Before I began graduate school I set an imaginary timer for myself. I thought, “Okay, I’ll complete this program, collect some great experiences, establish a stronger network within higher education, and break out into another area of the country.” My intent was to have a position secured before I even attended the graduation ceremony. As an undergrad at Eastern Connecticut State University I had a fairly similar plan. In February, 2013 I attended the Southern Placement Exchange and by March I accepted an offer to work with the University of South Alabama. As someone born and raised in the northeast, I guess you could call the move to Mobile, Alabama a “leap”.
What I didn’t count on was this leap lasting more than two years.
I completed my program this past May and graduated a couple weeks later. One more step to check off my list, right? Not so much. Let me rewind.
You see, my position with my new University was in Housing and Residence Life. However, I learned quickly that Housing and Residence Life wasn’t my thing. Quite honestly, I wasn’t a fan of having less positive student interaction and more judicial issue-related meetings with students.
Something didn’t click. Before I began my program in Educational Leadership I was fairly certain that my end goal wasn’t Housing and Residence Life. At South Alabama, I viewed this appointment as a step in the right direction. Similar to Doug, a difficulty I’ve had in my own #SAjourney was focus.
My issue with focus was that I was too interested in different areas of my University. I had taken on the task of reinvigorating a dormant student organization dedicated to environmental sustainability (due to my own interest) and began pursuing an internship with Career Services barely six months into my appointment as a GA with Housing.
I loved Housing and perhaps it will be chapter of my story later on, but I knew my happiness was more important to me than anything else. In my first year as a graduate student I had developed bonds with other members of the campus, bonds that made me feel more connected to the relatively young University than I had felt with Housing.
You see, the University of South Alabama is barely more than fifty years old. We’ve had only three presidents in our history, and one of which just took office about a year ago. What drew me to this University after all was it’s “blank slate” nature. I was sold on the opportunity to take a young University in the South and inspire activities that could later become tradition.
Well, I’ve taken the urge to establish a new tradition and began running with it. One of those connections I mentioned previously includes the relationship I developed with my University’s Writing Center (WC) Manager. I had experience tutoring students with their writing at my undergraduate university, and felt like I needed to be reintroduced to that academic environment if I planned on really refocusing myself.
Two years later and I’ve experienced more of the inner workings of Higher Education working in the “Academic Affairs” side of the University as compared to what I was exposed to within Housing.
Together, the WC Manager and I were able to develop funding proposals that in one year led to the creation of a new space on campus for the WC (much more centralized than our previous location) and the staff has been doubled from 8 consultants to 16!
I’m still on the #SAjourney, no doubt about it. But for now, I finally I feel like I’m “home”. Throughout the next couple months I’ll continue to groom myself for a WC Director/Manager position whether it becomes available at my current University (if my mentor moves onto bigger and better things), or if I have to relocate to another university.
There have been times I’ve felt lost as both a graduate student and as a developing professional. What I learned though was this profession is not a race. I compared myself to others in the field for too long and these comparisons left me unhappy. Now that I’ve focused on me, I’m back to enjoying what I’m doing.
This post is part of the Emerging SA Pro series following 4 awesome people: Alexandria, Doug, Emily, and Alexander, as they blog monthly about 1 year of their journey as either a new SA Pro or SA grad student. We are proud to help them share their stories as they break into our field.