Living Your Educational Dreams with Dr. Kasandrea Sereno

Kasandrea Sereno, Ed.D. is a speaker, author, and consultant from Tampa Florida. Dr. Sereno currently works as a certified career counselor and academic advisor at USF. In 2015 she founded HigherEdSocial, the world’s largest professional society for social media managers, and enjoys collaborating with colleagues on best practices and creating trainings to help universities better leverage social media to increase their student retention and satisfaction.

Dr. Sereno has spoken at professional, higher-ed, and technology conferences around the world and regularly presents on college campuses about Generation Z, and to students on how to use social media to build a personal brand and get hired in a competitive job market. She puts those words into action as founder of, an organization that helps students earn admission into college.



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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Overcoming imposter syndrome and self-doubt
  • Draconian structure as a solution for the quixotic allure of flexibility in the dissertation process
  • Why free colleges experience high attrition
  • The role of education in acquiring life skills, training, and becoming “educated”
  • Graduating means grieving the loss of your doctoral-student life
  • Snickers bars and your dissertation
  • Wielding your doctoral authority responsibly

In this episode…

In this episode of An Unconventional Life, Dr. Kasandrea Sereno and Dr. Russell Strickland wax philosophical about higher education and the educational system in the U.S. Their discussion touches on the causes of attrition in higher education, what’s missing in secondary education, and how post-secondary education could do better branding itself. Dr. Sereno discusses the strange sense of grief she felt after defending her dissertation and the joy of helping her advisees achieve their own academic goals.

Dr. Sereno is proof positive of the wonderful opportunities available and waiting for you on the other side oof your dissertation.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done, America’s #1 authority in dissertation completion for working professionals.

Founded by Dr. Russell Strickland, Dissertation Done serves people in two ways:

  1. If you’re struggling with your dissertation, getting ready to start your dissertation, or just plain wanting to get your dissertation done as soon as possible, go to and Let’s Get Your Dissertation Done
  2. If you’re busy living your Unconventional Life and have a message that you want to share, maybe you should join our Expand Your Authority Program to become a published author. Go to and let me know that you’d like to talk about Expanding Your Authority.

Visit to learn more about our other services and leave a message or call them at 888-80-DR-NOW (888-803-7669) to schedule your free 30 to 45-minute phone consultation.

Episode Transcript

Disclaimer: This transcript is here for your reading convenience. It was created by machines and may (a-hem) contain some errors. If you email us about these errors, the machines will undoubtedly find out. I hope they won’t get angry.


Intro [00:00:03] Welcome to An Unconventional Life, a podcast where we share stories about the crazy one percent out there who earned their doctoral degrees and then went on to use them in crazy, cool, unique and unconventional ways. Here’s your host, astrophysicist turned teacher, author, dissertation coach and more, Dr. Russell Strickland.

Dr. Russell Strickland [00:00:29] Hello and welcome to An Unconventional Life podcast. I’m your host, the CEO and founder of Dissertation Done, Dr. Russell Strickland. And I have with me here today Dr. Kasandrea Sereno. And Dr. Sereno is a author, a speaker, a consultant. She’s the founder of Higher Ed Social. And also, basically, she is a she works with people who want to further their education. And I know that’s a subject that’s near and dear to the hearts of a lot of you guys here, my audience. So can’t wait to have you guys listen in on Dr. Sereno’s story. Welcome, Dr. Sereno.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [00:01:10] Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to get to chat with you guys today.

Dr. Russell Strickland [00:01:13] Awesome. I’d like to let everybody know that today’s episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done. At Dissertation Done, we help adult doctoral students through the dissertation process. So if you’re getting ready to start your dissertation and you know that getting coaching, getting help proactively is the best way to get through anything in life. Please reach out to us at And if, as I’ll admit, it’s more likely you happen to be stalled, stuck, or otherwise embroiled in the dissertation process right now and you just like some help. Same thing applies to a We’ll set up some time to talk about your project and see if you might be a good fit for our Fast-Track Your Dissertation coaching program. We take our students from here to graduation, usually in a year or less, and always in years faster than you would do on your own. So if that’s of interest to you, definitely reach out to us at And if by any chance you’ve already graduated or you are otherwise engaged as a professional expert and you would like to expand your authority. Our ExpandYourAuthority program helps you to become a published author as an expert, published author so that we take you from the blank page to being a published author in less time than you can imagine. You can find out more about that So go there, fill out our little form and we’ll get in touch and talk to you about it. So that’s the commercial. Thank you again so much, Dr. Sereno, for being with us today.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [00:02:47] Thank you for having me. I’m excited to get to chat with you and your followers.

