Author Archives: HGSE Admissions

Reflections on my first semester

As first semester has come to a close, it seems impossible that I am halfway through my master’s degree. I had heard that time would fly, but I did not imagine it would go this quickly. Coming into HGSE, I will admit that I did not know what to expect and felt some impostor syndrome setting in as I walked onto campus for the first time as a student. I kept thinking that the admission office made a mistake, that I somehow slipped through the cracks and snuck my way into Harvard. I went into the start of the school year with a mixture of excitement, curiosity and uncertainty. I could not wait to be in the classroom again but I feared that I would not remember how to write a strong paper or be too nervous to speak up in class. I looked around campus on my first day and found myself immersed in a vibrant community. Within the first 10 orientation, Dean Ryan told all of us that we belong here, and the feelings of doubt and fear began to fade.

As I got to know those in my cohort, I found myself amazed not only by what they have already accomplished, by also by their passion and kindness. I also found that many of us had felt some semblance of impostor syndrome, and that it was okay to be nervous or intimidated. My cohort established norms from the outset, including things like actively listening without judgement, trying to understand where someone is coming from and an overall focus on inclusion. I have found these values to extend across all HGSE cohorts.

ProSem Group Pic best

Higher Education Program cohort


With some of my cohort-mates coming right out of undergrad to some coming in with 20+ years of experience, the diversity of experiences and perspectives is quite incredible. While we spend a lot of time together in the classroom as the Higher Education program has several required courses, there is always some kind of social event outside of class, like a higher education themed trivia night, a spaghetti dinner or meeting up at a local brewery. We even have a group chat – all 50 of us, featuring everything from homework questions to showing off pictures of our beloved pets.  The support I have seen my classmates give to each other is remarkable. Though competition in HEP fantasy football might be fierce, HGSE is a place of collaboration, intellectual curiosity and drive to change the world.

Written by Kate Brown, photos provided by Kate Brown

Kate pic-1Kate, a former admission counselor, is an Ed. M candidate in the higher education program and a graduate assistant in the HGSE Admission Office. Her focuses in higher education are student access and success.

Outside of school, she is an advisor for the Campus Kitchens Project, an organization dedicated to fighting insecurity and reducing food waste and she enjoys hiking.


Chapter 1

It was like being dropped into a page of a fairy tale – but I kept asking myself… was I in the wrong book?

I remember spending hours at a time perusing the TIE (Technology, Innovation, and Education) website online and procrastinating on school assignments to browse the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) pamphlet. Harvard slowly became a fairy tale – a frequent visitor to my daydreams. Flipping through the HGSE pamphlet reminded me of when my mom, little brother and I would look through catalogs admiring gorgeous oak furniture and impressive TV displays. Our gaze would linger on the pages for a minute too long before my mom slowly closed the magazine and told us to grab our jackets. It was time to go to the thrift store.

Several months after my days daydreaming in front of pamphlets, there I was, standing in front of the Gutman Library, right across from Longfellow Hall at the HGSE. I stood there for a while staring at that banner; “Learn to Change the World”. Then I looked down at my pamphlet at the reminder of why I had come here – but was it the right fit? Was I here by accident? Do they really believe that I can actually “change the world”?

I was cautious during orientation. I didn’t want to be found out. What if someone randomly asked for my GRE score and realized I wasn’t all that smart?? I couldn’t risk it. So I quietly navigated my way underneath the canopy, making my way down the line to grab a plate of food. I had the option to choose from an aromatic Southern BBQ spread, complete with melty mac-n-cheese, coleslaw, crumbly cornbread, and BBQ pork. I filled up my plate, then found an isolated table where (hopefully) no one would find me. As luck would have it, three students “found me” and sat at the table. One from the Middle East, another from Florida, and another from India. We recapped our favorite moments from the day and debated about how authentically “Southern” the meal was. They arrived as strangers, we left as friends.

Josh at orientation

New friends at the HGSE Orientation BBQ

On my way back for seconds (because that mac-n-cheese was in complete agreement with my spirit), I ran into a professor who asked how my first couple of days had been going. I was honest with him and said that I was feeling really nervous. I asked him if he ever got nervous right before classes started up again and he said something that really stuck with me. He said, “whenever I get that feeling, I interpret it as excitement! I see it as an eagerness to meet new students, have new experience, and learn something new from each of them. It’s all in how you interpret that feeling.”

