Student Spotlight: Lorena Ballester

Lorena Ballester, a third-year doctoral student and Chancellor’s Scholar Fellow in CEHS’ higher education administration program, has flourished as a scholar and researcher during her time at the College. Ballester credits her success to the program’s thriving community of students and faculty.  

“I think the faculty members make a big difference in the educational experience of students,” Ballester said. “Their investment in student success is key for us in reaching the goal of graduating. Their availability and their engagement with our learning experience has been so important for me.” 

Originally from Argentina, Ballester came to the United States nearly 15 years ago to teach Spanish for two years. After meeting the man who is now her husband, she decided to stay. The two eventually moved from North Carolina to Morgantown because they wanted to settle in a family-friendly city. 

Ballester then enrolled at WVU to complete her master’s degree in world languages, literatures and linguistics. Upon finishing her degree, she remained at the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences as an assistant program coordinator and instructor for the Basic Spanish Program.   

Eventually, Ballester’s passion for learning led her to the doctoral program in higher education administration. Her own experiences as an international student and teacher in the United States have shaped her research interests in the internationalization of graduate education. More specifically, Ballester is interested in how international graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) adapt to teaching in a new country.  

“Once international GTAs come to the States, many of them don’t have previous experience with the American system, and they have to be in a classroom teaching within a week or two weeks of arriving in a new country,” Ballester said. “Everything from looking for living arrangements to acclimating to the classroom setting is a challenge. It requires many skills population to overcome and successfully navigate these challenges.” 

Currently, Ballester is in the process of writing the prospectus for her doctoral dissertation, for which she hopes to examine the international and local engagement models of land-grant universities. 

“I want to determine if there are tensions between these engagement models within universities that are very locally oriented, or at least, historically, were very locally oriented,” Ballester said. 

The topic is fitting for Ballester, who is currently a graduate assistant for the WVU Center for the Future of Land-Grant Education. In this role, she is helping Land-Grant Center faculty to compile the Center’s first annual report, which will be published in the summer of 2018.   

For Ballester, the opportunity to contribute to the report has benefitted her as both a scholar and a professional. 

“Having the privilege of working with senior scholars is priceless,” Ballester said. “I’ve learned how to conduct research in a very practical way, and I’m also getting familiar with data sources. I would also say that it has helped me set professional goals on a large scale.”  

To add to her responsibilities as a student and graduate assistant, Ballester has also taken a position on the editorial board of the higher education administration program’s “Graduate Student Journal of Higher Education.” The journal, which launched in August 2017, is published by and for graduate students seeking to share their original research.  

“We saw the need for empowering graduate students during their research publication process,” Ballester said. “As editors, we are not only learning from the pieces that we publish, but also as we go through the review process.” 

Though Ballester finds value in all of the opportunities she’s had in her doctoral program, she cites her relationships with faculty and fellow students as the most valuable asset.  

“I think the faculty play a huge role in creating a positive atmosphere and a sense of belonging within the program,” Ballester said. “Having classmates you can count on is also important and creates a positive experience as a whole.”