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Lynch School of Education

Susan Bonaiuto

ed.d. educational leadership class of 2012

Susan Bonaiuto

Can you talk a bit about your time at Boston College?

On the first day of classes I wrote down the Lynch School mission statement clearly posted in the lobby of Campion: "enhance the human condition, expand the human imagination, and make the world more just." I have returned to that statement many, many times since – both as a guidepost in my practice and as a focal point for the many rich and thought-provoking lectures and discussions I experienced as a doctoral student.

I was fortunate to be a member of a 24-student cohort.  We ranged in age from about 30 to 60 and we ranged in professional experience as well. I entered the Boston College program for two reasons:  to engage in a mid-career re-inspiration and to be challenged in ways that would elevate my professional practice. One of my surprises in that first week of classes was that I would receive that boost from many angles: the inspiration of some impressive professors, the rich discussions with my colleagues, thousands of pages of relevant and interesting literature, and my own research and practicum experiences.

What was your career path before attending BC?  What made you decide to attend the program?

My career path can be divided into three parts:  non-profits, state government and public schools. I started my career with a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education from Bucknell University and a Master’s Degree in Arts Administration from the University of Wisconsin School of Business. I worked for a non-profit professional association of arts presenters and then became Assistant Director and then Director of the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. I loved that job but decided to take a break when my children entered elementary school. It was a chance to return to school – Boston College – for a Master’s Degree in Political Science. While pursuing that master’s I took a part-time job with the Needham Schools writing grants.  Over a period of about ten years, a series of promotions led to a central administration position for community education, external funding, and strategic planning. When my children were in high school I knew I could think about a new professional chapter and decided to apply to the BC doctoral program to jumpstart that new chapter.

How did your time in the program help shape your career, goals, and perspective on education?

The program definitely shaped my career, goals and perspective on education – but equally importantly, it shaped my perspective on leadership. By studying theories of leadership and justice, case studies on leadership, research on leadership, and current political, legal, and practical issues in education, I developed beliefs about leadership that feel personal and grounded in values that have influenced who I am and how I lead. I found something useful, inspirational, and new in every theory and every reading. I know I have refined my approach to leadership as a result. The changes have been incremental – a little bit more present in a conversation (Starratt, 2004), a little more mindful of the multiple styles and preferences of myself and others (Goleman, 2000), a little more adept at quickly identifying a problem and recognizing problem-solving tensions as positive and healthy (Senge, 2006), or a little more confident as I approach a difficult conversation, work for equity (Perry et. Al, 2003) or slog through a messy, complex situation (Heifetz, 1994).

What were your favorite aspects about your time in the Lynch School?

I would describe highlights of my time at the Lynch School as those lightbulb moments of new understanding. They occurred when a professor put words to a phenomenon I had noticed but not been able to describe, or when a colleague made a discussion point that changed the way I think. They occurred with a new understanding of cultural competence and building authentic relationships by looking within myself first. And they occurred with research projects such as my research about the importance of trust in personal and professional relationships.

In addition, those lightbulb moments were frequent, in part because the program was designed to allow us to apply class learning to issues and situations relevant to our everyday lives as school leaders. So much of what we learned together as a cohort could be applied immediately in my work.

What were the things you remember most fondly about living in the Boston area?

Working full-time in a relatively demanding job and being a full-time graduate student at the same time is not necessarily easy. Fortunately, our entire cohort was in the same situation, and the Boston area offers a rich classroom laboratory as well where we could mix our academic and work lives. We had numerous guest lecturers from nearby colleges, visits to nearby schools to witness progressive practice in action, and a beautiful campus to enjoy our summer weeks at school. And there is an endless supply of opportunities – at Boston College, in the community, and at other colleges.

Were there any faculty members at BC that had a particularly strong impact on you?

Every professor had a strong impact on me – each in a different way.  Dr. Diana Pullin, true to her intent, “stretched my intellectual muscles” and made education law exciting and relevant.  Dr. Lauri Johnson introduced me to qualitative research methods -- many of which I had been practicing in my work, but without formal training.  Other now-retired professors and guest lecturers awakened my clarity about the elements of leadership and how to apply those in both my personal and professional life.

What advice do you have for any prospective graduate students at BC?

Do it!  If you are interested in stretching your practice, stretching your thinking, and elevating your effectiveness, consider a graduate program at BC. For me, it was life-changing.

Can you speak about your current position and the work that you do, as well as future plans?

When I completed my degree I knew that I wanted to take my professional practice to another level. I made the decision to return to a non-profit where I could apply my studies to make a difference. I continued to be influenced by the Lynch School mission statement: “enhance the human condition, expand the human imagination, and make the world more just.“ As a result I am now working for BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life*) as Executive Director for Massachusetts.  I am completely reinvigorated, I am confident about my leadership and ability to think strategically, and I am excited about making a different for students in urban, under-resources communities.  What could be better?

*BELL is self-described as: a nonprofit organization that expands learning time in the summer and after school to fulfill our mission: to transform the academic achievements, self-confidence, and life trajectories of children living in under-resourced, urban communities.