Jessica Rea Prado, Ph.D., describes herself as someone who simply moves forward without looking too far ahead.
“I’m very much a person who, metaphorically and quite literally, walks looking down,” she said. “I’m watching my feet progress, and I just trust that I will get through it. It’s hard, but it’s worked out OK so far.”
That mentality has certainly carried her through life, especially in the last busy four years as a student — first pursuing a master’s degree and later a doctorate in industrial and organizational psychology at Adler’s Online Campus.
Along with her studies and completing her dissertation, Dr. Rea Prado took on different roles, including working as a student experience coordinator within Adler’s Department of Student Experience and Academic Advising (DSEAA), serving as president of the International Honor Society for Psychology, co-founding PRISM — a recognized student organization for the queer community based in Chicago — and serving as vice president of the Hispanic/Latinx Student Association in Chicago. Oh, and she’s also currently working on a second master’s degree from Manchester Metropolitan University.
For now, she’s also thinking about what to say as this year’s graduate speaker during Adler’s Nov. 6 commencement ceremony at The Chicago Theatre to celebrate the 375 students receiving degrees from the Chicago and Online campuses during the 2021-22 academic year. The importance of advocacy, accountability, and getting involved are among the themes Dr. Rea Prado wants to touch on. As an online student who has only met one other Adler student in person, she also wants to share a little about herself.
“I used to be a corporate trainer, and I’ve done my life trying to read the script,” Dr. Rea Prado said. “But I’m super random, I’m accidentally funny, and I’m not afraid to use myself as the joke.”
For Dr. Rea Prado, the commencement ceremony — and the days and weeks leading up to it — are a rare chance for her to take her eyes off her feet, look back at her journey, peek at what’s ahead, and offer some words of wisdom to those looking begin their higher education at Adler.
How did you find out that you would be this year’s commencement speaker, and what thought came to mind?
I found out via WhatsApp voice note from Charmaine Barclay, a friend of mine and student at the Vancouver campus. I was joyful! I was also deeply grateful. I happened to be away from my computer and had a lot of fun logging on to see the email from Student Affairs. It felt like I got to experience it twice. First from a friend and then as an official statement from the University! My feelings were of gratitude and responsibility.
What led you to Adler and to pursue your degrees in industrial and organizational psychology?
I was a supervisor at a warehouse in Charlotte, North Carolina, working in logistics in 2013. That’s when I started looking at Adler. I was giving it a healthy side-eye because it talked about social justice even then. I wanted to make sure before I invested my money that I was happy with what I saw, even from the outside. Higher education is quite an investment. There is a lot of responsibility with that. It took me five years to save up for my master’s degree. I got through that in a year instead of two, and got through my Ph.D. in two years, which normally would have been four years.
I took a course in applied psychology during my undergraduate studies at the University of South Carolina Upstate and learned of different areas of psychology. Traditionally, we think of psychology as a therapist in an office with a patient. IOP is psychology for the workplace. We’re constantly working in groups. It’s a bit of a math equation for psychology because we’re not dealing with one person, we’re dealing with a whole group of people.
During your time at Adler, you were very involved. Why was it important for you to that? How did you find the time?
I enjoy people. It’s as simple as that! Community is everything. I started at Adler prior to the pandemic and back then I was traveling a lot with my partner. When the U.S. was in quarantine, I was happily nestled in between a Business Law certificate at Cornell University and my doctoral studies at Adler. I am not sure that I found the time. I look at it as I had the time and then I made the time.
What will you remember most about your higher education journey at Adler?
What I will remember most is the inner grief I felt as I took over a year to let go and surrender into being a subject matter expert. I think it’s easy to get used to being a student. It was unnerving to truly feel that I knew the most about my area of focus. I’m highly interdependent, and I consoled myself with thoughts of lifting others up. I never once felt imposter syndrome, but I have missed cohort members who will not be graduating with me. Let me tell you, there are some fantastic students at the Online campus. Shirl and Bee, it’s you two I am thinking of here.
Another highlight was being hired by the Department of Student Experience and Academic Advising. I thoroughly enjoyed my work with students and professors. I’d like to give props to my DSEAA family for supporting me to the fullest: Latrecia, Shannon, Zavia, and Amanda. Each of you have strengths that build the experiences of the students here. They are the beating heart of the campus, and I will forever believe that because I have observed how tirelessly they work. They are also fun-loving, sassy, and discerning! Saieda Miller is our new student experience coordinator and she is well suited for the role and the DSEAA family.
What do you plan to talk about in your commencement speech?
I plan to share advocacy, encouragement, and also allow the audience to get to know me. I have not yet met anyone besides my best Adler friend in person. This is such an exciting time!
The main theme I think is important is to remember what Dr. Eddie Burks shared last year. As a white person, accountability is everything. I believe white fragility stands in direct competition with compassion. Even though compassion holds its arms out for a hug, fragility seeks to center the pain of the privileged instead of the marginalized.
What’s next after Adler? And how has Adler prepared you for what’s to come?
I would love for Adler to be after Adler. I would like to have a full-time role here at the University. I helped create the Cohort Ambassador program. The DSEAA team has been understaffed, so I may get lucky and be able to re-join my family. I would also like to teach part-time. I will always enjoy coaching students!
How Adler has prepared me for the next steps is best summed up by saying iron sharpens iron. It has not always been easy at the University, but this is representative of life. I have enjoyed so much but have also seen heartbreak and struggle. My interactions with students on a heart level have been just as inspirational as my social justice practicum.
For current and future students, any words of wisdom or advice on how to make the most out of their time at Adler?
While a student is taking coursework prior to a thesis or dissertation, the subjects being studied, the resources, and the grading tendencies of the professor are the obstacles. Understand how each one of those three factors works together, and you have a high chance of getting an excellent grade. While a student is in the dissertation phase, it is important to remember that oneself is the obstacle. We must choose to get out of our own way during dissertation. There can be so many small moments of celebration if only we seek them out continuously.