I do not believe that my path to student affairs is as non-traditional as I feel at times. I have been working in student affairs in one way or another since I was 18 years old. I started as a resident assistant in the residence halls of Dillard University during my undergraduate studies.
Somehow, along the way I found myself dedicated to work in student affairs, but got my masters and doctorate in social work, that is what makes me a little different. I always had a two-track life, full time faculty life and working with a student affairs program and/or unit. Once I made a decision to commit myself to student affairs—being a Vice President became my goal.
My initial interest in social work, with my understanding of higher education, served to develop my identity as a change agent and leader. My choice to get a doctorate in social work was a decision I made so I could teach in the discipline. I believe my social work education is an invaluable gift, as it relates to my role as a Vice President for Student Affairs. The clinical skills along with social work theory that I studied and taught for many years have been extremely useful.
My love for student affairs developed with each building experience. My years in mid-level experiences helped me build my skills and enhanced my commitment to the student affairs profession. All of those experiences made it clear that I eventually wanted to be a Vice President for Student Affairs.
Looking back at my experiences, I offer 3 keys areas of advice for those pursuing senior level position who may be viewed as “non-traditional” although this may apply to all those in the profession:
1. Commitment to Life-long Learning– meaning are you committed to learning throughout your career about the work itself. This includes taking advantage of good supervision and mentoring, professional development opportunities, and learning by being of service to your university and local community. Even in my current position I listen and ask for/receive feedback. This has been essential to my growth. For folks entering the profession, this willingness to continuously learn will help you as you develop in your career.
2. Be Aware of Institutional Culture– Do your homework on your prospective supervisor/institution. Many times professionals in the field, especially entry-level professionals, are so grateful to have landed the job that they forget about this. You should evaluate culture, mission, history of an institution, and other values to determine fit. Tap into your network or simply use a “Google search” to find out more.
3. Commitment to Being Healthy– As you move up along your career it will be imperative that you have some sense of balance and ability o take care of yourself. The stress will intensify as you grow. I do really well with making family and having fun priorities. This is a big deal for me so I schedule it (literally on my calendar). I do not do as well with physical exercise- if I was committed to this early on in my career, it would not be so hard. In every new position I have had to re-learn the commitment to re-balancing my health.
As a profession, student affairs has been very welcoming and personally and professionally rewarding. Without a doubt this profession is where I meant to be because of the value of my “non-traditional” path.
This post is part of our #SAevolve series, a variety of first-person views of the ongoing evolution of Higher Education from pros who have been in the field for a long time. The goal is to explain how some critical matters in higher ed have evolved over time, to explain the greater context, and to inspire younger professionals to realize that they too are part of the great movement of higher education. All of us more “senior” folks were once junior folks. We were toiling, contributing and observing at critical moments, but perhaps we didn’t realize what we were seeing until we had more experience. For more information check out the intro post by Lynette Cook-Francis. Be sure to read the other posts in this series too!