I’m not going to lie: I always wanted to be a dean, or at least a director. I still have those aspirations with a few possible alternatives thrown in there. But I’ve finally reached the point where I know that the title just doesn’t matter. It’s about the experiences you have in your position, whether they be with your students, your faculty, or your colleagues. It is about the opportunities provided to you.
Like many of you reading this, I fell into working in higher education. I always thought I’d end up actually going to college, but I wasn’t sure when or how that would happen. I took four years off of school after high school and moved to the bay area, where I worked in a photo lab and later for an animal rights organization doing non-profit work. Once I moved back to Oregon and after a series of life events, I decided that it was time to enroll in college. So I worked full-time and went to school full-time, basically doing the dance of class to work to bed and repeat.
I honestly don’t remember the reason I decided to become an orientation leader. I’m guessing I was interested in the leadership course that was a required component. Through that experience, I fell in love with academic advising and student development. However, I knew I needed a graduate degree, and once again, life was getting in the way. I was location-bound taking care of a family member and financially-bound by bills and medical expenses. After graduation, I was lucky to be offered a job in student financial services as a department coordinator. To this day, I firmly believe that everyone, at some point, should serve in the role of the front desk administrator in your office. On the front line, I learned the policies, rules, and needs of our students. I moved into a student employment specialist position before finally deciding to move back east for graduate school.
I didn’t have the typical graduate school experience. I knew when I moved to Boston that I needed to be working full-time in order to, well, live. I found myself as a temp working in an admissions office doing data entry. On the side I mentioned to our director that I was in graduate school, and he promised me a position as soon as one became available. In the course of the next eight years, I moved from a temp position to a coordinator position, to a different department, to a coordinator position, and back to a regular advisor position. During those eight years, I struggled with feeling like I had earned more than what I was receiving. I remember having countless (sometimes tear-filled) conversations over why I hadn’t been given an assistant director title. When I think back, I shake my head at my silliness, my lack of introspection. I hadn’t yet grasped what I now know to be the case.
When I was job searching last year, I applied for a range of positions. In my ideal world, I would like to say I was looking for the perfect fit (aren’t we all?). However, realistically, I needed a job. I’ve always struggled with the fact that I live paycheck to paycheck because of bills and medical expenses. The fact that this has gotten in the way of my ability to find that perfect place has always pulled at my heartstrings.
Fast forward to now. My current position is an academic coordinator in the Carson College of Business. When asked in my interview about what I needed in a position, I was very honest about my previous experiences and frustrations, but in the end, I wanted to make a difference to students. The fact that I am given leadership opportunities in my role here is what truly matters to me. In the end, it really shouldn’t be about the title, or even the perfect fit. It should be about knowing that you are influencing another person’s life, that you are helping them down their path to college success. I entered higher education because it truly is my vocation. I keep several Parker Palmer quotes on my bulletin board at work to remind me that it isn’t about the title, it’s about the feeling in your heart.
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Podcast With Valerie Heruska on SA Professionals Role in Development Efforts