Meet Melanie Pagan, Jennifer Eckert Leadership Fellow for Graduate Student Affairs

Melanie Pagan is pursuing a doctorate at George Washington University and is a Jennifer Eckert Leadership Fellow at Simmons. She is doing innovative work in graduate student affairs and finds the Simmons community enriching and engaging.

Tell me about the Jennifer Eckert Leadership fellowship program.

Melanie Pagan

In 2021, Jennifer Eckert ’08MSW and her husband provided a generous donation to Simmons to support leadership initiatives and projects that align with Simmons’ values. This launched the Jennifer Eckert Center for Leadership.

The fellows program supports different areas of focus, and my focus is on supporting graduate students. This is a unique fellowship with an emphasis on leadership. Fellows gain experience by working with a great institution and are also paired with a mentor. I’m excited to discuss professional goals with my mentor and colleagues at Simmons! As the inaugural Jennifer Eckert Leadership Fellows, we get a chance to develop what the fellowship will look like for years to come, and to contribute to the legacy of Jennifer Eckert.

What kind of project or research will you be pursuing as a graduate fellow?

My project for the fellowship is on the practitioner side of things. My background is in graduate student affairs, and I have been in higher education for 13 years. I am very much a scholar-practitioner, such that I not only study populations of graduate students but I also work in graduate student affairs.

While the field of higher education has grown exponentially in recent years, the focus is usually on undergraduates. The work of graduate student affairs is still very new, which allows room for a lot of new research and innovative ways to support graduate students. I worked in graduate student affairs for almost a decade at Yale University and Columbia University before pursuing my PhD at GW. At Simmons, I get to develop a new model for graduate student affairs, working alongside Dr. Renique Kersh, Vice President for Student Affairs and Corey Zohlman, Assistant Vice President, Student Affairs Operations and Administration. Since this is a new area, research will also be a component of my project.

What do you aspire to do after obtaining your doctorate?

I’m excited to teach. I love being in conversation with students and creating knowledge together. I also want to continue my research. My professional goal is to be a leading scholar on post-baccalaureate education. One day, I would love to be a dean of a graduate school.

Do you have any advice for graduate students pursuing similar interests?

I would encourage graduate students to become involved and to strengthen their relationships with faculty, including faculty you don’t see in class. The work of student affairs is interpersonal, so I would suggest that folks develop genuine relationships with people. You should also try to shake things up in higher ed, just as John Simmons did back in 1899.

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