In a recent student organization fundraising workshop, I asked students to describe what they would choose to do with $500, $5,000, and $500,000 if these fictitious sums magically emerged in their bank accounts. Creativity was definitely flowing in this exercise—I heard everything from purchasing mats for the cheerleaders to engaging in philanthropy to hosting a large-scale conference in our community and even saving and investing the funds for future use.
This exercise reminded me a lot about the dreams that flow through my head when planning my professional development. If gifted $500,000 to invest in my career growth, I would choose to travel the world attending conferences and networking, making connections and building skills like it was going out of style! The reality, however, is that funds are limited. Money unfortunately does not grow on trees. Budgets are tight. Professional development sometimes takes the back seat to integral student programs and services…but does it have to?
Investment in our career growth should be a top priority, regardless of access to funds. Many professional development opportunities out there are low-cost or even free if we take the time to look for them and capitalize on existing relationships in our everyday lives.
Your Students. What can your students provide for you in terms of professional development? In my work, I have found that the student organizations I advise provide a vast network of opportunity for their membership, so why not take advantage of it as well? For example, the entrepreneurship student group on my campus recently hosted a free mini-conference for our community. Why not capitalize on the opportunity to learn something new and shape my career alongside these students?
Your Colleagues. What professional associations do your colleagues belong to? What vendors do they work with? Take inventory of these connections, as many times, you can take advantage of the professional development opportunities that come along with these connections. Share your connections too—we all benefit from them. For example, in my work with OrgSync, I find myself constantly sharing relevant Learn Forward and other product related webinar opportunities with my colleagues.
Your Department or Division. How can the work that your department or division is doing for students benefit your professional development? The Campus Life division at my institution recently negotiated an extra day onto a student-focused social justice speaker’s itinerary. The second day of her visit was dedicated to professional staff-focused training around the topic. Make the most of the opportunities you work hard to plan for students!
Your Institution. How can you tap into existing opportunities for professional development at an institutional level? Does your college or university offer tuition fee waivers or discounts? Take a class that will help you to realize your professional development goals and skill development. Or perhaps it’s time to consider pursuing your next degree. Working at an institution of higher education definitely has its perks!
Your Local Community. How can your community influence your professional development? George Siemens’ theory of connectivism—or connected learning— tells us that our very own networks highly influence our learning and vice versa. Consider those in close proximity geographically. Who or what organizations can you connect with to learn and develop collectively? Host a Student Affairs book club after work. Take a class through your local chamber of commerce. Attend a local TEDx event together.
Your Virtual Community. The digital revolution has also transformed our ability to rapidly crowdsource professional development opportunities in communities outside of our local geographic areas. Student Affairs professionals, in my eyes, are remarkable at this; we rely on our networks across the country and world through social media groups, hashtags (go #SAChat!), webinars, podcasts, Google hangouts, livestreamed and online conferences, and blogs…just to name a few. Something as simple as sharing knowledge with one another has the potential to shape ourselves, our careers, and our profession in incredibly powerful ways.
So, while we may not have access to $500,000 (or even $500 for that matter!) to spend on our professional development this year, with a little creativity and initiative, we can pursue a variety of opportunities to support our professional growth.
Missed a post? Read the entire Professional Networking Series here.
About the author: Danielle Croegaert oversees over 100 student organizations at Sonoma State University in Northern California’s picturesque Wine Country. In addition to advising student leaders, her current interests include staff development and training, organizational creativity, and leadership/professional identity development. Danielle is originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and enjoys sharing her love for cheese and craft beer with anyone who will listen! Beyond her foodie tendencies, she also enjoys shopping and pop culture, cheering on the Green Bay Packers, and contemplating the beginnings of her very own blog.