Jennifer Bessolo’s career in education is a testament to the power of passion and dedication in one's career. Her willingness to continuously learn and evolve has helped her climb the leadership ladder in the education sector. We can all learn from her example and strive to achieve our career aspirations with similar levels of commitment and drive.
Bessolo discussed her passion for education, her journey to leadership, and KU's top-notch ELPS program in a recent interview.
Read on to learn how Bessolo evolved her career to become KU’s Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Program Director and Professor of the Practice. You can catch her full exclusive interview here.
A story of passion and drive: Dr. Bessolo's journey in educational leadership
Bessolo's journey in education began as a high school English teacher and coach. With a passion for leadership, she quickly progressed from an assistant principal to a principal and finally became a district leader in the K-12 sector. She has held several titles throughout her career, including director of curriculum, federal programs, and title of services.
Bessolo's passion for education is reflected in her academic pursuits. She completed her doctoral degree in Ed Leadership at the University of Kansas and taught classes for their online Master's degree in Educational Administration Program.
Despite her success in K-12 leadership, Bessolo was presented with an opportunity that she couldn't resist. She transitioned into a new role that was a bucket list opportunity for her, although she admits to missing the K-12 leadership that she had come to love.
From teaching to leading: Bessolo’s dual passion benefits the program director role
Bessolo, now a program director at KU, believes that the most meaningful aspect of her job is getting to do both of the things she loves the most. As she puts it, "the administration part that comes from my love of organization and leadership at the principal and district leadership level." She enjoys doing administrative tasks and coordination, working with many people, and seeing the fruits of everyone's labor come together.
Her love for teaching and reaching others is also a crucial part of her job; she gets to help oversee and lead others who want to be in similar leadership positions. As Bessolo states, "For me, my current role allows me the best of both worlds."
Bessolo's unique perspective as someone who has both administrative and teaching experience is valuable in her role as a program director. She can relate to those in leadership positions and also provide guidance and support to those who are aspiring to be in those positions.
Bessolo's journey to Jayhawk Nation
Bessolo is what locals in Lawrence, Kansas, refer to as a “townie.” She grew up in the same school system where she most recently served as a leader at both the building and district levels.
After spending some time away and leading and teaching in several other states, Bessolo and her family chose to come back home to Lawrence, her hometown. It was also where she received her doctoral degree in educational policy studies from the University of Kansas.
Bessolo's experience as a former student at the University of Kansas gives her a unique perspective as a program director. As she explains, "When we talk about quality or what it's like to be in the program, I often talk very specifically and authentically because I was in that student seat and I know why I chose KU and I know what KU has to offer."
Bessolo's authentic joy in describing the program comes from her own experiences, making her an excellent recruiter for the university.
Staying ahead of the curve and keeping connected in educational leadership
Jennifer Bessolo is passionate about staying connected to developments in her field. She explains, "This is luckily an area that I really enjoy participating in."
Bessolo stays connected through the internships offered in the online ELPS program, which keeps KU faculty connected to the field as they work with other principals and district leaders.
Bessolo notes, "It's a great way of keeping connections that I already have as I've been in the field and fortunately built a network of building leaders." She also keeps in touch with local leaders, and sometimes has other internship students work with them, as they are "excellent students." She says such experience is helpful.
Bessolo also participates in state and national level conferences, as well as local Kansas-led principal and district-led leadership meetings. She emphasizes the importance of her title and role as program director, pointing out, "I always include my title as Program Director as a way to let people who may not know me understand my role and responsibilities when I am participating. This is an important practice for me".
Additionally, Bessolo is involved in mentorship through Greenbush, also known as the Southeast Kansas Education Service Center, which is dedicated to providing top-notch educational opportunities that were once only available in big cities.1 She works with Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools to mentor principals who are new to the field. Bessolo is eager to set "boots on the ground" and participate with schools whenever possible since she believes relevant connections keep their program even stronger.
Why students prefer the KU ELPS program
Jennifer Bessolo believes that students who want a master's degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) may find the University of Kansas (KU) a better choice over other schools given the program’s one-of-a-kind offerings and expertise. She says, "Our students are finding the best experience for themselves. I would say a lot of it comes down to what we offer, which is a really good blend of meaningful asynchronous learning.”
