If you’re looking for a classic student affairs story, keep looking. Highly involved undergrad with lots of school spirit and more extracurriculars than classes? For sure! But the part where I realize that all that undergraduate involvement could actually lend itself to a career path that matches my passions and personality? That comes later. My student affairs story is really more of a student affairs journey full of shifting dreams and heart to hearts with myself on what I really wanted.
I wanted to be a broadcast journalist since I was eight-years-old. Granted, I thought that my job as a TV anchor would simply be to hang out with my favorite celebrities. I molded my dream over the next 14 years: applying early decision to Northwestern University and pushing myself through the grueling core classes at the Medill School of Journalism. Passionate professors and high-profile internships made me more and more determined to stick it out in one of Northwestern’s most notoriously dropped majors. When I made it to graduation in the spring of 2013, nothing could stand in my way. I took an entry-level job at Good Morning America in New York and was off to be the journalist I’d always wanted to be.
The next two years were a blur of long and crazy hours (that midnight to 9 a.m. shift will mess you up for life!), celebrity encounters, breaking news, and high pressure. I moved from GMA to Nightline, trading early morning for late night. I learned an incredible amount about the industry, made some amazing friends, and even won a few awards as ABC rose in the network ranks. Still, I could not seem to reconcile my emotions with my success. I was living out a life-long dream and I was immensely unhappy doing so. We speak a lot about mental health awareness in student affairs. I wish I’d had the self-awareness four years ago to recognize where stress and anxiety at work crossed into unsafe and unhealthy headspace. I knew I needed a change. If journalism was really the right place for me, some time away would prove that.
When an opportunity came to me to run the summer programs for a non-profit youth group I had been involved in growing up, it seemed like just the place to do a little re-evaluating of my priorities. I spent the next two years traveling the country promoting the programs, managing the scholarship and financial aid process, developing programming with an executive board of high school leaders, and crisis managing for parents and staff while programs were on the ground. I loved every second of it! For the first time in professional life, I felt fulfilled, rewarded in the work I was doing, and excited to come to the office each day. I reveled in my student’s successes when a program they planned went off perfectly. I saved voicemails from grateful parents when we located the extra funds needed to send their child on a summer experience. My work brought me immense joy and better yet, I was good at it!
Since I came up in the organization, I spoke the shared language of its members and staff, but I found that describing my job to outsiders took a special spin. I began to make natural connections to areas of higher education and student affairs work. I managed our admissions process. I monitored financial aid. I advised. I programmed. I hired and trained staff. I supported students. I managed crises. I developed leaders. The more I spoke about my work in these more common terms, the more I realized that I had been a student affairs professional all along. Hoping to turn the skillset and aspects of my job that I loved into a long-term career, I began to research master’s programs in higher education. Being a Dallas-native who never actually got the opportunity to don Longhorn gear, it wasn’t long before I landed on the University of Texas at Austin and their program in Higher Education Leadership.
Since joining my master’s program, my love of student affairs has only grown. I get to plan amazing and free events for tens of thousands of students each year through my assistantship with Campus Events + Entertainment. I help students find the resources they need to be successful through my internship in Student Emergency Services. I’ve watched students tap into their leadership potential as a volunteer planner behind Texas Leadership Summit. I even helped recruit a new class of higher ed leaders through my role as one of the New Student Services Directors for my program. Each experience has helped me hone new skills, grow my network, and let my incredible students shine. I try to bring my journey into everything I do in student affairs. It’s okay to change your mind. It’s okay to try a few things before one sticks. I don’t regret the winding road that brought me here. It’s all part of the professional I am today!
This post is part of a series written by members of the NASPA Graduate Associate Program (GAP) and has been cross-posted from the NASPA blog. To learn more about the NASPA Graduate Associate Program, check out the program page on the NASPA website.