Arias intends to use the skills she gains in the EMP to expand college access for underrepresented scholars.
Headshot of Stephanie Arias
Stephanie Arias

Stephanie Arias, Evening Master’s Program (EMP) Class of 2021 and Director of College Initiatives at the Cristo Rey Network, was a first generation college graduate. Arias was born in Ecuador, and her family immigrated to Chicago when she was three. “My parents not only demonstrated hard work and discipline throughout their lives, but a spirit of joy and of kindness—even in hard times.”

Inspired by her parents, Arias graduated from Northwestern University in 2011 with a BS in Human Development and Psychology Services and Latina and Latino Studies. She has now worked in education for a decade, first as a college counselor with Urban Prep Academies (where she got to know her husband, Dominique McKoy, AM’20) and later at the network level with the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, where she also completed a Surge Institute fellowship.

While at Urban Prep, Arias drew inspiration working alongside her mentor Kenneth Hutchinson—who subsequently served as the Director of College Initiatives at the Cristo Rey Network. “He was a powerful voice for college access and completion, in particular for improving the landscape for young African American males throughout the country. He was a firecracker for his cause, and he understood the perspective and nuance needed in his work.”

When Hutchinson passed away unexpectedly at 35, Arias said both she and the staff at Cristo Rey were understandably shaken. "After many months of prayer and discussion with Hutchinson's widow and the Cristo Rey team, I left the Illinois Network of Charter Schools and stepped into his role.”

As Director, Arias oversees national college counseling and alumni advising initiatives, developing tools and coaching for school leaders and cultivating university partnerships to ensure underrepresented students have diverse, affordable college options.

“It's a legacy I'm trying to continue, not just for African American males, but more broadly for underrepresented scholars. My ultimate goal is to push students toward their most ambitious college option, whatever that means for them.”

With this goal always in mind, Arias pursued her degree with the Evening Master’s Program (EMP). “I am hoping this degree will advance my strategic planning skills so I can best use national and local data to meet Cristo Rey’s goals—and to gain insight into how different states and organizations make policies and decisions with regard to students.”

Her favorite class so far has been Leadership & Negotiations with Senior Lecturer John Burrows. “Burrows is obviously a force to be reckoned with—dynamic, high energy, and helps us think outside of the box. For example, when you're negotiating in class with your partner, you have really different materials in front of you. So I’ve learned to watch out for overconfidence, because unless you probe and are extremely explicit and clear upfront, you may miscommunicate.”

Arias said she also has appreciated the EMP program's diversity. “Some of my goals had less to do with scaling up my career and more with building a network of people beyond the education sector. The thoughtfully curated EMP curriculum and cohorts reflect that sector diversity: I now have a broader network to tap into for a better understanding of how different organizations and sectors come together to support the most vulnerable communities in Chicago. Having a bigger picture of the resources students and families can access is a key part of my work.”

The academic support, Arias said, also has been incomparable. “It's clear that the professors have attempted to be flexible and adaptive to the current circumstances and still retain a rigorous approach to our learning. To be honest, I didn’t expect this level of support and engagement from such a prestigious university. The program directors, Krisinda Doherty and Tempris Daniels, have been creative about how to get us to engage with our peers. I am really getting to know some of the other members of the cohort, which is exactly what I was looking for.”