Co-authored by Ryan Bye
(Mairead Kiernan) Sorry, you Bob Dylan fans, I’m not blogging about his song today. Instead, as I round out my first 6ish weeks as my new institution, I’ve started to really gauge the changes in my Student Affairs experience from grad school to now. My grad school was at a public school of about 34,000 in a conservative, small city and I’m now at a private school of about 5,000 in a large, liberal city. I by no means think I’m an expert at the definitive differences between public and private institutions. The following post, however, is about the changes I’ve experienced going from large public to small private.
(Ryan Bye) I, like, Mairead went from my grad experience at a public school of about 34,000 in a conservative city and moved to a private school of about 4,000 outside of a large, liberal city. Okay – so we actually worked at the same place for graduate school for a year – pretty neat how life happens! I am starting my second year post-graduate school and would agree that I am by no means an expert on the differences between public & private or small & large institutions, but I am more than happy to share my experiences going from large public to small private.
What Am I Missing?
(MK) My current boss warned me that this would happen. She explained that when people transition from large to small schools, they often feel like they’re missing something. My experience has been no different. I was used to two years of 4-5 weeks of training with minimal office time and a beginning-of-August-scramble to try to get all my ducks in a row before student staff training and opening. We did training for two weeks with office time worked in, and now I have lots of time in my office. Sure, there are tasks to be done, but I keep feeling like I’m missing something.
(RB) Coming from a large department within a large institution I felt like there was a process for everything. There was autonomy in some things and you could put your spin on a project, but at the end of the day if you thought there might be a process for something there probably was. I can distinctly remember working on setting-up how I was going to organize weekly reports, house council advising information, and other information and being shocked I had so much leeway. Today I am able to use the word shocked, rewind a year & I would probably say “So how, who, & when does that get done?”. Through this experience I have quickly learned that I love this autonomy. I love the ability to be able to create, implement, and revise a process, but at first I was very concerned I was missing something.
Excuse Me While I Ask 17,000 Questions
(MK) The name of the game during my assistantship was, for lack of a better way to put it, self-preservation. Each of us was a cog in the machine—a machine that had been running for a long time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because when you have almost 8,000 beds to manage, systems need to be in place. It is hard, however, when you come into grad school with all these ideas, and you learn quickly that they cannot be executed. Things need to be done a certain way, and if you’re going to veer off course, if your plan doesn’t work, be ready to speak to your actions.
Being at a young, small institution now, there’s a lot less red tape. If you throw an idea out there that people like and agree on, it can be in practice in less than 24 hours (no, really, it happened to me the other day). There’s also a sense of shared learning at all levels, as we learn about each other’s experiences and new happenings in the field, and how we can meld all that together to best serve our students. My office sits between the AVP for Student Affairs, the Dean of Students, the Director of Housing Operations, and the Director of Student Conduct…to say I have access to some serious leadership on campus would be a gross understatement.
What I have found in all of this is that I have a lot of questions. Coming from that self-preservation, want-to-do-my-own-thing-but-still-fit-in-the-mold mindset, as I’m learning the rules and regulation, I’m asking lots of questions to clarify. I want to do the best job possible, and it seems like in order to do that, I need to make sure I’m clear on what’s what here. I had to laugh when, after talking about on-call situations, I asked a question and my boss’s answer was, “Oh honey, this isn’t a large private school.” I am so lucky to have someone who gets where I’m coming from.
(RB) I remember my current supervisor telling me to ask any questions especially at the beginning. He emphasized the importance of this. However, I found myself in a combination of being afraid to ask questions, afraid because I thought I’d look dumb, and just generally unsure of what to ask. What I quickly learned is that we wear lots of hats here at a small institution, which sometimes means you have to ask a lot of questions because someone might not remember what hat(s) you are wearing or to give you the information that comes along with one of their many hats. For example, our supervisor had told us we would find out our mailbox numbers at some point. Based on my previous experience I assumed that this meant I would be finding out via email or some other formal process. Instead I waited, and waited. Finally, when I could no longer wait, I asked, and boom there was my mailbox number. It wasn’t that my supervisor didn’t care or simply forgot, but that he is busy managing lots of projects and just needed the gentle reminder of someone asking.
Like we said—and as you can see, we have lots to say—we aren’t experts by any means. Thinking about the theme of #SABeginnings, it just seemed pertinent to address because we won’t all stay at one style of institution forever. If you’re presented with an opportunity to branch out, it’s an awesome new experience, but just know that your experience can and will look very different.