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, who receive multiple practical experiences in higher education settings.

Among the program’s alumni is Janelle Love-White, M.S. ’13, who now serves as the director of multicultural programs at Valparaiso University. The Indianapolis native arrived at Illinois State as a nontraditional CSPA student, having spent multiple years in the field as a residential education director on the West Coast. She has also served as a residence director for Northwestern University.

Love-White recently offered her insight as to what made her time at Illinois State valuable as she embarked on the next phases of her career.

How do you believe ISU’s professors supported your development and prepared you for future leadership roles?
With such a push toward practical application, our professors modeled the need for us to implement the material that we were learning in class on a daily basis. As a nontraditional graduate student, I had the benefit of working full time within higher ed prior to coming to ISU. While the professors emphasized practical application, they were also able to help me develop a stronger foundation of knowledge and reason for the work we do in this field. Also, opportunities for research and conference presentations were available to anyone who wanted to engage with the material at that level.

How do you believe the course work helped you to maintain a work/life balance?
My journey to ISU was partially due to needing to be within driving distance to my parents after my father had heart failure. While I did not need to leave class during the week to get home, the convenience of being so close to home allowed me the comfort of adjusting class hours and work hours at my assistantship if needed. Evening classes were easy to adjust to and helped me see what the experience might be like when I pursue my Ph.D. Our cohort was able to bond after classes in social settings and create weekly traditions after our course load was complete for the week.

How did the affordability of the program stack up to other programs you researched?
Having an assistantship that paid for the program was amazing. No one wants to acquire more debt after undergrad, so the financial support of this program made it one of the main reasons that I was able to afford graduate school. Having an assistantship in housing, also afforded me the opportunity to live rent-free during my time at ISU.

What was your assistantship and how do you believe it contributed to your development?
My assistantship was as the coordinator of residence life at Lincoln College-Normal. Having been a hall director full time prior to my assistantship, I knew how to operate within the role as a professional already. My development came from working with the student population and navigating a system that had limited resources. It’s too easy to take resources for granted, and that position helped me to become more resourceful and innovative in programming, and a better steward of money and time.

What do you think was the value of the cohort model for this program?
The cohort model allows you to have support across a variety of backgrounds, functional areas, and interests. My cohort had a mixture of people from a variety of assistantships who had different goals within higher education. I recall the size of the cohort being just right because you knew everyone and still had the opportunity to break into separate social groups if you wanted. When your entire cohort makes it through a tough assignment or course, there is a sense of collegiality that cannot be replicated if you were going through graduate school alone.

How do you believe the program increased your professional network?
One of the ways that I have appreciated my network is due to the first National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Region IV-East presentation that Dr. Phyllis (McCluskey-Titus) took a few of my cohort members to in Madison, Wisconsin. Our group presented on the work that we had done to assess the effectiveness of our program. My experience at this conference helped me further my involvement within NASPA and helped me to understand how as higher education professionals, we have a responsibility to give back to the profession. Since participating in this conference, I have been involved in NASPA in a variety of capacities within the region.

What’s one thing that sticks out about your two years in the program?
I appreciated the flexibility of the program. When I applied to Illinois State, I was allowed to transfer in two courses, and this enabled me to have more room to select elective courses. My favorite class was my qualitative research course with Dr. Lydia (Kyei-Blankson). I believe it was the first course that I took with people who were not in our CSPA program. Learning from their experiences and interests in the various levels of education helped me to remember the importance of effective assessment across all levels of education.

Why would you recommend the program to aspiring higher education professionals?
I think that everyone boasts about their graduate programs because that is where they obtained their degree; there will always be an affinity for that experience and that institution. Aspiring higher education professionals who are looking for a program that focuses not only on your educational experience, but your personal and professional development, should apply to ISU’s CSPA program. The faculty care, they remember you years later, and continue to encourage and support you in any way possible. I graduated in 2013, and today I know that that I can contact the professors for direction, advice, and support. Through internships, students have real work experience in a variety of functional areas that are more than just data input. If you are not sure what field you want to work in postgraduate school, you can get experience in more than one area over your two years. This program allows you to make your experience your own in so many ways. The faculty are involved in the profession and connected across the country and world. I would not recommend anywhere else.