An Administrative Fellow with the College’s Office of Graduate Student Life & Development (GSLD), Mana Uppili hit the ground running upon arriving in New York by helping to coordinate social media around New Student Orientation — the final large scale virtual event prior to the September reopening of the TC campus to students, faculty and staff.
The task offered a glimpse to what lay ahead for Uppili as a first-year master’s student in TC’s Higher & Postsecondary Education program and, if all goes according to plan, a career in college counseling.
“It was interesting because we were rolling out information about TC and, on the back end, I was learning all of it as a new student,” said Uppili.
Uppili's vision of the future upon enrolling in undergrad psychology at the University of Minnesota did not include working as a graduate student in a department of an institution that complements academic learning with a broad range of skill-development, philosophies and cultural engagement to prepare students for the world beyond 120th Street and Broadway.
Originally from the Bay Area, Uppili was in fact considering a career as a mental health professional until a gig as a tour guide for the UM admissions office — “something to do over the summer so I could stay on campus” — sent her along an unanticipated path.
The “rewarding endeavor” allowed Uppili to “experience over and again how it felt to be an incoming freshman. I loved every minute of it.”
So much so that following her 2019 graduation, Uppili moved to a counseling position with College Possible, an Americorps non-profit that guides underserved high school seniors in Minneapolis and six other urban areas through the college-going process.
The timing of the pandemic that locked students out of schools couldn't have been worse for 12th graders preparing for the transition from high school to college.
“Our introduction to ‘Zoom University’ came at a pivotal time as I was helping them navigate the pitfalls of becoming first generation college students,” said Uppili. “We were all very frustrated.”
The frustration however did nothing to dim Uppili's interest in the pursuit of a graduate degree in higher ed.
Her admission to three graduate schools handed Uppili options: Return to UM, study at a school near her Bay Area hometown or re-locate to New York.
“I grew up in a suburb, but I love the access in big cities,” she said. “Teachers College's reputation as a change-maker made it a no-brainer.”
The early interaction with fellow students as a GSLD Administrative Fellow showed Uppili that she is far from alone in wondering what awaits when TC reopens at a moment unlike any other.
“It has been an interesting transition for me and my colleagues,” she says. “But it was really kind of cool because it gave me a good idea of what lies ahead.”