Where do Student Affairs folks come from?
Student Affairs professionals come from everywhere. Everyone has their own story to share of what volunteer groups they were a part of, what sports they played, what role they had in the school play, or how many academic or social clubs they were able to squeeze into their schedules. All of these and others that you might add from your own list intersect at a few points: activity, service, and betterment.
Activity, Service, & Betterment
What Student Affairs professional today would say these values aren’t at the core of what they do each day. These values are the reasons they go to work each morning and find themselves in the company of students or colleagues so many evenings. The common thread that brings those three values together is connection. Student Affairs professionals are people who value connection above all other values because they believe we can change the world through the spark of interaction with others.
It all starts smaller than that, though. For me, it truly began in high school. I wanted to be involved and I wanted to know other people and to discover more about them, myself, and the world. Growing up, my world was small and focused mainly on family – good people who reminded me constantly of where I came from – who did nothing if not make me feel comfortable in the realm of routine and the known. High school, though, served as the culture shock of a lifetime. I attended a homogeneous Catholic grammar school (no surprises here, folks). High school offered me the chance to get to know people from different value and belief systems who challenged me to think a bit further than down the street or to the next town over. And the orchestrators of many of these interactions were who I would call the first Student Affairs professionals I had ever known: teachers and guidance counselors. In high school, these individuals play a large role in the lives they touch and help to shape. Those to whom I gravitated emphasized service while giving me chances to serve that, perhaps, some might not have offered a student of my age. I carried those memories and connections in my heart as I took the next step in my educational career.
The RA Connection
The first Student Affairs connection I had in college was with a Resident Assistant. Many of us can say this and are proud of this fact—rightfully so. This RA was not my RA but a friend I had grown up with over many years. I always saw Mary as someone I wanted to be like, someone who other people liked and wanted to be around, someone who knew how to have fun but also how to tackle the tough problems. Before I knew what an RA did or the world that serving in the role could open to me, I made it my goal to be one because she was one. I never told her this. As a first year student, how comfortable is it to tell someone that you admire them, that they inspire you?
Stop for a minute and think about your students. When you were a student, if you served as an RA or an Orientation Leader or the President of RHA or another student organization, how many students do you think might have the same thought without ever expressing it to you in words? There are always those students who we can pick out as destined to at least attempt that first job search in the field; they often stick out like sore thumbs. But what about the students we might overlook because we have been so close to student leaders for so long?
Silent Inspiration Happens Each Day
When I was accepted to the MACUHO VIPS program, I still was not sure that I wanted to pursue a career in Student Affairs. The program provides the opportunity for its participants to attend the MACUHO Annual Conference, network, attend special training sessions, and connect with mentors in the field. Whether you find yourself in the Mid-Atlantic region or not, I highly suggest that you check them out. Through my involvement, I had the opportunity to see a couple of my own supervisors in their element while taking a sledgehammer to my comfort zone. This experience gave me the certainty I needed to enter the SA field feet first, and it remains one of the best professional experiences I have ever had.
Its gift to me was inspiration, motivation, connection, and the ambition to serve in higher education for as long as this wacky, creative group of dedicated people would have me. Inspiration doesn’t take a conference, though. It takes a supervisor saying, “I think you would be good for this. I think you should try this.” It takes those of us who are already in the field setting aside the time to be a mentor instead of just a boss or a coordinator by helping to push a student who is on the fence right into that field of dreams. That kind of belief can light a new flame, give a near-extinguished fire some fuel, or give a budding inferno the oxygen it needs to roar. Student Affairs folks come from everywhere, but they get where they need to go because of the desire they have, the belief we show, and the time we all give. In my job search, I often find myself thinking about this and getting back to basics while priming myself for what’s to come. We could all use a little of that as 2015 approaches.
Be well and Happy New Year!