Housed in the Department of Educational Administration and Foundations, the college student personnel administration (CSPA) master’s program is nationally recognized as one of the top—and first—programs of its kind. The 25-student cohort model is offered for both full and part-time students, and multiple practical experiences in higher education settings.
The program has produced over 300 successful alums, including born-and-raised Texan Daniel Suda, M.S. ’15. He now serves as the director of affinity alumni programming at the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton, where he resides with his spouse.
While evaluating which program would be best for his professional future, Suda said his research and colleagues kept pointing him toward Illinois State. When he first stepped on campus in 2013, he started down a path leading to new roles and challenges in higher education service and administration. What’s more, Suda sets his sights on continuous development, a trait nurtured during his time in Normal.
How would you describe your experiences with the program’s faculty?
The ISU CSPA program has an incredible faculty, which offered a diverse set of knowledge to learn from. Faculty members like Dr. McCluskey-Titus, Dr. Palmer, Dr. Brent, and Janet Paterson were incredible role models and still serve as mentors to me today in my career at the University of North Texas. The faculty help students find their niche in higher education and encourage the students to explore their passions.
What has been your contact with them post-graduation?
Dr. McCluskey-Titus consistently has helped mentor me during and after my ISU CSPA experience, and has assisted as I have navigated a career change and interest in another graduate degree. I am so thankful for her guidance, which has led me to now pursuing a Ph.D. in higher education with the hope of someday being a faculty member.
How do you believe the program supported your needs as an out-of-state student?
While we (Suda and his future wife) had not come to ISU with any friends, the faculty, staff, and cohort became our family during our two years in Illinois. The ISU community welcomed us with open arms, and I have made some of my best friends through the CSPA program. The course commitments and work obligations while rigorous also had a strong focus on work-life balance. I never felt overly stressed and thought the program allowed a healthy social life for me and my wife. I am thankful for the CSPA program as it allowed us to live in a new state and learn about so many different cultures in the Midwest. We loved the experience, just not the cold weather!
How did the affordability of the CSPA program stack up to other programs you considered?
Illinois State’s CSPA program was the most affordable of all the programs I researched or applied to. I was able to get my master’s degree at a prestigious university without taking on any student debt, which I could not find at any other programs I applied to.
What was your graduate assistantship like?
For both years in my program, I served as the alternative spring break graduate assistant (GA) in the Leadership & Service office (now Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning). In my role, I learned large-scale event planning and logistics coordination for five simultaneous trips with over 250 participants while also being a direct advisor of 30 student leaders. My experience in this role translated directly to my first full-time professional role that included event planning, volunteer management, and fundraising. While I no longer work in service-learning, my current role in alumni engagement calls back on the skills I learned in my GA position constantly.
Did you feel the cohort model was beneficial to you?
The cohort model at Illinois State is my favorite aspect of the program. Many of my best friends were members of the 2013-2015 cohort. As an out-of-state student with no family or friends in the area, the cohort became my family. We worked, studied, and socialized together and now as professionals still support each other often. We not only learned from our faculty but also from each other’s past and present experiences to get a broader understanding of the field of higher education. The cohort has always been so supportive of each other’s successes and job placements, and never felt like a competition! We were in it together and wanted to see each student succeed in their professional goals.
Did your professional network grow from being in the CSPA program?
With the multitude of required experiences (graduate assistantship, two-practicums, and course projects), we were able to meet a wide variety of professionals over the two-year program. With my summer internship at Dominican University, I was able to work in orientation at a small private university. I still keep in touch with many staff members I have met to this day, which has been helpful as I navigate my career trajectory. These experiences helped me learn what fields would be a good fit for a career, and which I should avoid, which made the job search process streamlined as I could focus on my interests.
Why would you recommend the program to aspiring higher education professionals?
Illinois State is a perfect fit for any aspiring higher education professional looking for a challenging academic experience with a strong focus on theory-to-practice. The experience I had set me up for a lifelong career in higher education and has now led me into pursuing a Ph.D. in higher education. One of my former students at the University of North Texas, Asiah Claiborne ’19 just graduated from the ISU CSPA program and has now accepted a full-time job back at UNT.