Who is Chris?
I’m currently an Assistant Director for Residence Life at the University of Kansas. Hailing from Wisconsin, I love all things Great Lakes including hockey, craft beer, good food, large bodies of water, and rock and roll. My research interests include men and masculinity, organizational change, and higher education policy. I had the good fortune of spending my undergraduate career at the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh and my graduate career at Western Illinois University (I’m currently on the hunt for a doc program).
What was your path to Student Affairs (feel free to include your plans as an undergraduate, etc.)?
I distinctly remember my Community Adviser recruiting me to come to the Scott Hall Government meeting my first week at the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh. There was an open Hall Representative position and he encouraged me to apply (I’m not entirely sure why, I had an attitude). Not being able to see the entire group for my five minute “why me for hall rep” speech, I immediately stood on a less than stable chair to better project my voice and see the group. This may have been a result of watching “Dead Poets Society” too many times and never having an opportunity to stand on a classroom desk to make a point. It was at that moment I found a passion for serving the group in front of me and realized I wanted to have a life devoted to helping others “stand on the chair” so to speak. I became a Community Adviser the next year and never looked backed. At Oshkosh I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by a culture of Student Affairs. Great mentors. Incredible departmental leadership. The Oshkosh Placement Exchange. All of these things helped me to find my path. Never did my mentors push me to the point of being uncomfortable as I looked for a graduate school or tried to map out my path. They took the time to understand who I was, what I wanted to accomplish, and how to best serve others. I ended up at Western Illinois University for graduate school where the brilliant faculty and student affairs administrators taught us how to be great servant leaders for our students.
What motivates you to be a Student Affairs educator?
Knowing that I have the distinct privilege to help a student craft the story they’re hoping to write. While parts of that story may represent struggle, misdirection, or confusion, having the opportunity to help a student find their voice in crafting it is an honor. I’m also motivated by the sheer amount of problem solving and critical thought that goes into what we do. I remember being a young professional and thinking a good policy would solve for everything. How misguided I was. One of the most motivating aspects of what we do is being able to confront the unexpected and craft a path forward.
How did you discern that Student Affairs was your vocation?
It was more emotional, less logical. The work has just always “clicked” for me. That’s probably because it engenders my love of learning, problem solving, and service. But it can be hard to quantify. I legitimately get excited to go to work and solve problems. I feel bad saying this because I know finding your path can be such a struggle. I ultimately think I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time with the right people.
How do you stay motivated through draining or difficult experiences in your work?
I think of it like muscle growth. Our muscles break down and rebuild to be bigger and stronger. Each difficult experience or tough week is another distinct opportunity I have to learn, grown, and get it right. I also recognize that this job is a lifestyle. Our hours and commitments can blend into other parts of our lives. While this is important to keep in check, it’s also something I enjoy. This absolutely sounds idealistic, and I own that, but if we keep the ideal in sight we’re more likely to frame things that way in the future.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your job in Student Affairs?
There are times I feel like our field says what it means but doesn’t mean what it says. There’s often a disconnect between what we teach our students and what we practice as professionals. The innocuous example is that of a classroom style student affairs staff meeting. Professionals may tend towards sitting towards the back or the sides of the room. On that very same day we may just have taught a student about sitting in the front and middle of a classroom, as we know those are the best places to be.
What is the most surprising (but awesome) thing you’ve ever experienced in your job in Student Affairs?
We are positioned, more so than many, to create sustainable, long term change in the world. And that’s not an overstatement. We write and execute policy that quite literally impacts thousands of students daily. It’s easy to forget this when we’re bogged down in a single policy we struggle with or an otherwise small issue that pulls at a professional value we have. In the grand scheme, we have an incredible amount of influence.
What led you into your Student Affairs functional area? Is it where you “planned” to end up?
I’ve always enjoyed housing because it brings so many aspects of the college experience together. There were moments when I thought I might fit elsewhere (orientation) so I tried them out through campus partnerships. I have always come back to housing because of the challenge and development it provides. I like that we’re busy. I like that we have to be pretty good at a lot of things. I like that my job is a lifestyle.
What has surprised you most about working in Student Affairs?
I’ve been surprised at just how much the day to day of our jobs has changed in 10 years.
What is the best thing about a career in Student Affairs?
Serving students every single day and having the opportunity to constantly evaluate how effective we are at this.
What do you wish you had known before you chose a career in Student Affairs?
Honestly, I felt really well prepared by my mentors. I’ve never really had a “if only I had known!” moment. I think we need to remind ourselves that much of the work we do has a serious, long term impact and will be constantly evaluated and judged by others (student conduct is a great example of this). Sometimes we think we’re in a vacuum on campus. Much of what you do has long term implications. So be great at it and recognize you’re accountable to your work.
How can new professionals succeed in Student Affairs? (what does success mean?)
Success is doing the best possible job of serving your students. That means being REALLY GOOD at the basics. Don’t be good at being on a lot of committees. Be good at the core functions of your job.
What are the most important tools for learning about a career in Student Affairs?
Fantastic mentors. Hands down. All of the websites and programming sessions in the world don’t mean much if you don’t have a strong relationship with a caring, ethical, and brutally honest student affairs professional.
What do you consider critical topics for Student Affairs educators right now?
Conduct, crisis management, ADA, and FHA. All have far reaching implications and are being highly scrutinized by the media and government. Our emails can be read through records requests. Our work can be picked apart by third parties. Our decisions can be challenged both on and off campus. I can’t emphasize this enough. There’s an incredible level of accountability in what we do and there is not “well I don’t really like doing that” mentality with either. If it’s a part of your job, you need to do it well. The high level of scrutiny should motivate you to want to be awesome at it.
Which student development theories do you use most often in your work (your “go to favorites)?
Perry’s theory of intellectual and ethical development, along with Kohlberg’s theory of moral development.
What does a typical day look like in your current position?
It’s amazing how this has evolved. I think of it like Thanksgiving dinner. When I was an entry level professional I had a lot of smaller items on my plate (turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, yams, squash, the questionable hot dish, etc). I had a lot to eat but never really got to know one food well. In a mid-level role, I feel like I have less types of food on my plate (maybe just turkey, mashed potatoes, and yams) but the portions are a lot bigger and take up more space. Sure, I’m not running around from meeting to meeting every day, but the tasks I have are much bigger and far more in depth.
What do your parents think you do (how do you explain Student Affairs to folks)?
My Mom thinks I answer calls at 3AM. Which is true. When asked, I say that I help students graduate by ensuring the residence halls are the best possible place to live.