Living Your Educational Dreams with Dr. Kasandrea Sereno

Dr. Russell Strickland [01:00:43] And persistence. But, yeah, you’ve got it. You’ve got to work at it and you’ve got to you’ve got to be pointed in the right direction. Those are the things I find. You know, you mentioned this idea of, you know, being legitimate. And I had I have to deal with that much less now with Dissertation Done than I have in the past. But I’ve certainly set my fair share of students away. I tried, you know, they tell me I want someone to write something for me to do the work or whatever. I first try to talk them off of that sort of metaphorical ledge. Listen, you know, you really want to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and say, I am Dr. Me and mean it. You don’t. When a lot of yourself when you say, I’m Dr. Me,  you want to you want to you want to feel that?

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [01:01:23] And it shows, right? If that’s not the student words in their essay, you’re going to get to the interview portion and they’re going to know right away from talking to you. Those aren’t your words. Yeah, that’s not the way you see.

Dr. Russell Strickland [01:01:33] So you have to you have to do a lot of prep tantamount to doing the work itself in order for you to pull it off. That’s definitely true. But I’m talking about students who are like, just write my papers with that so I can graduate and like, you don’t want to do that. And most of them will say, you’re right, I don’t want to do that. What’s what’s the alternative? And we’ll talk occasionally and we’ll be like, nope, I want to do that, but get by.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [01:01:58] And there’s risks that come with that. Right. It’s so easy to track cheaters online now. Huge. You know, universities can go on chag and give them the IP address of cheaters. And, you know, you uploaded that exam and that’s that’s your academic credibility shot. That’s a double F in that class. Everyone in academia knows what a double F means. It you’re called into question for your character, your work ethic, and it’s not worth it. Just just spend the weekend writing the way it might be also.

Dr. Russell Strickland [01:02:30] But you know that if this if the if the credential is important to you or the credential, otherwise do something else because, be authentic, be real. We had a story that I think I believe because I believe I got the story secondhand from my program director when I was on the faculty at a university teaching doctoral students told me about a call, a defense they had. So this was one of these large online universities. They do their dissertation defenses over the phone conference call. And one of the one of the faculty members on this conference hall called her and they were like, you got to get over here. She’s like, why is she like, no, seriously, you got to get over here. They had talked to this student and she was she seemed so nervous in her defense and they kept trying to make it easier and easier and easier for the student asking here easier and easier questions to get her going. So then they could ramp up to where they needed to be. Just once they got her going, she’d be OK. No, it turns out that she paid someone to write her dissertation for her and didn’t even bother to read the damn thing like, oh, bless her. She knew, like, essentially nothing. The committee knew so much more about her dissertation than she did. And so the the the program director was called in. She got in on the call, saw what was going on. She’s like, oh, my God, this is really happening here.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [01:04:02] And she looks worried about it. Yeah.

Dr. Russell Strickland [01:04:04] I mean, that’s that’s essentially in our current climate. That’s one of the few reasons we have left for the defense, because a lot of my students tell me, oh, I’m so worried about my defense, like, no, no, be it’s not as if this is a celebration, really, for the most part. Occasionally you’ll see that you’ll get some some schools and you’ll know you’re at that school if you’re there. Still look at it. As you know, you’ve got to knock down the old guards for the, you know, guarding the ivory tower of academia. And if you can knock down the old guards, if they can’t keep you out, then you can get in. And that’s some schools. But that’s very, very rare anymore. Where you really legitimately defending yourself now? It’s more they ask you questions, but they expect you to know the answers by virtue of the fact that they invited you to defend. Yeah, the faculty looked bad if they have to fail someone that they invited to the plan, because who the hell? Why are you wasting our time that you thought this person was ready and and they clearly weren’t. So that’s that’s that’s kind of how that goes. You shouldn’t be worried about your your defense, but that’s one of the reasons why they do still have it, is because this is an opportunity for them to see, OK, this is the person standing up here in front of us that we can kind of verify who it is. And yeah, this person knows their stuff. If you wrote that paper, you know yourself, but if you.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [01:05:22] And they’re not they’re not trying to give you gotcha questions. Right. They just want to see. Did you spent a year of your life researching this? There’s usually wine and cheese and flowers.

