I’ve never held a residence life position, aside from being a desk assistant in undergrad, which made my transition into Student Affairs very difficult. That’s not to belittle Residence Life folks in anyway, Res Life just seems like the traditional “in” a professional needs for this field. Between graduations from undergraduate to graduate I worked in a half-SA role, half-food service/vendor role.
“This sounds odd,” you think. Why yes, yes it was. Actually, my position focused on student employment. Longwood University’s food service contract was written so all freshman student employment was located in campus dining. This afforded me the opportunity to create work place leadership programs, student engagement and community building programs, and make many great connections with student service offices on campus.
But when your resume reads “food service provider” … hiring committees get skeptical as to what SA experience I have to offer. (That’s not exactly how I listed it, I’m smarter than that, but you get the gist).
My graduate experience was made all the much harder because I was a location manager whose primary shift times would run from 11 AM until 9 PM, leaving little awake time to study and invest in student leaders and organization volunteer/advisorships. Top that with being newly married, having a brand new mortgage, a very energetic dog that believes breakfast should always be served at 4 AM, and a baby on the way.
With so many demands of my time and the stress of the job search, it became difficult to invest in professional relationships. Reading this, I’m sure you can remember a time in your life (maybe right now!) when time was a rare commodity. If this is you now, I urge you to slow down, uninvolve yourself a little, and make time designated to refuel you. Being overwhelmed won’t make you awesome.
In my last year of graduate school I was fortunate enough to meet Longwood’s new Associate Dean of Student Engagement, Dr. Peter Fagan. We connected at the end of his first semester when he invited me to his church’s Christmas program. After discussing my aspirations to find a position in the field focused on student leadership and social justice education, we began to meet regularly for coffee about once a week. I quickly realized that this was a kindred spirit in which I could safely discuss my professional unrest as a vendor and my struggles getting anyone to look at me as a plausible candidate.
If you have never read through Dr. Tim Elmore’s “Habitudes,” I would recommend it. Elmore (2004) uses many images in this series to relate character and leadership building lessons. In one of these lessons, he touches upon “emotional fuel,” and how our network fuels us for positive impact potential. Within this network are several categories that we give either healthy or unhealthy license to. One of these roles is the mentorship role.
I had found the person who would fill this role for the next year of my life.
Elmore defines “mentor” as someone “who coaches and invests in you.” Tracing my life story, I can honestly say I had had few positive mentors before. I had had positive team member relationships, partners (peers), and inner circle members. But few actual mentors. I find this sad now, and I would challenge you right now to either find someone older and wise to establish this kind of relationship, or to invest in someone else who could use your experience and wisdom.
This deep friendship was built through coaching, many long conversations (our wives would call us after 3 hours to ask why we had not come home yet!), an even give and take of emotions and ideas, and brotherhood found as Christ-followers.
It has only been a year and a half since this relationship began but I still consider Peter as one of my closest confidants, and someone I know I can rely on to have my back and push me forward.
I ended up finding my first position, in Commuter Services at Liberty University, just down the road from Longwood. Everything that I learned from my SA program has been very useful, but it has been the shared experiences and friendship from Peter that has proven invaluable.
If you are still in grad school, or even a first year SA pro like myself, I challenge you to find that one person that you can create this kind of positive relationship with. We all need someone who can help us refuel in the midst of our struggles, who can coach us on to new endeavors, and can remain that friend even when we move just a little ways down the road.
You’ll find that that person will make all the difference.