As the day wound down, students gathered around the dance floor like fireflies against the backdrop of the night sky. They were all so radiant – each brimming with joy as they let the music move them. As I recalled my experiences from the day and conversation with the professor, I started loosening up and found my way to the dance floor. I couldn’t resist. It was an evening full of amazing memories.

This was just the first chapter in my Harvard experience. Slowly, I was beginning to feel like, maybe I was in the right book after all.

Blog and photo by Joshua Onyango

Josh Onyango headshot

Born in Arusha, Tanzania, Josh has spent most of his life in the mid-west and southern US. He studied Biomedical Science in college and went to medical school in North Carolina. He’s still a medical student there, but decided to take a year to learn more about the role of technology in educating patients and training young physicians through the TIE program at HGSE. Outside of school he enjoys playing video games, basketball, and pondering the meaning of life.

SSP: A Most Uncommon Cohort

The anticipation was real: the more I read over the summer, the more I looked forward to my first days at HGSE. I couldn’t wait to explore the quiet corners of Gutman and the dozens of other libraries around campus, and to finally meet the students and faculty with whom I would be sharing this adventure.

But I was nervous about one thing. The other master’s programs at HGSE — International Education Policy, Human Development and Psychology, Language and Literacy, to name a few — provide a core curriculum structured around a particular field, and a cohort of fellow students and colleagues who share academic and professional interests. My program, Specialized Studies (SSP), is different: Instead of having a set curriculum and required courses, we each design and propose our own course of study, with help from our advisors and faculty.

I won’t lie: looking at all the course options, I feel like a kid in a candy store! In SSP, each of us is free to build our own curriculum with courses at HGSE, as well as most of the other schools at Harvard including HBS, HKS, GSD, and HSPH. (Don’t worry, you get used to the acronyms quickly.) In addition, and depending on our professional and academic interests, we can also cross-register at MIT and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts.

On one hand, that freedom is what made SSP the natural choice for me: having no course requirements or set curriculum made it possible to take both courses in the Higher Education Program, e.g. College Student Development Theory with Professor Jim Antony, as well as courses focusing on organizational leadership and development including Education Sector Nonprofits with Professor Jim Honan, Mission and Money with Professor Joe Zolner, and Crafting a Compelling and Rigorous Proposal with my wonderful advisor, Professor Eileen McGowan. 

On the other hand, as fall orientation grew nearer, I remember worrying I wouldn’t have anything in common with my cohort, and that would miss out on the deep connections and lifelong friendships that so many of my friends had forged in grad school. 

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The SSP cohort certainly comes from diverse backgrounds: our ranks include a former airline pilot, a theatre company director, a squash coach, a few journalists, a handful of doctors, and a number of experienced classroom teachers from around the world, not to mention yours truly, a former political operative and communications / fundraising consultant. But where I worried that our differences would mean we’d have nothing in common, instead I’ve found the opposite to be true: our varied backgrounds and interests allow us to enrich each other’s experience at HGSE, and ensure we have no shortage of perspectives to share.

And man, do we share them! In addition to karaoke, trivia nights, and celebrating each other’s birthdays and engagements, this semester we’ve begun a new SSP tradition: weekly hot chocolate at LA Burdick on Brattle Street. 

SSP cohort

Now that finals are in full swing, it’s safe to say each of us is looking forward to a well-earned Winter Break. But whenever we get back into town, whether it’s during J-term or course shopping for the spring semester, one thing I’m looking forward to the most is getting together to raise a glass, break some bread, and share some more stories with these spectacular people – my SSP family.

Blog and photo by Eli Center


Eli Center is an Ed.M. Candidate (2018) currently studying higher education and nonprofit leadership in the Specialized Studies Program at HGSE. A marketing and communications consultant and a ten-year veteran of political campaigns, he lives in Jamaica Plain with his wife Shira, the politics editor at the Boston Globe.

Raising Our Voices

Sitting around the dining room table, we were trying to figure out how many items to include in our scavenger hunt. We wracked our brains together as the aroma of chicken vegetable stew and steamed rice filled the room. The food soothed our hunger, but couldn’t quite do the same for our heartaches that had followed the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey and Irma in Florida, Texas, and the Caribbean. The pain was an ache that only seemed to get better with movement. So we put our hands to task and came together to plan a scavenger hunt to raise money for those affected by these storms.

