“You see it’s not enough to leave school and just desire to succeed in this cold, cruel world, because then you simply become a part of it. You must also have the desire to change it.”
I have an affinity for ‘90s television, in particular “Boy Meets World,” from which this quote derives. This was the quote I used to seek acceptance into the Student Affairs program at University of the Pacific and I’ll use again now as my introduction.
I’m Michael Maksymowski and I am about to enter my second year of graduate school at University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., the first-chartered school in Calif. and a small-private institution with approximately 6,000 undergraduate and graduate students. I chose to go into student affairs as my way to change the world, to empower and guide students to learn more about what they value and to use those values to create positive change in their communities.
In particular, my passion within student affairs is fraternity and sorority life. When Greek life does it well, it produces phenomenal individuals who can articulate their personal values and explain how those values are used in support of their organization’s values and their daily lives. It is without a doubt impressive to be around these members of Greek life. Fraternities and sororities are still a work in progress though, which is why I am earning my master’s degree and hoping to make positive change within a community that has greatly contributed to my personal development.
Prior to attending Pacific, I earned a B.A. in Journalism and International Affairs from Eastern Michigan University, a mid-size public university with 23,000 students in attendance. I was the champion of student involvement; Greek life, leadership development, residence life, orientation, diversity and community involvement. And I loved every element of it, so I moved across and to a higher education institution I was unfamiliar with to earn a Master’s Degree and see if I could translate my ability in a new environment.
Which brings me to the most important lesson learned from my first year of graduate school–adaptability. There’s a lot of lessons I’ve learned so far in graduate school; trust your instincts, learn from your past, and jump right in to new situations, even if it’s personally challenging. But if there is only one skill or lesson other graduate students should possess, it is to learn to adapt.
This was a lesson I was tested on right away when I began my journey into student affairs. I joined the Greek life staff midway through training, everyone already knew each other, and I started out playing catch up. I was lucky enough to rely on previous experience to build a foundation for my graduate assistantship and a supportive supervisor who made sure I 1) caught up with everything missed during training and 2) made sure I was adjusting and comfortable. I also am a part of a staff that appreciates sarcasm- which allowed me to build relationships quickly.
There was definitely a process and learning curve to acclimate myself to a college culture with which I had no familiarity. The small campus, the student body population, and the organization of departments was all something completely new and unknown. So I asked questions, observed, and figured out how I fit within Pacific. I couldn’t adapt to a new school without understanding its culture. And for the graduate students in my cohort who are flourishing I’ve seen them do the same. The students in my program who seem to be gaining the most are the ones who have learned how to adapt and fit within Pacific as well.
The moments I’ve struggled were because I was not able to adapt to a situation. And it showed in my work performance and general attitude. Part of adapting is checking your ego– which took me a semester to learn when I should have checked the ego the moment I walked on campus.
So here’s my unsolicited advice to other graduate students in student affairs –more than any other skill or ability, if there is one tool to have in your utility belt to aid in your success –adaptability. Be able to adapt if you want to thrive.