For our final #CSAM15 interview, the Learn Forward team had the pleasure of talking with Jack McLean, Assistant Vice President, Administration at Loyola University Chicago.
Jack, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today about your career in student affairs. All month we’ve been enjoying hearing how everyone got his or her start in the profession. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in higher education/student affairs?
I was very involved in student government as an undergraduate being a student body officer for two years. But, somehow, it never occurred to me that I could work in student affairs. So, I went on to law school, graduated and practiced law for several years. In a search for deeper meaning and purpose, I entered the Jesuits, a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church. After the first four years of formation (novitiate and philosophy studies), the Jesuits have a period called “regency” where all scholastics work in an apostolate. I was assigned to work in Student Activities at Gonzaga University for my regency experience, and thoroughly loved it. After my regency assignment was over, I was assigned to study theology and greatly missed working in higher education. Although I did not remain a Jesuit (and was never ordained), I did return to Jesuit higher education. I later worked at the University of San Francisco and Loyola University Chicago, each of which are Jesuit. So, I decided to pursue a career in higher education/student affairs while working in student activities at Gonzaga University.
Wow! That’s such a different path than many of the others I have encountered over the years. I imagine your law degree must give you an interesting perspective at times too. What would you say have been some challenges or turning points in your career thus far that have influenced its direction?
We are a two-career couple and were both working in San Francisco. My partner was offered a great opportunity in Chicago, and we ultimately decided he should accept it. That, of course, meant that I had to resign my position at the University of San Francisco. Fortunately, I was able to make a lateral move into another functional area, Student Leadership, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Another turning point happened five years after I arrived at Loyola University Chicago, when we got a new Vice President. He invited me to become Assistant Vice President, which was an excellent opportunity and great career challenge. I would have never had that opportunity without his offer, and I am very grateful for that.
It sounds like you’ve had quite a meaningful career. What advice do you have for new student affairs professionals who are just starting their journey in the field?
Dive in head first, and don’t be terribly concerned if your first job is not exactly what you envisioned yourself doing. The important thing is “getting your nose in the tent.” I have held 7-8 different positions in student affairs and none of them were positions that I immediately thought were a perfect fit. Each position had some aspect that really drew me to the position, but also areas with which I was totally unfamiliar. I thoroughly enjoyed each of the positions, and with professional development, grew into each of them. As far as “getting your nose in the tent,” I firmly believe the best thing you can do, career-wise, is establish yourself as a capable employee. Regardless of what you are doing, you can establish your credibility. So, even though you may not love your first position, when other positions open at the institution, you have an advantage in trying to move to them.
That’s great advice. Focusing on being a good employee and colleague really can pay dividends down the road – not only in a career, but in being able to be effective in your current position as well. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us and offering such sage advice. We look forward to connecting with you again soon in the near future!
Read all #CSAM15 posts here.