HESP November 1, 2017

Edited by M.A. Blackmur

The Harvard Extension School is Harvard’s best kept secret. A rare and precious gem indeed.

It’s 7:30 p.m. and students are filing into Sever Hall for a two hour pro-seminar that ends at 9:40 p.m. Some students fly in once a week for class, some take a train, some drive hours each week to sit in class for two hours with the hopes of gaining admission into the degree program at the Harvard Extension School. The pro-seminar course is one of the 3 pre-admission courses that prospective degree candidates must take before seeking admission into the Master of Liberal Arts program at Harvard Extension School. After earning a B or higher in the pro-seminar students are eligible to apply for the program.

Young scholars, like recent graduate Nancy Mitchell (A.L.M. ‘16), have entered into the unbarred gates to pursue their passion for higher learning. The experience at the Extension School allows students to connect from all over the world with one common goal—the pursuit of a fulfilling and rewarding academic journey. Whether on-campus or via distance learning courses, this unique educational experience is enriching and rewarding for students who are granted admissions into the degree programs.

Michael Shinagel, a senior lecturer of English and the former Dean of the Division of Continuing Education and University Extension at Harvard University, documents the amazing history of the Extension School in his book The Gates Unbarred. The Harvard Extension School was founded in 1910 and is one of the twelve degree-granting institutions at Harvard University. Offering undergraduate degrees (Bachelor of Liberal Arts), graduate degrees (Master of Liberal Arts), graduate certificates, and a premedical program, the Extension School presents an amazing opportunity to study at one of the best institutions of higher learning, and the students here do not take it lightly. Studying with world renowned faculty, promising scholars begin to find their place and are quietly blazing trails and making their mark here.

Degree candidates in the Master of Liberal Arts (A.L.M.) program not only have to demonstrate that they have what it takes to do the work in the program, but they also undertake a serious commitment to graduate from the program. Students juggle professional careers, family, and other commitments while completing coursework to fulfill their degree requirements. Each master’s degree candidate has to complete a master’s thesis in order to graduate from the program. The master’s thesis includes original research under the direction of a Harvard faculty member. After 9-12 months of thesis work, and upon successful completion of the thesis, the degree candidate graduates from the program and becomes an official Harvard alumnus.

Commencement activities and participation in graduation events with other Harvard students are just two of the rewarding experiences that come with completing a degree program through Harvard Extension School. A recent graduate of the ALM program, created a website to share her amazing experience as a student at the Extension School. Nancy Mitchell (A.L.M. ‘16) states that her journey at the Extension School provided solace and on her website she notes: “What kind of place is Harvard Extension, you may wonder if you are contemplating a degree. Well, it is a community of incredibly smart, determined people.” Nancy earned her degree in IT. Her website explains how difficult her journey would have been without the Extension School.

Graduates of Harvard Extension School have had amazing success. Recent graduates from the ALM program were highlighted in the Harvard Gazette including David Enriquez Flores (A.L.M. ’16) who earned his degree in sustainability and environmental management. Graduates Latanya Sweeny (A.L.B. ’95) and Sylvia Barrett (A.L.B. ’95) were recently appointed faculty deans of Currier House. Graduate Catherine Musinsky (A.L.M. ’11) researches mammals in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and she is featured in “Unchastened,” an award winning short film about her amazing journey beyond breast cancer. The Harvard Gazette documented Catherine’s artistic journey as a dancer and artist who used her “illness to inspire her artistry.”

Discovery of this precious gem has afforded many students the benefits of a world class education. The degree programs have a formal admission process and the beauty in the admissions process is that it is based on whether you can do the work. You have to prove that you are capable of doing the work. You have to prove that you can handle the rigor of the program. Some students are professionals juggling full time commitments in their career fields while also completing coursework. Some students are seeking a career change or entry into a new career path, while others are simply here for personal enrichment. Whatever the reason, the students here all have unique stories. Each individual story is what makes Harvard Extension School a place that produces shooting stars who are diamonds lighting up the sky behind the backdrop of the beautiful Harvard Yard. Students walking the campus at night or logging onto to a virtual classroom, burning the midnight oil, studying late nights and dedicating their weekends to research at this marvelous institution. Promising scholars living their dreams and providing hope to others with the desire to follow their passions.

In the words of recent graduate Nancy Mitchell: “I don’t know how someone in my situation could have done this without extension. It was there waiting for me, and I am grateful. When you think of whom extension serves, think of those like me.”


About the author: La’Toya Princess Jackson is a master’s of liberal arts candidate in dramatic arts at Harvard Extension School. She will graduate in 2019.

Princess is an editor at HESP.


Pictures source: wikipedia

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