Throughout our #CSAM14 Series, we aim to bring you snapshots and spotlights of some amazing folks in our field.
Today’s feature is on Katie Collins, Campus Activities Coordinator/Resident Director at Newbury College.
What was your path to student affairs?
Like many, I ended up in Student Affairs on accident. I drove all the way to Buffalo, NY from North Adams, MA to look at their science masters program. While there, I fell in love with the campus, but not the program. So I spent the 7 hour ride back thinking a lot about what I really wanted to do. When I got back, I went to my mentor and told her I needed a letter of recommendation because I was applying to higher education programs and she literally jumped out of her chair and ran to give me a hug. I had been so adamant that I was going to go into the science because that’s why I was at school, but I didn’t realize until October of my senior year that I was learning in and OUT of the classroom and that one was having a larger influence on me than I thought.
Why did you choose a career in student affairs?
I wanted to work with humans and not lab rats. Well, that’s not the real reason, but it’s true. I wanted to pay it backward in a way. There had been so many people there for me in undergrad, from the days I thought about transferring to the times when I was doing amazing. I wanted (and still want) to be that person for other students. It’s as simple as that.
What motivates you to be a student affairs educator?
It’s going to sound corny, but the students. Their faces when the light bulb goes on, or when they finally make it through a tough time in life, or when they are just so surprised that someone is willing to just sit there and listen. Our field is so expanse and can be so many things to the students, so it is motivation in itself to find new and creative ways to be there for my students.
How did you discern that student affairs is your vocation?
I always try and think if there was a moment when I knew this is what I wanted to do this, but I don’t think there is. I just fell into it and went with it. Probably the best thing I’ve done blindly without looking back.
How do you stay motivated through draining or difficult experiences at work?
I get myself in a place with students. Have conversations with them that are completely unrelated to anything I’m doing and get back to the roots of why I’m in this field. And if that doesn’t work, I binge some Netflix.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your job in student affairs?
My biggest challenge has been having a split position. Needing to balance the responsibilities of Campus Activities and Residence Life can be difficult, especially when you can’t just take one hat off and put another one. But I also sought out a position like this. I wanted to have that dual experience. It’s a different kind of balancing act than a lot of other entry level student affairs positions and it definitely gives me a different perspective.
What is the most surprising (and awesome) think you’ve experienced in student affairs?
How quickly students open up to you. I was never the kind of person to trust someone right off the bat so when I started my NODA internship at Stony Brook University in Summer 2012, I was expecting to have to break down some walls as the “new and temporary” person. However, that’s not what happened. From Day 1 they were hugging me, saying how excited they were to have me there, and opening up about some personal stuff already. I realized that just being associated with this field can give students the feeling that we’re safe people to talk to, and that’s an awesome feeling that has continued with every position I’ve had.
What led you into your student affairs functional area? Is it where you planned to end up?
Everyone through grad school asked what functional area I wanted to end up in. My list of “not here” areas was easier to list. And even as a new professional, I’m not 100% sure of where I want to end up, and I think that’s awesome because in this field, positions are ever changing and you can get new experiences in so many functional areas. All I know is that at the end of the day, I want hands on time with students and I want to make a difference.
What has surprised you most about working in student affairs?
Not how small our world is. I know a lot of people who say that is what surprises them the most, but I expected that just based on the kind of people who are drawn to these jobs. We want to know each other, we want to connect, we want to be helpful, and that connects our tight knit community.
What is the best thing about a career in student affairs?
It’s different. Different from other business positions, different every day, different schedules all the time, different people you can work with, different activities you can do…it’s just always different.
What do you wish you had known before you chose a career in student affairs?
How emotionally draining it can be. You connect with so many people and can empathize over so many things that it really can drain your batteries pretty quickly. Luckily, it’s easy to recharge them with either introvert time alone or feeding off of friends, family, and colleagues to build yourself back up, but that was definitely more of a shock to my system than I thought, even going into grad school.
How can new professionals succeed in student affairs? What does success mean?
Try. Give it your all, try new things, and don’t be afraid to be imperfect. Success is based on your own self. It’s not necessarily money, or status, or being the one all the students run to. It’s knowing you’ve done the best job you can and being ok with that.
What are the most important tools for learning about a career in student affairs?
Social media and your professional network! When it comes to a job search or looking into graduate school, websites aren’t always 100% up to date. I found about about University at Buffalo and my job here at Newbury College because of my network. If it wasn’t for my network giving my suggestions and helping me along, I probably wouldn’t be where I am now.
What do you consider critical topics for Student Affairs educators right now?
As always, sexual assault prevention and follow up. It’s been in the news and is unfortunately something every campus needs to focus on. But also how we can keep ourselves going without running ourselves into the ground. I think we forget about self care a lot and it’s a topic we need to take seriously now.
Which student development theories do you use most often in your work (your “go to” favorites)
Challenge and Support. I literally think about it every day when I’m working with my students. It sounds cliche, but it’s true.
What does a typical day look like in your current position?
hahahahaha, typical day?! Those don’t exist in student affairs, especially in Residence Life or Campus Activities.
What do your parents think you do (how do you explain Student Affairs to folks)?
My parents didn’t understand what it was at first, especially since I came from a science background. But they could tell from how excited I was as a student in my clubs and organizations that this was something I could excel in. As time has gone on, they’ve finally figured it out, especially now that my cousins are getting to the age where they are entering college and I can help them through that process and they’re learning about other people in my positions. That’s making it a lot easier!
What question do you wish we would have asked you?
How my job search went: It was tough. Coming out of grad school in May 2013, a lot of people around me were getting jobs and I was hitting a wall with every lead I had, even after doing TPE. I ended up moving from Buffalo back to Massachusetts to live with my parents. It took me 11 months to get a job and there were some really low points during my search where I questioned if I was making the right decision going into this field. But it gave me lots of time to reflect on my past experiences and I think it made me a better professional having that time to really discover what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be.
This post is part of our #CSAM14 series, looking to highlight both the careers of amazing student affairs professionals, and specific questions that dig deep into what it means to be in student affairs. Each post reflects the insights of student affairs professionals of all kinds. For more information, check out the intro post by Ryan Bye.