Post by Margaret Okada-Scheck, Associate Director of Admissions
Editor’s Note: Meet Margaret, the HDS Associate Director of Admissions! Margaret has a wide range of responsibilities in HDS Admissions, including leading the planning for our Diversity and Explorations Program, an opportunity for current undergraduate students from underrepresented backgrounds to learn more about the programs offered at HDS.
This post was originally written in 2020, but updated by Margaret in 2021.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you want the HDS community & prospective students to know about you?
Hello! My name is Margaret Okada-Scheck (she/her/hers), and I’m the Associate Director of Admissions at HDS Admissions. I’m originally from Queens, New York, and got my BA from the University of Buffalo. I am the child of Japanese immigrants, wife to a German man, and mom to a rambunctious 2-year old.
I’ve been working in graduate admissions for about 13 years and have been in this current role at HDS for 3 years. My primary responsibilities include recruiting prospective students, running the communications and marketing for HDS Admissions, serving on the Admissions Committee, and managing the Diversity and Explorations (DivEx) program.
How has your educational & professional background influenced your current work as Associate Director of Admissions at HDS?
I am grateful to have had a varied career of working in international education, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), and higher education. I got my start in higher education as a temp worker right here in HDS Admissions back in 2009. The Director of Admissions at the time hired me on full-time and mentored me into the fields of admissions, recruitment, and higher education more broadly. In addition to working full-time as a Staff Assistant, I was able to pursue my Master of Education (Ed.M.) part-time at Harvard Graduate School of Education.
I am lucky to have gotten my start at HDS because I have come to view the work I do as a type of ministry. I love supporting adults across their lifespan (whether a college student or a person seeking a change after decades of working) in discerning their next steps and demystifying the graduate admissions process.
After graduating, I became an Assistant Director of Admissions and Coordinator of Diversity Initiatives at Teachers College, Columbia University. This gave me the chance to move back to New York City as well as to focus on diversity recruitment and increasing access to students who have been underrepresented in graduate education. I did similar work at Harvard Graduate School of Education (and moved back to Cambridge) for a couple of years after that. When this opportunity became available, I was thrilled to be able to come back to the HDS community, and to use what I have learned to support the School’s mission to educate the next generation of moral and ethical leaders. The twin pandemics of COVID-19 and structural racism provide me with additional purpose and reaffirms for me that equity and integrity is at the forefront of all that I do.
You’ve been connected with the HDS and Harvard community for a long time, how would you characterize the community here? What do you love most about it?
Harvard Divinity School is one of the kindest places I have ever worked, and that is saying something. Like all places, there are challenges and tensions, but I think that is a natural part of being in a place where people wrestle with some of the more fundamental questions of humanity. The small size of the institution can be a gift, where an individual’s voice can be heard and affirmed, while also being held in context among other voices.
Diversity and Explorations (DivEx) is our annual program for current undergraduates who hold identities underrepresented in the study of religion. What has it been like to be the leader of planning for DivEx?
The Diversity and Explorations program is one of the highlights of my professional life and has been a fantastic extension of my previous work in diversity recruitment. It is a privilege and joy to bring together and support these gifted scholars, activists, ministers and other change-agents on their paths toward making the world a more just and equitable place. DivEx provides not only the opportunity for college undergraduates with the tools to submit an application to graduate programs, but it also provides a community of people who are incredibly different and yet also committed to issues of social justice and diversity in the wider world.
If you are a current undergraduate who is passionate about issues of social justice, and who is also interested in exploring divinity school and how the graduate study of religion might be a good fit for you, please check out the Diversity and Explorations program! The 2021 DivEx application deadline has passed, so check back on our website in Summer 2022 for the next application!
What advice do you have for prospective students?
OMG, I have SO MUCH advice. I think the first and most important thing is: know yourself. Really examine the reasons that are motivating you to make this investment of time, money, and resources to pursue a graduate education at this time. For some, it could be because they really want to build on scholarship and to expand the types of voices and perspectives in the study of religion. For others, they are called to service in some way, whether in public religious leadership or in education or in politics or a vast array of other areas.
After you figure out what your goals are, then it’s just figuring out which programs and institutions are the right fit for you. This is absolutely a personal decision but generally I recommend thinking about it broadly from a few different areas:
- Academics – If you are pursuing a graduate education, you should be interested in the subject matter. You should figure out which faculty you want to work with, what classes excite you, and what conversations you want to be engaged in.
- Geography – Some applicants may have the flexibility to move to Cambridge, MA and others may not. Think about how geography matters to you in regards to not only study, but also in terms of living and working.
- Funding – For most people, this is one of the most crucial aspects of pursuing a graduate education. My basic advice is to make sure to apply for financial aid and submit your FAFSA (for US citizens and Permanent Residents). Make sure to do research on external grants and scholarships (which can really help to offset the cost of education) and to reach out if you have any questions.
- Other – there are a whole host of other factors which different students make decisions on. These include internships/field education, research opportunities, student culture, access to other schools/courses, etc. Make a list of what matters to you and then order it in terms of your priorities.
One crucial piece of advice I have is to spend time speaking with current students in order to hear about their honest experiences in the program. This is one of the best ways to figure out if you feel the program might be a good fit for you. If you’d like to be connected with a current HDS student please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to include some information about yourself and your interests. Our Admissions Graduate Assistants will match you with a current student that shares similar interests and connect you via email.
Finally, there is one thing I want to address – imposter syndrome. I read recently that 70% of people have experienced this at some point in their academic and professional lives. I have experienced it too. Even though Harvard is a big name and can be terrifying to even consider applying for, you will never know if you will get in unless you try. If you find that Harvard Divinity School is the right fit for your academic, professional, and personal goals, then just apply. In the grand scheme of one’s life, graduate school is a pretty short period of time, and preparing and submitting a graduate application is even shorter than that. Don’t let fear stand in the way of pursuing your dreams. While we don’t provide individualized advice or evaluations for prospective applicants, I can guarantee that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
Can you introduce us to HDS Admissions official mascot, Bingo?
YES!!!!! BINGO is the best dog in the world! Bingo is a 6 or 7 year-old beagle/chihuahua/terrier mutt whom my husband and I adopted 5 years ago. He is originally from West Virginia and loves to take car rides, pee on corners, and go on hikes. The remote work life is the best for Bingo because he has us home all the time. He is a frequent visitor to meetings but is often asleep so isn’t very useful for things like note taking or providing feedback.