Bessolo emphasizes that KU is very much “in tune” with the needs of 21st-century graduate students, who often require a flexible schedule and timely feedback on assignments. She further explains how KU ELPS offers flexibility, through its “asynchronous program. We also offer top-notch instructors."
According to Bessolo, it's important for students to learn from the best in the field, and KU's ELPS program includes practitioners who have been in the same seats as the students pursuing their degrees. This provides students with valuable insights into the practical aspects of educational leadership and policy studies. Bessolo believes that KU's program is a unique blend of quality instruction and flexibility that is hard to find elsewhere.
Transformative educators: How instructors can make all the difference
Jennifer Bessolo emphasizes the quality of the instructors in the ELPS program at KU, explaining, "We have former principals, we have current superintendents that are teaching these classes that are about as real and relevant and timely as you can get." She also highlights the nationwide scope of the program and the effort to meet the needs of students in the field: "When we think about the nationwide scope of our program, we really think about meeting not just the needs in our local and regional area, but what that leadership level looks like."
Bessolo also stresses the importance of blending KU's traditional rigorous academic approach with the practical needs of today's students: "We blend what makes KU KU. We offer a rich, rigorous program that’s top-notch in terms of the research and relevant information and theories that apply to leadership."
She believes that this approach makes KU's online ELPS program a "really competitive, progressive program that’s aware of where our students are in the field right now as teachers and aspiring leaders."
Overall, Bessolo believes that KU's online ELPS program is designed to be "the most relevant and progressive for what our students need and want," and that students should choose KU over other schools because of the blend of top-level instruction and relevant, practical coursework.
Unmatched excellence: KU’s top-ranked educational programs and their impact
According to Bessolo, the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Kansas offers online graduate programs to help aspiring leaders in education.
The top-30 U.S. News & World Report-ranked ELPS online master’s programs are designed to equip students with the necessary skills to take on administrative or supervisory roles.2
Bessolo believes a graduate certificate or master's degree in educational leadership and policy studies from KU School of Education and Human Sciences can help students develop their leadership abilities, enhance their academic knowledge, and obtain the necessary qualifications to succeed in their chosen career path.
Through KU’s ELPS programs, students gain a broader perspective on leadership theories and behaviors and are equipped to make a positive impact on their organizations and communities. The programs have a strong alumni network, with graduates successfully landing assistant principal and principal positions.
Experienced PK-12 educators seeking to transition to leadership roles such as principals, department heads, or directors can benefit from an online graduate certificate or a master’s in educational leadership and policy studies. By cultivating the necessary skills and knowledge, successful leaders can effectively tackle administrative challenges and improve the education of their students.
She highlights three important aspects of the online ELPS program that provide exclusive advantages to KU students: Jayhawkville, flexibility, and work-life balance.
Jayhawkville: KU’s innovative simulation for future educational leaders
Jayhawkville, a computer program-based simulation designed to provide students with hands-on experience and scenarios that simulate what leadership, is actually like being in the field.
The virtual learning resource generates a school district that contains student data, information, and demographics that students heading into the field will need to use and apply in real-life situations.
The simulation is unique to KU and students can utilize it as a resource for assignments. According to Bessolo, students appreciate and enjoy the case studies and scenarios provided by Jayhawkville, and the program continues to add to it to make it as real-life and applicable to future leaders as possible.
Additionally, the simulation includes personalities of principals that tie into what makes a good leader and different leadership behaviors that can be analyzed and synthesized. Bessolo believes that this aspect of the program is another valuable experiential resource of KU's program that sets it apart from other schools.
Bessolo highlights the significance of course flexibility in their online ELPS program, emphasizing that they provide an asynchronous program that includes unique built-in modules, all within a one-week timeframe. Their approach allows for a convenient and efficient learning experience for students, providing them with the flexibility they need to succeed. This format allows students to have some flexibility within the week to complete assignments and access on-demand content at any time of the day or night, which is particularly beneficial for students who work and/or have family obligations.
She adds that KU is sensitive to the fact that many program participants are parents, coaches, or have other responsibilities outside of their academic pursuits. Bessolo notes that KU offers prompt feedback from instructors and grading assignments, as well as live videos and office hours, for students to engage with their instructors. All of these efforts are aimed at making the program as flexible and accessible as possible for students.
