged these new graduates to adhere to their vision of what they want to be in life. “You have come at the end of this journey after two years because I believe you understood who you wanted to be,” said Dewsbury, assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Rhode Island. “As you walk away from this campus into whatever occupation you’ve been granted, do not forget who you want to be because it is that vision, it’s that sense of purpose that you will impart upon every student you see.”

Dewsbury reminded the cohort that he was with them when they began the program two years ago, when he led a session with them on inclusive teaching. Dewsbury said at that time, he hoped to convey the message that regardless of what the subject matter is, “the building of relationships, the centering of students, the caring about people, the reaching across an ideological spectrum is at the very core of what it means to educate anywhere in the world.”

Kiara Hines celebrates outside Whitley Auditorium after the ceremony.

Dewsbury said he believes in practicing “pastoral care” in education, meaning that educators should take care of their students like a shepherd takes care of a flock, ensuring that no single member of that flock is lost. That’s increasingly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, which he notes has exposed, not caused, the inequalities that are more deeply impacting, among others, minority populations.

“When we were in a time when there was no coronavirus, was your campus, was your position, was your department, your college, doing all it can to make sure those students on the campus are having the same experience?” Dewsbury asked. “If you go on to your next institutions, and this isn’t at the heart of what you focus your professional life on, then we have missed a lot of what we could have learned in this program, and we missed a lot of what we could have learned in higher ed.”

In her remarks to her fellow students, Shannon Finney acknowledged that none of them thought they would be rounding out their program and completing their degrees while working remotely from their homes. “We managed to persevere and create outstanding work in spite of a global pandemic,”  Finney said.

Members of the class abided by social distancing practices during the ceremony.

She reminded them of their 10-day program in Japan as they fumbled their way through Japanese phrases, navigated the subway system and tasted a lot of new foods. “We learned that higher education is a field that knows no boundaries — that even with a language and cultural barriers, we are entering a field that has the most incredible way of connecting people,” Finney said. “There have been tough times, and there have been good times, but I can’t imagine any of this time without the 13 of you.”

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Throughout the program, these students participated in paid, half-time graduate apprenticeships around Elon’s campus, which provided them the opportunity to apply what they were learning in the classroom in a professional setting. Ann Bullock, dean of the School of Education, said the good and engaging work of the program’s inaugural class has had a broad impact on the university.

“There are thousands of students who benefitted from your work,” Bullock said.

Candidates for the Master of Arts in Higher Education

Sophia Elizabeth Abbot †
B.A., Bryn Mawr College

Alonzo Earl Cee
B.S., Elon University

Katie Elizabeth Ciesiulka
B.A., Marquette University

Caroline Denise Dean †
A.B., Elon University

Jillian Gabrielle Epperson
A.B., Elon University

Tobin Andrew Finizio III
A.B., Elon University

Shannon Elizabeth Finney
B.A., University of Mary Washington

Kiara Dominque Hines
BSW, Western Carolina University

Timothy Bruce Hussey
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Asheville

Natalie Ann Larson
B.S., Drake University

Cameron Michelle Shirley †
A.B., Elon University
M.A., James Madison University

Angelika Sierra Smith
B.A., Meredith College

Taylor Zane Stuck
B.S., Elon University

Taylor Marie Swan
B.A., B.S., Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University

Member of Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society