Someone once told me that the #1 reward to being a Student Affairs professional is the direct impact on students’ lives. Over 13 years ago, I entered the University of New Mexico as a first-generation, low-income, Latina student. I had zero institutional knowledge about how to be successful. When I became pregnant after just one year on campus, I was filled with a lot of emotions. I was unsure what the future would hold since I knew I was going to be a single parent. Thankfully, Student Affairs professionals were there to make me feel welcome rather than ashamed. They became my ‘family.’
Nearly nine years later, I defended my dissertation with many of these same folks by my side. They helped me to stay on the right path in higher education. The joy in their faces is something I will never forget. I learned that our students often need an extended family on campus to get them through challenges, opportunities and the many successes in life. This is exactly why I became a Student Affairs professional.
When I was younger, I never thought I would grow up to be a Student Affairs professional! In fact, even through my undergraduate experience, I anticipated that I would be a clinical psychologist. Instead, I joined the SA world. As a result, I would like to reflect and share some advice for anyone in the field that needs a bit of inspiration amidst the changing face of higher education. LEAP.
‘L’ for Lead
Most Student Affairs professionals do not think of themselves as leaders, but we are in fact leading the profession. Innovation is key to our work and we are constantly shifting our focus to meet the needs of our students. Often, Academic Affairs does not understand our unique role and this can prove difficult for some. Continue fighting for your programs and using assessment and data to justify your existence. Remember that as long as you are focused on students, keep doing what you are doing! If you in fact find yourself losing focus on why we endure what we do, hang out with a couple of students. They will quickly validate your important mission.
‘E’ for Educate
In times of transformation in higher education due to budget constraints, we cannot lose our storytelling. We need to remember our words to pass down to future generations. It is even more critical to educate the future generation of leaders and Student Affairs professionals. Often we forget that faculty are not the only educators on our campuses. In fact, we not only support our students to be successful in their courses and graduate, but we educate them and assist them to be better 21st century citizens through experiential learning opportunities and dialogue around difficult conversations.
‘A’ for Advance
The role Student Affairs professionals take in higher education often means we put ourselves last when it comes to self-care and advancement. Do not forget about your own professional, academic and personal goals. If you are anything like me, we don’t hesitate to meet with a student in need. But when it comes to work-life balance, we sometimes fail at this part. You are here for students, but to be an effective role model, you need to practice what you preach. Take my advice: remember to eat healthy meals and go after those professional goals, whether it is taking a class, finding a new hobby, pursing a degree program or applying for a new position. We need more Student Affairs professionals in the workforce as we have a special take on the world.
‘P’ for Passion
Through relationships and interactions as Student Affairs professionals, we aim to make it a better environment for our students, colleagues, faculty and overall community. Through my world as a local farmer, I have found my passion for giving back by growing things. I have used this same passion to build and assess many of the student programs that I have been involved in at my institution. I encourage you to use your passions, whether its advising or a hobby like mine in your everyday work environment. Trust me, your passion will lead to your purpose. Collectively you will make the higher education environment better for all including yourself.
Remember to follow this advice and LEAP. No matter how challenging the environment of higher education can become, you are in control of how you react and respond. Lead, Educate, Advance and find your Passion! When your students walk across the platform stage to recognize their graduation, find successful employment or other successes, you can smile that you played a part in this story.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Tony Doody on Unconventional Leadership