The first day of summer, that phrase conjures notions from the wood-framed temporariness of a lemonade stand, to the petrifying fear of the high dive, to the scintillating aroma of the barbecue grill (charcoal, of course, never gas). The excitement of the first day of summer never seems to leave us, even when one becomes the Associate Dean of Students at a highly selective liberal arts college.
Commencement, I tell everyone, is my favorite day on the academic calendar. As I watch the graduates walk across the stage, I’m flooded with memories of all the learning moments for our students and for us. It makes me think of all the light bulbs that had to flash over our heads to get us to that day and it helps remind me of the importance of the daily grind. It puts all the headaches and heartburn into perspective and reminds us of why we do what we do. Also, who doesn’t love a good celebration? American colleges and universities know how to celebrate.
So, now it’s summer and our days abruptly change from students sitting on the bench outside our door, patiently (we hope) waiting for their turn to talk about leaves of absence, wanting advice on meeting with that one scary professor, a dry shoulder on which to reveal their most recent break up, or preparing for that tough conversation with their parents that awaits their next break.
It may be a bit cliche, but it’s true that the only typical thing about my daily schedule is that it tends toward atypical. Attending meetings (with students and parents, or about supervision, planning, and programming) is the one persistent occurrence in my life, but, other then that, each day looks vastly different from the previous. What is consistent, however, is the pace. For me, the work is most meaningful and fulfilling when we’re going non-stop. Those days (and weeks, and months, and . . ) when the phone rings off the hook, email flows non-stop, and each student needs a different kind of support are the times when those learning moments are most often needed and feel most meaningful.
The key phrase of my summer is baseball, hot dogs, and strategic planning, and there won’t be much time for the first two. As an Associate Dean who reports to a Vice President whose position is changing to meet the evolving demands of the Higher Ed landscape, my daily routine is framed by planning. As it stands right now (emphasis added, as reporting structures can and do change rapidly), I supervise five offices: (1) Residence Life; (2) Student Activities; (3) Athletics, Fitness, and Outdoor Programs; (4) Sexual Assault Prevention and Response; and (5) the Office for Inclusive Community. Yep, that’s a lot of summer planning.
The weekly 1:1 meetings with department managers do not stop in the summer, though vacations interrupt the regularity of these meetings. Of course, these meetings are a vital component of maintaining communication with my staff, vital opportunities to ask and answer questions that help our work grow, evolve, and respond to the changes reflected on our students and the ways they live their identities. In the summer, as we move through the end of year report-and-assessment phases (yes, assessment is an ongoing, year-round endeavor) and into the planning phase. Our summer meetings focus on the “why” of our work more than the “what.”
An example is an upcoming capital project that will affect Residence Life, which requires a strategic plan for residentiality and student success. This will require meetings with key partners across campus. I imagine sharing many cups of coffee, platters of cheese and fruit, and maybe a cookie or 3 with faculty, academic support staff, and other administrators who will contribute in meaningful ways to this plan. Combined with our ongoing 2nd year initiative—a plan to consolidate programming aimed at enhancing the experiences of 2nd year students— the residentiality and student success plans will dominate the conversations I have with my campus partners.
Recently on Twitter, an incoming student posted a picture of the May mailing that goes out to every student after they commit to the college. I retweeted that picture with this caption, “Can’t wait ‘till August.” While I love a good Commencement, there is a certain excitement to Orientation, one of those adrenaline-filled fast paced weeks. So many learning moments, with the promise of many atypical days packed with more learning moments. It’s why I love what I do.
This post is part of our #dayinSA series on highlighting the diversity of functional areas in the field of student affairs. We will hear from #SApros of all kinds – academic advisors, office mangagers, res hall directors, vice provosts of SA, and many many more. Each will share exactly what their typical day looks like, what exactly they work on, and what makes them want to come to work each day. We hope to squash stereotypes within the field and celebrate all the different kinds of great work that #SApros do. For more information, check out the intro post by Sara Ackerson. Be sure to read the other posts in this series too!