There’s a great deal of affection and accomplishment that comes with giving back to a place you love. Many of us have most likely heard such a thing from past schools we have attended, urging us to give back to a place that was a part of our lives for a significant amount of time. We all get those mailings, but many of us ignore them because those schools didn’t feel like favorable, integral moments of our lives. But there are some places that do feel that special, places that we truly do want to give back to, and for Alyssa Leal, NYU is that kind of place.
Alyssa graduated from NYU with a B.A. in Latin American Studies in 1998 and with an M.A. in Higher Education Administration in 2005. When I learned that she went on to graduate school for such a different degree, I was curious about what prompted her to go after something so different, but it’s not such a surprising change after all when you consider her work experience here at NYU, especially while she was an undergraduate student. Alyssa started working at NYU as a student employee at the Office of Student Life. For the three or four years she spent there, she helped with new student orientations, the Program Board, student clubs, and other offices and activities within the Office of Student Life, including student services and programs for LGBT, international, African American, and Latino students. ”The staff and administrators there were so wonderful and really enjoyed their jobs and working with students and it left a huge impression on me,” Alyssa told me. “If I hadn’t worked there, I might not have been as aware or involved, and might have felt less connected to NYU. I realized the positive impact of having someone to go to, how a group or an office could [affect] a student’s experience outside of the classroom.”
In her final undergraduate year in 1997, Alyssa got a full-time job at the Silver School of Social Work as a registration assistant. A year later, she came to work here at the English Department as the Graduate Program Administrative Aide and later as the Graduate Program Administrator. She stayed here until 2006, a year after completing graduate school, and then decided to work as the Associate Director for the Center of Publishing in 2007 so she could branch out and broaden her experience. She later worked at the Tisch School of the Arts in 2010 as Associate Director for Student Services, taking on multiple responsibilities that involved Open Arts courses and study abroad, summer high school, and visiting student programs and, later on in 2013, marketing, advertising, and website and blog development. She was ultimately promoted to Director of Recruitment and Student Services for Tisch Special Programs before returning to the English Department in October 2015.
Much of Alyssa’s pre-graduate school experience working with administrators and students outside the classroom influenced her decision about where to go in graduate school. She told me, “As an undergrad I was very passionate about the history, politics and literature of Latin America, and after I graduated I started pursuing an MPA in Public Administration. While I was in grad school I started to re-evaluate my future and after realizing that working with students and faculty really brought me joy, I decided to apply to the MA in Higher Education, and thankfully was able to transfer my credits!”
I asked Alyssa what some of her favorite memories working at the English Department were, and she gave me three of her favorites:
- “Before Friendster, MySpace and Facebook, it was difficult to know who someone was in the department or what they looked like so I created a wall of polaroid photos. … The wall had grown to include 80-100 photos. Faculty and students would stop by and I’d hear, ‘Ah, so that’s who that is!’ It’s funny to think how this wall was like the first iteration of an English Department Facebook page!
- “I also loved planning our end of the year parties and we would all be involved with picking the music, decorating, deciding on the food and everyone would even chip in to help chop fruit for my sangria recipe. I think these events would remind us that we were all connected and actually enjoyed each other’s company.
- “I remember holding [Professor] Cyrus Patell’s son Liam when he was a baby, so you can imagine how long ago that was!”
Alyssa has really enjoyed her time not only at NYU, as both a student and a member of the faculty, but also especially her time here at the English Department. While she wasn’t an English student herself, she spent enough years here at the department that she felt the need to come back after she had left to experience more, and it’s not difficult to see why she returned. As she told me, “The faculty, students and staff of the English Department are some of the best people I’ve met at NYU, if not in life. It wasn’t a hard decision at all to come back here.”