THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
Hometown: Grand Forks, North Dakota
Major: Doctor of Philosophy, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
Expected date of graduation: 2022
Jonathan Okstad is ready to make a change in higher education. After years working in the nonprofit sector and within higher education as an administrator, Jonathan realized he needed to go back to graduate school to better understand the complexities of post-secondary education and conduct his own research.
While at Loyola, Jonathan has served on the Student Development Committee, the Higher Education Student Association, the Graduate Student Advisory Council, and was recently elected as a graduate student senator on University Senate. In addition, he serves as a mentor with Chicago Scholars, supporting and guiding first-generation and under-resourced high school students throughout the college admissions process, the transition to college, and their first year of college classes.
Here, Jonathan explains the research he is conducting and how the Jesuit ideals have shaped his Loyola experience.
Are you involved in any research as a student? Can you explain what your research is focused on and what the practical applications are?
I am very grateful to be engaged in several research projects. One project is investigating how higher education leaders navigate and use their agency to cultivate organizational change to support the success of underrepresented racial minority STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) students. Study findings will aid institutional leaders in sustaining and scaling up programmatic approaches to support these students.
Another notable project that I am beginning as part of my dissertation is exploring how the experience of LGBTQ+ undergraduates at their university affects their engagement post-graduation as an alum. Study results will aid higher education administrators and practitioners in better understanding the importance of fostering inclusive environments for LGBTQ+ students in order to build sustaining relationships as alumni.
What are you planning to do with your degree? How has Loyola prepared you for your future goals?
After completing my doctorate, I plan to pursue a career working to change the landscape of higher education. We are at a major crossroads in education with calls for dramatic change, online education, disruptive innovation, and the creation of new educational models. I hope to work at the epicenter of this work to ensure the engagement and support of traditionally underrepresented or marginalized students.
What does Loyola’s Jesuit mission mean to you? How has it influenced your experience as a student?
Since beginning my studies at Loyola, I have consistently heard the term cura personalis, a Latin phrase meaning “care of the whole person,” inside and outside the classroom. This shared commitment to a social justice education was most appealing when applying to doctoral programs. My program’s demonstration to the care for the whole person—our passions, professional aspirations, well-being, and growth—has allowed me to flourish while at Loyola. The program has aided me in better understanding and learning of systems of power, privilege, and oppression and developing the capacity and skills to contribute to building a more just and humane world.