It was my first day of freshman year in college. The first thing on the agenda before even going to my first class was my very first shift at the Marshall School of Business Academic Advising Office as a work-study student intern. First day of work is just like the first day of Kindergarten, and if it also happens to be your first day of freshman year, I don’t know what else is more terrifying. As I was sitting at the front desk nervously hoping that no one calls during my shift or notices me, Russ came through the door, pointed at me and said: “Hey hey you’re new! Welcome!” Though he quickly unveiled my identity as the newbie, I will never forget how welcomed Russ made me feel on that first day of the job, which led me to pursue higher ed and student affairs as a career.
It wasn’t just that first shift he made me feel like I belonged in the office and the campus. He took a genuine interest in getting to know me (and all of his advisees) all throughout my undergraduate career. That spring of my freshman year, we ended up traveling to Honduras together on a Global Microfinance Brigade trip. From singing along to endless Rihanna and fending off countless mosquitos, we quickly bonded. We shared our love for music and helping others even after returning from Honduras. Russ continued to advise our chapter of Global Brigades @ Marshall, and I became heavily involved in organizing two more trips to Honduras and Ghana. He helped me find a home at SC. We continued to finish each other’s sentences with songs from decades past, and he is the only person who attended almost every single one of my a cappella concerts for four years. I can always count on him to educate me in music history, keep me updated in all the latest music trends, and an impromptu karaoke session. There is no one else in the world, who makes me laugh as much as Russ does.
Through our many meals, Facebook chats, “Russ, do you have 5 minutes (but really, an hour and a half)?”s, I learned to be more positive, patient, and compassionate, and not to mention, my love for student affairs/higher education grew immensely. We knew exactly when we needed to check in with each other just by looking at the way we exited or entered the room. I know that even though we are 3,000 miles away, if I need to run an idea by someone or just process my thoughts, I can turn to Russ for his ears and for his no-frills feedback. By providing a safe space for each other, we have had our fair share of “mental gymnastics” sessions, where we talked about personal and career challenges to social justice issues.
Russ reminds me to think about the why behind my why every single time I feel like quitting graduate school and higher ed. He doesn’t ask me directly, but through his actions, he shows me. Russ helped me develop my professional values, and the way he made me feel on my first day of freshman year has shaped the way I treat the students I work with on a daily basis. I am so grateful for our relationship that grew from boss-advisor and work-study student to friendship.