Not a few weeks went by before an earthquake, monsoon and two more horrific hurricanes struck Mexico, SE Asia, Puerto Rico and other islands in the Caribbean. As Fall fell upon us, clouds hung overhead and cast shadows on our hearts. The damage was unprecedented; the campus-wide heartache was palpable. We drew warmth and comfort from each other as we drew closer together to support HGSE students with families affected by these devastating storms.

Our scavenger hunt team decided to join forces with a few other students who had families they still hadn’t heard from yet, particularly in Puerto Rico and Mexico as phone lines remained down for several days after the earthquake and hurricane, respectively. We altered our plans and opted to do a Benefit Concert instead, to create a space for students to raise their voices to “weep with those that wept” and find renewed hope with each other. The result was breathtaking. Some roared, others whispered – but either way the concert gave utterance to the pains yet unspoken and dared us to hope and believe in better days to come for all those affected.

It was such an honor to have had the opportunity to work with my deeply passionate and caring colleagues to bring together the Harvard community, and the broader Cambridge and Boston community as well, to support each other through that difficult time.

Unfortunately, many individuals are still reeling from the after-effects of these natural disasters. Please continue to show your support for them through the following organizations:

  • Help rebuild Mexico (click here to donate). Proceeds will be channeled to organizations that will support reconstruction efforts in affected communities.
  • Help rebuild Puerto Rico. You can support them through the conPRmetidos Relief Fund

Blog and photos by Joshua Onyango

Josh Onyango headshotJoshua Onyango

Born in Arusha, Tanzania, Josh has spent most of his life in the mid-west and southern US. He studied Biomedical Science in college and went to medical school in North Carolina. He’s still a medical student there, but decided to take a year to learn more about the role of technology in educating patients and training young physicians through the TIE program at HGSE. Outside of school he enjoys playing video games, basketball, and pondering the meaning of life.

3 Perspectives on the Zuckerman Fellowship


The Zuckerman Fellowship is a leadership fellowship through the The Harvard Kennedy Center for Public Leadership. It is for individuals who are committed to public service. It aims to bring together a multidisciplinary group to collaborate on ways to solve the complex problems facing society. The fellows are all in the process or have completed a MBA, MD, or JD and pursuing a supplemental masters: MPP, MPA, MPH and M.Ed.  This makes for a very diverse group. This year there are three HGSE Zuckerman Fellows (Zucks as we lovingly call ourselves), and in true collaborative fashion, we have come together to share three of our most valued co-curricular opportunities we have experienced through the fellowship.

Chris on the Multidisciplinary Aspect

The Zuckerman Fellowship is predicated on the idea that in order to address our nation’s challenges, a multidisciplinary approach to leadership is necessary. The Zucks have been described as “boundary crossers,” with each member bringing to the table professional expertise in law, business, or medicine with the goal of expanding their knowledge in the realm of public service, through studies in public policy, public health, or education. This creates a cohort with, not only, incredible experience and perspective, but also tremendous hope for creating change. Despite our different paths at Harvard and beyond, we are bound by our mutual desire to expand our worlds and learn from others. For each of us, this year represents a point of inflection in our careers, leaving our comfort zone to try something new. For me, this shared experience has been one of the most valuable aspects of the Zuckerman program. Getting to know each of the Zucks and talk through our plans, hopes, and dreams has shown me how much we each have in common despite our varied trajectories. They Zucks have proved to be a home base this year when I’m doubting my direction or trying to define a new path. Diverse expertise is valuable, but the shared experience of being a “boundary crosser” has proven to be truly invaluable.

Josh on Leadership

This wasn’t the typical way most of us would choose to spend an early Saturday morning, but this day was different. As Zuckerman Fellows, we are a part of the Center for Public Leadership that functions as our training ground, equipping us to deal with the complexities of modern leadership. In pursuit of that mission, we had the opportunity to participate in an intensive, all-day workshop on Public Narrative with Marshall Ganz, a national leader in strategic grassroots organizing. Throughout the day, we listened to each other’s incredible stories come to life, and practiced vulnerability as we put our personal hopes and dreams on display. This is only one among many workshops and sessions focused on developing a greater depth of self-awareness in order to actualize the leadership potential within each of us. As I have continued to learn more about difficult issues facing education at HGSE, the Zuckerman Fellowship has been a wonderful place to reflect on these issues with a multidisciplinary perspective and gain confidence and inspiration to effect change through servant-leadership.

