CSPA Alumni Profile - Leah Beard (’18M)

College of Health and Behavioral Studies
Leah Beard

SUMMARY: Read about what alumni from JMU’s College Student Personnel Administration concentration are doing with their graduate degrees in counseling!

Are you currently working in a Student Affairs role?

I serve as the Director of Leadership Development and Student Engagement at Washington and Lee University, located in Lexington, VA. In my role, I serve as the adviser to our Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) Program, implement various leadership initiatives, including a one-week Leading Edge/Pre-Orientation trip, as well as women’s leadership panels and symposiums, coordinate the Leadership Excellence Awards, which is our annual student leadership banquet, and serve as the Panhellenic Adviser, providing support and guidance to our six NPC/NPC-Associate organizations on campus. I also organize our Advanced Immersion and Mentoring (AIM) Scholars Summer Program, which is one part of our University’s current Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). This program is purposed to instill a sense of confidence and belonging within incoming first-year students from underrepresented populations. I appreciate that my current role allows me to wear many different hats!

Leah BeardWhat’s one of your biggest takeaways from the CSPA concentration?

One of the biggest takeaways from my time in CSPA is how I continue to reflect on and revise my personal philosophy on how I approach my work in the field of student affairs. As a CSPA student, I was tasked with developing my first version of my personal philosophy in a course with Dave Barnes and Kristin Sowden as my instructors. If I went back and read that first version today, I would be appalled by what I would find. This is because this is exactly how I felt when I reviewed it back as part of the portfolio process. I found that I made so many drastic changes, largely due to the fact that during the period of time when I was first tasked to write to my personal philosophy to then needing to revise it and include it in my portfolio, I was able to experience different work environments and cultures, be mentored by others, and observe how other student affairs practitioners approached their work with their students. From the very first day of orientation, CSPA challenged me to be open-minded and embrace continuous self-growth (and to trust the process!). Now, I am able to learn something from my students and colleagues at W&L every single day and integrate that learning into my personal approach and philosophy to how I work for and with students.

Another major takeaway is my counseling skill set. Thanks to our wonderful counseling professors, and in particular, John (Ed) McKee (may he rest in peace), I find myself able to be present with my students, and actively listen to and validate their concerns. I feel as though my counseling skills are always at the forefront in my interactions with students, as and as result, I feel strongly that they empower me to build strong and meaningful relationships with students. These relationships, in-turn, are fundamental to the success of the programs that I oversee in my role.

What advice would you give to CSPA students?  

My first big piece of advice is to not limit yourself to one area of student affairs. You may find yourself really passionate and drawn to certain functional areas, such as Residence Life or Student Activities, but try to stay open-minded and engage in as many opportunities as possible. Two years goes by so fast, so make the most of your time at JMU and in the CPSA program as you can. I would also encourage students to get to know as many of the staff and faculty who are involved in this program as possible. Learn about their personal philosophies and observe the ways they present themselves in front of students. You can learn so much from the people who you look to as mentors.

Are you continuing your education?

I am now currently a Ph.D candidate in a Higher Education Leadership program at Notre Dame of Maryland University. 

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Published: Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Last Updated: Thursday, January 4, 2024

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