Alumni Spotlight: Ryan Hargraves, Higher Education M.Ed.
After beginning a career in higher education at UVA, Ryan chose to pursue his M.Ed. in Higher Education for career development and intellectual growth. Fifteen years later, the experience continues to pay dividends both professionally and personally.
Q: What first made you interested in pursuing a career in higher education?
Growing up, I had little knowledge about careers in higher education beyond being a professor. My journey began as an undergraduate student, when I was fortunate to work as both a resident advisor and program coordinator for the Resident Staff program. Additionally, I had experiences working with the Black Student Admission Committee (BSAC) within the Office of Undergraduate Admission and UVA Leadership Education and Development (LEAD), which was a student programming and consulting organization sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Students.
As fate would have it, Aaron Laushway, who was one of the deans of students with whom I had worked through UVA LEAD, approached me about a year after graduation about an opportunity to work at UVA in Undergraduate Admission, then led by the legendary dean, John “Jack” Blackburn. I began my work there in November 1999 and embarked on what would be a long-lasting career path.
Q: Why did you choose to enroll at UVA for your M.Ed.?
When I applied to the program, I was already working at UVA. And while the main driver was my own intellectual curiosity, it certainly helped that people like Blackburn, Valerie Gregory (my then boss and a long-time professional mentor) and Marianne Kosiewicz, then associate dean of admission, encouraged me to consider the program. Furthermore, the program allowed me to pursue a meaningful academic experience with some of the flexibility that a working professional like myself was seeking – flexibility both in terms of schedule and curricular options. The opportunity, through the Social Foundations program, to consider education through anthropological, social, philosophical, historical, and leadership lenses was a huge draw for me.
Q: If you had to choose one thing that was a particularly impactful part of your degree program, what would that be and why?
That is a tough one. I had memorable experiences in many classes and with many faculty members. The one thing that really stands out is the networking that was afforded throughout the program. Many of the peers with whom I took courses have become lifelong friends and great professional connections. It probably sounds cliché, but it was the people in the program that ensured my experience remains memorable – even now that I am 15 years beyond program graduation.
Q: How did you find your current position, and what is your day-to-day work like?
In my current role, I serve as the executive director of university admissions and outreach at the University of Toronto. To be clear, I wasn’t searching for this opportunity. I was working as the executive director of admissions and orientation at the University of Vermont and enjoying my experience when I was told a “couple of colleagues” had nominated me for the Toronto role. Keeping an open mind, I took the call with the search firm and decided to apply. I began my tenure here in March 2021.
My day-to-day work is varied. I collaborate with a number of recruitment and admissions professionals, registrars, and faculty deans as well as many other executive directors, provosts, and vice-presidents on topics related to undergraduate student outreach and enrolment. Because U of T has a significant population of international students (roughly 1/3 of undergraduates), much of my day-to-day work is spent thinking about global student engagement and meeting with international student stakeholders. Finally, we are launching a new outreach program geared toward serving historically underrepresented students in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). As such, a lot of my time is spent in support of that program.
Q: What did you learn from your graduate studies that has helped prepare you for your current role?
A lot of what I learned supports me in my work today. The one thing that perhaps benefits me most is my understanding of the implications of educational policy development – both from a historical and contemporary lens. This paradigm is particularly relevant when thinking about how students from 200 global markets are engaged and evaluated as part of our overarching admissions processes. This perspective remains relevant academically as I am in the midst of data analysis and writing my doctoral dissertation. I am very grateful for my time in the Education School as it continues to pay dividends personally and professionally today.
Q: What do you love most about your work?
Beyond the satisfaction that comes with solving challenging problems and leading many talented folks on my team, the real joy in my career ultimately comes from serving prospective students and their supporters. Though I no longer do a lot of direct recruitment, to be able to develop strategies and policies that have the potential to help students optimize their educational opportunity is gratifying. On the occasions when a student or parent provides positive feedback, I am affirmed in my work and feel fortunate to have this platform.
Q: What advice would you give to someone considering a career in higher education?
Start with introspection. Think about what it is that you want to accomplish and contribute in your career and make sure there is alignment. As a means of career exploration, I would advise anyone interested in doing this work to reach out to folks who are in the field and start collecting mentors and advisors. They can not only provide some perspective on what it is like to work in the field, but also some long-range advice on career development. Connect with people and ask lots of questions.
Furthermore, I would say dig deeper than the institution. It can be easy to fall into the trap of working at an institution because of its prestige, but consider the people you are working for and with as a part of that calculus. Your peers and managers will ultimately impact your experiences. Competence and character matter.
And don’t be afraid to take risks. Sometimes the greatest opportunities require us to uproot from comfortable spaces.
M.Ed. in Higher Education
Our program is designed to prepare students for success in a variety of professional positions within higher education: student affairs, intercollegiate athletics administration, general administration, and more.