About a year ago, I started feeling burnt out. I was working in admissions and grew convinced that I wasn’t really making a difference or truly serving my community. It didn’t help that, at the end of the day, my partner would come home from his role at our local ER and share stories about helping to quite literally bring patients back from the dead… Meanwhile, I read files for a living—many from wealthy applicants who would likely be admitted to any number of competitive programs! What kind of legacy was I building?!
I was frustrated. I was depressed. I decided to make a change! I wasn’t able to give up my full-time admissions position (tuition remission is a heck of a drug…), but a faculty member familiar with my interest in adult education and experiential learning pointed me in the direction of a fledgling non-profit working exclusively with students who held credits from prior undergraduate study but who—for one reason or another—had not persisted to degree completion. I attended a prospective student information session and was immediately hooked by the unique learning model, sincere conviction of the staff members, and excitement of the prospective students that they’d found an institution specifically built for them. I called the Director the next morning to ask for a volunteer role.
I’ve learned so much in the past ten months researching and supporting the mission of this tiny institution. My graduate coursework had taught me about the 31 million Americans who began post-secondary education but left before completing a degree. I’d also seen the remarkable work that our community college colleagues do to provide access and support for non-traditional students seeking an impossible range of educational objectives. I knew that adult learning theory suggested that these students value flexibility, appreciation of prior learning and multiple roles, and clear applicability of lessons to real-world needs. But this program took everything I thought I knew about higher education and flipped it on its head.
The program is tiny and operates on a stripped down financial model—the current cohort numbers just 25 students and they share campus space with both an urban high school and a vocational center. Classes are based on a blended model, not just in the sense that they combine online and required face-to- face components, but also in that it provided continuous opportunities for the integration of academic and vocational/professional learning objectives. Courses were often project-based, and student/faculty pairs consulted regularly with the student’s employer to ensure that coursework was both academically rigorous AND directly applicable to challenges in the workplace. They offer a single bachelor degree in Organizational Leadership and Change but multiple personalized paths to completion.
I love my work with this organization. It’s given me a sense of purpose and a validation of the impact I’m making. I am so grateful that that found room for me at the table, and that I get to witness their growth as a niche educational provider.
This is a #sacareer post on two fronts, I suppose. It’s about me—a disengaged, frustrated higher ed admin navigating a path through work and volunteerism to find her own niche. But it’s also about #careers themselves and the ways in which this program’s appreciation of their students’ lives and identities as workers helped to create an environment that felt welcoming and inclusive in a whole new way.
Rounding out the academic year with no particular theme, this month is a grab bag, where contributors can share any topic of interest. Because nobody puts baby in a corner.
This post is part of our #SACareer series, addressing careers in student affairs, careers outside of student affairs, and the work of career services professionals. Read more about the series in Jake Nelko’s intro post. Each post is a contribution by a member or friend of the Commission for Career Services from ACPA. Our organization exists to benefit the careers of career services professionals, student affairs professionals, and anyone supporting students in the career endeavors. For more information about how to get involved with the Commission for Career Services or the #SACareer blog series, contact Cristina Lawson at firstname.lastname@example.org.