This past summer, I was fortunate enough to complete a NODA Internship at a very large and prestigious public university in the rural Midwest. For almost 2 months, I worked closely with the Student Success Office to help implement an academic orientation and registration program for incoming first-year students. I had no experience with orientation prior to this internship. In fact, most of my graduate assistantships and professional experiences were in Housing and Residential Education and Admissions. It was a bit of a shock, then, to be thrust into the exciting and fast-paced world of orientation. Despite my initial trepidation and uncertainty, the two months spent orienting new students to academic and campus life proved to be one of the most enlightening, yet challenging, moments of my professional career. From one students affairs (almost) professional to another, here are some lessons learned from my NODA internship.
Realization One: Do your research and make connections.
Prior to the start date of my internship, I had minimal knowledge of what the orientation program’s purpose was or how the university functioned aside from the tidbits of information I could find from perusing the Internet. As soon as I had access to the office shared drive, however, I scoured files for relevant information. I quickly found past orientation reports, assessments, strategic plans, program proposals, and statements of purpose—all which were invaluable to me in understanding what the nature and function of the orientation program was. Conducting my [organizational] research allowed me to orient myself and my responsibilities with my personal understanding of the office’s goals and objectives for their summer program. Furthermore, understanding the information allowed me to ask important questions to myself and my supervisors. Why is ____ done this way? How does this program and its various structures extend the mission of the office and greater university? How can I accomplish my responsibilities in a manner that best aids the program objectives? Moreover, what individuals and institutional departments are connected with this program and are important to collaborate with? Connections make the world go ‘round. By arming myself with the necessary literature, I was much more prepared to form the appropriate connections.
Realization Two: Practice “care”-frontation.
One of the most difficult aspects of my internship was supervising 45 student leaders daily. Throughout the summer, there were several instances when students were late or missing from their assigned work shifts, displayed less than enthusiastic attitudes about working, or disregarded emails from me and other methods of important communication. As most supervisors know, conflict can rarely be avoided if disciplinary issues arise but, as someone whose top strength on StrengthsFinder was Harmony, I struggled with applying the proper “supervisor” tone while still showing students I was on their side. I knew demanding compliance wasn’t my style of management. As a result, I adopted a style of “care”-frontation, a style in which I addressed negative behaviors while also focusing on the students’ circumstances, because I soon realized that 1) sometimes students experience external circumstances that may affect their behaviors and attitudes at work and 2) showing concern will usually encourage students to work harder. By the time my internship ended, I had formed close working relationships with each of my students leaders.
Realization Three: Take care of yourself and find ways to rejuvenate.
Being thrown into a new job position in an unfamiliar place can be stressful for many people, and it certainly was for me. Although my week days were busy and tiring, I actively set aside time to relax and feel refreshed. Netflix and phone calls provided comfort on long week days, while solo adventures to new restaurants, nature parks, and local attractions proved to be the perfect remedy on weekends. Although I didn’t have close friends to spend time with outside of work, having the opportunity to reflect and be in solitude was a welcome reprieve from the demands of work.
While these realizations are directly from my experience, it may also prove helpful to other burgeoning student affairs professionals who will work in new offices, supervise employees for the first time, or even relocate to new areas.