My name is Melodye MacAlpine and I am the Director of Graduate and Professional Student Services at Pacific University. Pacific is a small, private university in Oregon, just west of Portland. We have a student population of approximately 3500, and about half of those students are enrolled in graduate or professional programs, most of which are healthcare professions.
A typical day for me is really dependent on what lands in my email inbox! Much of my days are spent responding to issues that pop up for students and faculty. Some of the common things I’m dealing with are students who may need some extra support in regard to study strategies, students who have personal issues that are interfering with academics or are experiencing a challenge at their clinical site, faculty who would like me to follow up with a student who they have concerns about, etc. I feel that something unique about my position is the amount of faculty contact that I have, compared with other SA pros. Having strong working relationships with faculty is essential to my position – I need to be sure that they are aware of my role as well as my knowledge and expertise so that we can work together to be proactive on student issues.
There are definitely a lot of ebbs and flows with my position, and while some of those are fairly predictable based on the academic calendar, I definitely feel like I need to be prepared for anything at any time (which basically sums up the whole student affairs profession, am I right?) I am pretty involved with new student orientation as well as commencement, and since we’re on semesters that means that August and April/May are pretty busy with students who are transitioning in or out. Another big part of my role is to assist students, as well as academic programs, when a student is going through a hearing process that may result in suspension or dismissal. Typically these hearings are a result of inadequate academic progress and so the end of each semester tends to be a bit busier with these types of issues.
One of my favorite things about working at a small institution is the ability I have to choose the types of projects that I want to work on. To be clear, this isn’t always the case – there are plenty of things that I have to do that I wouldn’t necessarily choose! But at most small schools (at least the ones I’ve worked at) there are plenty of things that should get done but they aren’t necessarily part of anyone’s job description, so it’s easy for me to find a project that I have an interest in, that will have a positive impact on the student experience, and will result in a more efficient process.
A recent project that I took on involves the process that I mentioned above, when a student is in jeopardy of being suspended or dismissed. At our institution, each college or school has historically had its own process for this, and one could typically look very different from another. Because we are one university, and not simply a conglomeration of different colleges and schools, having various processes can be problematic. I was able to become involved with a small group that was beginning to look at this problem, and now I am leading the committee and we are starting to see some real changes.
Another project that has gained some momentum recently for me also involves working with faculty. It grew out of a request from a dean to talk with the program’s faculty about how I work with students and how to navigate difficult conversations. Since that time, there have been more deans that have asked for this support and I’ve had the opportunity to lead discussions about how to advise graduate and professional students. These requests tend to pop up either when there is a particular student issue, or when faculty have time to meet as a group (usually right around finals week).
Overall, I feel like I have a lot of variety in my work, which keeps things interesting and refreshing. It is very rewarding to be able to work so closely with students, faculty, and administrators. While my days are largely unpredictable (it’s common that my “to do” list gets longer, rather than shorter, by the end of the day) I can count on the fact that I will never run out of opportunities to provide a positive impact to a student’s experience.
This post is part of our #dayinSA series on highlighting the diversity of functional areas in the field of student affairs. We will hear from #SApros of all kinds – academic advisors, office mangagers, res hall directors, vice provosts of SA, and many many more. Each will share exactly what their typical day looks like, what exactly they work on, and what makes them want to come to work each day. We hope to squash stereotypes within the field and celebrate all the different kinds of great work that #SApros do. For more information, check out the intro post by Sara Ackerson. Be sure to read the other posts in this series too!