Tracy on Community

The Zucks: this is a group of individuals, who have contributed and dedicated their lives to service and have come together to create something truly unique – a community of people who are committed to each other. I am reminded of the recent fellows welcome retreat on Cape Cod. On the retreat, one Zuck mentioned that he had never held a live crab. The Cape is filled with tiny crabs crawling through the sand, and we made it our mission to make his dream come true. Through the innovation of borrowing another fellow’s t-shirt and many arms plunging into the bay, we worked together to catch these tiny crustaceans. The willingness to support and connect on any level – from catching animals to supporting each other’s personal, career, or life paths – is a commitment felt from every Zuck to another. A former Zuck once said, “We are the keepers of each other dreams,” and in a community where we all come as equals, this is a sacred task that we all step forward to hold together.

And although this highlights just three things that we value about being Zuckerman fellows, we are grateful to take these experiences back into the classrooms on Appian Way. However, I think, what cannot be understated is the value that we are able to provide the Zuckerman community from what we learn and develop here at HGSE. Our perspectives and foundation here at HGSE contribute to the Zucks, and we are fortunate to be a part of both of these thriving communities.

Zuck authors

From left to right: Chris Clayton, Tracy Seimears, Josh Onyango

Written by HGSE Zuckerman Fellows Chris Clayton, Josh Onyango, and Tracy Seimears

Chris Clayton is currently between his third and fourth year of medical school at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in NYC in the Bassett Track. He is pursuing a Masters in the Higher Education program at HGSE. Chris is interested in working in undergraduate medical education administration in curriculum development with a focus on social medicine, community collaboration, and student support services.

Josh Onyango was drawn to the Technology, Innovation, and Education (TIE) program at HGSE to pursue questions that had accumulated over the course of his first three years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. Many of these questions involve how to most effectively utilize technology to improve student outcomes, facilitate more collaborative mentorships, and empower patients to take an active role in their care.

Tracy Seimears is currently working as a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital after recently completing her pediatric residency here in Boston. I am interested in a full multidisciplinary experience to support my interests of utilizing education as a tool for providers to advocate for disadvantaged patients and communities. I found my fit at HGSE in the Specialized Studies Program (SSP). From the incredible SSP cohort, to the coursework and extracurriculars, I have been able to take coursework at Harvard Business School, the Kennedy School plus a foundational grounding here on Appian Way.


Urban Scholars: A Shared Commitment to Urban Education

The first time I met my Urban Scholars cohort, I was overjoyed to be in a space with others who also shared my passion and commitment to urban education. My incredibly talented cohort includes the director of a college access program in San Diego, a former creative writing instructor at Rikers Island Correctional Facility, a special education instructional coach from New Orleans, and exceptional educators with up to ten years of teaching experience in urban schools across the nation.

denise 1First dinner together as an Urban Scholars cohort

The Urban Scholars Fellowship Program, which began in 2006 with a cohort of just nine students, has expanded to fourteen students for the 2018 school year. As Urban Scholar Fellows, we define ourselves as leaders committed to actively engaging with the complex challenges inherent to the field of urban education, a professional learning community that leverages the diversity of our experience and knowledge to develop leadership capabilities, and change makers dedicated to positively impacting our communities and the future of urban education.

Building lasting relationships with a diverse set of individuals from different programs has been one of the most formative, engaging, and rewarding experiences during my time at HGSE. Throughout the year we engage in a series of monthly discussions and workshops with HGSE faculty and guest speakers. This semester we had the opportunity to engage in rich conversations about urban education with Domonic Rollins, Senior Diversity and Inclusion Officer at HGSE as well as Dr. Irvin Scott, Senior Lecturer of Educational Leadership. We also had the opportunity to lead a job skills workshop for individuals transitioning back into employment post-incarceration under the guidance of Tracie Jones, Assistant Director for Student Diversity and Inclusion Programs.

denise 2Job Skills Workshop for Haley House Program Participants

Beyond our monthly discussions, our cohort has decided to use this year to set the course for the future of the Urban Scholars program by crafting a mission statement which articulates a shared vision for our program. We have also decided to participate in the Alumni of Color Conference as a cohort to provide insight into our unique areas of expertise about urban education, and create an Urban Scholars Alumni Network and Advising Council to ensure these programs and initiatives are instituted beyond this school year.

