Like many of my colleagues in student affairs, my first job in the profession was the result of a student leadership experience, student tour guide to be exact. My work as an admissions tour guide as an undergraduate later led to a position as an admissions recruiter for a small private college. I like to think that working in admissions, helping students with their college decision-making, is where I honed facilitation skills that are critical to my current work. I had a couple of gigs as a director of admissions before turning my sights to program coordination.
Stanford business professor Robert Sutton suggests employees need predictability, understanding, control, and compassion. As anyone who has spent even a few months in a student affairs position can tell you, those items are few and far between. You learn early in your career that student affairs hours include nights, weekends, and other duties as assigned. The concerns of an 18-year old in college differ from year to year. Reactions to course assignments or program activities may not communicate their message or be perceived as useful. Faculty and academic units question the value of student affairs programming and services, particularly in challenging financial times. Student affairs professionals do, however, provide predictability, understanding, control, and compassion…for our students.
The graduate assistants who have worked in my unit over the years have enhanced my work and life. They went from grad to pro and are now high school teachers, logistics managers, academic advisors, independent consultants, and campus activity and orientation coordinators. Each of these individuals had an opportunity to make a difference in student lives. They used their creativity, energy, and enthusiasm to make our university a better place for students. When I think of my colleagues at the Student Affairs Collaborative, you may find us in campus activities, student union management, leadership development, residence life, career planning, scholarship programs, and consulting. Those paper titles do not include the personal counseling, financial advising, academic enhancement, and other duties as assigned that we provide on a daily basis.
I borrowed the title for this post from a former graduate assistant who is now blazing trails of her own. She used the analogy that Student Affairs is like a box of chocolates for a course assignment and it really stuck with me.
Student Affairs is:
- Being a generalist in helping, listening, organizing, and facilitating, while a specialist in your position.
- Never growing up as you surround yourself with 18-22 year olds.
- Spending your life by the academic year calendar.
- Justifying your existence with the belief that higher education is also about the out-of-classroom experience.
- A real profession.
Student Affairs professionals work hard to make our colleges and universities more welcoming, engaging, and understanding for students because we believe in higher education and all that it offers. We get up every morning and face the day with a smile, because we never know what we’re going to get.
How do you define your work in student affairs?