MA in Liberal Studies


Success Stories

Stefanie Modena (graduated 2020)

Before starting the MALS program in 2017, Stefanie worked as a Retention Specialist at CUNY Prep and as an Adjunct Lecturer at Hostos Community College. After graduating, she ran pilot programs as part of CUNY’s retention, persistence and college success efforts. As a result of her ability to understand student issues in varying capacities, she was able to transition to a role at Montclair State, where she’s part of a pilot program in which Academic Success Coaches help students find ways to circumvent barriers while leveraging the resources available to them on campus. She also teaches the freshman seminar course designed to guide students through their first semester in college. 

MALS: What motivated you to apply for Lehman’s MA program in Liberal Studies?

Stefanie: I already had an MPA degree, was working in higher education and wanted to get back into school but was not sure what I wanted to focus on. I thought I would join a program that would allow me to take courses in disciplines that I was not an expert in. I wanted to strengthen what I already knew while learning something completely different and also needed a program that offered flexibility and guidance. MALS was the right fit, which I truly realized during an info session that it was an interdisciplinary program-- this was the game changer! A program that allowed me to carve out my own path while working alongside an amazing body of faculty to provide guidance and support was exactly what I needed. 

MALS: Who has inspired you or helped make your journey at Lehman a success?

Stefanie: The MALS Faculty and the cohort of students who joined the MALS program at the same time I did were truly inspiring. We worked together and held each other up as we worked towards our goals semester by semester. The MALS cohort model was instrumental in forming the camaraderie amongst MALS students. Since the program requires that the core courses be taken together, we stuck together and built partnerships. If any of us felt that we were falling off, we could count on each other to give us the needed push, motivation and support to get through it. The faculty was absolutely phenomenal! I have never worked with such a supportive, dedicated and truly inspiring group of professors. Dr. Alborn supported and guided me from day 1. From advising through registration and even helping with topic selection for my thesis, Dr. Alborn was there the entire way. He was honest and helpful and connected me to the resources necessary for my success. The late Dr. Fletcher was also integral in my success. He was an exemplary educator and guiding light who truly understood education, diversity and equity at its core. His values and desire to make a difference in education will live on and continue to inform my work every day. 

MALS: Describe your capstone or thesis—how did it connect to your work/life outside of the program? 

Stefanie: My thesis focused on the socialization of youth in ways that lead to prosocial behaviors that often result in poor academic outcomes for urban students of low socio-economic status. It took a while to get to my topic since I had so many ideas about what I initially wanted to research. Each semester, I took courses that piqued my interest and sent me in different directions. As I continued to meet with Dr. Alborn, he kept reminding me to narrow my choices down so that I could take courses that better informed the field I planned to focus on. I finally chose a discipline and decided that I would focus my work on urban education which is when I began to work with Dr. Fletcher. After taking the initial course in education, I realized that this was exactly what I wanted and needed to do. I was working with low socio-economic status students who often had lots of responsibilities outside of the classroom_students who perhaps wanted to have better attendance but also had to work a part-time job and pick siblings up after or sometimes during school to support the needs of the household. The coursework at Lehman equipped me with tools necessary to conduct the research required to understand why some students chose to support the home rather than to focus on their education. Through MALS, I was encouraged to think outside of the box and focus on understanding the needs of students as a whole. I learned to focus on providing guidance alongside rather than in prescriptive ways. This was where my MALS coursework research and professional work intersected.

MALS: How has MALS helped you achieve your goals since graduating?

Stefanie: MALS absolutely set the foundation for where I am today. I had goals of strengthening the skills that I came in with while learning new ways of approaching my work and I have done that. I've grown as a professional and am a part of programming that applies innovative ideas to better support students. I am a part of the building and development of a program that will support students in ways that have never been done before. Learning about students and helping them with resources that don't focus on just academics is something that I learned to do through the interdisciplinary approach that I was taught as a MALS student. I no longer look at and assess students from the lens of an educator, I look through varying lenses; allowing me to see the whole picture and consider resources that I may not have thought about in the past. I get to work with students 1:1 while also helping to create and develop the processes and policies of the program as a whole.

MALS: What do you think other people should know about MALS and Lehman? 

Stefanie: People should know that the MALS program at Lehman provides access to incredible faculty and resources. I learned so much through the program and was able to succeed as a result of the immense guidance I received as a student.  At first, you may not know exactly what you plan to do, but the path becomes clearer as you learn to trust the process. You will work with faculty that help you identify your areas of interest and discover your goals. Working with the MALS team at Lehman was an invaluable experience that I'm forever grateful for. 

MALS: What advice would you give to current or prospective MA students?

Stefanie: My advice is to take advantage of the opportunities afforded to them as a MALS student. For those who are considering the program, apply and start-- you won't regret it! For those in the program, learn as much as you can from the faculty at your disposal at Lehman. I was exposed to so many scholars who came to talk about their research and work in a variety of fields. Remember, these are busy people who take time out of their day to come and teach you about what they do. This level of exposure is truly priceless--- take advantage! 

MALS: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Stefanie: Remember to build relationships with those who begin the program with you! You have more in common than you think and as you move along and start to develop your own paths, you will continue to count on and rely on each other for support. The sense of belonging that I experienced as a MALS student was integral to my success.