“Wait, How Old Are You?” Transitioning from a SAPro to a SAGrad

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My path into Students Affairs is not what one would consider a “traditional path.” During the spring of my senior year, I struggled to figure out what to do with my life. Having worked with various AmeriCorps VISTAs on projects at my undergraduate institution, I decided to apply for VISTA to explore different career options. AmeriCorps VISTA is a National Service program through the government which allowed me the opportunity to work on college campuses on community engagement initiatives resolving around poverty-fighting initiatives. This lead me to complete two AmeriCorps VISTA terms, then a year in residence life before making my journey to start my Master’s degree, just over 3 years after I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree.

When looking at “How to prepare for graduate school” articles or resources, they often times focus on the transition straight from undergraduate to graduate school. However, this is not the case for some graduate students. Nowadays, many graduate programs are flooded with more applications than spots available. For others, even if they can get into the program, they may have life situations that prevent them from entering right away or at a full-time student pace, such as financial barriers or familial commitments.

I know that I am not the first person to go to graduate school after taking some time to work full-time, but at times I feel these stories are not shared. I felt alone at times during this transition, not having someone I could talk to who understood the unique struggles I was going through going back to school. Reflecting on the past few months as I transitioned from a SAPro to a SAGrad, I’ve hit more road bumps and struggles than I anticipated. Looking back, here is some of the advice I wish someone would have told me to help me prepare for this life change.

  1. You will have learning curves. You may have the skillsets, but learning the culture is a completely different story. I felt leaving my last institution that I had, at times, just knew how to do the job. I could go through the motions. However, when you transition to a new institution (whether you are a SAGrad or a SAPro), learning the campus culture can sometimes be harder than learning the skills needed for the position. Each school and department has “their” way of doing the same task. The struggle becomes breaking your old habits to adapt to the new “way” of handling a crisis, paperwork, or other tasks.
  2. Take some time off between ending your SAPro position and your SAGrad position (if you can fiscally afford this). I only took a week off when transitioning. Looking back, I was exhausted by the time I started classes at the end of August. I wish I would have taken more time off between my two positions so I could have prepared more not only physically but mentally for this life transition.
  3. Figure out your health, dental, and car insurances as early as you can, preferably prior to starting your SAGrad position. While working as a SAPro, I covered myself under my own insurance policies under my own name. Since I was older, I did not have the option to go under my parents’ insurance as a graduate student. As well, since I was not a full-time employee, I did not qualify for health and dental insurance under my employer. Look within the state networks for health and dental insurance options.
  4. Realize the value in your experience. Most likely, you will bring a different lens to your position and classes than some other students. Don’t be afraid to reflect on these experiences and use them to improve yourself and your roles. Sometimes, this will help you see better ways tasks can be done. Other times, this will help you learn from past mistakes and want to learn better ways to do things.
  5. Self-care is still an important thing. As a SAPro, I had developed some self-care rituals (such as scheduling Thursday nights to watch Grey’s Anatomy while on a phone date with my bestie). Don’t drop these habits. Even though you are going back to being a student, you still have to take care of yourself. In all actuality, it will be even more important for you to take care of yourself since you will have more things on your plate, such as tests, papers, and case studies. If you don’t take care of yourself now, you will burn out even quicker.
  6. Invest in yourself. This is a great time to focus on your own development, both as a person and as a professional. Use this time to think about what skills and knowledge you want to gain to improve as an SAPro. Within the first month or two of starting your SAGrad journey, think about what you want in your future positions. Look at job postings to see what skills are being looked for in your dream positions, then look at ways to gain these skills while in graduate school. As well, most conferences and professional development opportunities offer a discount to graduate students (especially the national conferences). Take advantage of going to these opportunities at a discount!

For anyone making a transition in life, it can be a scary and confusing time. Realize that you are not alone in this journey. Reach out to your support network and ask for help. Know that as a field, especially as graduate students and new professionals, we are all here for each other.

 

Written by Jacqui Rogers. Jacqui is currently a Resident Director at Salisbury University while earning her Master’s of Arts in Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution. Previously, Jacqui served two terms as an AmeriCorps VISTA, first with Iowa Campus Compact then with Maryland-DC Campus Compact. After serving as a VISTA, Jacqui worked as a SAPro in Residence Life at a private college in Delaware. In her free time, Jacqui enjoys binge-watching Netflix, crafting, and enjoying her Betta fish, Tony.

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What is Careers in Student Affairs Month?

