NOTE: In honor of October being Careers in Student Affairs Month, and to celebrate ACPA’s #WhatsYourWhy campaign, I’m reposting one of my very first posts that explains why I joined the field. Enjoy and look out for the second part of my thoughts on delegation next week!
Both ACPA and NASPA celebrate Careers in Student Affairs Month in October, and with ACPA’s #WhatsYourWhy campaign happening, I thought it would be a great idea for one of the first posts at GotDegrees to be about the profession that I fell into after several attempts to avoid it- student affairs administration. Part of me feels like a bit of reflection is good for the soul; the rest of me figures it’s a good way to further introduce you to me and what I’m about.
So here goes…
Looking back at my childhood, I should have known that I would end up somewhere in education- like most children, I loved to play make-believe and for me, the favorite role was that of a teacher. This was so apparent to my parents that when I was around six, one of my Christmas presents was a dual chalkboard/easel that I used for my “classes”. Unlike other children, who begged their parents to drag them to Toys R Us or Champs Sports, my store of choice was Up With Learning, a store that teachers often bought workbooks and supplies from. In doing so, I ended up with a library at home that my teachers would have been envious of- and I learned how to think like an educator. I see this as the beginning of my journey- but like most paths to student affairs, it wasn’t as linear as it appeared to be at first.
As a kid who could think like an educator- and as a kid who got the combination of genes that I did (yes, Mom, that was for you- enjoy it…)- it shouldn’t have been too surprising that I ended up being academically gifted. It’s also not surprising given the messages that we give kids about teaching early on (like this reflection from a veteran teacher on HuffPo this week) that at some point in my childhood I came to understand that while education was important for a good life, as a field… it just didn’t pay. I did like science, and medicine sounded like a good idea, so I spent most of my childhood building up science and math skills, expecting to head to medical school. The medical school bubble burst- rather it exploded- dramatically my sophomore year of college when Chem 33 ended up being more challenging than I expected it to be. I distinctly remember listening to the description of the first exam’s curve and then thinking, “I didn’t hear my score… what the hell did I get if a 50 is an A, a 35 is a B and a 20 is a C?” I don’t know about you, but a world where getting half of the points on an exam guaranteed you a top score didn’t, doesn’t and will never work for me. Ever. So there went Chem 33- and medical school…
After having a mini freak-out because the course of my life had radically changed, I started to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life in the second half of sophomore year. Despite passing up the idea of being a teacher, I had stayed connected to the world of education working for Breakthrough Providence on the administrative operations side throughout high school and college. I took an introductory psychology course in my fall semester and realized that I understood it far more than Chem or Bio; I took Africana Studies courses even earlier than that and realized that they gave me a language to speak about things I had known my entire life. Most importantly, I signed up to be an RA on my campus and figured out how to put all of these various interests together. I loved relating to my residents, working with the Residential Life staff and figuring out what this “student affairs” stuff was from the ground up. When it came time to graduate from Brown, I ended up taking a different path than the one I initially started on- to graduate school in social work at Boston College- but I didn’t completely let go of student affairs.
Grad school brought new challenges and opportunities, and the chance to work in BC’s Alcohol and Drug Education Program brought student affairs back into my life- further confirming that a place in the field was what I needed. For some reason, when it was time to select my second practicum, I ventured away from student affairs to direct practice in a split role that had me bouncing between a local mental health clinic and high school- and HATED it. However, I did learn what I guess I should have known all along- that I wanted to use the skills I had accumulated to help people in a educational setting- most likely a college because the 18 and over set was much easier to work with than the 5-15 year olds I had for clients that year…
I didn’t feel done with school when I got my MSW- and apparently school wasn’t done with me, because I ended up at Harvard Graduate School of Education (affectionately referred to by students and staff as HGSE or “hugsy”) studying Higher Education. I wanted a knowledge base in higher education administration that could match the base I spent years building up in counseling skills, so I took a year to build them while I worked in the admissions and student affairs offices of the School of Public Health.I got my first professional position in Residential Life and Dining at MIT, and have spent time professionally there, at Brown University, and now at Brandeis where I serve as one of the senior staff members. As much as I consider myself to be a relatively intelligent person, I’m almost embarrassed to admit it took me nearly seven years in higher education to realize that it was where I wanted to spend the rest of my life- but in retrospect I wouldn’t change the path I’ve taken at all.
So why is my relationship with Student Affairs complicated? You’ll just have to wait until Part II for that… (and yes, I do know what kind of bait and switch tactic I just used… I have to do something to keep you all coming back…)