Reflecting on my student affairs experience, grad school helped with understanding the importance of my “why” I wanted to be in student affairs. After graduating months ago, I wanted to prepare for my next path in the field reflecting on a core value I learned as a grad student on how to mentor students. During different stages of my graduate experience, I was always questioned with “Why did you want to be in student affairs?” This question was always based on the core values I shared with others such as giving back to students, helping others, and making college enjoyable for a younger generations.
Like many SA leaders, I had mentors that made college an important part of my life through positive leadership, support, and showing the importance of being a resource for students. Thinking back towards my undergraduate years, I remember how much my mentors really made a difference for me within their roles. From my former supervisors during my RA days to the Dean of Students, I reflected on the personalities and traits that made my mentors an important part of my path towards my development into student affairs.
When thinking of ways to make student connections unique, I wanted to reflect on some mentoring styles that helped connect an International Student community during my two years as a graduate Residence Director.
Sometimes your personal hobbies can make connections successful
Working in Residence Life, my position allows me to work with students within a residential and academic lifestyle as a Residence Director. Within my position, I not only bond with students over their majors, classes, and questions about college, I also learn about their interests–topics such as social justice, music, anime, and a variety of different hobbies. One day, I was talking to a group of students about superheroes, video games, and the recent changes with Marvel vs. DC comics. This conversation fostered friendships between these shy students through shared interests. By sharing in this chat, the students in my community saw me not just as the RD or Grad student, but someone who enjoys the same things as they do. They even requested programming ideas around these topics. As a rising professional, this was an important lesson working in student affairs that relates to why helping students is not always about meetings or assessments — it the human and personal interactions that can make a major difference.
You can change the world (one student at a time)
Since I was younger, I’ve always loved superheroes (going back to my connection with students in my residence hall) because they “believed in saving the world by being super,” which connects to my passion for student affairs. During my time as a Graduate Residence Director, I learned that taking my passions for helping students one day at a time made my personal connections as a Residential leader stronger. I learned how student A might be different from student B and that is okay, as long as they were achieving personal goals and developing themselves. My style of leadership worked for different phases of their interactions.
Giving myself grace in listening to student concerns while keeping that “super” call to action served as a great tool. An example is a student event requested by a resident that wanted to start a new club on campus and came to my office to run the idea by my staff. Through listening to their idea and creating this program, they met members with common interests and started the foundation of the club in order to get it approved. This allowed students to feel as if their voices were heard and that people with common interests can become active in their residence halls. A simple request from one student turned into a traditional event for my residence hall with one of our largest turnouts.
Taking the time out to make a difference for one student is just as great as a group, team, or community. By being yourself and keeping your values, students will value you for being there and listening to their stories. Listening to the voice of students can turn common ideas into change. Start with empowering each student to be active during their undergraduate experience by supporting their “why” with positive leadership.
Let your connections to students flow
It is important to be a resource for student engagement and leadership while being a friendly face to help them get through a bad day or receive additional assistance. To see young adults reach their goals and become productive leaders is a priority that we all have. Allow your “why” to be a motivator towards making your community stronger each day and being the best person you can be. The student will not only value you for being more than your position, but you will also make lifelong bonds.
I learned it’s ok to let your natural progression with students take time. Once those breakthrough moments happen, it will be a great feeling for that student to know they have an SA member to reach out to in the future. So allow yourself to connect with students in a positive way and let your “true” self shine to open relationships.
Remember to always be yourself and let your passions shine towards making connections with students.
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”- Mahatma Gandhi