This post is co-written by Stephanie Bradley and Courtney Bousquet.
Describe your experience in Higher Education.
SB: I’m currently the Manager of Student Affairs at APUS, and my experience in higher education started much like others: as an undergraduate student working on campus as a Resident Advisor. At my previous institution, I was a Residence Hall Administrative Assistant and held several leadership positions in student organizations. The experience of working with students as an undergraduate led to my passion of working with students as a professional.
CB: Like Stephanie, I started in higher education in my undergrad program, serving as a work study employee in residence life and an orientation leader. I attended graduate school and found that I had a passion for helping people realize their potential. After graduation, I moved over 500 miles to become a career counselor at a traditional university for two years. It was there that I realized I had a desire to assist those who serve our country and was ready for a change; this which led me to APUS where I serve as a Senior Career Coach and Resource Specialist.
Describe your transition from a traditional university to a distance learning institution.
SB: The transition was simple because one thing remained: relationships. I believe that the biggest mistake we can make as Student Affairs professionals is to assume that an online student does not want the same engaging experience as a traditional student. At APUS, we work hard to establish strong community connections, and I have many friendships with people all over the world! It is incredibly rewarding when you finally get to see the university community member at large events, such as our annual Commencement ceremony!
CB: I agree with Stephanie. However, the transition from traditional brick and mortar to a distance institution was a little hard for me as you don’t necessarily meet with students and alumni in-person daily. However, you replace in-person meetings with phone calls, email and Adobe Connect sessions, and you have tools to establish rapport at a distance. In addition, we have several events throughout the year where we meet our students and alumni. As a distance education institution, these events are that much more meaningful and rewarding.
What do you believe is the biggest difference between the two environments?
SB: The largest difference is the tools that we use to stay connected. We’re not able to see and interact with students the same way we would at a traditional university, but I have learned effective methods to engage the community-at-large using tools that allow us to virtually connect with our students. Making each interaction meaningful and authentic is important at APUS. Our co-curricular student experiences mirror that of a traditional university, and we make sure they are front and center—so, students understand that you’re not just taking online classes, you’re joining a community and have the same opportunities you would on a physical campus.
CB: One of the main differences I see is that you are able to assist many more students and alumni than those at a traditional campus. Being a Career Coach at APUS allows you to meet our students and alumni where they are–whether that is California, Florida, Asia, or Afghanistan. We use various technological tools to aid in the resume review and mock interview process; additionally, online assessments so students can evaluate their skills and interests remotely. The student doesn’t have to wait to see you when they are on-campus or in the area, they can access each other, services, and staff when and where they need.
What is your motivation and drive as a Student Affairs professional?
SB: My motivation is witnessing the impact of my relationship with the students and developing co-curricular opportunities that allow them to build a strong affinity to the university. Seeing students actively involved in student organizations, connecting with others, and serving as campus leaders who are making a difference, allows me to open my eyes to the ‘big picture’ of my role—and the university’s role, overall, in the lives of students. I work with an amazing team that empowers one another and we’re reminded daily, watching the community thrive, that the impact of what we do is critical to the vitality of the university and the overall student experience.
CB: Knowing that I’m making a difference in someone’s life is one of the biggest reasons I get up in the morning. Being able to assist students when they are preparing for their military promotion board, separating from the service, or preparing for transition from a stay-at-home parent into the workforce is a great privilege. Daily, I remind myself that I’m just one of the lucky people that ensure the college experience is positive and productive for all of our students and alumni.
What advice would you share with someone one looking to enter higher education?
SB: Don’t be afraid to change course and be open-minded! I can be an extreme extrovert, so if you told me years ago I would work for an online university, I would have said, “Not likely!” As more-and-more students flocked to distance education, my misconception turned into curiosity, which turned into an extremely rewarding and dynamic career working with students on the achievement of their goals. Higher education and student affairs are so multi-faceted that regardless of your interests, there are many ways to uncover your passion. Research not only the position that best suits you, but the university as well! The mission and values of the university will have a role in your success; ask yourself if they align with your personal values to ensure you’re able to still be ‘you’.
CB: Follow your passion, but think outside the box. I was fortunate to have some amazing assistantships in grad school, but when the jobs weren’t where I wanted them I ventured to a new area. Don’t be afraid to look around and take a risk. I didn’t think I’d work for an online university, but I did my research and saw that APUS has a student-centered approach and there’s a great deal of engagement happening to support students. Do your research, conduct informational interviews and listen to your heart when finding what is best for you!
This post is part of our #CSAM15 series, in partnership with NASPA. Through these posts, we hope to highlight what it means to have a career in Student Affairs with a diverse group of contributors. With a focus on the students, defining Student Affairs, hot topics, and Striving Towards Betterment, there will be a lot to learn about this month! For more information, check out the intro post by John Weng at NASPA. Be sure to read the other posts in this series too!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Kevin Kruger on Avoiding Burnout in Student Affairs