Spotlight on Alumni

When Roosevelt MATD alumna Sandra Harrison was growing up on the west side of Chicago, higher education wasn’t her primary focus, she said. As a young mother, she further put her own educational aspirations on hold.

But once her children were older, Sandra started an undergraduate program in business administration and nonprofit services. At the time, she was working as a program director in Maywood and Chicago with at-risk youth, leading violence prevention initiatives. She discovered Roosevelt’s training and development program and decided to apply.

“When I started my career track, formal training and development as a discipline was just on the horizon,” Sandra said. “To have an educational discipline that supported my passion for ‘talking’ was everything.”

After graduating from Roosevelt, Sandra cofounded Leaders in Transformational Education (LITE), a nonprofit that serves youth ages 16 to 24 who are disconnected from school or the workforce. As LITE’S chief training officer, she manages day-to-day operations and provide agency-wide learning and development. Their mission is to build creative pathways in communities through education and training, resulting in higher earning potential for opportunity youth and their families. LITE is funded in part by the Department of Human Services, The City of Aurora, Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley and several generous private donors.

In addition to her work with LITE, Sandra is also CEO of DVA Leadership & Development Training Consultants, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. The Aurora-based firm has its first ever brick-and-mortar location at the Thrive Collaboration Center, a hub for nonprofits and social entrepreneurs. DVA provides cost-efficient, leadership training and development to both youth and adult audiences. High energy, play-infused training is provided on-site at Thrive or at a customer’s location.

I always knew I wanted to teach, but I never wanted to be a traditional teacher! I loved working with people and I enjoy helping youth grow and prepare. My Roosevelt experience prepared me to be a social entrepreneur because it helped me understand how possible it was to do that without compromising my dreams.

While researching higher learning institutions, RU was in alignment with my social justice convictions. I wanted to educate and motivate our new and existing workforce. In a time when older students were signing up for online colleges, the history and integrity of Roosevelt resonated with me.

Professor Caroline Kisiel taught me that you can use anything around you to drive home a learning point. That prompted my creative innovation. Today, I train in Technicolor and incorporate “play” into all my training and professional development events.

At DVA Leadership & Development Training Consultants, we work with youth and businesses to close the workforce preparedness gap. We also work with schools, nonprofits and other government agencies to ensure their staff have more than the technical skills needed to do their job. As a consultant, we manage open contracts, which typically provides in-person training, organization development or coaching services.

Her advice for RU students: Represent! Be part of the solution. Our RU reminds us that social injustice is all around us. It’s up to us to make a difference in poverty, racial injustice, discrimination, violence and homelessness.

Don’t think outside of the box – CRUSH THE BOX!

10 comments

  • Congratulations Sandra Harrison! This spotlight is inspiring to all MATD students, it shows us the many ways we can apply our degree and contribute to our communities.

  • What a truly inspiring and empowering article! I love reading about her success in taking action to better serve the community and work towards closing the gap of social injustices! Way to represent RU!

  • I truly appreciated this post as it speaks to many of us that come from humble beginnings. Higher education was always a personal goal of mine, however, I didn’t always have many resources accessible to obtain this goal. I believe this is a common concern for many individuals, which leads to their decision to no longer peruse their education. Kudos to you Sandra for pushing through an overcoming the challenges life threw at you.

    I’d never come across the LITE program until reading this post and I’m so happy that I did as this can be an amazing resource to share with my students. The more I dive into the program at RU, the more intrigued I become training and development opportunities that support the youth; specifically those of color and low social and economic backgrounds.

    Seeing this post also opens my eyes to training and development opportunities for my team. As the individual responsible for the recruitment, selection, training, and development of our student staff, I often feel that it is my sole responsibility to facilitate everything that relates to these areas. But this post reminds me to use my resources as they will be beneficial to myself as well as my team.

    Sandra, thank you for sharing your story. It’s truly inspiring and motivates me to continue doing the work that not only inspires me but also inspires those around me.

  • Sandra’s advice is inspirational and one that we should all take to heart. The social injustice is indeed all around us and it’s up to us to dismantle the barriers that are in place that prohibit society from moving forward. Congrats to Sandra for her accomplishments!

  • Her journey is such an inspiration on how her forward thinking can truly launch into something great. I look forward to seeing how she continues to impact the community and grow her organization.

  • Sandra’s story is so compelling. I too have a passion for training those that work with and for our young people because those who do that uniquely difficult work have a special calling. They know this work is needed and it is undervalued. But training and professional development will bring about the awareness needed to gain the professionalism those youth workers deserve. So my decision to obtain a degree in T & D at RU was the perfect fit. I will be looking up Sandra soon as she is a person I want to know. Thank you Sandra, for all your tireless work.

  • What a transformational leader! Sandra uses her gifts and talents to be a catalyst for social change, and how awesome that RU played a part in her path to developing community. I value that she incorporates play into her training and development events. Play makes learning stick. She is an inspiration to the T&D field, within her organizations and community.

  • Mary Zmorzynski Dojutrek

    Wow! As a corporate trainer, I really appreciate Sandra’s mission at LITE and DVA, preparing young people for the workplace. Understanding and demonstrating professional behaviors like focus, collaboration, and decorum lead to success. When employees know the expectations, they have a far better chance of meeting and exceeding those expectations. Plus, I like how Sandra incorporates “play” into lessons on professionalism–an important balance for both a healthy career and a healthy life. Congrats Sandra for using your passion to transform lives!

  • This is amazing. I have a similar story and had my kids young and went to college later. I also always wanted to teach. I did want to be a school teacher. But that changed for me when I saw how the school systems were drastically changing more and I didn’t agree with what schools were now teaching with some subjects. I used to train new employees at several of my jobs so I felt that connected with my passion for teaching. I have a degree in Human Services because that was the only degree available to fit my schedule with work and kids. And now I am in the Training and Development with RU. My dream is to own properties and start my own storage facility company. But I also want to be a Corporate Trainer for a company. It wasn’t the original path I wanted. But I know that everything happens in the right timing. We have to keep pursuing our dreams. Life may throw obstacles or changes, but we can overcome and work around them and just do it later. God can use anyone for His glory. We are complete in Him.
    Congrats Sandra on all your accomplishments!

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