In graduate school, I had a clear idea of what type of work I wanted to do after I graduated. I knew I wanted to do orientation and transition work with undergraduate students. My student affairs career trajectory has deviated from this plan, but I am grateful for this change. My definition of “student affairs work” has expanded significantly. Both of my student affairs roles have been in STEM academic departments and primarily working with graduate students.
Currently, I am the Manager of Academic Affairs at the Center for Data Science (CDS) at New York University. Prior to CDS, I was the Student Affairs Officer at the Computer Science department at Columbia University. In both of these positions, I am/was involved in both the traditional understanding of the academic affairs world (e.g. academic program administration, course scheduling, curriculum improvement) and the student affairs world (e.g. orientation, advising, community-building, career development and placement).
As mentioned, these positions have taught me to broaden my definition of student affairs. Being a student affairs professional in a traditionally academic affairs environment has allowed me to bridge the two often historically competing worlds into more of a seamless environment, especially for students. Working in an academic environment has helped me develop a more holistic perspective when working with students. Learning occurs in multiple venues and we are all creating a learning environment for our students both inside and outside of the classroom. For example, we connect academic and student affairs through our CDS Academy Awards. This event focuses on celebrating students’ projects in their courses.
Another way my position has helped connect academic affairs with student affairs is through my interactions with colleagues, both faculty and administrators, who are less familiar with or not aware of the student affairs field. Luckily, I work with colleagues who want to learn about the work I do. They understand that both academic and student affairs are important for students’ learning and success in higher education. For example, I am responsible for developing and managing the student community building initiative at CDS. This includes social events, professional development workshops, and work with a student leadership group. I’m thoughtful about how I propose and discuss this initiative with colleagues on the more academic side of the Center. I always argue that a strong student community and continued engagement in CDS both from current students and alumni is linked to academic success.
My major takeaway is to continue to define and expand the definition of student affairs. Do not get caught up in your career plan. Take advantage of opportunities to bring student affairs to other areas of higher education that may not always see the connection and value of our field. We are working towards the same goal – to create an environment where the higher education community can learn and thrive. These opportunities will only help improve students’ experiences and learning and ultimately, strengthen the student affairs profession.
October is Careers in Student Affairs Month (CSAM). While increased awareness of entry-points into the field are important to highlight, CSAM also serves as a way to discuss the larger culture of student affairs. Our pursuit of ensuring student affairs staff is representative of diversifying student demographics can’t come at the cost of health and well-being of staff. Add your voice to the conversation by using #CSAM17. Have ideas about a future series for the Student Affairs Collective? Contact Nathan Victoria at firstname.lastname@example.org.