Dr. Russell Strickland [00:02:50] Absolutely. Well, I’ll ask you what I ask a lot of our of our guests coming in. And that is this notion, and I know that this is a relatively recent graduate, so this is all still kind of fresh for you, but that idea of. Deciding to become a doctor, deciding to enroll in a doctoral program. It’s crazy, right? I mean, ninety nine percent of the population never does this. We’re the crazy one percent who do. What motivated you to make that that choice and to take that leap to pursue your doctoral degree?

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [00:03:25] Definitely. So it was something that I had toyed with for years and I had really suffered from sort of that imposter syndrome, can I do this or not? And so it took me about five years after finishing my second Masters to really get up the gumption to apply. But I’m a kid from the trailer park I lost my parents when I was young, I’ve been in care. I was adopted by a relative. And so I knew that I wanted to go further than anyone else in my family had done. So on the first person in my family to get a bachelor’s degree, the first person to get a masters, let alone two. And I always knew that I wanted to get a doctorate for my tombstone. Right. I want to I wanted to leave that legacy, but I was really I was really gunshy in the application process and I really shouldn’t have been because I got into the perfect program for me and and it was a lot of work. But I’m really, really excited that on the last census I got to put doctor in front of my name. So I know I’m really into genealogy. So hopefully when my great great grandchildren look, they’ll be able to see that that spike in our family tree and provide some inspiration going forward for them.

Dr. Russell Strickland [00:04:33] Well, I think you touched on a lot of things that I that I hear a lot of things that I hear from folks. One, you know, not knowing whether I can can do it or not. Is this common? There’s a big transition that happens during this process. And so going in, you can’t do it. You have to get to the point where you can. And that’s a transition process that a lot of people are capable of, but not many people actually do, because, as you said, it’s a lot of work. But this notion of wanting to be a doctor, I think it even goes deeper than that, I really do believe that hundreds of doctoral students and I think it goes deeper, that it’s an identity issue that even before you wrote down on the census form, hey, I am Dr. Sereno, you felt like that before you went into the doctoral program and this was just you coming to grips with that you had always had inside you.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [00:05:28] Yep. I totally get that. I totally get that for me. When I was growing up, academics was my refuge from a chaotic home life. And so that was the way I got attention, was doing well in school. And so getting straight A’s and the accolades I, I got from being that student. And so I knew I could do the academic side. Right. You go to class. I love pens, I love pencils and notebooks, and I love libraries and the smell of books. So that part was really was really key. And I knew I could do the work. But, you know, really coming to grips with sort of that identity piece is is huge, especially if no one in your life that’s close to you has done it before, if you don’t have role models in that way.

Dr. Russell Strickland [00:06:10] That is huge. And that’s and that’s one of the things that we find a lot of students have have to grapple with, is that Number One, this is a rare thing, one percent of the population, so you mentioned the census. I actually went out several years ago and checked the data and over several years, it tends to be between a little less than one percent and about one and a half percent in the U.S. has an earned doctoral degree. So that’s that means that not only is this a great accomplishment, but when you’re in the thick of things, you very likely don’t know anybody else who’s been doing this. Some people do. There are some clusters, but a lot of people a lot of us just don’t know anybody else who’s been through before and certainly no one else who’s going through it right now. Yeah, the issue is one of the reasons why we’re here to help adult doctoral students, because that’s the group that is detached from this community that isn’t on campus every day, sitting in the basement office with other graduate students doing doing all the work. They’re out there doing their job and raising their kids and paying their mortgage and they’re in school.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [00:07:21] It’s a challenge. And people people think you’re crazy for it, right? They don’t understand. I was in my mid 30s and when I was telling my friends, yeah, I’m going to do this low rez program in Nashville and I’m going to fly to Nashville every other weekend for three years to get this doctorate, like they give you a blank look, like you just you just said something completely foreign, like, why would you do that? And then a lot of flying. Yes. Yes, it is. But yeah. And they just can’t relate. It’s it’s something that if you don’t have close friends that are doing it, it can be a real struggle.

