student Spotlight

August Student Spotlight with Malik Sullivan, MSEd '19

aug 17 student spotlight

Thousands of students with drive and purpose have relied on the Marxe School to turn their passion into possibility. In this month’s student spotlight, Malik Sullivan discusses mental health, his higher education career, and his MSEd experience thus far.

What is it about student mental health that you find so fascinating? How do you think your MSEd degree will position you to help students in your career?
While it is certainly fascinating, I view the subject of student mental health as important above all else. It is a very personal subject as I, myself, have struggled with it during my adolescence, into college and even adulthood. I find that while our society acknowledges mental health as a concern, people are still reluctant to discuss it or, even worse, seek treatment for it. In 2013, suicide was cited as the second-leading cause of death for college students and it has been estimated that the rate of attempted suicide among students is between one- and two-hundred for every completed suicide.

While suicide prevention is a complex and lengthy process (check out the JED Foundation/SPRC Approach), I believe it starts with changing the conversation; or, rather, changing its tone. A 2015 study found that sixty-six percent of responding students felt that seeking mental health treatment carries a social stigma, and forty-six percent felt that people view individuals who receive treatment negatively. I fear that many students, and people throughout the country, are not receiving treatment they desperately need because of the way mental health is discussed in our society. For my part, I have tried to reduce the stigma against mental health and help-seeking by being open about my own journey. I’ve also taken every opportunity during my academic career to study or discuss the issue.

One of the most gratifying moments of my time at Baruch occurred during Professor Rachel Smith’s Student Services course; I gave a presentation and subsequently led a discussion on student mental health. During the discussion I was honest and nonchalant about my views and experience on the matter, and how much therapy and other help-seeking behaviors have helped. The following week, a classmate came up to me before class to thank me. They told me that they’d just begun therapy that night and weren’t sure if it was a good idea, but after hearing me speak they knew they’d made the right decision. They also told me that they’d decided to be open with their students about the fact that they’d entered therapy in hope of encouraging them to seek treatment, should they need it. Aside from making me want to cry right then and there, my classmate reassured me that I was on the right track and doing the right thing.

I don’t know how far the ripple might go, how many lives it might affect. But if I can help even a few students by changing their perspectives on mental health, it will have been enough. My studies at Baruch have proven integral to that.

What is your favorite Higher Education Administration class so far?
I was a creative writing major in my undergrad, so nothing has surprised me more than my affinity for both Professor Apfel and his course, Financing of Higher Education. I am the first person to state that “the maths are not my forte.” I could honestly not have been less excited for a course. But I found Professor Apfel to be a very knowledgeable and engaging instructor. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that there was little-to-no math involved, always a plus! As a class itself, it gave a lot of opportunities to improve my presentation and public speaking skills. An end-of-term in-class debate was particularly fun because I got to play the role of an incensed Bernie Sanders-type and, a personal point of pride, quote Jem and the Holograms. Professor Apfel encourages creativity and the use of multimedia in presentations and I had fun getting perhaps a little too creative with the video that accompanied my final paper (which can be seen in its full, embarrassing glory on YouTube).

I think that as higher education professionals (and hopefuls) we often focus on the micro level – the day-to-day managing of a division or the methods by which we can best help students. I also think that many students, myself included, enter the program with a specific job or focus in mind. But this course helped me comprehend how colleges are run on an institutional level. Even more importantly, it helped me understand the place of higher education on the national stage in comparison to other businesses, both private and nonprofit. Higher education has a tendency to be very compartmentalized or siloed; if we want to be successful in our field we need to understand not just our parts, but the whole. Financing of Higher Education did that for me, and more.

You’ve worked in different capacities at CUNY schools. What direction do you see your higher education career going on once you’ve received your degree?
This is honestly something I’ve considered constantly since entering the HEA program. Since beginning my career, I’ve been employed at several colleges, always in the Office of the Registrar. I love it and could see myself continuing my rise in rank, perhaps all the way to the title of Registrar or beyond. My mother would love for me to be a college President someday. To be honest, since joining the program I have begun to consider alternative paths in higher education, something I’d not done before.

I often joke that many higher education professionals fall into the career as opposed to seeking out. This isn’t always the case, but even those of us who do…we wake up every day and we make the choice stay. Each of us for a different reason. I realized that my passion lies in helping students who face additional personal challenges, who must manage and navigate steeper, more winding uphill climb. I love the Registrar’s Office and I certainly don’t see myself leaving anytime soon. But in addition to my work there, I’d like to perhaps be involved in special programs or making/changing policies which help these students. I’m certain that my continued study with the Marxe School will help me find or even create opportunities to merge my administrative predilection and professional passion. It’s already opened me up to more possibilities than I’d ever expected.