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Ed School Welcomes Students to Campus

HGSE's incoming students arrived on Appian Way this week to begin their weeklong orientation and kick off the new school year.

"Youcome to us as a diverse group with diverse talents. By this I mean that you represent a range of backgrounds with a range of experiences," said Dean Kathleen McCartney during the Dean's Welcoming Ceremony in Radcliffe Yard. "Some of you are coming straight from your undergraduate studies, as I did. Others of you bring a wealth of knowledge from your work experiences. The work we do in education is informed by the differences among us -- differences in cultural backgrounds, in political affiliations, and in educational beliefs. Diversity is a part of what defines us as a community here at the Harvard Graduate School of Education -- and we are proud of this."

The 2009-2010 class, made up of 641 master's students and 39 doctoral students, has an average age of 28, and is 73 percent female and 27 percent male. The class is composed of students representing 30 countries and 39 states. Sixteen percent are international students and 22 percent are students of color.

Diversity and difference were a focus of the speakers, who all noted that it was up to the students to take advantage of opportunities to get to know everyone on campus. Associate Professor Monica Higgins described the HGSE community as one where students and faculty reach out to each other and also challenge one another. "Try to keep in mind why you are here," she said, sharing her own reason for coming to HGSE. "Education is the most pressing social issue of our time...hang on to why you are here and hang on to that sense of optimism and opportunity."

Student speaker Dan Berry reiterated that HGSE provided a rare opportunity in education careers to interact with experts at the nexus of practice, policy, and research. "They [faculty] are going to challenge you...it's going to be tough, but it's going to be wonderful," he said, encouraging students to collaborate with faculty.

One of those faculty members, Professor Richard Light offered his advice to incoming students: take courses in subjects they aren't familiar with, get to know faculty, and study in groups. And, he emphasized, make sure to become friends with people who have different viewpoints.

"You've just begun a wonderful journey and whatever the outcome enjoy that wonderful journey," Light said.

Orientation week provides an opportunity for students to familiarize themselves with the HGSE campus, Harvard Square, courses, and faculty members. Not surprisingly, many new students find themselves overwhelmed by all the information and activities.

Doctoral students, who arrived on Monday, spent two days getting to know each other and acclimating themselves to campus. While the first year of doctoral studies can be difficult, orientation provides an opportunity for students to learn more about conducting education research at Harvard and the various opportunities around campus, to meet faculty and administrators, and to be reassured that they had made the right choice to come to the Ed School.

Within hours of the welcoming ceremony, the students mingled with each other at lunch under the Radcliffe tent sharing how and why they came to the Ed School. Despite first day jitters, many students expressed only excitement for the upcoming year.

Arts in Education student Masha Wasilewsky came to HGSE because she longed to bring her passion for teaching, arts, and violin together. She admitted that she considered the HGSE program for a long time before actually applying, and said she could not wait to meet her cohort and begin taking classes.

Jane Cassie, Education Policy and Management, had gone to law school only to realize upon finishing that she wanted something else. She began teaching and traveling and her perspective on education changed. It was her experience teaching high school students in Chelsea, Mass., some of whom had failed the MCAS math portion twice, that inspired her to study education policy. She described her former students as those "who got lost along the way." "I don't know how to fix it but it has to be fixed," she said. And she plans to start
figuring out how at the Ed School.