denise 3Lunch at the Harvard Faculty Club

I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to develop a lifelong network of colleagues and friends who share a common passion for urban education. I have truly enjoyed learning from each member of my cohort, and am excited to collaborate with them upon our return to the field to advance issues related to urban education.

denise 4Supporting fellow Urban Scholar, Edyson Julio, during a panel discussion entitled “The Words to Say It: Teaching, Writing, & Incarceration”

Written by Denise Archibald, photos provided by Denise Archibald

denise 5

Denise Archibald is an Ed.M. candidate in the Education Policy and Management Program. As a former special education teacher and program manager for Chicago Public Schools, Denise plans to return to Chicago upon graduation from HGSE to expand career and technical education opportunities for students and advance policies and programs that empower students for success in college and career.


One Person at a Time: building your social capital

Quitting my job and entering a new profession wasn’t a decision that I took lightly. It took a lot of soul searching, prayers, a pay cut and a great deal of courage. I want to explain why I quit the world of finance and investment banking and entered the education field.

I quit because I wanted to have a positive impact on learning, which I believe cannot be accurately measured by test scores. I quit because children are not just our future, they are our present, and they need to be empowered now. I quit because I have a soft spot for dreamers and had to find a way to make their dreams come true.

Entering this new profession has made me uncomfortable several times and one of the hardest parts for me so far is learning how to network. For some people networking is a cakewalk but for me it is as hard as getting a perfect score on the GRE. Since the day I arrived at Harvard, I have wondered, “how do I network?” I received a variety of answers ranging from “you need to be present at all events and talk to as many people as possible to build your social circle,” while others told me “networking is meeting someone for a cup of coffee.” I didn’t know what to do with this advice because I wasn’t sure yet what it meant to “fit in” at Harvard. However, I didn’t give up my quest to find out.

In one of our meetings, Professor Fernando Reimers addressed my question. In his words, “it isn’t as much about networking as it is about building your community.” Some people may network by talking to as many people as possible and trying to be the most popular person at a party. But for me, building community means getting to know one person at a time and taking the time to really talk to them. This way, I’m building long-term relationships that won’t die as the party comes to an end. 

And that’s how I started building my social capital – with the philosophy that I don’t have to know everyone at a party or an event. Instead, I focus on meeting one person at a time and developing lifelong connections. I hope this post helps people who don’t see themselves in the category of “fitting in” realize that there is more than one way to connect with others at HGSE.  

networking photo

Blog and photos by Aarushi Singhania

Aarushi Singhania is a master’s candidate in the International Education Policy program. She is passionate about bringing inclusive education to marginalized students and the financial empowerment of women. Aarushi has a small–scale startup focused on empowering young girls and women in Bangalore, India that teaches them to work towards building financial capital with vocational skills, entrepreneurial competencies and digital literacy.

Déjà Vu

I distinctly remembered being on the other side of that room.

Just one year before, I drove an hour and a half to an event in Raleigh, NC to find out about the Technology, Innovation and Education program. The drive was exhilarating. It was the closest I had ever gotten to anything related to Harvard.

When I arrived, I spent 20 minutes nervously figuring out where to park and how to get to the room where the event was taking place. I arrived a few minutes late, panting from the jog, and was greeted by a friendly smile worn by a friendly gentleman. I was soon to find out that he was from the office of admissions and would be our guide into the inner workings of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

We got to hear about all the different Masters, and Doctoral programs, program requirements, and application tips/deadlines. Then came my favorite part – hearing from the students. After I hearing them speak of their diverse experiences so passionately, I could, honestly, see myself doing nothing else other than being at HGSE that following year. Because of how approachable they seemed, I tried to speak with a few of them after. A conversation with a TIE alum sparked a friendship and mentorship that is largely the reason why I’m even able to write this blog today.

And now, here I was, on the other side of a similar room. I was honored to be one of the students on a panel speaking about my application experience to the HGSE. It was a surreal moment – a strange twist in déjà vu. We spoke about the GRE, letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, and our general experiences in course work and extracurricular activities at HGSE. I was glad to see that I hadn’t changed much because, similar to the prior year, my favorite moment was getting a chance to speak with prospective students and hearing what got them excited about HGSE.