Dr. Russell Strickland [00:07:54] Yeah. And that’s why it’s so important to as you’re going through this process, to develop some sort of support network, whether that support network is something that is, you know, people at your school, people in your cohort, if you find other people just dispersed throughout the world that are doing it, we work with students to provide that kind of support as well. But you need to know, first of all, you need to know what you’re doing because that’s tough. But second of all, as importantly, you have to have that emotional support of other people who who have been there or are there to keep you going and keep moving forward, because that imposter syndrome, as you put it, of not knowing whether I can do it. And I don’t know if I’d call that imposter syndrome. That’s just self-doubt, really. I mean, not knowing whether you can do it or not. The imposter syndrome comes later when you’ve done it. And I know you were mentioning to me just a little earlier, someone called me Dr. Sereno. I was like, who is that person? Has the same last name as I do.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [00:08:58] Right. Yeah, it’s my cousin Paul. He’s a paleontologist. He’s the doctor. Like, I just found him on genealogy stuff. But, yeah, it’s it’s so weird.

Dr. Russell Strickland [00:09:07] So like you said, the academic stuff, we hear this a lot. It’s not so tough for folks who go into doctoral degree programs. It is tough because that’s what it is. But folks that go into doctoral degree programs, they’ll find that this is really something that they’re familiar with. Quite honestly, from the time you were in third, fourth, fifth grade, somewhere there through the end of your doctoral coursework, you were doing the same thing. It just got intense, right? Yep. My youngest is is not so far away from the time when they say in elementary school, OK, you’re learning to read and then they make a transition one year and say now you’re reading to learn. Once you’re reading to learn, you learn kind of the same things all the way through your doctoral program because they’re telling you what to read. They’re telling you what questions they have for you. They expect you to answer those questions is when you get to the dissertation that things change dramatically. How did you find that that that that transition?

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [00:10:05] Yeah. For us and our program there, there really wasn’t any time to to have any space in there. So the cohort that I went through was a three year cohort. And then you do go nine semesters in a row, summer, fall, spring, summer, fall, spring, summer, fall, spring. And you do two classes a semester all the way through the end. But your last summer, fall, spring is where you’re working on your dissertation. And so you are constantly on this treadmill. There is no opportunity to fall off. We got our projects over the summer.

Dr. Russell Strickland [00:10:36] That means that at least implies that there’s structure there that they’re expecting to finish in. That time frame is the most you have to start on your dissertation and whenever you get done, let us know.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [00:10:50] It was the only program I found like that because I knew I was going to need structure and I wanted it to be done quickly. Right. I was starting it at thirty four. Thirty five. I eventually want to get married, have a family, have a career. Like I felt my clock ticking and so I didn’t want to be in a program that was five, seven years commitment, you know, to a campus somewhere. I’m mid-level management in my current role, I own businesses. I really just didn’t want to give it all up to be a full time graduate. Student working for peanuts again, I didn’t want to do that, and so our program, we got our our our topics in the summer. We started our lit review in August and September. We started collecting our data October, November, December. We started writing January, February, March, and we published by April. So it was insane. Everybody else I talked to who’s done their work says that is crazy.

Dr. Russell Strickland [00:11:48] But our cohort, they think it’s great that they did that. It’s like what we do for our students, except that you had the added luxury of your school says this is the way you’re going to do it, because unfortunately, in helping our students kind of navigate their school to try to get done in that kind of time frame, and many of them do, and even get down a little faster than that. But when your school is like in lock step with you, this is what we’re going to do. It’s a lot harder. So, yeah, that’s really awesome.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [00:12:17] They really yeah. You get you get your dessert, you get your your your final project, your cap. We call it a capstone. You had that professor. That’s one of your classes. And so you’re taking those classes. You’re learning how to do the research, you’re doing the state of your you’re pulling this. And ours was a mixed method, qualitative quantitative study. Looking at…

Dr. Russell Strickland [00:12:40] I’m amazed you still finish that quickly. We’ll ask you in no uncertain terms, you do not do this method studies. I mean, it’s like going to for these two chapter fours will be to chapter three isn’t to Chapter four is it’s extra work in the other chapters. But in those chapters it’s double like straight up work. So.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [00:13:00] Well, it was insane. And we are our topic was we were looking at the effect of Tennessee promise on students at Nashville State Community College in Tennessee. Community college is free, but why are students still why are colleges losing 50 percent of their freshman year after a year? And a lot of that we found, which is which is no surprise to anybody who studies education, is you actually have to have wraparound supports. Going to college is not just the cost of tuition. You need to have onboarding. You need to have support. You need to have advisors. You need to have mentors. You have to have orientation programs. And so our program looked at taking apart everything at that college, looking at their processes and procedures, doing qualitative studies with their staff, their faculty, their chairs, their students, as well as crunching ten years of data of student graduation rates and all of that. So it was massive. Our program was functioned a lot like an MBA capstone in that you’re going to you’re going to take this apart. You’re going to study the process, and then you’re going to give recommendations on the other side. And so we presented to our college, we presented we defended and presented to our cohort. And, yeah, it was it was a madcap dash to the end. But that really worked well for me because that’s what I needed. I needed that structure. And I work better when I’m busy. If I have an open ended project with no deadline, I’ll never work on it. But if I have, I have to write this paper by tomorrow because I need to get on a plane tomorrow afternoon for class. It has to get done. And so for me that really worked out well.

