Nicole Hyman and Nella Quasnitschka
In 2014, a group of staff from the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) came together to offer
high school students the opportunity to live and learn at UConn’s first Pre-College Summer (PCS) program.
That summer, there were about 50 high school students who participated, each one enrolled in one of the
seven courses offered by UConn faculty. Since then, PCS has grown to bring about 400 participants to campus
each summer and has expanded to run four one-week sessions with over 30 courses for students to choose
With that growth came the need for more staff. In July of 2014, Erin Donohue, a master’s student in the
Human Development and Family Studies Department, was hired as residential staff, and became the first PCS
Graduate Assistant (GA) the following year. We are extremely blessed to still have Erin working for the
program today. Erin’s valuable contributions led us to explore a partnership with UConn’s Higher Education
and Student Affairs (HESA) program as a GA site for graduate students enrolled in the HESA program. Our first
HESA GA, Joe Fisher, joined us in July 2017, followed by Cody Olson in July 2018, and Nicole Hyman in July
We set high expectations for our GAs who are tasked with hiring, training, and supervising summer residential
staff, programming exploratory workshops, and developing policies. Our GAs work closely with University
faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students, as well as high school counselors, students, and parents.
We have seen them work through their graduate programs with determination and dedication and have found
it is so rewarding to see them succeed. In the past year, Joe graduated (May 2019), Erin successfully defended
her dissertation (April 2020), and Cody is graduating this May 2020.
PCS would not be the program it is today without our Graduate Assistants. As a way to celebrate and
recognize our recent graduates, we have given them the spotlight to share about their contributions and
experiences during their time with us by answering a few questions.
1. What is your most memorable moment as a PCS GA?
Erin Donohue: The most memorable moments for me as a PCS GA are the 4 weeks each year when students
attend the program. Although those weeks are usually stressful behind the scenes, seeing the positive impact
that the program has on students and their transformation from the first to last day of their stay in the
program is truly rewarding.
Joe Fisher: The office feel. During my time as a GA, we moved offices, though the close-knit family feel of our
team remained the same. Talking over cubicles, or stopping in often to sit down on someone's 'friend' chair,
my best memories come from small brainstorming sessions with the PCS team that led to such great ideas and
Cody Olson: Presenting at the 2019 NAASS conference on the new hiring process I developed and receiving so
much support from my coworkers and praise from the audience is something I'll never forget. It proved to me
that I belong in this field and showed me how much my supervisors and friends care about me and my career.
2. What is one thing you will take away from your experience?
Erin Donohue: It's really hard to pick just one thing! I've learned so much from working with the PCS team
over the years. I think what I will take away from this experience is that teamwork and the sharing of ideas can
really make a vision a reality because each person brings their own unique perspectives and experiences to
the table; and everyone's ideas are important. I think this is a valuable take-away moving forward in any
"Seeing the positive impact that the program has on students and their transformation from the first to last day of their stay in the program is truly rewarding."
— Erin Donohue
Joe Fisher: Certainly something that I have taken away, and that has assisted me so much in my professional
career, is the self-motivation and need for creativity that Nella and Melanie, my supervisors, instilled in me. As
a fast moving program, there was not always time to plan and coordinate a change, so there was always a
need for someone who needed to be a self-starter and motivated to get the job done.
Cody Olson: I am walking away from this assistantship feeling incredibly confident in my abilities as a higher
education practitioner. Nella once told me that her goal for the GAs in her office is for them to feel as though
they can run the program themselves by the time their two years are done. I feel like I could run not only PCS,
but really any program and this has me excited for the next chapter of my professional life.
3. What accomplishment with PCS are you most proud of?
Erin Donohue: I'm most proud of the growth of the program over the years and the effort it has taken to get
us where we are now. I've been with PCS since 2014 when we were only a 2-week program with about 50
students, so to be a part of the cumulative efforts to grow and expand the program to a 4-week program with
hundreds of students is something to be proud of.
“When I think about PCS, I usually think about my summer staff. Building a team that created long-lasting bonds and genuinely enjoyed their experience was incredible. I’d like to think that in some ways I changed the culture of our program and that this culture shift will benefit the program for years to come.”
— Cody Olson
Joe Fisher: I think I am most proud of being able to rethink and recreate our residential team positions,
including creating the newest role, the Residential Counselor for Student Welfare. The position is a unique
hybrid between a counselor and confidant. There was a direct need for students to have an outlet in our
residential program, and this position allowed for students to be heard, seen, and supported to be successful
in completing our residential program.
Cody Olson: When I think about PCS, I usually think about my summer staff. Building a team that created long-
lasting bonds and genuinely enjoyed their experience was incredible. I'd like to think that in some ways I
changed the culture of our program and that this culture shift will benefit the program for years to come.
Nicole has been another great addition to the PCS family with her expertise in access and working with FirstGeneration College students. We are looking forward to another year with her on our team and all the
possibilities that brings. We are also excited to welcome our newest HESA GA, Deanna Gallegos, to the PCS
team this fall. Deanna is a 2019 graduate of the University of California-Davis and will be with us for the next
We don’t know where we’d be without our GAs. Erin, Joe, Cody, Nicole, and soon-to-be Deanna have all, and
will, shape PCS in unique ways that highlight their own interests and strengths. Thank you for all your hard
work and dedication to the program.