Fellow HGSE student panelists at a recruitment event. Left to right: Brandan Fereday, Beth McReynolds, Me, Asuka Ichikawa

There was a strong sense of nostalgia as I recognized the same spark in their eyes that I had felt in mine just a few months ago. I look forward to potentially reading a blog from one of them as an alumnus. And so the cycle of reciprocity within the warm community of HUGSE continues.

Written by Joshua Onyango, photo provided by Joshua Onyango

Josh Onyango headshotBorn in Arusha, Tanzania, Josh has spent most of his life in the mid-west and southern US. He studied Biomedical Science in college and went to medical school in North Carolina. He’s still a medical student there, but decided to take a year to learn more about the role of technology in educating patients and training young physicians through the TIE program at HGSE. Outside of school he enjoys playing video games, basketball, and pondering the meaning of life.


Admissions Advice: What I Wish I Had Known a Year Ago

This is the last week of fall semester classes at HGSE; the libraries are packed, coffee sales are up, and faculty and students are concentrating on the final projects that stand between them and the holiday break. As I attend final classes this week, I am struck by how much has changed in such a short time. A mere 12 months ago, I was knee-deep in the application process, unsure if I would get in and juggling the many pieces of the Ed.M. application.

Here are a few tidbits of advice that I wish I had known last year:

  • Applications are reviewed holistically

This means that all pieces of your application are important and there is no one part that is more important than others. I didn’t know this and wasted a lot of time worrying about my GRE scores. I took the GRE twice last fall and fell short of my target GRE math score both times. The second time I wrote the GRE was in early December so I knew I didn’t have time to take it again. I actually considered holding my application and waiting to apply because I was convinced that I wouldn’t get in with my math score. I wish I had funneled all the energy I wasted worrying into concentrating on other parts of my application like my recommendation letters and Statement of Purpose.

  • Reach out to your recommenders (today!)

I reached out to 3 recommenders in November and heard back from 2 right away. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear back from my 3rd recommender, even after a follow-up email. It turned out that he had a new email address and it took months to hear back from him…long after my grad school applications were due. I wish someone had told me a year ago: if you don’t hear back within a week (especially if time is getting tight), move on!

  • …and don’t forget to give your recommenders background information

I had an application savvy friend who encouraged me to put together background sheets for my recommenders—I’m not sure I would have thought of it without her advice. After recommenders confirmed they would be willing to write a letter for me, I sent them a PDF document that clearly outlined the different programs I was applying for, logistical information like due date and who to address each letter to, a link to the program, and a brief summary of my motivations for applying to each program. I also included an overview of some of the work that I had done for each recommender and some of the strengths I brought to each role. Providing background information is a way of respecting letter writers and getting a better outcome; you are showing them that you value their time and you care enough about your application to make sure it’s tailored for each school and program.

  • Finish a draft of your Statement of Purpose before the holidays

It’s so helpful to have family members and friends read your Statement of Purpose and give you feedback! And the holidays are a perfect time to solicit feedback and make final edits. Just remember to maintain your own authentic voice and perspective; don’t listen to any suggestions that don’t resonate with you. At the end of the day, the Statement of Purpose should be a genuine representation of your motivations and goals. 


As the application date approaches, I hope you will lean into the application process; don’t second-guess yourself or self-sabotage your application by procrastinating. This is an amazing opportunity to reflect on your reasons for applying to HGSE and present them in a heartfelt way.

photo quote

Written by Cecelia DeKorne

Cecelia DeKorne is an Ed.M. candidate in the Human Development and Psychology program and is interested in how adult development principles can be used to improve organizational culture. Cecelia is loving her year at HGSE and has tried every type of cookie at The Commons! 

Cecelia is a Graduate Assistant at the HGSE Admissions office and will be posting throughout the 2017-2018 school year. 


The 16th Annual Alumni of Color Conference

The Alumni of Color Conference (AOCC) is home to me.  I call it home because after attending and presenting at this conference for the last two consecutive years, it propelled me to apply and join the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) family to further my impact as a Filipinx-American Educator, Poet, and Entrepreneur.