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Fall is officially here and October is upon us. For some it marks the start of cooler weather but for all of us it is “Careers in Student Affairs Month”. Careers in Student Affairs Month is a time to celebrate and bring awareness to the profession. It is a time to educate students, family, and friends about Student Affairs. In some cases it comes and goes unnoticed.

Careers in Student Affairs Month can be celebrated a number of ways at every level of the profession. Associations hold webinars and social media campaigns to bring mass awareness. Social media challenges are a great way for your family and friends to see what you do! Campuses host conferences and graduate program resource fairs. Partnering with other institutions and collaborating across campus are great ways to bring more awareness to Student Affairs. On the divisional level, brown bag lunch events and panel discussions are hosted and led by speakers from across the division who inform students and attendees about the possibilities in the profession.

Have yet to hear about anything planned on your campus? Plan something! You do not have to host an event as elaborate as those listed here. You can do something as simple as inviting one of your colleagues to your staff meeting to discuss what they do with your student staff. The key is to make sure you are educating others and help aspiring Student Affairs professionals.

Written by Crystal Hamilton. Crystal is an 8th Vector Co-Coordinator for 2017-2018. 

The Hardest Research Assignment of Your Life: The Workplace of your Prospective Entry-Level Position

TylerAs a recent graduate from a higher education program, I have learned so much first-hand about how to better handle this experience. As many folks reading this are likely close to beginning this journey, I cannot help but recollect my experience to help share what got me to where I am now.

I started my job search process in late 2016 when I signed up for The Placement Exchange (TPE). It was an emotionally draining process, filled with a lot of imposter syndrome and self-doubt at several points, but I remained motivated to start authoring my next adventure in higher education. One of my mentors continually reminded me that, “It is not about ending up at a place that you are invested in, but it is about ending up at a place that you and and your workplace are invested in each other.” I might have just nodded along when she first told me this, but for some reason, this phrase has stuck with me, and I have become a strong believer in this statement. By late May 2017, I secured my publisher for the next chapter of my autobiography as a hall director at Montana State University Billings.

Looking back, one of the things I really developed in my first full-time professional job search was how to effectively research an institution. This has quickly become one of my favorite parts of the interview process, because I enjoy knowing quirky facts about the institution that are not the most commonly recited ones. There have been moments in interviews I have been a part of where employers were taken aback and thanked me for taking the time to learn about the institution on my own; I had always thought it was an expectation, but it showed the employer that I really valued the time I was spending with them.  Today, I also find myself revisiting some of the things I researched as I transition and learn the ins and outs of my new position.

Research is not just about fit, but it is about understanding some of the problems the department is facing and what you can do as a prospective employee to help them with the struggles they may be facing. Not only does this reassert that you have the skills and experiences to transition well to their open position, but it also affirms that you are passionate about that institution and have a willingness to learn and solve complex issues. But overall, research is truly an ongoing process in any position – you should always be learning something new regularly in your position.

You cannot rely on the interview alone to learn about the institution. The ultimate goal of employers is to recruit a skilled candidate to campus, so sometimes overarching issues the department is tackling may be a bit more hidden to avoid the off-chance of scaring a candidate away. This is where additional research comes in. If you can identify these issues somewhere in your research process, you can use this to your advantage by showing in the interview process how your strengths or experiences can contribute to different objectives or areas of improvement for the department. I would also advise keeping a record of where you identified some of these issues, so when you bring it up in an interview, you can articulate where you found it; sometimes employers are not even aware how much information about their department is out publicly, and it is good for them to know that you did your homework. I might have put a few employers on edge by not explaining where I found some information, so do not make the same mistakes me.

Many higher programs advocate using Carnegie classifications, a tool used to understand basic information about an institution such as whether an institution is public/private, two-year/four-year, etc. I am hesitant to use these classifcations as valuable research, as it does not give you a full story about an institution. If you know how to use these classications, use it as a starting point, not as the finish line.

