Student affairs, or student services as it is frequently referred to in the UK and Australia, is without doubt a dynamic, innovative, and life-changing field. Unlike in the US however, where student affairs is well-recognized and one of the fastest growing career choices, similar roles in Australia are far less well-known, with career paths decidedly more indirect and varied.
From my own perspective this proves to be both a blessing and a curse – in terms of the former, we are fortunate that our industry brings together individuals with a diverse range of experiences, qualifications and backgrounds – indeed many of my colleagues are former teachers, social and youth workers or police officers – and this adds significant value to the collective pooling of ideas and perspectives which drive our activities, education initiatives and programming. At the same time however, such indirect career paths often mean that many individuals fail to recognize opportunities or even consider their potential suitability in this space, be they recent graduates or seasoned professionals looking for an alternative career direction. This issue particularly rears its head whenever I am involved in recruiting for positions within my own team – what key words should I use to describe the role? How can I attract the right kinds of individuals to apply? How do I describe exactly what the role involves?
Regardless of our location, in my mind the responsibility to better promote our industry, and the incredibly varied and rewarding career development opportunities it provides, lies with those of us who currently work in the student affairs/services space. In the first instance we need to do a much better job of marketing the benefits of working within this dynamic industry – in other words, the reasons ‘why’ more students need to be considering student affairs as a viable career choice – particularly in Australia. Were you to ask my own perspective on the ‘why,’ the reasons would be simple:
1. Life Changing Impact:
Whilst most professions involve a level of ‘customer service,’ nearly every role within student affairs involves some kind of direct contact with individuals at a time and age when we can actually make a difference to the direction their life takes. The programs, services and support we provide can frequently help a student to succeed in their academic pursuits, undertake something they have never tried before, or develop or enhance a new skill. Whilst not every contact point might have a positive result, the success stories when they occur – like the student who passes their exam with your support, or the one who receives a job offer following a volunteer role in your area – truly make all the hours and hard work worthwhile.
2. An Empowered and Innovative Working Environment:
It would be fair to say that when you work in student affairs, no one day is ever the same – and that’s a truly wonderful thing! I love that whilst my day usually has some sense of order, (checking emails, meetings and the like), there’s always a curveball coming at you from one or more directions, be it in the form of a student activity, issue or new project, and there’s always someone new to meet or work with. It’s a dynamic and innovative working environment – with huge potential for creativity, flexibility and the fostering of new ideas. Very few of my friends or family understand exactly what it is that I do, but when I describe my day, all agree that’s it’s an exciting place to be.
3. Dynamic People:
In a similar vein to the point above, based on my own experiences, student affairs appears to be the stomping ground of some of the most dynamic, knowledgeable, motivated, committed, and passionate individuals. As many would agree, the hours are frequently long and irregular – students rarely require only 9 – 5pm support – and there are days where nothing seems to go your way. Regardless, the colleagues I’ve met and had the pleasure of working alongside throughout my time in the field have continued to embrace the opportunity to develop and enhance their own skill set, look for new ways to support or enhance student learning, and encourage and engage in knowledge exchange, be it as the institutional, community or global level.
Help me sell the benefits of working in student affairs to my Australian and other international colleagues! Share why you (hopefully!) love working in this industry?
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