A Path All Its Own: My Journey into Student Affairs



It was junior year on a trip to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl, specifically on a service-learning portion of the trip, that one of my mentors, Dr. Glenn Gittings, spoke to me about an opportunity to work in Student Affairs and work with college students on a daily basis. Turning a spark into a flame, that moment projected me into the world of Student Affairs. Like many graduate students and new professionals, a majority of my undergraduate experience was solely tied to student engagement and serving as a Resident Assistant in University Housing. Many rising professionals are unaware of the plethora of opportunities in Student Affairs that exist beyond just Student Activities and University Housing. An important part of mine and certainly others’ graduate school and real-work experience is a paradigmatic shift in how we think about our work with students pre-and-post-undergrad.

When I finally decided I was going to attend Florida State University for my master’s degree, I arrived upon the moment that feels like a ten pound weight sinking through your throat: deciding where to do your graduate assistantship. In that moment, something spoke to me and encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone and what little I knew about Student Affairs. “Do your assistantship in the Student Disability Resource Center,” the little voice inside my head said to me. At first, that decision made me incredibly nervous. I thought to myself, “What if I completely bomb and say the wrong things or mess up?” Thankfully, I made that decision to do my assistantship in a disability resource office because it has colored my trajectory in Student Affairs and taken me to places with which I feel most in sync in my professional life. Working as a graduate assistant in the office challenged my notion of the “traditional” student, changed the way I communicate with students, and molded my professional philosophy into one that advocated for and represented students with whom I did not share the same identities.

Today, most of my work is meeting individually with students and working with them one-on-one to develop accommodation plans, so that they can fully invest their time and energies into their academics without the barriers that a typical college learning environment puts in their way. An example of this might be 400+ person class, a reality for some first-year students at a large public research institution, can be challenging for a student with attentional deficits and difficulty with focusing. I enjoy getting to meet with students one-on-one on a daily basis and directly apply student development theories and what I learned in graduate school (although I’m not consciously applying that knowledge) to support growth and learning of students with disabilities, particularly their transition from relying on others to being self-sufficient and good self-advocates. I also enjoy working one-on-one with faculty, supporting the academic mission of the university while ensuring that all course content and spaces are accessible for students. I count myself blessed to be directly supporting the academic mission of the university while also focusing on student success and direct student engagement.

Some of my work also crosses over into helping students in crisis. I meet constantly with students who have mental health concerns and diagnoses from doctors and psychiatrists that match those mental health concerns. While I certainly cannot provide ongoing therapy or counseling, I help student triage in that moment and guide them through the process of advocating for their academic needs related to their disabilities (i.e., accommodations our office can approve and provide). I also collaborate with other campus partners, such as University Housing, to ensure that students receive appropriate accommodations outside of learning spaces on campus, such as in their residence hall. I even work closely with staff of the university admissions office, the Registrar’s office, the Veteran Student’s office, and other academic-focused offices. These interactions with other higher education professional helped me grow my professional philosophy into one that is much more global and inclusive of other higher education professionals that do not have student affairs backgrounds. They underscore the importance of student affairs professionals’ roles in academics and other higher education professionals’ roles in student success beyond the classroom.

All of this to say that there really is no one path into a career in student affairs. For the graduate students and undergraduate students considering going to graduate school or starting work in the field immediate after graduating, take some time to explore all the paths you have into and through student affairs. All routes to a career in student affairs are valid and necessary. And you never know, you might find yourself in a rewarding and affirming career path unlike the traditional narrative of a student affairs professional. For new professionals considering a change of career path, know that Student Affairs can still be a place for you due to the plethora of opportunities, environments, and needs of the student body. And lastly, I want to encourage all emerging professionals in student affairs to embrace the spectrum of functional areas and focuses that student affairs make take on. At the end of the day, we are all focused on one thing: student success.

Spencer Scruggs graduated with his Master in Science in Higher Education Administration from Florida State University in 2016 and currently serves as a Disability Specialist in the Florida State University Student Disability Resource Center. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram at @bariginge.


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


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.

An Artist Methodology Approach to Advising | Gerardo Guzman

Most student affairs professionals spend a lot of time advising and interacting with students. The topics we advise students on range from selecting a major and/or a career, navigating the institution, and succeeding in their academic and extra-curricular experiences. My job involves advising students on their financial aid and I initially struggled to identify my own advising style. Ironically, it was a Fine Arts Senior Seminar professor who helped me realize that the Artist Methodology I had gained as a Fine Art major could be applied to my position. The purpose of this article is to examine how an Artist Methodology can be applied to enhance advising skills.

Written by Gerardo Guzman of Florida Atlantic University.

What is an Artist Methodology?

An artist methodology is a set of methods that each person acquires throughout his/her personal and professional experiences as an artist. It is not a specific set of rules that are followed by all artists. A few select examples of methods that an artist can use include: Form, Freeform, and Realism. Artists can use a combination of methods that works best for them. For instance, I use three methods to create a piece of art and to advise my students: The Known, Observation, and Imagination.

The Known

The first step when I am working on an art piece is the Known. In other words, what do I know about the subject? Has there been a way that this subject has been successfully tackled before? If so, how can I improve upon the first piece? When advising a student, it is important to know who the subject is, what do I know about the student’s particular case and how can I improve upon their previous experience? For example, before meeting with a student I review all aspects of the student’s accounts, including academic history, financial holds, and academic holds. This allows me to be prepared to answer the student’s questions and to investigate possible solutions that may improve the student’s experience with our office and the university.