Dr. Russell Strickland [01:05:33] And, you know, when I when I’m there, I do try to give you gotcha questions, but I still expect those to be things that you know how to answer. Yeah. Like people will traditionally ask this question. You know, what? If you had if you were able to do your research again, what would you do differently? I mean, you know, and and I would and I don’t ask it that way. I tell them this is like, OK, so now that you’ve done this research project, what if I gave you ten years and ten million dollars? What what do you do now? It’s the same question, but it’s done in such a way that they’re like, oh my God, ten million, ten years. And then then I come to the point of, oh, well, this these are the things I would do and they can start talking about it. And that’s I like to to try to put a little bit of edge to it, because at some point in life, somebody is going to try to to get you and you need to you need to be ready for that. I remember when I was going through my oral exams in my doctoral program, someone really kind of got me got my heart rate going because there we have to do, you know, are written exams. We take those exams and whatever. You don’t do well on your written exam, you just have to know. Yeah, they don’t tell you. You just have to know. And then the next week is oral exams and that’s them digging in to whatever you got wrong. They don’t waste time on the stuff you got. Right. They just focus on the weaknesses. And so I knew what I did, what I didn’t know and I figured it out and I was ready to tell them. And so that lady nice ladies asked me these questions and I answer her and she’s smiling and nodding along. She says, well, I’m satisfied. And this grumpy guy on the other side of the room says, well, I’m not this like and my heart. And he asked them sort of follow up question. And I went through a thought process of. Oh, my God, I’m gonna fail. I’m going home. I’m done. Wait a minute. I heard the words coming out of his mouth, those words form the sentence. I understood that sentence. I actually know how to answer this question. I mean, I remember myself thinking this over a period of about three to five seconds. And then I started answering him. And then when I answered him for like ten seconds or something like, OK, I’m satisfied now. But I think it was that thing of he wanted to, you know, jar and have you still be able to stand up and take the punch, so to speak. Mike Tyson said everybody’s got a plan and told him to get hit in the mouth. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I get hit in the mail from time to time. Most of the defenses I see students don’t experience that. Honestly, it is like I said, it’s the one and the the party has all that. But but even if you do get punched in the mouth, just understand that your committee, by and large, they expect you to be able to take it. They think you’re ready for it when it happens. So, yeah, but but anyway, so away from the academic dishonesty, you’re helping these people. Are they primarily parents that you’re dealing with? I know you mentioned a spectrum, but is it primarily parents dealing with younger kids or is it primarily students who kind of are adults now and are moving on to the next stage in their careers?

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [01:08:40] It’s definitely both. I’d say for my middle school and my high school students. It’s largely parent driven, right? They’re either coming because they don’t understand the process and they don’t want to let their kid down. Right. Or they know their kid needs help, but they’re not listening to them. I get that one a lot. Yeah, Mom and Dad can’t get them to write that college essay, but someone outside to listen to them. Yeah, sometimes it’s just parents that don’t have the time to do it. I have a lot of parents who are international business people or doctors, and they know they want to help their child with their applications, but they just physically don’t have the time to do it.

Dr. Russell Strickland [01:09:14] And I would say it’s not about the time. I bet you those folks are smart enough to know that getting a coach, getting an advisor is smart. It takes a certain amount of confidence to say, I don’t know something. Yes. And I do not know everything. And so, you know, somebody saying, hey, I know do surgery every day and I don’t know how to do these college applications. Can you help with that? They don’t even worry one bit to say I don’t know how to do these things because I know they’re going to think that you don’t know how to do, right. Yeah. Yeah.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [01:09:46] I don’t do my own taxes. Exactly. So I get those students and then a lot of my older students, my adult going back to school, my graduate students are usually a little bit older. Yeah, they, they, they usually come because of a dissatisfying experience somewhere else. Some sort of trauma has happened in their life. They transferred schools, they failed out of school. They they went to a university and got bad advice. And now they are a little bit academically disenfranchized. And so they are looking to pivot and get some strong, solid advice going forward. Yeah. And then a lot of my students, we work as foster kids and kids in the system. They have no other grown up in their life. My big brothers, big sisters, kids got their bigs and they got themselves. And they’re trying to make sense of all of this paperwork on their own. And so our team works with them as well. And we also do workshops. We do fascinates. We do comment at parties. We do essay writing workshops and, you know, really sort of empowering them to know that they can do it. And we’re here to guide them.

