The Student Life Expert Gets Her Degree
Published in Commencement
Maria Hataier is charged with shaping the TC experience. Now she’s been through it
By January of her senior year in college, with no clear idea of what she wanted to be when she grew up, Maria Hataier was getting nervous.
“I talked to our director of student affairs, and she said, ‘What do you like doing?’” recalls Hataier, now Director of Student Activities and Programs at Teachers College. “I said, ‘Being in college.’ And she said, ‘Well, you know, there are degree programs that prepare you to work in student affairs.’ And the rest is history. Best conversation I ever had.”
Hataier went on to earn a master’s in counseling at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, and has since worked in student services at five different academic institutions. She still loves being in college, so much so, in fact, that this spring she will complete another master’s degree here at TC in clinical psychology – an experience that has only deepened her enthusiasm for the work she does and the institution that employs her.
“I’ve never tired of being in this field, because I love the energy from the students and because there’s always something new -- things are always changing,” Hataier says. “But having the opportunity to see things from the students’ point of view has really given me a new appreciation for this place and for how our students manage multiple roles.” Hatiaier laughs. “It also gives me more credibility when I offer students advice on how to handle things.”
Hataier originally planned to get a counseling degree at TC, but with a full-time job and two young children of her own, couldn’t commit the necessary hours for fieldwork.
“So I switched to clinical, and it’s been great,” she says. “I’ve really been influenced by something that President Fuhrman said at orientation a few years ago – that this is a time to be open to everything, to be a little selfish, because you will probably never again have the opportunity to be around so many brilliant people doing so many amazing things. Hearing that, and knowing that she is a TC alumna herself, in a sense really gave me permission to take full advantage.”
A course taught by Clinical master’s degree program director Aurelie Athan, inspired Hataier to focus her master’s thesis on myths and stereotypes that attend motherhood in our society. Another highlight for her was Barry Farber’s course on “Psychoanalysis in Film and Fiction,” which included a classroom visit by a woman who had attempted suicide, and who subsequently co-authored a book with her psychotherapist. She also particularly enjoyed George Bonanno’s course on “Grief and Loss.”
“I had taken a course with the same title 10 years earlier, but here, everything was different,” she says. “His research has changed the way people understand grief – that it’s not a linear process, and that not everyone experiences it the same way. And yet, here’s this man, who is a world renowned expert, and he’s open to learning from his students. We had a military veteran in the class, and when he talked about post-traumatic stress, George just wanted to listen, like everyone else.”
Hataier says she has no plans to use her new degree as a launching pad to another job or career. Instead, she’ll apply what she’s learned to her current work. Beyond the readings and other coursework, she has particularly valued simply better understanding what students go through.
“The first six weeks can be real tough – what’s called the red zone,” she says. “You get here, and you can feel like, Wow, I’m here, this is going to be my life’s work, and I’m here to advance my knowledge so I can go out into the world and use it – and what if I’m not ready for the academic rigor? What if I can’t manage the job and family at the same time? It’s pretty daunting.” The challenge may be even greater for the growing number of younger students who are coming to TC straight out of college, which is why Hataier and her team in Student Activities and Programs have significantly ratcheted up Orientation in recent years.
“Of all the things our office does, that’s always been the highlight for me,” she says. “For me, it’s like the holiday season when you work in retail – the energy just carries me through the rest of the year. Especially standing up on stage to introduce President Fuhrman, and looking out at that sea of students and knowing that they’re about to meet their future colleagues, roommates, best friends. It’s tremendously exciting.”
Graduation, where Hataier has repeatedly served as a volunteer captain, has always been a close second for her. Now, though, it’s likely to take new meaning.
“In the past when I’ve helped line up the graduates at commencement, I’ve looked at people who don’t seem that excited, and I think, ‘How can you not be totally reveling in this?” she says. “I know I will be. Everyone I’ve talked says that when you graduate from the school you work, you believe it in even more. And I do.”