I knew I was not prepared to enter graduate school or student affairs right after graduation from my undergraduate institution. I realized that I needed to gain experience to prepare me to serve students well. In order to gain experience and see if this field was right for me, I decided to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA member with Campus Compact of Oregon. The lessons learned through AmeriCorps have not only prepared me for graduate school, but also gave me real world experience. I’m able to reflect on and use these experiences in my daily interactions with students in my role as a graduate assistant and in my future career as a student affairs professional.
One of the biggest lessons I learned during my two years of service was the importance of what I call “doing the work, before you do the work.” As a future student affairs professional, it’s important you find what grounds you in your work. What is it about this field that continues to inspire and motivate you to serve students? For me, I love meeting new people and having the opportunity to see students become their authentic selves. To walk alongside students while both celebrating and grieving with them is a privilege and one that I don’t take lightly.
Another part of “doing the work, before you do the work” also means practicing self-care. I know that we preach this constantly as a field. However, it’s difficult to put it into practice. The habits we form now will become the routines we do later. I have experienced burnout in this as an AmeriCorps member. It is vital both to our students and ourselves that we establish healthy boundaries.
There was a time during my second AmeriCorps service year, where I was working 16 hours a day running a Summer Bridge program for first-generation college students. My supervisor encouraged me to take some time and create healthy boundaries to take care of myself. I didn’t follow her advice. In the end I was burned out, irritable and bitter. This was my own fault because I didn’t recognize the importance of setting boundaries to practice self-care and rest.
Now that I am a graduate student, I need to remind myself daily to find moments where I can rest and reflect, in order to best care for myself. I’ve found that if I don’t have healthy boundaries or take care of myself, my anxiety will increase. When I am working from a place of anxiety and fear, I am causing harm to myself and not able to be fully present for my students. It is important that we work out of our strengths and skills as professionals, not our fears and anxiety.
The last thing I want to share is to continue to seek out new opportunities and experiences. Use your gap year to find what you like and what you don’t like. I worked in career and transfer services and developed a summer bridge program during my gap years. I enjoyed the student programming piece much more then career and transfer services. When I was applying for various graduate assistantships, I wanted to find one where I could continue to grow in developing programming but would give me experience in working with students. My assistantship is working in the campus pastors’ office and working with our Wednesday night chapel team. I now have three very unique experiences and the transferable skills gained will help me stand out when applying for jobs.
As you start your graduate school experience, take time and space to prepare for the journey ahead. The easy part is applying and being accepted to graduate school. It will take practicing self-care, reflection and seeking out new experiences to be successful in this field. To be honest, I’m still working on all of this in my own life. But, I know that by doing this I will be able to have a long and successful career in serving students.
October is Careers in Student Affairs Month (CSAM). While increased awareness of entry-points into the field are important to highlight, CSAM also serves as a way to discuss the larger culture of student affairs. Our pursuit of ensuring student affairs staff is representative of diversifying student demographics can’t come at the cost of health and well-being of staff. Add your voice to the conversation by using #CSAM17. Have ideas about a future series for the Student Affairs Collective? Contact Nathan Victoria at firstname.lastname@example.org.