Others may have their own techniques of documents to look at, but here are a few things I would consider looking at, most of which can be found on the institution’s website:

  1. Institutional/departmental strategic or master plans: What are the overall objectives of the institution or department? Is there anything mentioned in these that would relate to your position or something you can contribute to? Is student affairs or your prospective department even mentioned at all? This may help you understand the department’s relationship to the overall institution. Departmental plans are a little rarer to find in a public website, but once found, these are more specific objectives relative to the daily operations of the functional area that you should be able to contribute to in some way. Even before you can talk about these in your interview, you can highlight these in cover letters to show them you took an individual approach with it for the institutions you have been applying to.
  2. Divisional/departmental assessment: Assessment should lead to objective and strategic planning. Often, departments will have public data about different services they provide. This can range from occupancy reports, to quality of life surveys, annual reports, and beyond. Interpret the data and identify what the needs of the department may be. Sometimes they will have snippets of the data in marketing materials.
  3. Staff Bios: Where did they come from? Where are they going? Use the Wayback Machine tool online to check out archived pages to see who previous staff were and where they have gone. If many of them are now in positions not in higher education, perhaps burnout is a large issue on the campus. Many times, the bios will include staff members’ favorite things about the institution or their hobbies, which are great talking points in the interview process. When you become a finalist for a position, it might not be a bad idea to find current staff’s LinkedIn profiles to consider topics for small talk when speaking with individual staff one-on-one.
  4. Student newspaper coverage of your institution’s respective department: Knowing student perceptions of the department is important because it informs you what predispositions that students will have toward you. The student newspaper is a great way to measure this. Find their website and type in some key words that might pull up department-related items. Be cautious with older news, as departments likely have undergone organizational change since then. It may also be of similar worth to examine the institution’s sub-Reddit page if one exists.
  5. Local news coverage of your prospective institution: Just as it is important to know the student’s predisposition towards your institution, and possibly department, you want to know what the local community perceives of them. Are major highlights of the department and institution being highlighted? Or is it purely the negative? How would you handle some of the negative things being put out by the local media? Consider how you would market yourself to prospective students who have only heard what the local media has said about the institution.
    In one local newspaper for an institution I interviewed with, I found articles suggesting that due to a state-wide budget crisis, the institution may end up closing its doors. I asked this looming question in my first round interview. The employers sitting on the interview were impressed with my knowledge, but were also reassuring that the budget crisis had been resolved and there was little to no risk of the institution seeing such a drastic occurrence in the near future.
  6. The institution’s Wikipedia: We have been told that Wikipedia is not a great source of information; but it is certainly a good starting point. I typically use this to check out the history of the institution, notable alumni, and if there were any major controversies, movements, or events that occurred on their campus. And the bottom of the Wikipedia article is also loaded with references, which might give you some additional websites you can explore for additional research.
  7. The department’s social media: Is your prospective department with the times? What platforms are they on? Are they still marketing themselves as being on FourSquare and Pinterest? Are they meeting the students where they are? How are they communicating with students – is it simply promotional? Or is it engaging—how many followers are there, how are people interacting with the posts? What sort of tone are they using – is it motivational or informational? What could you do to improve their following and interactivity? What sort of things should be posted on their social media channels that are not? Have they popularized a hashtag – check and see if students are using it and if they are using it to reinforce the message the department is seeking or if the students are using it in a comical way.
  8. The Student and Residential Policies and Procedures: Policies and procedures can tell you a lot about campus culture. While it can tell you a lot about its political identity as an institution through liberal or conservative policies and procedures, it can tell us more than that. As much as we like to be proactive, we understand that many of us operate on a reactive basis. Examining which policies and procedures are more detailed and thorough may shine a light on what has historically been an issue on campus. Keep in mind that policies and procedures are influenced by institutional constituents such as parents and the local community and government, though, so not all policies and procedures 100% reflect the values of individuals within the department.
  9. Colleagues who have affiliations to the institution: As a new professional, your network in this area may not have grown to the point where you can maximize this as a resource for a job search. But if you do know someone who is serving or has served the institution you are interested in, they have lived the workplace culture first hand and can give you an unfiltered response in what it might look like if you were there. Perhaps you know someone who has studied there, which certainly still has some value on the perceptions and dispositions the student body might have to that department. Just know, student perception does not tell you the full story either, but it is good material to know. Also bear in mind, different people navigate systems of higher education differently, so the same frustrations and experiences they have faced, may not be the same ones you would face if you served there.
  10. The Interview: I mentioned you cannot rely on the interview alone to help with research, but an interview is the opportunity to get clarity on what you are missing. Are you finding holes of information? Anytime you are reviewing the website and these documents and find yourself asking a question, write it down and save it for the interview. I know I am bad at asking questions on the spot, so it is helpful for me to write them down and save them for when I have their ears. And when it comes to an on-campus interview, it is certainly helpful to have some of those handy when travelling from one part of the interview process to another. Do not forget to ask questions about them as individuals, too, as it is a great way to build empathy and make your process memorable to those involved in hiring.

