Narrative Review
Adessa Kiryakos
Loyola University of Chicago


Most Important Content Learned

The most important content I have learned from the program has been the content learned
in ELPS 430: Leadership in Higher Education, for the content is transferable to areas outside of
Higher Education, as well. During the first day of instruction, Dr. Dugan asked us to write down
our definition of leadership. While I consider myself a leader and could think of specific
instances where I have seen leadership in action, it was challenging for me to come up with a
one-sentence definition. In writing out my definition, I had realized it was influenced by my
most recent leadership experience and defined it as, “a leader who is able to use their authority to
positively influence a group of people.” By the end of the semester my definition was revised to,
“a collaborative process in which people are working together to promote positive change.”
What I enjoyed about the content of the course was understanding that there was no one
definition of leadership, but rather a journey of developing, adapting, deconstructing, and
reconstructing my own definition of leadership as shown in the revision of my definition.
Throughout the course we learned about various leadership theories, critiqued them, and
came to better understand theories that resonate with me. The social change model resonates with
me the most, I encompass characteristics of a servant leader, and I still value strengths-based
leadership, though understand it is not the end all be all of understanding leadership. Having
various leadership theories in my stocks of knowledge now has and will continue to inform me
as I create trainings and professional development opportunities for student leaders. Additionally,
Dr. Dugan exemplified unconventional learning, as knowledge did not flow in one direction from
professor to students, but that we were also responsible for our own knowledge and learning. An
example of this was each of us were required to sign a learning contract and in doing, so had an
opportunity to portion out our points in the class to the required assignments based on what we



thought we were better at. I enjoyed assigning point totals to different projects, depending on my
strengths and will use it in the future should I have the opportunity to teach. Lastly, no one class
was organized in the same way and Dr. Dugan’s agenda for each class was intentionally set to be
inclusive of different learning styles and communication styles. He exemplified excellent
leadership and will continue to reference the content learning in class into the future.
What I Learned About Myself
Still Learning
The most important thing I have learned about myself /how I have changed since I have
entered this program is that I have still got a lot to learn. Social justice advocacy is a process, in
which no one can claim expert in as it is constantly adapting to current day phenomenon. I bring
in my lenses that hold implicit bias and privilege, and I am always navigating the world
understanding that there are unheard stories and perspectives that I need to consider. I have
learned that I leave this program with more questions than answers and that is okay, because the
content in which we discuss in classes often contain numerous grey areas that do not have
singular definitions or solutions to them. Through leaving with more questions, I realize that the
importance is to learn how to become a critical thinker and learner. I have also realized in this
process of becoming a more critical thinker and learner that critiquing will continue to be a work
in progress for me. I will continue asking questions like, “whose voice is missing from this
narrative? How might the lens that the author sees through influence the work? Does the author
provide data or is there data out there to prove the author’s point?”
Personal and Spiritual Growth
Additionally, since I have entered this program I have been more cognizant of my
strengths, my limits, how I learn, and how I process. This graduate school journey began with me



leaving my family who I love dearly for the first time and living on my own. Through this
process I have learned that love knows no distance and the physical separation from my loved
ones has allowed for deeper appreciation for the time we do spend with one another. While I
have some family that does reside in Chicago, I have leaned on my Assyrian community while
here for love and support. They have welcomed me with open arms, and I have dedicated a lot of
my time outside of the program to continue building the community using my strengths in
inviting, connecting, and empowering youth. In completely being outside of my geographical
comfort zone, which I purposely did, this journey has demonstrated my ability to live
unfamiliarity and thrive. Therefore, wherever my journey leads me to next, I am not longer
bound to particular geographical areas. I have also realized that I work best in silence when
studying and with at least one person I know by me to hold me accountable for my work. While
a subtle realization, it has helped me be more attuned to how I operate best. I have relied on my
spirituality while here much more than before to guide me through uncertainties, which was also
intentional in choosing Loyola, as I did desire to create a better relationship with God.
Participating in spiritual retreats, an Alternative Spring Break, and religiously affiliated events on
campus have helped strengthen that relationship.
What I Learned From my Graduate Assistantship & Internship
My Skills are Transferable
My graduate assistantship has taught me valuable lessons and perspective as I think about
what I want my next professional experience to encompass. First, what I have learned is that
higher education is one path that I am interested in but it is not the only path. Many skills gained
through my graduate assistantship, and my internship are transferable skills that can be used in
multiple fields. I am interested in various fields of work from campus recruiting at for-profit



companies, to operations at a non-profit company. The field does not matter to me. What I will
ask myself when applying to a position is “will I be able to contribute my strengths and skills to
this position? Will I be challenged in this position? Is the company/organization/institution one
whose mission and values are aligned with mine? What is the office culture like?” In answering
those questions, I do not limit myself to only higher education.
Academic Affairs versus Student Affairs/Development
Secondly, my graduate assistantship has taught me the different between Student
Affairs/Development and Academic Affairs. When I entered in the position I was not aware there
was a difference and thought all departments who serviced students fell under Student Affairs.
What Academic Affairs offers that Student Affairs does not is a consistent work/life balance.
Specifically, the office I work for, the Office of First and Second Year Advising (FSYA), we
rarely ever have evening or weekend commitments tied to work. Employees come in at 8:30am
and leave at 5pm with no expectation to stay later. Understanding this has helped me determine
that if I have a family and was interested in pursuing a different field and return to Higher
Education later in life, working in an office like FSYA would provide an more balance
opportunity to work and still make time for my family consistently.
Office Space & Environment
Third, what my graduate assistantship and internship have taught me is that a work
environment and culture can hinder or ignite my strengths. Open spaces with minimal noise are
an ideal working environment for me. Gmail will be a better system to work with than outlook.
My supervisor has created a culture where she is open to new ideas and about maximizing my
experiences while in the office further increasing my professional development. I enjoy that no
two days in the office are the same due to multiple responsibilities. Lastly, what I take away from



the experiences in my graduate assistantship and internship are that taking time to understand
people’s strengths and learning about areas that excitement are important for the work
environment, employee relationships, and the ability to maximize possibilities in the work that
we do.
Young and Professional
Lastly, one of the most important things my graduate assistantship and internship have
taught me was how to navigate professionalism when I am not too far in age from the students I
work with. Initially, I came in believing I need to act much older, mature, have the answers, and
pretend I was an expert in the area of work. It was not too much longer before I realized I was
not showing up to work being who I am and my students could see through that. Through critical
reflection and processing both internally ageist perspectives as well as societal conditions of
what it meant to be professional, I became to develop who I was as a professional and how that
was directly intertwined with who I am as a person, as mentioned in my introduction.
Commitment to Social Justice
Like earlier in this paper, the most important thing I have learned about social justice and
how it will inform my future work in education or any other field, is understanding that social
justice is a process and a goal and if I am committed to social justice, it is a responsibility that
does not stop. In continuing the work it is vital that I remain inclusive of all identities within the
area of work I do, to accept that I will have learning moments and to be open to that, to be
conscious of when to step up and step back, and continuously be informed about any information
that may impact students.