Maria Helena Reis is the director of student academic advising in the psychology department at Hunter College. Below is the transcript of an interview conducted by our writer, Bennett
Bennett Geller: Thanks so much for this interview. I’d like to begin with your background. Where were you born and how did you make it to Hunter?
Maria Helena Reis: Thanks for having me. I’m originally from Brazil, I grew up there and moved as an adult, but at this point I’ve spent more time in the US than I’d spent there. I did my undergrad there and majored in psychology. I didn’t speak any English so I registered for a program in Hunter called “English as a second language” and worked up to be a research assistant at Hunter’s school of social work, then to the graduate center, with a brief stint at the mathematics department, and finally, director of student advising.
Bennett: You learned English as a second language, as an adult?
Maria: Yes, the best way to learn, I found, was by being in the culture. You know, you can learn all the words on paper but living in the culture is where you really learn how to speak and think in English.
Bennett: That’s fascinating. What does your job as the director of student advising consist of?
Maria: When I came to Hunter this was a new position they created. At the time Hunter was the only academic program to have dedicated professional student advisors (most schools have faculty double as student advisors). I work with all students: undergrads, masters, and PhD students by advising them academically as well as doing behind the scenes administrative work and data collection. It’s still a small program (she oversees 3 advisors) but we are a model to the school.
Bennett: Can you tell me a bit about the emails you regularly send to students?
Maria: We send emails with information on academic advising and professional development, as well as events such as what to do with a BA in psych or resume writing. We also team up with career development services and wellness services, and we provide year round workshops on time management, stress management, networking, informed consumer decisions, and much more.
Bennett: I assume the pandemic has affected your office. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Maria: It has! It’s been very intense. There were, all of the sudden, more hands to hold as students and faculty needed more support. All of us are working much more. However, thankfully technology evolved and what used to be paper forms are now all online which has been great. This has definitely been the silver lining of COVID and has allowed us to be much more efficient. Also, thank goodness for Zoom! An event that used to require students to commute into school they can now do from their homes. More people have joined as a result.
Bennett: I have a two part question for you. After the first part you may be able to guess the second. The first part is: what is your favorite part about working at Hunter?
Maria: The students! That’s the best part, to be able to interact with you guys, exchange ideas, and be able to help. I really feel like I can make a change. I'm able to provide opportunities to help you change your lives and achieve your goals. It’s really a great feeling.
Bennett: And we certainly appreciate it! Now, for part two: what is your least favorite part of working at hunter?
Maria: Easy. The bureaucracy! Ugh, it's a killer.
Bennett: You can't bypass that as an administrator?
Maria: I wish. It’s really complicated, there's so many layers. It was a little better through the pandemic (electronics!), but it's still a nightmare. I'm pushing internally for it all to be electronic, well see how that goes.
Bennett: Last question, what do you do during your free time?
Maria: I work hard. I work nights and weekends. But when I’m not working I love being with my family, the outdoors, music, walking through the city, and learning about different cultures.
Bennett: May I ask what type of music you listen to?
Maria: Ha! Really a bit of everything. Classic rock, jazz, blues. I love music in general. Oh, I can’t forget Brazilian music, Bossa Nova.
Bennett: I’ve never heard of that!
Maria: Yes, Brazilian culture is very happy and eclectic. You should give it a listen.