Let’s just face the facts: I look like an 18-year-old. Fine, maybe a 22-year-old. Either way, working as a student affairs professional, at age 25, is both a blessing and a curse as I attempt to navigate working with students who tend to look older than me. I wish I could adequately describe the look on the faces of most students when I walk out of my office to greet them in the lobby before an appointment. It registers, usually, as “Is that girl a student or a staff member?!”
This is not something new. I have two younger sisters who both look like they could be the oldest sibling. I’ve been mistaken for a high school student on many a campus. After being hired at JMU, a local business owner noticed my sweatshirt and congratulated me on being accepted to “the best school around”. I thanked her and left in disbelief that someone who has been in school for 23 years still looks like a freshman. After reflecting on what most people call my “great fortune”, I’ve decided that this baby face has both pros and cons in the context of working with college students.
- Students see me as a peer, someone they can relate to, someone they can confide in.
- Students more readily assume that I understand what they’re going through and have similar college experiences.
- I can model healthy behaviors on a college campus and, just maybe, students think that they’re watching a fellow student.
- I can use my personal experiences of being a (very) recent student to inform office decisions.
- Students do not always have the same level of respect for me as an advisor, a teacher, or a staff member.
- Students want to talk to someone who has more knowledge, more experience, more perceived power.
- Am I taking full advantage of the responsibility to be a role model on campus? This is a difficult but crucial part of my job as an educator.
- When I meet with faculty, I often feel self conscious about my perceived lack of knowledge due to my age. This may impact the way I interact with them.
I would love to hear about how your age impacts your work with students (if at all)! I plan to follow-up this post with some more detailed ideas about how I use my age and perceived experience level for positive growth and change on campus and with my students. Any suggestions or ideas are welcomed and greatly appreciated.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Dave Kerpen on Authenticity/ Branding on Social Media