Dr. Russell Strickland [00:14:37] What you were talking about earlier with the school community college being free in Tennessee, that brings brings up a notion that I wonder about. They say in business coaching, consulting, things like that, if you want people to come to pay attention, then they have to pay. And I wonder if there’s not some problem with that in in the in the the attrition rates that you were talking about, that they find it important that if you could set up some sort of program where they were expected to work in the bookstore or the cafeteria or whatever, you know, no one has to pay. But you have two options. You can either pay us money or you can do this. And the school is sort of fully funded. It’s free in that context because we can create these work programs you have to do. And I’m wondering with the with the things, the esprit de corps, you’re more part of the community, but you’re also working for this degree and you specifically know the value. So maybe you have ten or twenty or fifty thousand dollars a year to put into a tuition payment. But you can do something else that’s going to allow you to provide that.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [00:15:52] It’s really interesting because what we were seeing was for students who were middle income students, right? They weren’t at the poverty line. They weren’t incredibly wealthy if they had no interest in going to college, but they were made to by their parents, they did not finish and that they don’t want to be there in the first place.

Dr. Russell Strickland [00:16:11] All of these students, sort of traditional college, age 18, that went to twenty two or so.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [00:16:16] We got a cross-section. We made it extra difficult and looking at a cross-section of their students. And so because the program is designed so you go straight from high school and into college, a lot of it really focused on the maturity of the student and the ability to pay was sort of divorced from that. So if you didn’t want to be there, you weren’t going to be there no matter what. But a lot of our students, especially the ones we interviewed in in at lower socioeconomic bracket, they had a deep desire to be there. And so, you know, they were they were taking taxis to class to or to go to tutoring. They were come hell or high water, going to make their education work. And so it really comes down to that motivation of the student. And also, I think culturally, the way we think about higher ed. Right. So this there’s this idea in the United States that we have this pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Right. You hard work, you get promise. And if you work hard, you’re going to get, you know, some sort of outcome at the end. To a large extent, a lot of that is informed by your socioeconomic status. Right. It’s very easy for people who’ve always known where their dinner was coming from to have that mindset because they’ve got a safety net. But our students who don’t have that safety net, their mindset is very different. They see people working incredibly hard and never moving forward. And so we kind of culturally have to to flip that on its head. But also we can look at schools and universities in countries where they subsidize it fully. They still have about the same completion rate. It’s just their culture of going to school is different. When we talk about attrition rates, high school to college or retention in college, we don’t talk about it the same way that we talk about retention from ninth to 10th grade. It’s automatic. We assume you go from ninth to 10th grade. That’s the way our K-12 system is set up. And so if we were to close that pipeline gap, what would that do for our retention rates? Right. If it would just became a more streamlined process. Right. So in the UK, you take your gap year at sixteen, you finish your secondary school, you spend a year working, and then you go into college, which is sort of an extended high school beyond that for specialty trades. And so what are we looking at with how we’re preparing our young people? And then also this idea that higher ed was not designed to be an equalizer. Higher ed has always been for the haves, not the have nots. This idea that you’re going to go to college to get a job is a relatively contemporary concept since the Industrial Revolution. But our universities and our systems have not changed with the sort of that idea.

Dr. Russell Strickland [00:18:50] And so we really got to always sort of feel like that’s where you get educated, that’s where you become a better citizen of the world, so to speak. Right. Hopefully that’s where you learn some critical thinking skills as well. But exactly. It’s about being more interesting conversationalist and someone who understands the world. And I think better than it is about training. I think the graduate work thing about training your master’s degree shouldn’t necessarily be about you broadening your horizons in the same sense it is it happened exactly, but it should be more OK now you can do this thing, I think everyone, well, not everyone. I would like it if everyone went to college. I’m sure there are people who who aren’t the right fit. But I would like it if everyone colleges I would like everyone in our society to be critical thinkers and to be able to look at information they’re given and decide this information is stupid. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not true particularly in this day and age, we have to have folks who who can critically reason and who can come to grips with living an objective reality as opposed to a subjective one.

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.