When I first started working at my university, one of the things that struck me almost immediately was that some people at the university often referred to it as a “startup.” Not in the sense of everyone in hoodies and jeans huddled around computers all day, but in terms of developing swift and sustainable growth for the university and its students. Being in a “startup” environment as a budding student affairs professional can be exciting, but it also comes with its own set of challenges:
Freedom to create: It’s a brave new world at my university. We are forging into uncharted territory by opening a pharmacy school focused on primary care in California’s historically underserved Central Valley. In many ways, anything goes! The novelty of it all gives me the flexibility to try different things in different ways and be creative, whether it’s organizing a student organization fair or even how I handle data entry in our database (sounds super thrilling, I know). But I still like to have structure in my life, and too much loosy-gooseyness can also be difficult to deal with, too.
Policies still being put in place: In a university that is literally two years old, there aren’t established protocol and policies in place like there are at universities that have been around for decades, if not centuries. Kinks are still being worked out. Sometimes it is hard to know how to deal with certain situations, like an issue of professionalism in a student, staff, or faculty, because these situations are so new. However, my university is working diligently toward instituting its policies and protocols, and real progress has been made in even the few months I have worked at my job.
Writing my own job description: The ability for me to, in a way, write my own job description, is incredibly unique, especially for someone who works in higher education. When I was first hired, my position as administrative assistant for student services had never existed before. Of course, I was hired to assist with specific duties, such as the admissions cycle, but as the university continues to evolve, its needs also evolve. This creates new opportunities for me to try out different aspects of student affairs, from admissions and event coordination to committee service and much more. For example, I ended up with the responsibility of compiling the University event calendar for this coming semester, though that was something I wasn’t hired to do. From sampling these different areas, I can identify my own strengths and incorporate them into my various responsibilities.
Writing my own job description: As exciting as it is for me to “create” my position as I go along, sometimes the ambiguity of what I am responsible for can be confusing. I am the kind of person who likes to help everyone, and at such a small university, it’s an “all hands on deck” atmosphere. But I have to be careful not to overstep my bounds in helping others and make sure I am sticking to my scope of student affairs, and not get bogged down helping colleagues in other areas that I don’t necessarily need to be involved in. It’s a learning process for everyone involved. Lesson: sometimes, it’s okay to say no!
Room for growth: With every year, the university will continue to expand and grow, and so will the needs of its students as more enroll each year. These changing needs may present chances for growth, and because of my experience at this university, an opportunity may come up where I could rise a little higher than my current position as an administrative assistant and continue to develop my career in student affairs. Needless to say, I find this prospect exciting!
Constantly changing needs: Only a few weeks after I started my position, the director of student affairs left, and we didn’t have a new one in place for a few months. As a result, her duties were divvied up between several people in the university, myself included. Right off the bat, I was asked to help coordinate the White Coat Ceremony (sort of like a graduation ceremony, but for first-year students, to introduce them into the pharmacy profession), help manage volunteer sign-ups for a large community health fair that the university was hosting, organize a student organization fair, and more. Needless to say, I was very daunted! But at a new university, you have to roll with the punches, and luckily I have gained valuable insights and skills from those moments of stress and feeling unsure of myself.
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Podcast With DT Henry on Academic Advising First-Year Student Athletes