AOCC is a convening of leaders of color and allies from all around the nation, both from HGSE and beyond. We gather for three days and share best practices in cutting edge research and social justice work focused on strengthening the diversity, equity, and inclusion competencies essential to all educational spaces that impact communities of color.  In the past we’ve brought in the likes of Tina Tchen (Golden Globe Award-Winning Chinese-American Actress), Alejandra Y Castillo (National Director of Minority Business Development Agency), Dr. Christopher Emdin (Author of For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood….and the Rest of Y’all Too), Brandon Marshall (NFL Linebacker), Dr. Rhonda Y. Williams (Historian and Professor at Vanderbilt University) and more.

1 - Dr. Christopher Emdin

Dr. Christopher Emdin


For both years, I had the opportunity to co-lead two sessions with my colleague Emmanuel Oppong-Yeboah (current HGSE student) entitled “Empowering Youth Voice through the Art of Spoken Word” and “Exploring Identity and Intersectionality through Poetry.” Through these sessions, we were able to share our expertise in facilitating culturally responsive and identity-rooted pedagogy with youth and practitioners in the field of arts education. Through this conference I was able to radically imagine myself into a position of collective power in solidarity.

2 - Boston Pulse Poetry

Boston Pulse Poetry, AOCC 2016


After getting my acceptance letter into HGSE, I knew I had to give back to AOCC. So I naturally applied to lead the conference as one of the Tri-Chairs. Our role is to design the vision and trajectory of a conference that pulls in 700 – 1000 participants. We also manage the steering committee to co-develop and co-execute the vision.  After much deliberation with my fellow Tri-Chairs (Jen Kuang and Avriel Epps), we’ve solidified our vision to the following:

“Radicalize, Reimagine, and Reconstruct: Grappling with antiquated systems and designing alternatives to capitalism, systemic oppression, and monolithic identities.”

3 - AOCC

Chapter one of this vision is rooted in the term “Radical.” We chose this word because we recognize the need for a vision that dismantles the status quo.  When we think of the term “radical,” the word “change” automatically comes to mind. In a reductionist era of Trump, radical change and coalition building are elemental to us surviving and thriving as leaders of color in white dominant spaces.  Chapter two is entitled “Reimagine,” inspired by our nation’s desperate need for “radical imagination.” Radical imagination is ability to reimagine the world, life, and social institutions not as they are but as they could and should be.  Our final chapter of this conference dives into “Reconstruction.” The idea to recreate and rebuild is the perfect coalescence after defining and rethinking how to approach these antiquated systems of oppression.


I’m honored to have the ability to pay respects to my ancestors and work in solidarity with fellow students of color by bringing this conference to life in its 16th year. Through this work, I’ve been able to acquire incredibly talented, humble, and supportive family members and mentors. Among them are Tracie Jones (Assistant Director of Diversity and Inclusion Programming), Estefania Rodriguez (former AOCC Steering Committee Lead and Ethnic Studies Teaching Fellow), and Professor Christina “V” Villarreal (Professor of Ethnic Studies). These three leaders exemplify the type of leadership I want to embody and exude as I manage the Youth Empowerment, Communications, External Engagement, and Publicity committees.

4 - mentors


Beyond networking, part of my personal vision for AOCC this year is to co-empower youth to work alongside our steering committee.  In order for this to happen, we created the inaugural “AOCC Youth Leaders Fellowship,” which will recruit two Boston High School youth leaders to co-design, co-host, and co-execute various aspects of this conference. In doing this, I invoke philosopher and educator, Paolo Freire, and his concept of perceiving students as experts to their lived experiences.  We can learn so much from our youth experts, if only we give up our power and entrust it to them. Creating this fellowship was but another way of giving back and paying forward. It grounds me in why I was drawn to HGSE in the first place, and reminds me how I would not be here without my students.

*The AOCC Call for Proposals has just launched. If you would like to present on research, curate a panel, and/or have a workshop idea to facilitate, please visit the AOCC website!*

Written by Tony DelaRosa, photos provided by Tony DelaRosa

Tony headshotTony DelaRosa is California by chance and Cambridge by choice. He’s a Filipinx-American Educator, Writer, Entrepreneur, and Poet. He cofounded two city-wide spoken word youth organizations: Indy Pulse (Indianapolis) and Boston Pulse Poetry (Greater Boston). At HGSE, he is a current student in the Arts in Education program. He serves as a Co-Chair of the Pan-Asian Coalition for Education, Communications Fellow for the Voice Program, and Tri-Chair for the Alumni of Color Conference. Find out more by visiting: CNN, The Hechinger Report, and NPR.