As an artist who focuses on surroundings to draw my inspiration for a piece of art, observation is a key step in my art creation process. Similarly, when meeting with students, I carefully observe not just what the students says, but how they are dressed, what they are not saying, and their non-verbal behaviors.  For example, I was speaking with a student at our front counter regarding his federal aid eligibility and how his income affected it. Although I answered his immediate question, his eye contact and tone of voice told me he had other questions. As he scanned the room and lowered his voice it became clear that he was uncomfortable discussing financial issues, so I invited him to my office. Once inside the office, his tone of voice immediately changed and became positive. He could focus on my answers instead of being worried about what the other students in the lobby were thinking of him.


My imagination allows me to create worlds in my head and convey my vision on my canvas. As an advisor, I use my imagination to put myself in my students’ shoes, allowing me to be more empathetic with each student’s situation. For example, I had a former student who was going through academic difficulty his sophomore year. He was placed on financial aid warning, as he had two consecutive semesters of failing grades. Initially, I found it difficult to empathize with his situation as our interactions were only via email. Once he came into my office, however, we discussed the issues he was facing at home. This helped me further understand his situation and come up with creative solutions that allowed him to get back on track with his academic studies and he eventually graduated with academic honors.


Being a good advisor is an art form that can be challenging to learn and master, especially as a new professional. My experience with art taught me the importance of Artistic Methodology when creating new pieces. This framework also helped me to focus my advising on observing, imagining, and finding out who each student is. By sharing my approach to art and advising, my hope is that it may inspire you to create your own Artistic Methodology that is based on your experiences and education.


Changing the World: Lessons Learned at the 2016 University Student Leaders Symposium | Thomas De Maio

There is educational value in learning from a variety of perspectives. One of the most advantageous ways to expand your horizons is to travel abroad. There are countless opportunities for students to see the world, including enrolling in an intensive two-week course in South America or studying abroad in Europe for a year. Higher education institutions around the world open their doors to people across the globe who seek to diversify their educational and cultural experiences. These opportunities are not limited to undergraduate students; in fact, there are a plethora of chances for graduate and professional students to learn abroad. As the world becomes more and more interconnected, it has become increasingly crucial for students to expand their learning beyond their current institution’s walls. As a Higher Education Leadership M.Ed. student at Florida Atlantic University, I had the great privilege of attending the 7th annual – 2016 University Student Leaders Symposium in Hanoi, Vietnam. Events like the University Student Leaders Symposium take participants outside of their comfort zone and allow them to learn about the real life educational and humanitarian needs that exist around the world. The purpose of this article is to share the lessons I learned by attending the 2016 University Leaders Symposium in hopes of motivating other students (including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students) to seek opportunities to study, volunteer, and/or travel abroad.

Written by Thomas De Maio of Florida Atlantic University.


The Experience

One of the most valuable things that attending the conference taught me is how privileged we are in the United States to not only have the ability to obtain a higher education, but also the fact that our universities are staffed with academic advisors and student affairs professionals whose job it is to help students succeed. One of the Symposium’s speaker, Dr. Angelina Yeun, Vice President of Hong Kong Polytechnic University discussed the cultural factors and challenges that they face in Chinese society.  For example, Dr. Yuen (2016) noted that in many Eastern cultures people are less likely to engage in community service and/or charity events focused on helping people other than their immediate family or friends. Without the sense of societal benevolence, there tends to be increased poverty and inequality within pockets of Eastern society. As an antidote to this problem, Dr. Yuen emphasized the importance of servant leadership. She noted that the concept of servant leadership already started to positively impact the city of Hong Kong. She also mentioned that in Eastern countries, such as China, higher education institutions do not have a student affairs staff. However, she did mention that demand is increasing for her higher education Master’s degree courses to learn more about leadership styles and the benefits of student affairs within higher education.

Implementing leadership styles and strategies that are taught in our higher education classes can help positively impact the world. One issue that higher education students and professionals can address is the impact of education on individuals, families, and countries. In Asia, a large percentage of women still do not have access to any formal education. If we can help educate and advocate for the rights of all people to have access to formal education, we can prepare people across the globe to address the challenges they face.

Some of the most memorable moments of my time in Vietnam were the multiple learning journeys that allowed attendees to volunteer their services. For example, attendees donated thousands of books to a local school and we helped build small bamboo bridges across a local river so villagers could traverse them on their way to school and work (HumanitarianAffairs, 2016). One of the most life-changing experiences on my trip to Vietnam was having the opportunity to visit Duong Lam, an ancient village. At Duong Lam we met with the villagers and learned firsthand about their ancient culture, religion, and traditions. My fellow humanitarians and I rolled up our sleeves and stepped outside of our comfort zones to assist the villagers with their daily chores, such as plowing and watering the fields, as well as prepping and cooking traditional Vietnamese dishes that have been made for centuries by these villagers and their ancestors. The work was difficult at first because of the hot sun and lack of clean drinking water or air conditioning. Although as the day wore on, the experience made me appreciate even more the daily tasks that these villagers complete to keep their village running.


Higher education graduate students are vested with a great privilege: the opportunity to obtain a high quality education in which the individual is equipped with the knowledge of making a positive impact in the world. The potential is there for us to not only impact students at our institutions, but to also enact change throughout the world. I encourage you to pursue opportunities that will allow you to study abroad through formal programs and/or by attending conferences like the University Student Leaders Symposium. We can, and I would argue are morally obligated to make the world a better place. In doing so, we make ourselves even better student affairs administrators and human beings.




HumanitarianAffairs (2016, Aug 7). 7th USLS 2016 . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_n3FfC-yEE

Yuen, A. (2016, September 12). Angelina Yuen at the 7th USLS 2016 . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvZup5nOwd0