According to Bessolo, the time commitment is flexible, with recommended timeframes of approximately six to eight hours per week for completing the modules. She explains, "Depending on people's individual reading styles and paces, the module content is there when they want to access it."
Additionally, she notes that while some students may be able to complete the work in shorter amounts of time, there is usually a paper or project due each week, along with readings and modules to engage with online.
The programs’ asynchronous format allows for greater flexibility in balancing work and personal commitments, with students able to complete the work at their own pace and on their own schedule. As Bessolo confirms, "We're very sensitive to that. Many of our program participants are parents who only have a few hours in the evening to spend with their kids."
This flexibility also benefits students who may be working full-time or have other responsibilities, as they can complete the coursework without sacrificing their work-life balance. As the director notes, "We build the program so that content is due at the end of the weekend, because our graduate students are most likely working full-time."
From students to leaders: KU online ELPS program’s successful alumni
KU’s ELPS online master’s program has had numerous successful alumni who have landed prestigious leadership positions in the education industry and then want to continue their studies.
According to Bessolo, one of her favorite experiences is receiving emails from former students informing them that they have landed their first assistant principal or principal job. "I've also had a few students phone back, email back, and ask about further experiences that they can take with us.”
The program builds strong relationships with its alumni, and many of them are happy to share their exciting news with the program and allow it to celebrate their achievements on social media platforms. This is a testament to the program's success and effectiveness in preparing its students for leadership roles in the education industry.
A program alumni rave about
The ELPS online master’s program has received many positive reviews from alumni. Many praise the quality of the content and instructors as well as the flexibility of the program.
Former students have gone on to refer colleagues to the program. “We might have two or three of our program students at the same school, and they might be halfway across the country. I think that's testament to maybe what KU offers and the quality of the instructors and the content that we offer in a way that's packaged, that it's palatable for working professionals with families or other dynamics and obligations," Bessolo says.
The success stories of ELPS alumni and the positive feedback they provide are a testament to the program's effectiveness and the value it provides to working professionals seeking to advance their careers.
“A truly transformative experience”
KU’s online ELPS master’s program offers a transformational experience for students, as described by Bessolo. "I truly think about a transformational experience. I think we really talk a lot about that bigger view." The program aims to broaden students' perspectives beyond their previous experiences as educators and specialists, toward a leadership-focused view of education. Through the program, students learn to view leaders critically and to practice leadership theories and behaviors.
The program's internship component is a particular highlight for students, as it provides opportunities to put their learning into practice and make a meaningful impact. As the instructor notes, "One of my favorite things is when I hear back from students after their internship who say, this is harder than I thought, but this is really cool. I can make an impact."
This kind of feedback supports that the program is successful in transforming students' thinking and empowering them to become effective leaders.
Ultimately, the online program aims to cultivate a more humble and servant-minded approach to leadership. As Bessolo notes, "Leadership is hard and to do it well is difficult. It's working with a lot of stakeholders."
The program emphasizes the importance of making a positive impact and inspiring and motivating others, rather than relying on authority or power. By providing a transformative educational experience, KU’s program equips students to lead effectively in a rapidly changing educational landscape.
For students at any career crossroad
The ELPS program is available to answer any questions and is suitable for students at any point in their careers. Bessola says, "Anyone considering our program should at least give us a call, email us, or talk to some of our former alumni that we can put you in touch with. If there is any inclination or desire to start, I would say at least give it a try. Talk to us. We can answer your questions."
Some individuals may be hesitant to pursue the program, thinking they are too young or may not have the stomach for it, but the faculty encourages them to explore their interests and options. Bessolo explains, "Our program also doesn't mean you must become a principal. Some other components to the program provide suitable alternatives, including our non-licensure component."
The faculty members are approachable and friendly, always ready to help and answer questions. They encourage any conversation or interest, anytime. As one faculty member mentioned, "We're a very friendly bunch, very approachable. So I would encourage any conversation, any interest, anytime."
Transform your career with a master's in educational leadership
If you are interested in exploring a career in education leadership or advancing your current career, the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program at the University of Kansas School of Education and Human Sciences is an excellent option.
Learn to inspire educators at all levels in our Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. KU offers online master’s degrees, graduate certificates, and licensure endorsement programs and our admissions outreach advisors are here to answer your questions.
Get in touch with us today.
*This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.