Amber Schiessl was recently named the new program director for the Student Personnel Administration in Higher Education Graduate Program. We sat down to get to know her a little more.
As an alum of Concordia’s SPAHE program herself, Amber became the Director of Graduate Enrollment in the Office of Admissions here at CUW. Now with her new title as the SPAHE program director, she wears two hats.
What kind of work do your two roles at Concordia entail?
As the Director of Graduate Enrollment, I oversee a team of eight graduate admission counselors between Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. CUWAA offers over 45 graduate programs over the areas of education, business, arts & sciences, and health professions. My team is responsible for recruiting and counseling prospective graduate students as they inquire and work through the application process. Each year, I work with our team to develop a strategic recruitment plan for enrollment growth and work toward institutional goals. This requires maintaining relationships with a wide range of university staff, program directors, and deans, collaborating with them to meet institutional goals for new student enrollment.
Now as the SPAHE Program Director, I will also oversee the program in Wisconsin, Ann Arbor, and online. I will serve as the academic adviser for Wisconsin and online students, develop and revise curriculum, measure learning outcomes, hire and supervise faculty and coordinators, schedule classes, manage budget, and work with marketing and admissions on recruitment efforts.
How long have you been at Concordia? Why did you choose Concordia?
I began working at CUW in May 2011 as an admission counselor at the Miller Park Way Center. I worked with prospective students interested in the adult accelerated programs and our MBA. In 2013, I moved up to the main campus in Mequon as a graduate admission counselor covering MBA, SPAHE, and all graduate education programs. A few years later in 2017, I became the director of graduate enrollment and now this year took on the additional role as the SPAHE program director.
I chose Concordia because it felt like coming home. This is a place where people genuinely care about others and live out their faith and values. The administration, faculty, and staff are hungry for growth and love to collaborate to make it happen. There is so much room for personal, professional, and spiritual development at CUW, and that’s very hard to find in an employer.
What do you love most about Concordia?
I love my colleagues. They aspire to live out CUW’s mission to help students grow in body, mind, and spirit in service to Christ in the Church and in the world. It’s such a pleasure to come to work every day and discuss how we can do that. I have been so fortunate to have supportive and visionary supervisors leading the teams of which I have been a part of. They encourage us to provide all students with the best possible experience at CUW, from admission inquiry to graduation and beyond.
You are a graduate of the SPAHE program that you now direct. What was it like being a student in this program?
I enjoyed my time in the program so much that I was actually a bit envious of my classmates that still had coursework to complete after I graduated — I wanted to learn more! I was working at our Miller Park Way Center while I was in the program, and found that my work/school/life balance was just right. My courses were held in the evenings, so it didn’t affect my work hours (courses are also available online now, so it’s even more flexible!). I could take what I learned in class one night and apply it on the job the very next day. It’s truly a program designed for the working professional.
I also got to know the other students in my program personally as well as professionally. I still speak with many of them today and see many of them at professional conferences and events throughout the year. My instructors were attentive and resourceful, and collectively had experience from a wide variety of departments and institution types.
How has the program changed since you were a student?
When I was a student in the program, courses were only offered on our main campus in Mequon. Since that time, we have begun offering a cohort option on our Ann Arbor campus. But most recently, we have developed online coursework to allow for even more flexibility and accessibility and to expand our reach nationally!
What have you seen students take away from this program? What kind of opportunities does it create for graduates?
Dr. Andy Luptak developed the program 25+ years ago, so students benefit from participating in an established program taught by seasoned student affairs practitioners. While students can choose between concentrations in administration and athletics, the program provides virtually endless possibilities within the field of student affairs/higher education. They learn about different areas of administration at multiple types of institutions: 4-year public, 4-year private, 2-year technical colleges, etc.
The program was developed according to the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS, www.cas.edu). CAS recognizes 45 functional areas within the field of student affairs. The SPAHE program prepares students for a very wide range of roles within areas of student affairs such as residence life, student activities, academic advising, student conduct, diversity, campus ministry, admissions, financial aid, international education, athletic administration. . . the job opportunities are virtually endless!
Students can begin or continue establishing their careers on a full-time basis while pursuing the program. On campus, courses are held in evenings, and online classes are also available for increased flexibility. No two days are the same in the week of a student affairs professional. It’s challenging, exciting, and definitely not boring. It fosters a community of networking (which is quite vast) and sharing of information/best practices. A master’s degree is valuable in the field and in most cases an expectation if you desire to advance beyond entry-level positions. You gain the needed credentials, but also the experience and knowledge required to be competitive in promotions.
What are your goals for the program as the new director?
First, I want to continue the legacy of offering high quality, faith-based programming for higher education administrators. Second, I plan to increase awareness of the program offerings in Wisconsin, Ann Arbor, and most especially the new online option. Additionally, I want to look for new ways to foster collaboration between Ann Arbor, Mequon, and online students pursuing the program.
What makes a good candidate for this program?
Students with ANY Bachelor’s degree may apply. No specific background is required. Those who enjoy learning from their peers as well as experienced practitioner instructors, who strive to be servant leaders and help others do the same. Those who have a passion for helping students succeed will benefit from studying student development theory, legal issues, current topics in higher education, program planning and assessment, group dynamics, and so much more.
Why should students consider Concordia’s SPAHE program over others?
Concordia’s program has a faith-based curriculum, so students learn how to approach ethical issues from a Christian perspective. Concordia truly cares about their students; instructors will spend time to give advice, connect students with resources, and inform students of job opportunities. They love to listen and also share their own experiences.
Some other points are that we don’t require the GRE, you can complete this program in two years or less, learn in small class sizes taught by student affairs practitioners, and have flexibility with face-to-face and/or online courses. You learn from your peers AND the instructor and projects and research are tailored to your interests and/or current responsibilities.
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