What was your path to student affairs?
I was a journalism major as an undergraduate student, but found that I enjoyed my work as a Resident Assistant more than I did my academic coursework. Writing is an intensely solitary activity and, as an extrovert, I found it frustrating to spend my hours alone in front of a computer. Planning events for residents and helping them in their collegiate experience was far more rewarding. A few professional staff members in the Department of Residence Life nudged me toward student affairs and did so in a way that was genuine and authentic.
Why did you choose a career in student affairs?
Honestly, I flipped a coin between going into a student affairs graduate program or a public administration program. At their core, they are similar in terms of administration, helping others, and developing processes that support success of individuals. Student affairs won, obviously.
What motivates you to be a student affairs educator?
The community that exists on a college or university campus in unparalleled, not only for students, but for faculty and staff. This is a group of people who come together for one reason — to see students succeed. As I’ve progressed in the field, I’ve focused on that idea of student success specifically because it means different things to everyone. While the ultimate goal for all students is a degree, there are also self-imposed measures of success along the way. Maybe it’s helping them identify a leadership role or find an internship; maybe it’s assisting them in identifying a plan for self-care or well-being.
How do you stay motivated through draining or difficult experiences in your work?
I believe that if you love your work, you can stay motivated through anything. I’ve had some incredibly difficult experiences and situations in my career. Ultimately, though, I’m doing what I want to be doing in a place that I love with students for whom I care deeply. Even on the bad days, there is good. It may be a lesson learned, a skill honed, or even a kind word from a student.
What is the most surprising (but awesome) thing you’ve ever experienced in your job in student affairs?
People often told me that student affairs is a thankless job, but I disagree. I’ve found students and family to be incredibly grateful for what the work we do, and unabashed in demonstrating that gratitude.
How can new professionals succeed in student affairs/what does success mean?
The area where I see new professional struggle most is in balancing the administrative tasks of their role in addition to the hands-on work with students. There is more paperwork and red tape than most of us would have assumed before entering the field. I think finding ways to manage that administrative work early on is key to success – create a process for keeping documentation about student interactions, use your campus calendar, reevaluate time management skills.
What do you consider critical topics for student affairs educators right now?
I think student affairs needs to take a critical look at how we embody our value of social justice. While it’s something we try to teach students, it’s not always reflected in our own practices and policies. We need to aim for values congruence, which can be hard and feel uncomfortable, but is necessary for true support of our students. The rising costs of a college education are a hot topic now. I think student affairs has a responsibility to look at that not only through the lens of the tuition, room, and board charges, but also how a student’s socioeconomic status influences their experience on campus. Does a student without a smart phone have the same access to information and opportunity as others? Do students have free social options on campus to help them find a peer group without feeling a need to keep up with others?
What does a typical day look like in your current position?
There’s no such thing as a typical day, of course. I jokingly and lovingly refer to my position as the Associate Director of Other Duties as Assigned because of the unique and diverse tasks assigned to me. On more that one occasion, a faculty member has commented they could never do my job. I’m glad — it’s mine and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Darcy Kemp on Advising Student Groups