Dr. Russell Strickland [01:10:49] And that’s great. They get that outlet in that resource as well, because, you know, so many people who are who are well off and who can hire but, you know, a private coach hire private resources, they can take advantage of those. But for folks who are like nobody, my family knows anything about college application. Forget about time.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [01:11:08] Yep.

Dr. Russell Strickland [01:11:10] I can’t I ask my mother to fill out my college application with me because she has no bearing. She doesn’t know. She knows she wants this for me. Yep. And I want this for me. But yeah, I need that resource that I don’t have access to in my own family, my own network.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [01:11:25] And I never want to lose that side of our business goes as far as the schools and the parents and the families that we get. I want to always make sure that we have sort of that arm that’s reaching out the next week. I’m good, right? What is the cure for? Cancer is locked up in a kid who’s sitting in poverty. Exactly. And deserve the same opportunities if they want it and they’re willing to work and go and put in the effort, there’s no reason why they can’t achieve at the same level.

Dr. Russell Strickland [01:11:50] Absolutely. It’s harder. But it is accessible or at least it should.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [01:11:54] Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I want to I want to lower those barriers to their success so that, you know, I want to put them on that same playing field. I know I know that I can’t give them everything. I can’t give them the information. I can’t change what high school they’re going to, where their grades and SAT scores or, you know, we’re the last application. You know, we can’t we can’t make a lot of changes with that, but we can give them the right advice to make the good decisions for themselves. So. I love that piece of it, and it’s it’s been really fulfilling work, I love being able to work outside the university system so that I can talk to students about. Yeah, you might think you want to go here, but why might that might not be the best place. What do we look over here? What do we you know, I don’t have to always when you work for the university, the answer is always that university or university.

Dr. Russell Strickland [01:12:46] I mean, there there are some of the best universities push people away with both hands. And, you know, if you continue to fight for it, then we’ll consider you. Yeah, but they’ve got the, you know, thousand applications for one slot or whatever it might be. But let me ask you, hopefully it’s not putting you on the spot, but I bet you you’ll be able to do this without any trouble. Give me one best success story and you’ll have to use names or anything. But tell me a success story, someone that you helped, that you felt like this is why I’m doing this.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [01:13:18] Yeah, OK, so I had a student a few years ago. I’ve got a couple of them. So one student, mom and dad, two doctors just don’t assume she’s going to be a doctor.

Dr. Russell Strickland [01:13:29] At least his parents do.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [01:13:33] Yeah, yeah. That’s just normal. That’s 40 percent of all freshmen start out in premed. Yeah. But really, his heart wasn’t in science. He didn’t really enjoy science classes. He wasn’t excelling in them. But he loved debates and forensics, which is what it’s called here in Florida. And so it’s like sort of an ethical debate. Society go in, you get a project, you take it apart, you explain and you reason your way through it. And this is also a kid who is deeply concerned about sort of ethics and morality. And he’s really involved in your school in that and his religious organization and was just really a different sort of student than our students who are really passionate about science. And they’re going to be a doctor. Right. And so mom and dad had a list of schools they wanted him to apply to. He had a list of schools he wanted to apply to. And I just kind of threw out, you know, what about what about the school in Louisiana? What about Tulane? If you ever heard about Tulane and they were like, no, never heard about Tulane, tell me more about it. I was like, well, this is where it is. And now this student is doing went to Tulane, got in that, did great forces, got really excited about the work that’s happening in New Orleans post-Katrina. And so this idea of ethics and fairness and, you know, minority communities and how to how to how to actually have a community impact. And they’re doing pre-law well now at Tulane and are going to be probably an amazing social justice lawyer. But I never saw that in themselves, never thought about applying what they’re actually passionate about to that to that piece of it.

