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#WhyIChoseEducation: ‘I Chose Education Because Education is a Powerful Vehicle for Social Change,’ Says Senior Director of Student Success Alexander Kappus

Over the course of his career in higher education, Alexander Kappus came to know the NC State College of Education through his interactions with the college’s alumni and scholars. Every time, he came away impressed.

“You can learn a lot about an institution by how their graduates operate,” Kappus said. “NC State College of Education alumni are engaged change agents in the various communities they serve.”

Not only was he inspired by those he met in the College of Education, but he was also inspired by research put forth by College of Education scholars. He specifically recalled how a reading assigned in one of his doctoral courses, the 2013 article “Put Theory Into Practice” co-authored by W. Dallas Herring Professor and Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research Executive Director Audrey Jaeger, Alumni Distinguished Graduate Professor Alyssa Rockenbach, and Alumni Distinguished Graduate Professor and Senior Advisor for Advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Joy Gaston Gayles, among others, shaped the way he thought about education.

“I’ve spent my entire career chasing the central argument posited in the article, the idea that student affairs practitioners can and should be infusing their work, their programming and their services with relevant theory and research,” Kappus said. 

So, when he had an opportunity to join the College of Education in 2021 as its senior director of student success, it was the perfect fit. In his role, Kappus leads graduate student recruitment, mentorship and success efforts, while also serving as the operations manager for the Student Success and Advising Center, where he supports staff who lead undergraduate student recruitment, advising, success and co-curricular engagement efforts.

“I want to be able to foster the field of education at every level by supporting students and collaborating with committed faculty members,” Kappus said.

In his position, Kappus makes it a priority to infuse his work with relevant research while never forgetting the importance of engaging with students on a personal level, the same way College of Education alumni and scholars impacted him.

“These individual relationships not only motivate and sustain me, but also help me stay close to the student experience, learning about areas we can improve upon for student support,” Kappus said. 

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why I Chose Education:

Education underpins every aspect of our society. I chose education because education is a powerful vehicle for social change. We live in a broken world, but education can serve as an influential force to narrow equity gaps for minoritized communities, to facilitate understanding across social differences and to prepare leaders and educators with the tools they need to build bridges of understanding in advancing more just communities. In my opinion, there is no better place to work on vexing problems in our society than in higher education, where we can ground our work in the civic mission of the institution.

I specifically chose student affairs administration, practicing within colleges and universities mostly outside of the classroom, because I believe out-of-class learning experiences and services are incredibly important in supporting student development, building inclusive and equitable communities, and promoting student success. I was also drawn to education because the best educators are lifelong learners. Educators must never become complacent, because we can always seek better understanding of the world around us, to use emerging research, theory and student feedback to improve programs and services. 

I sought to further my education though a doctoral program because I wanted to gain skills and perspectives that could help me become a more effective student affairs professional. I studied politically engaged college students involved in non-partisan political engagement because I believe firmly in the role of education to contribute to advancing our diverse democracy. Young people must learn how to contribute to their communities as civically-engaged persons and our colleges and universities are well-positioned to demystify intimidating processes, like voting for the first time. 

How Education Has Shaped Me:

I am a product of educators who went out of their way to foster my growth. I entered college prepared to learn with an open heart, but I was largely unaware of the bubble of privilege I grew up in and continue to benefit from. My college experiences created an environment where I had frequent discourse about and across social differences with my peers. I also had the opportunity to learn about the systems underpinning and perpetuating racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism and all forms of oppression. My personal growth in college inspired me to embark on a career in education where I could continue on a lifelong journey of learning and unlearning while leading for change.

Upon entering the field of education, I quickly realized that the role of an educator is not to simply pour knowledge out for students to consume, but instead, the role of an educator is to foster inclusive learning communities where students can contribute to one another’s learning. I have learned so much from students throughout my career. I strive to be a good listener, so I can bring student input and imagination into fostering student life where I lead.

My doctoral program shaped the way I understand the context of higher education and prepared me to ask better questions. I also developed skills as a qualitative scholar, learning how to make meaning of the world through qualitative research. These skills compliment my leadership here in the College of Education, where I strive to operate as a scholar-practitioner.

The College of Education continues to shape my understanding of students and the field of education. I learn something new every day.

What I Enjoy Most About the College of Education:

The people! Every single person associated with the NC State College of Education contributes to our bold vision to “lead the way in North Carolina in increasing opportunities for success in education and reducing achievement gaps.” I enjoy engaging with students, faculty and staff who are not satisfied with the status quo and instead strive to make our college, the field of education and subsequently our world a better, more just place. I appreciate the collaborative nature of our faculty and staff, frequently communicating to support student success and innovation through research. I have to pinch myself from time-to-time that I get to work in a place with so many committed educators working together.

What Others Should Know About the NC State College of Education:

I want people to know the immense reach the NC State College of Education has on influencing the field of education in the state of North Carolina and beyond. I think it’s natural for folks to only consider the aspect of the college that they are most familiar with or connected to based upon where they work, teach or learn. For example, you may be a current teacher who graduated from one of our awesome undergraduate programs and assume that we only prepare teachers in the College of Education. Or, perhaps, you’re a research assistant in the Friday Institute for Education Innovation and consider the college an engine for research and innovation. In either example, one might be inclined to think our college is focused on K-12 education. Instead, we prepare educators and leaders in so many facets of education, from K-12 to community colleges, universities, nonprofits, adult learning and technology, and so much more. Our alumni are leaders across the field and our faculty continue to innovate and advance understanding of the field from a wide variety of angles and lenses. Our common thread is steadfast focus on advancing fostering diversity, equity and inclusion across education.

The Last Thing I Experienced That Inspired Me:

The Spring 2022 Graduation Ceremony! I had the honor of serving as one of our student marshals, so I got to say, “congratulations” to every single one of our graduates right before they crossed the stage. I kept thinking about how each graduate would be taking what they learned here and bringing it out there into the world. Indeed, many of our students are already actively employed and leading in the field before they graduate. I was particularly inspired by our graduation speakers, Megan Morin and Kay Sumpter. I had the honor of meeting both speakers over the course of the academic year, so it was no surprise when I learned they would be delivering messages to our graduate and undergraduate students. Both graduates demonstrated vulnerability and courage and reminded all of us of the power of education.