I’m just going to come right out and say it – I don’t plan on being in Student Affairs forever.
Let me back up. I took a pretty traditional path through undergrad and into grad school. I was an RA for three years and was the president of my chapter of NRHH and on my state’s RHA directorship. When I went to grad school my assistantships were in housing as well – first in the central housing office and then as a hall director. I lived and breathed housing.
In my masters program, like many others I’m sure, we were trained to be student affairs generalists. Through a combination of being encouraged to explore other areas of student affairs and higher education and some facilities issues happening in my hall, I was introduced to the world of consulting, and before I graduated with my masters in higher education I decided that I ultimately wanted to leave the field. Most of my friends with similar backgrounds in housing have dreams of becoming a director of housing or VP of Student Affairs, but I want to consult with an architecture or design firm that builds residence halls. I thought I was inventing a career for myself, but it turns out that people actually do this.
I’ve told this story to a lot of different people, emphasizing that my background in student affairs and housing will be an asset in designing spaces that are practical and useful for the students that utilize them daily and call them home. The teachers I’ve shared this with have often expressed frustrations that they were not consulted when a new school was being built in their district or classroom spaces were being remodeled. As a hall director myself, on move-in day I struggled with how to manage the large amount of people that needed to flow through my building in an orderly fashion with a layout that just did not work, and struggled with not having spaces adequate for large-scale programming and even floor meetings if my staff wanted to pair up. Ultimately, it’s the students in these scenarios who end up suffering. These classrooms and residence halls may be where we work, but it’s where our students live.
I was thinking about my potential future as a consultant while participating in the #sachat on Student Affairs Jobs Outside of Higher Ed (my first chat not lurking!) and was surprised to see that many perceived a stigma in leaving the field when I had already made the decision to do so before starting my first professional position. Ultimately we all got into the field for the students and my reason for leaving the field in the future is also for the students. I know that by utilizing my education and experience in a different way, that I can change the physical space a student lives in and influence his or her life. We all come into the field in different ways and we all leave the field in different ways as well. If you’re feeling judged for your journey through Student Affairs, remember that what truly matters, though, is the time in between, the time we spend with our students. The influence we have on their lives and they have on ours is paramount.