Doing this research is a great way of showing you have the focus and initiative that employers seek in a candidate. Demonstrating research I had done in my cover letters alone, I accredit to one of the biggest reasons I had a first round interview rate of around 50% for each institution I had applied to. The more you can learn without having to go through a formal training or question and answer session, the better. We know higher education job descriptions are not all encompassing, so reviewing these ten facets of effective research can give you the upperhand you are looking for. Being the bookworm of a prospective institution cannot guarantee you a job offer, but effective research is yet another tool in the toolbox in making yourself a more appealing candidate.

Written by Tyler Bradley of Montana State University Billings. Tyler uses he/his and they/them pronouns. Tyler is a Residence Hall Director serving in a building with primarily non-traditional and international students and oversees operations for family housing.

Top 10 Things New Professionals Need to Know

Ideas and creativity in businessAs many of you are starting new positions this year, this webinar may be helpful to give you some important aspects of your job to think about. Presented by Kathryn Wojcik, Stephen Fleming, Cassie Harrington, and Taylor Ullrich in February 2017, this webinar is a must-watch for any new professional beginning a new job this academic year. This is especially helpful for graduate students entering their first professional job. Enjoy!

To view the webinar, visit https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/3413367158831616259

 

 

 

 

 

Post-Convention Reflections from the CGSNP Chair, Nick Fuselier

Nick

I think I can speak for all of us when I say that every single year after attending ACPA Convention, I return back to my campus on fire!  Convention has a way of coming just at the right time.  In the midst of a turbulent and troubling political climate in which our most vulnerable students are feeling unsafe, unheard, and uncared for… current issues in education policy, such as school “choice” vouchers and calls for budget cuts to programs designed to support students who are too often left behind… the list really goes on and on… but in the midst of all of this, I leave Convention feeling hopeful, inspired, re-energized, and equipped with new tools to best serve students and to best serve my community.

As I reflect on my time at Convention, so much comes up for me.  First, I am so grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with some of my most valued colleagues, all of whom impact my work in some way every single day.  I’m thankful to have developed some new professional relationships with folks who I have admired since my time as a graduate student.  And I think I’m most excited by my time getting to connect with those who are newest to our association – graduate students and new professionals.  These folks are the future of our field and I appreciate that ACPA has a dedicated space for us to learn from each other and grow together as emerging college student educators.  The community of ACPA, and the sub-communities found throughout the association, are some of my most cherished spaces.  In these spaces, I feel alive… I feel whole… I feel challenged… I feel taken care of.

Second, I am moved by ACPA’s bold strategic imperative for racial justice.  As a part of the Coalition for Graduate Students and New Professionals, I look forward to engaging in this call for a centering of racial justice in our work, not just as an entity group within the association, but as graduate students and new professionals in our everyday lives on our campuses and in our communities.  Hearing our outgoing President, Donna Lee, and our incoming President, Stephen John Quaye, make this call with an unwavering and unapologetic passion was moving.  I anticipate the operationalizing of this imperative will be challenging for us, as this kind of work is tough… it will be tough for white folks, like myself, to do the unlearning and unpacking that is necessary to engage in this work authentically… tough for folks of color, who often solely and unfairly bear the burden of teaching, coaching, and carrying people in dominant identity groups through this kind of work… tough for an association who has to own its history, its problems, and its challenges in today’s day and age.  Tough work is important work.  And as Donna Lee noted throughout Convention, we must engage in this work with love and compassion.

Last, I am thrilled to be moving into the Chair role for the Coalition for Graduate Students and New Professionals.  While our time together at Convention was a whirlwind, each day passing more quickly than the previous, I am pumped up by the energy and passion this team brings to the table.  I have to shout out our outgoing Directorate led by our outgoing Chair, Chad Mandala.  Thank you all for your commitment and leadership.  Moving forward, we have a lot of exciting work to do: a webinar series… the 8th Vector newsletter… the ACPA Ambassadors program… fundraising… case study competitions… not to mention all of our Convention-specific programs, and so much more!  I’m honored to work alongside our talented incoming Directorate and our engaged membership.  Get ready for a fun and fulfilling year!

 

Meet your 8th Vector Coordinators: Crystal and Stephen!