Dr. Russell Strickland [01:15:08] That’s awesome, because that’s one of those things where sometimes it’s just that external perspective that is that is so important.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [01:15:16] Yeah, yeah. Yeah. That’s so. Yes. And I’ve got I’ve got another student, small business owner. Parents crushed it in high school, was very academically focused, but really had no idea where they wanted to go to the moon. She got amazing scholarships and is doing premed at Duke and is just crushing. And, you know, here’s a kid who’s gotten into fellowship programs and research labs and and things that I don’t don’t think she would have done if she hadn’t had somebody say, go for it, let’s try it. Let’s look at it. And we were working on her med school applications this morning. So it’s really amazing to watch them sort of blossom into their own possibilities.

Dr. Russell Strickland [01:15:59] Absolutely.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [01:16:00] And see where that is. And those students are just as amazing as watching the ones that are like, I don’t think I can do this. Let’s try community college. And there’s finishing there AA and go to their graduation ceremony and their whole family is there. And those are the students I want to work for.

Dr. Russell Strickland [01:16:17] Those are the ones, those students, their families there and there. They, with that associate’s degree, have already surpassed the rest of their family academically, right? Yeah. And everybody’s there supporting them and cheering them on.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [01:16:31] And yeah, that’s and they’re they’re amazing. Four different ways, you know, there that everybody has a story everybody’s got no matter where they are and what their background is coming from, their struggle just looks different.

Dr. Russell Strickland [01:16:43] I my son had a project recently in the civics class where he he interviewed me about the American dream of what the American dream means to me and this sort of thing. And then I was trying to give him my perspective. But I also part of my perspective is it’s different for everyone. So you’ve got someone whose parents were medical doctors who goes on to become a social justice lawyer. You know, he may or may not be the black sheep of the family now, but he’s being productive and doing what he was called to do, which is what’s so amazing. And then you’ve got people who, you know, family might be illiterate or, you know, not have gone to college at least. And they they make that next step there. They had their associate’s degree and they can raise a child now to say, you know what, you’re going to get your four year degree. You know, it’s going to be a race between, you know, mommy and baby as to who gets their bachelors degree first. I’ve seen those stories. Yes. That’s the thing about the American dream is different for everybody. But it’s this idea that you can go out and do what you want to do. You just have to have the perseverance, the sticktuitiveness, and you need resources to help you figure out how to do it.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [01:17:55] So important. Yep. That’s it. That is it, man.

Dr. Russell Strickland [01:17:59] Well, listen, I have really, really enjoyed this, Dr. Sereno. I want people to who hopefully are also enjoying this to be able to reach out to you and get this help. So tell folks how to reach out to you so that they can continue this conversation. They can talk to you about their, you know, son, daughter, niece, nephew, themselves, whatever it might be, yeah, come and check us out.

Dr. Kasandrea Sereno [01:18:22] So where are our websites? Probably our easiest way. MyAdvisorSays .com, OK, we named it that way because there’s a lot of people doing college advising, but very few that are actual academic advisors and have a degree in advising. So we’re really proud of that. Everyone on our team in the Masters or Doctorate, it’s all female. So we have that. We have an amazing, wonderful team that we work with. We’re @MyAdvisorSays, if you’re on social’s, we get a lot of students through Twitter, Facebook for parents, on Instagram, on all of it. You can give us a call or send us a text. A lot of students prefer to do that. We’ve even got a live chat service on our website. So if you’re a little hesitant to make that call, come on, let us know. We do free initial consultation, which I think a lot of consulting firms don’t necessarily do. But we want to meet you. We want to hear your story, what you’re looking for and tell you about ourselves and then see if we’re a good fit. Right. And that’s totally no obligation. We’ll chat. We’ll do it via Zoom. You know, in Times of Covid, most of the time we do them in person meeting in a coffee shop when it’s not covid. And we just talk about your goals and no pressure. If we’re a good fit, we’re a good fit. If we can help. If we can’t, also, you’ll still walk away with some resources and and some some things to help you on your educational journey. So, you know, don’t don’t feel like, you know, the big scary thing is just the conversation you’re just meeting me. And when it does, all the intake is going to be working with the founder. We’ll talk about your goals. Well, we’ll see what’s out there. And if we’re going to be a good fit, let’s let’s do it. But I think for students, the hardest step is the first step. Can I do this? Can I put this application and do I want to go to college? And the answer is yes, you absolutely can just make that first step, believe in yourself and reach out. And let’s get you on a journey.

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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.