Read all #CSAM15 posts here.
Having taken the lead on Careers in Student Affairs Month for the Learn Forward team, I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to interact with all of the professionals we have spotlighted throughout the month. As I reflect on all of our conversations, I can’t help but walk away inspired. I have been encouraged both professionally and personally by listening to each person’s individual story, career path, and bumps in the road. In wrapping up our series as part of #CSAM15, I thought I’d share some of my reflections, favorite sound-bites, and pearls of wisdom from each of our interviews.
Our series kicked off with Tyneka Harris Coronado, Project Manager from DePaul University. I personally really appreciated the unique perspective she brings to Student Affairs with her background in Computer Science, which came through in her advice to new professionals: Think about data. And she’s right, when first starting a career in student affairs it’s easy to be excited about the front lines of student programming and events. But the reality is that if these programs and events are planned with assessment in mind, the story the data can tell about the program can be truly powerful, supporting accreditation and ultimately impacting the future student experience.
Jocelyn Collen, Director of the Center for Ministry and Service at Regis College gave some great advice for everyone in the field. She reminds us as rewarding as student affairs is, the work can also be exhausting as it often requires us to give so much of ourselves to the job, our students, and colleagues. It’s important to take care of ourselves, giving as much love to ourselves as to others, reiterating that “if you don’t care for you first, you cannot care for someone else!”
Kim Canine, Associate Dean of Students at Union College summed up how many of us have found our way into the profession with this one quote, “you don’t go out for student affairs, it finds you.” As an undergraduate Kim had an interest in being an RA, when a Dean told her that she really thought she was someone meant to help lead the larger community instead of just one part of the community, propelling her into student government and ultimately down the rabbit hole toward a career in student affairs. Kim’s path really made me think about the important role we each can play in nurturing someone else’s journey to student affairs. As student affairs does not often pop up on typical career assessments, the power of encouragement can do so much to continue to bring diverse and driven leaders to our field.
Meg Cranney, Assistant Director of Student Activities at Chestnut Hill College is one of those driven leaders somewhat new to the profession. Her energy and enthusiasm for the profession was beyond inspiring. I particularly loved her career advice for new professionals to “not be afraid to work in an office that you may not have an interest in as the experience will help you see Higher Education through different perspectives and give you more wisdom when working with students.” While Meg had only planned for her time in the financial aid office to be a foot in the door, it has provided her a wealth of knowledge that she has been able to carry into her work with students in the student activities office. You truly never know how one job might be preparing you for the next!
Our conversation with Damon Brown, Director for the Office of Student Activities and Involvement at Central Michigan University was incredibly motivating and encouraging. In describing our field, he reminded me how lucky we are to do the work we do as “we have a wonderful opportunity to work with, guide and develop students.” He reiterated, “it is truly a privilege, a privilege that not a lot of other professions have, and one that gives us the opportunity to truly impact the world.” He’s right; it can be easy to take our work in student affairs for granted, we truly are so lucky.
Cathleen Borgman, Director of the Career Planning Center at Fairfield University was a riot. With her straightforward answers and insistence we call her Cath - only her mother calls her Cathleen - she took us through the twists and turns of her accidental student affairs career. What stuck out to me most though was her advice to new professionals to take time and understand the lay of the land before jumping in and making mass changes no matter how anxious you are to make a name for yourself. I love this advice and have found it to prove true as I have entered new institutions and organizations over the course of my career. She is so wise in encouraging all professionals new to an institution that “patience and a well thought out plan can take longer but eventually it can make a huge difference in the development of a robust program.”
There were so many take-a-ways from our conversation with Paul Shepherd, Director of Student Life at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls, it is hard to choose just one, so I won’t! His story sounded so similar to mine in that he was always drawn to education, but never really knew what subject to teach. Having finally made his way to student affairs, his mother captured his career so eloquently: “Student affairs professionals teach life!” What a great way to capture the work we do in the field of student affairs! I was also really encouraged by his advice for younger professionals to see feedback as a real gift. Often we want to push people away who want to give us feedback (especially when the feedback is critical), but Paul encourages us to see those people as investing in us and making us better professionals. As one who can sometimes struggle with critical feedback, this advice was truly a gift offering me a new perspective. And finally, I appreciated his encouragement for all of us of to be lifelong learners...
“We are a field of application and everything that has been learned needs to be applied. It is important to keep the learning alive and moving. We are a profession that evolves very quickly and we need to instill and apply those life learning skills.”
What stuck out to me most about our interview with Stephen Scott, Assistant Dean of Students at The University of Chicago, was the thoughtfulness and intentionality he brings to his career, and ultimately, every aspect of his life. From the decision to pursue student affairs, to the decision to take a break from the profession and care for his young children, to re-entering the profession at a new institution and in a new role, he was incredibly deliberate in his decisions every step of the way. As one who also took some time away from the field to take care of my family, I really related to Stephen’s story. There are fears associated with leaving, and not knowing when and in what capacity you might return. Stephen’s advice to new professionals to seek out a mentor early on and get comfortable networking ultimately proved incredibly beneficial to him over the course of his career, and his story can serve to alleviate fears for anyone who may also be contemplating a pause in the profession.
Michael Baumhardt, Associate Director of Student Activities & Student Organizations at the University of Miami offered some unique insights on the role of professional organizations in the field. As an active member of both NACA and NASPA, Michael described how professional associations gave him his start in student affairs and has been a great way for him to connect to those most related to his area of student affairs in a way that he can’t necessarily connect at his institution. A benefit of professional organizations that I had never really considered before, but it’s true, when you’re the only one at your institution in a given role, it can be so valuable to network with others in similar positions at other institutions and bounce ideas back and forth. I also appreciated his insights on how he sees professional organizations playing a tremendous role in our future as they offer one of the best ways to stay on top of trends and best practices.
It was a pleasure talking with Jack McLean, Assistant Vice President at Loyola University Chicago. His story starting his career as a lawyer, and then entering the Jesuits (a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church), to then ultimately leave the order and join the field of student affairs is one of the most unique roads to higher education I have heard! Ultimately, it was his career advice to first and foremost establish yourself as a capable employee that really stuck out to me from the conversation. He made a great point that 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.”
So, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have found this month to be incredibly inspiring and thought-provoking. I have been encouraged to reflect on my own career path, choices, and future. I am so grateful to each and every one of these professionals who took the time to share their story, their reflections along the way, and advice for those new and established in the field. Your story was truly a gift to us here at Learn Forward and we are thankful you let us share it!