Advising student organizations at a community college is like cultivating asparagus; two years until they are “harvested” by graduation and transfer on, generally speaking. In fact, while gardeners probably wish asparagus would mature faster, I’m jealous they have LONGER (3 years) than I do with most of my students.
I find advising student organizations in a community college setting to be both rewarding and bittersweet. Anyone who advises student organizations knows it takes A LOT of training and time to develop the experiential skills that students need to lead their peers. We need to cultivate them into leaders, just like gardeners do with their crops.
I have fond memories as an over-involved student leader in undergrad, a path that ultimately led me to my career in Student Affairs, but I attended a four year institution. When I started working in campus activities four years ago at a community college, I quickly had to adjust my perspective.
Five differences struck me right away:
- Freshman and sophomores were advancing to leadership roles typically held by juniors and seniors in four year settings.
- Freshman and sophomore leaders had little to no experience in their student organizations prior taking on officer roles.
- Faculty and staff advisors across the college were functioning as club historians and recruiters because they were often one of the only constants from year to year.
- To keep clubs truly student-driven, high turnover in club membership meant some clubs were not active every semester.
- With a mostly commuter population, student organizations have to compete for student engagement at their meetings and activities during precious college common hours when classes are typically not in session.
So, you can imagine the bitter-sweetness that accompanies advising student organizations in a two-year academic environment with these realities.
But my experience at least has been extremely rewarding, too. You see, I’m not just an advisor to these students. I’m their mentor and coach, and mentoring and coaching them makes me feel even more like a gardener cultivating my crop, anxiously awaiting their maturity so I can step back and admire the leaders we graduate. All the hours of training and guiding them as teams and as individuals is contributing to their personal and professional development in ways four year schools can’t match. After all, it’s pretty remarkable for them to be able to say, “I was president of my student organization as a freshman,” or “my club gave me officer responsibilities the first semester I joined.” And even though they leave me after two brief years, I know they will go on to do great things in their bachelor’s programs, careers and communities. I’m proud of my harvest.
This post is part of our month-long series #OrgAdvising, an in-depth look at the different aspects of the student organization advisor role. This series hopes to bring front-and-center a role otherwise overlooked or forgotten in the discussion of “advisor.” For more information, see the intro post by Cindy Kane! Check out the other posts in this series too!