(With Graduate Studies Week 2023 running from Nov. 6 to 10, Oswego Today offers a feature on Ryan Stiles, a standout success in the SUNY Oswego master’s in higher education leadership program.)

In the realm of higher education, leadership plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of academic institutions. One individual who is making a significant impact in this field is Ryan Stiles, a graduate student in the higher education leadership master’s program at SUNY Oswego. 

Stiles' journey in the program is not only a testament to their dedication but also reflects the invaluable contributions they bring to the academic world.

Stiles is preparing to take on leadership roles in higher education. Stiles’ experiences and insights helped them on their path in making a lasting impact on students in the world of higher education.

Passion for higher education

Stiles’ story is marked by a deep-seated passion for education and a commitment to fostering positive change within higher education institutions. 

"I've always been passionate about education and its potential to shape lives. It's not just about the dissemination of knowledge,” Stiles said. “It's about empowering individuals to unlock their full potential. That's what led me to pursue a career in higher education leadership."

From their own experience as a college student, Stiles recounted their personal story about how college was a transformative time, yet filled with challenges. Raised in a low-income, working-class family in a rural town in upstate New York, Stiles faced the challenging transition from high school to college with virtually no resources or guidance. 

Their parents hadn't pursued higher education, and Stiles was a first-generation student. In this environment, Stiles navigated the complex college application process largely on their own, even filling out the FAFSA without assistance, prompted solely by pursuing their education at an institution in Ohio.

"I've always been passionate about education and its potential to shape lives. It's not just about the dissemination of knowledge.”

Despite their determination, Stiles’ early college years proved to be a difficult trial. They faced adversity, encountering significant obstacles that soured their initial taste of higher education. These challenges left Stiles questioning whether college was attainable for someone from their background. Yet, it was precisely these trials and tribulations that forged their unwavering commitment to higher education leadership.

“I was looking for my college experience to help shape my identity and provide me with a more secure understanding of who I was and wanted to be,” Stiles said.

Like many college students, Stiles worked their way through college, juggling multiple jobs to support their studies. Financial constraints forced them to pause their education, and they turned to full-time work, taking on roles in retail and manufacturing. This shift left Stiles searching for their identity, but their determination did not waver. They eventually returned to their studies, slowly earning an associate degree part-time while navigating challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic and a layoff prompted Stiles to return to college to find their purpose. They immersed themself in multiculturalism initiatives and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work. Stiles’ dedication to these endeavors didn't go unnoticed. They sat on committees and were sought out as a valuable resource, not just on academic matters but a broad range of concerns related to the higher education experience. The more Stiles became a guiding light for fellow students, the less they felt their educational journey was complete.

Stiles’ discussions with trusted faculty and staff solidified their resolve to continue their education journey after obtaining a bachelor's degree. They wanted to maintain the momentum of learning and utilize their experiences to help others, particularly within the higher education setting. One of their main motivations was to become the resource they never had when they embarked on their own college journey.

In the end, Stiles’ early experiences and challenges fueled their desire to make higher education more accessible and supportive for individuals from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds. Stiles’ personal journey embodies their dedication to lifelong learning and an aspiration to be a beacon of guidance and support for others in their pursuit of higher education.

Higher education leadership program

Oswego's higher education leadership master’s program offers a unique environment for students like Stiles to grow and thrive. The program’s faculty expertise and curriculum provide a well-rounded understanding of the intricacies of higher education administration. Stiles acknowledges the program's role in their growth. 

"SUNY Oswego has provided me with a nurturing environment. The professors are not just educators; they are mentors who have shared their experiences with me," Stiles said.

"This program will equip us to be effective agents of change in higher education,” Stiles added. “It provides a deep understanding of the inner workings of academia, including some hard truths. I believe in preserving the core values of higher education while facilitating its necessary evolution to remain inviting for future generations."

Stiles' journey took an exciting turn when they were awarded a diversity graduate fellowship and began working for Oswego's Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). This significant achievement highlights their dedication and excellence in the field of higher education leadership. 

"The opportunity to work for EOP has been an incredibly enriching experience,” Stiles noted. “It has allowed me to directly impact the lives of underprivileged students and contribute to their educational success."

This transition also speaks to Stiles' dedication to advancing the principles of educational equity and social justice, values that are integral to the field of higher education leadership.

"SUNY Oswego has provided me with a nurturing environment. The professors are not just educators; they are mentors who have shared their experiences with me.”

One of the hallmarks of Oswego's program is its emphasis on practical experience. Stiles recognizes the importance of this approach. 

"The program strikes a perfect balance between academic rigor and real-world experience,” Stiles said. “This has allowed me to apply my knowledge and skills in a practical setting, which is crucial in preparing for leadership roles in higher education."

Future plans and impact

As Stiles continues their journey through the program, they envision making a significant impact on higher education institutions in the future. Their aspirations align with the core values of the program, which aim to produce graduates who will lead with integrity, drive innovation and create positive change.

“When you look at the pathway into a leadership position, especially when it comes to higher education, there’s so much opportunity and so much promise,” Stiles said.

Stiles' journey as a student at Oswego is a testament to their passion for education and commitment to shaping the future of higher education. Their words and experiences reflect the program's dedication to nurturing the next generation of higher education leaders. As they move forward, Stiles is poised to be a driving force in the transformation of higher education institutions, leaving a lasting legacy for years to come.

Learn more about career advancement with SUNY Oswego's master's in higher education leadership program, designed to cultivate the skills and knowledge needed for leadership roles in education.