The New England College Personnel Association (NECPA) has named Musbah Shaheen as their Graduate Student of the Year. 

As a second-year student in the University of Vermont’s Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration (HESA) program, Shaheen holds an assistantship in UVM’s Department of Residential Life. He also serves as an academic mentor at the Community College of Vermont in Winooski. The international student from Syria completed his undergraduate studies at Vanderbilt University, majoring in Molecular Biology and Music. 

“The intellectual curiosity and rigor that Musbah brings to our HESA program consistently elevates the collective classroom and academic experience of all students,” says Assistant Professor Jay Garvey. “He embodies qualities of a learner and educator with such clarity, and I am so thankful for his presence in the HESA program.”

As the regional chapter of American College Personnel Association, NECPA represents all six New England states with a commitment to the education and development of post-secondary students, and for the benefit of all professionals in the region. NECPA connects diverse higher education professionals from all institution types, functional areas, and experience levels. The organization supports and develops equitable higher education communities by providing intentional, creative, and accessible opportunities and resources focused on professional and personal growth.

The UVM HESA Experience

“One of the great things about UVM HESA is that the program empowers me to be authentic and to pour myself into every reading, writing, and research project,” Shaheen explains. “It is that invitation to authenticity that has allowed me to pursue things I care about and made the experience so fulfilling.  The program is transformational, empowering, wholesome, and worth every minute.”

Academic and Professional Growth

“My background and narrative are at the heart of both my educational and professional experience,” says Shaheen. “Where I came from, the identities I hold, and the change I want to make drive everything I do.” According to Garvey, Shaheen’s paper topics become “more intertwined with his personal narrative, which has led to vulnerable and theoretically rich scholarship.”

Shaheen connects much of his success with the inspiration from and collaboration with faculty and mentors at UVM. “Without them, I would not have submitted work for publication, took on major research responsibilities, or presented at conferences. UVM HESA is an immersive experience that has pushed me beyond what I thought were my professional and educational limits. I came from a science background and I was a timid writer, but HESA gave me the motivation, challenge, and the tools to embrace sharing my thoughts and stories with the rest of the higher education field. HESA showed me that my words matter.”

He also enjoys the professional partnership the program has with the Division of Student Affairs at UVM. “I know that a whole bunch of dedicated professionals are invested in my growth and success. The mentorship I get in my assistantship and practicum experiences have really shaped my approach and philosophy to my work.”

Making a Difference in Higher Education

Shaheen discovered many of his passions through engagements on campus as an undergraduate student. “I want to stay immersed in college campuses and contribute to the care and support for future students,” he says, noting that he would like to continue working in residential education because “I see great value in thoughtful and intentional residential experiences that facilitate learning, healthy living, and creativity.”

His ultimate goal is to become a faculty member and a researcher. “I want to use thoughtful and inclusive research to change what higher education looks like for students with marginalized identities similar to mine.”

Community of Support

“I did not get here by myself. There are so many people who have carried me through and helped me achieve what mattered to me. UVM HESA is a community and a cohort, and much of the credit goes to my classmates and friends who have helped me process, listened to my rants, and contributed their thoughts and perspectives.

“Being honored with this recognition is humbling because I know that there are many graduate students out there who are doing wonderful things – I see you and I appreciate what you do.”



Doug Gilman