SAHE graduate and CSU Online employee’s experience benefits distant students

Susheela Mallipudi spends her days as a student success coach supporting Colorado State University Online graduate students in engineering, natural sciences, liberal arts and student affairs programs.

“We’re the feet on the ground for online students who are all over the world.” says Mallipudi.

Often working with students throughout their entire student experience — from recruitment through graduation — Mallipudi helps potential students determine whether a program is a good fit, complete forms to meet deadlines, find tools and resources, and more.

An unlikely combination

Her job today is much different from her job a few years ago. After earning her M.S. in aerospace engineering, Mallipudi worked at NASA’s wind tunnels before forging a career as a consultant for biotech and pharmaceutical companies in Los Angeles and San Francisco. When her partner landed a job at CSU, Mallipudi took the opportunity to reassess her life and career goals. She realized some of her favorite parts of previous jobs involved students.

“I love working with people. I enjoyed working recruiting events, working with college students, and mentoring summer interns,” she says. “I thought a career in higher ed would give me the opportunity to blend this with my background in engineering and business.”

Mallipudi decided to pursue a second master’s degree, selecting one that would give her knowledge and experience working in student affairs — the Student Affairs in Higher Education master’s degree offered by CSU’s School of Education.

“It seems like my degrees are so different,” she says. “But the SAHE degree helps me as I’m working with students — I’m a better listener, and I have a better understanding of the student’s perspective.”

Mallipudi opted to complete the SAHE program online, so she could continue working her full-time job.

“You have to be self-motivated,” she says of the discipline required to complete an online program. “I worked all day, then I’d go home and have time with my family. Once my son went to bed around 8, I’d open my laptop and put in a few hours of schoolwork. I did that for three and a half years.”

In addition to her role as a success coach, Mallipudi was tapped by CSU Online to fill in as an interim advisor to the Systems Engineering program. Combining her SAHE knowledge with her engineering and business knowledge gives Mallipudi a better understanding of what students experience while progressing through an engineering curriculum.

Experiencing the SAHE program

“What the SAHE program did for me was to look inward to see how I’ve grown and changed in the past three and a half years,” she says. “I learned how I bring myself to the table, how I interact with others, and how others can help me be a better person when I’m doing my work.” She admits that she hadn’t consciously thought about these things before being in the SAHE program.

As an online student, Mallipudi appreciates having the opportunity to make connections with her fellow SAHE students across the world.

“I got to work with and learn from students from all over,” she says. “Being able to get perspectives from people working at small, private, liberal arts colleges and small religious institutions all the way up to other large land-grant and research institutions was invaluable.”

These students, like Mallipudi, are often already working in student affairs positions. “They’re coming from everywhere in higher ed, and they’re working in the environment right now.”

Students in the SAHE program complete a final portfolio of work that assesses their professional knowledge and practice competencies. Through a series of reflective papers, students address how their broadening knowledge, skills and experience throughout the program have helped develop their ability to apply their learning to current or future work with students in higher ed.

“The iterative process of looking inward and making connections of academics to you — for me, it was really difficult,” says Mallipudi. “Constantly looking inward and asking yourself questions, constantly going back and editing papers, and trying to add more depth. Trying to determine how I would use this information as I’m working with students, or how the information has changed my experience now with students. I learned a lot about myself.”

Current and future work

Experiencing the program firsthand has helped Mallipudi in her work with online students. She says she’s able to share study habits, resources and tips that helped her and her fellow SAHE students succeed in distance learning.

“I’m able to understand if someone feels overwhelmed,” she says, “and give them some advice on what worked or didn’t work for me.”

Learning to look inward, says Mallipudi, helped her to see that she wants to be an agent of change, as well as someone who advocates for students who may be going through struggles. Combined with her experience in engineering, Mallipudi hopes to make a difference in the lives of students at CSU.

“My ultimate goal is to work in engineering retention programs,” she says. “I want to create programs that can have an impact on students, and can be used across areas.”

These programs would help recent high school graduates in their undergraduate journey, and then in their graduate journey, as they navigate and explore options, then make decisions about areas of study — and in their overall student experience. One way she thinks students can feel supported is to look for the support within each other — studying together, learning from each other and making connections to prevent feelings of isolation.

“I had such phenomenal support from my faculty and friends,” she says. “I want to make sure that sort of support is here for students at CSU.”