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Beyond Expectations: Caroline Kerr, HEP'12

Caroline KerrWhen thinking back on her year at the Ed School, Caroline Kerr couldn’t be happier. “In every way, HGSE has exceeded my expectations,” she says.

A former college admissions officer and high school guidance counselor, Kerr says she “came to HGSE seeking the opportunity to engage with ideas about college admissions and college access in an academic setting.”

The Higher Education Program (HEP) was perfect for her. “I felt as though I was just scratching the surface of all of the complexities associated with admissions and higher education,” she says. “I wanted to study with the HGSE faculty, and I was particularly attracted to the Higher Ed Program because I knew I would benefit from a tight-knit group of peers who would bring very different perspectives to our conversations about the field of higher education.”

But it was her perspective that many of her cohort found invaluable.

“Caroline Kerr received a large number of nominations from her fellow students for the Intellectual Tribute award…,” says Professor Judith McLaughlin, director of HEP. “My favorite student nomination summed it up simply: ‘Half of my education has come from Harvard professors, the other half from Caroline Kerr.’

“Caroline is a model of the engaged student. An active listener and a selective participant in class, her comments were always cogent and articulate…,” continues McLaughlin. “Many students spoke of the seriousness with which she approached her academic study as ‘inspiring.’ Others commented on her willingness to help them with class assignments and career considerations. Caroline's generosity was evident in that she was always the first person to answer emails to the cohort with requests for assistance, and she regularly made herself available to help with admission recruitment events and other program activities. Caroline’s intelligence, enjoyment of learning, professionalism, and constant good spirits made her a pleasure to have as a student.”

Upon learning that she had been honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for HEP, Kerr answered some questions about her time at the Ed School and beyond.

Favorite class? I took Leadership, Entrepreneurship, and Learning with Professor Monica Higgins in the fall and became completely enthralled with the case method of teaching. This led me to take Teaching and Learning By The Case Method with Professor Higgins this spring, and the experience changed the way I think, approach problem solving, participate in and lead discussion, and listen. I’ve benefited from great case-based discussions throughout year with Professor Higgins and other members of the HGSE faculty, including Judy McLaughlin, Jim Honan, Joe Zolner, as well as faculty members from across Harvard who participated in Teaching and Learning By The Case Method as guest instructors.

How did you stay inspired throughout the year?   I’d do something I didn’t think I had time to do – something I thought I couldn’t possibly squeeze into my schedule – and consider it “restoration” (something I learned at The Mountain School, a semester program I participated in during high school.)  The hardest part about this year has been seizing some opportunities and having to say “no” to others – a guest lecture, extra class, or dinner with classmates. After going to an extra event, I’d inevitably take away an inspiring new idea and an invigorating jolt of energy.

Any special study spots? I do most of my studying and writing at home in the company of our dog, Gryphon. Her clowning around reminds me to take breaks and not take myself too seriously.  I’ve also spent many group project hours on the fourth floor of Gutman in the corner conference room that has full glass windows on two sides. We lovingly call it “the penthouse.”

If you could transport one person/place/thing from HGSE to your next destination, what would it be? My classmates and professors. That’s probably cheating because it’s more than one person, but the people here have pushed me to consider new ideas and new points of view. Luckily, I’m confident these conversations are going to continue well beyond this year.

What advice do you have for next year’s students going through your program? Jump in with both feet. HGSE is an “all in” kind of place, and it’s worth taking advantage of the full range of opportunities presented to you – in and out of the classroom. Try to find the balance that works best for you and what you hope to get out of the year; and remind yourself that the experiences and conversations outside of the classroom can be just as valuable as what you are doing during a class session or for a paper. The greatest satisfaction for me has come from learning and making contributions on multiple fronts; the whole picture matters.