Each year, the 8th Vector is assigned coordinators to assist in managing posts and recruiting quality articles. This year, we are very excited to be authoring the blog and working with each of you to capture your voice and highlight your story. Here’s a little more about us:

Crystal HamiltonCrystal

I have been a member of the Graduate Student and New Professional Community of Practice for three years. I received my Bachelors degree in Finance from Old Dominion University and my Masters in Educational Leadership – Higher Education Administration from Valdosta State University. I have mostly worked with campus events, reservations, scheduling, and building facilities during my time in Higher Education. My interest in the 8th Vector sparked while I was the Scholarly Initiatives Coordinator for the Ambassador program couple of years ago. I am looking forward to assisting everyone who is interested in publishing in the 8th  Vector!

Stephen Fleming

Stephen

I have been a member of ACPA and the Graduate Student and New Professional Community of Practice for four years. My education has been primarily at Rowan University in New Jersey where I completed my dual Bachelors degree in Mathematics and Elementary Education and my Masters in School Counseling. I am excited to begin a new journey at Temple University in Philadelphia as I pursue my Ed.D. in Higher Education. A majority of my background has been in Residence Life and Housing, but I have more recently transitioned to academic affairs in my role as Assistant Dean for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Rowan University. I am very excited to be working with the 8th Vector as I have had an enjoyable experience publishing in it in the past and I hope I can provide a similar experience for anyone interested in exploring their professional writing.

 

This year, we have two main goals: to incorporate themes into the blog posts and to inform graduate students and new professionals on ways in which they can engage in publishing research-orientated pieces. We will have many themes before the convention and we encourage you to target those that resonate with you. To learn more about our themes, visit https://8thvector.wordpress.com/about-the-8th-vector/.

We are already accepting submissions for our July/August postings! The summer is a great time to focus on writing and engaging in professional development. Knowing that many of you may be in transition between jobs, our theme is Navigating Your First Position. All submissions do not have to focus on this theme—we are simply giving direction to a topic that we hope to strongly represent. Submissions must be submitted to 8thvector@gmail.com. We are accepting submissions on an ongoing basis.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at 8thvector@gmail.com. We are excited to help you meet your writing and publishing goals. Have a wonderful summer!

A Message from ACPA Executive Director, Dr. Cindi Love

Cindi LoveI know I am not the first, but allow me to say, “Congratulations!” to each of you in our new Graduate Student and New Professional Community of Practice.  Your group is not really new, but you have adopted a newly formed structure that really reflects the times in which we are living when community is so very important and research has to translate into effective practice.

Over the past three years, I have engaged with Grads and New Professionals and with the Ambassadors every chance I get because you give me energy, support and great insights into our work in student affairs.  I am a seasoned professional–but in many ways a new professional in student affairs—in my first five years of work in the field.  You’ve been my “home within a home” at ACPA.  You are important to me and I want to share why you are so important to ACPA’s culture, continuing excellence and thought leadership as a higher education association.

  • Statistically, you are more likely to engage than any other demographic in our membership
  • Career advancement is important and you also want to make a real difference through your work
  • You are the most active on social media and the most likely to promote social justice causes within this space—especially if we share cool and engaging content for you to share and especially digital video (videos.myacpa.org)

Did you know that 75,000 people have viewed a segment on ACPA Video on Demand?  This is a place where you have helped share and can continue to share the ACPA core values far beyond our immediate membership.  I hope members of the Community of Practice will develop new videos and submit often.

 Looking forward to the next ten years, I predict that we’ll see an even greater emphasis placed on engagement that does not take place in “face to face” settings like Convention.  You will be our practitioner leaders in these efforts.

I want to invite you to an opportunity for best practice leadership right now.  In May, we launched the Where Respect Happens campaign with our peer associations, NASPA, NODA, ACUHO-I, ASCA, ACUI, NIRSA and ACHA.  www.myacpa.org/where-respect-happens  I hope you will create your own video and upload it to the Campaign and download the free sticker, t-shirt and post-it card images for your use on your campus.  We believe this campaign is a great opportunity to amplify the voice of student affairs professionals within higher education and to support students as they navigate tough situations in their lives on campus.

When you send in your video or download the materials and use them, send me an e-mail and I will enter your name in a drawing for a free Compliance U™ course, Law, Policy and Governance in Higher Education:  Compliance 101.  Compliance.myacpa.org

We will draw September 22, 2017.

I will give you one fun example of how a campaign like this worked for a non-profit, Soulforce.  A group of youth activists raised $200 to print 10,000 stickers and blanketed them in a neighborhood in New York.  They took pictures of themselves posting the stickers in all sorts of places. A major newspaper picked up one of the photos and the story and advanced their cause with free publicity.

Wouldn’t it be cool if respect could go viral in this way?