Disabilities 101: What Every New Student Affairs Professional Needs to Know | Courtney McGonagle

Many new Student Affairs professionals do not have extensive experience working with students with disabilities or how to provide appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities. Approximately 11 percent of college students have disabilities (United States Department of Education [USDOE], 2016), and while 94 percent of high school students with learning disabilities seek and receive appropriate accommodations, only 17 percent of college students seek accommodations (Krupnick, 2014, para. 10). In addition, “Learning disabled students are far more likely than others to drop out of four-year colleges” (Krupnick, 2014, para. 13). The eight-year graduation rate is 22% lower for students with learning disabilities (Krupnick, 2014). Given these statistics, it is important for Student Affairs professionals to increase their awareness of disabilities. The purpose of this article is to define student disabilities, explain how accommodations for students with disabilities work, and to provide specific tips for working with students with disabilities.

Written by Courtney McGonagle.

Defining Disabilities

Disability is defined as, “A condition that limits a person’s physical or mental abilities” (Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary, n.d.). However, it is also important to remember that disability is defined differently under the Americans with Disabilities Act, known as the ADA. Under the ADA, disability is defined as, “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity” (ADA National Network, n.d., para. 2). The ADA protects individuals with both visible and invisible disabilities.

How to Refer Students to the Disability Services Office

            Students often fear notifying professors or professional staff about their disability. Often, students do not want to self-identify as having a disability, so please do not expect students to volunteer this information right away. In fact, some students may choose not to disclose their disability, preferring to keep this information confidential. Each student can choose whether to register with the campus Disability Services Office. As a student affairs professional, if you see a student struggling with classes, breach the subject carefully by asking the student how obtaining assistance may help them perform better. For example, if a student keeps running out of time on exams, let the student know about the possibility of getting tested in the disability services office which may result in affording them extra time to take exams.  This may make students realize the ways in which services, such as testing accommodations, can help them. This avoids simply telling students they merely “Aren’t good at a specific subject.” Refer students to the disability office, the website address, and/or help them contact the department for an appointment to learn more about the services that are offered.

How to Handle Students Who Have Received Accommodations?

After a student has gone to the disabilities services office and received accommodations for their disability, you may receive a Letter of Notification from the office stating a student’s specific accommodations. Read the letter carefully to ensure that you understand the accommodations that the student is entitled to receive. If you have any questions about the Letter of Notification or are unsure of the best way to accommodate the student, please contact the disabilities services office for assistance. Once a Letter of Notification is received, do not just sign it. The best approach is to contact the student (in person or via email) letting them know that you would like to meet with them individually. This allows professionals and students to be on the same page as far as accommodations go. This way, the student is being properly accommodated, which avoids potential problems in the future. This also makes students feel as though you want to help them, which potentially could improve their overall performance.


            Given the increasing numbers of students with disabilities, it is important for student affairs professionals to understand that disability is so much more than what a student “cannot do.” Students with disabilities are often hardworking, dedicated, and compelled to make themselves succeed. Additionally, they are protected under laws such as the ADA, which grants them access to an equal education. Therefore, as professionals, seek to understand students, research the laws that protect them, and engage student in dialogues about the disability services that are available on campus.




ADA National Network (n.d.). What is the definition of disability under the ADA? Retrieved from  https://adata.org/faq/what-definition-disability-under-ada

Disability. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster learner’s dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/disability

Krupnick, M. (2014, February 13). Colleges respond to growing ranks of disabled students, The Hechinger Report. Retrieved from http://hechingerreport.org/colleges-respond-to-growing-ranks-of-learning-disabled/

United States Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2016). Fast facts: Students with disabilities. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=60


How Being a Student-Athlete Helped Me be a Better SA Pro | Marqueshia Stallworth

Written by Marqueshia Stallworth of Florida Atlantic University

Student affairs administrators come into the profession with diverse educational backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Our unique stories and pathways to the student affairs profession influence our approach to working with students. I am increasingly finding that my multiple identities and experiences as a black female, Christian, student-athlete, Sorority member, and a background in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, have shaped who I am as a student affairs professional. However, increasingly I am finding that my experience as a student-athlete is shaping my approach to work as a Student Affairs professional. The purpose of this article is to share three things that I learned from being a collegiate student-athlete that have helped me become a more effective student affairs professional: learning how to manage time, having resilience, and always identifying a Plan B.

Time Management

Being a student-athlete is a full-time job that requires quickly learning how to successfully juggle academic and athletic demands. To maintain my eligibility as an NCAA Division I student-athlete, I was responsible for being to class on time, attending study hall, tutoring sessions, team meetings, workouts, and weightlifting, as well as completing my homework and taking care of the basic human needs we all have such as eating, sleeping, and resting. There literally was no room for wasting time or procrastinating. I learned to live by my weekly to-do-lists and scheduled time in my calendar to complete my diverse array of tasks. These time management skills have helped me to balance my graduate school classes, graduate assistantship, and internship responsibilities. I have been pleasantly surprised that my experience juggling multiple demands as a student-athlete has helped me not only balance my current demands as a student and professional, but also has helped me to empathize with my busy students and to teach them how to better manage their time.


As a Student-Athlete, I faced many challenges throughout my college career. I was under pressure to deliver excellent results on the track as well as in the classroom. I learned through athletics the importance of never giving up and constantly striving to improve my performance. This commitment to excellence taught me the value of hard work, discipline, and dedication. Often the main barrier to improving my own performance was my own standards I had placed on my performance. I learned that resilience and toughness were the keys to breakthroughs in my performance on the track. As student affairs professionals, we also are presented with challenges every day. The resilience I learned as a student-athlete has kept me going as a young professional despite the lack of funding or resources. Hard work has never scared me and I constantly strive to improve my performance. These skills I learned as student-athlete have allowed me to find creative solutions to the challenges I am facing as a Student Affairs professional.

Always have a Plan B

Being a student-athlete also taught me to always have a Plan B. Although most student athletes, including me, have dreams to become professional athletes, fewer than 2% of NCAA student-athletes become professional athletes (NCAA Recruiting Facts, 2016). Like the 98% of former student-athletes, I was forced to find another avenue to pursue after a sports-related injury precluded me from pursuing a career as a professional athlete. After investigating all my options, my Plan B was to attend Graduate School and it was the best decision I could have made.  I have found that Student Affairs professionals should have a Plan B. Student affairs professionals deal with a multitude of issues outside of their control, including the weather, institutional politics, and event cancellations. Having a backup plan, aka a Plan B, is an essential part of planning events and dealing with student issues.


In summary, being a Student-Athlete has taught me three essential skills: time management, resilience, and to always have a Plan B in place, that have all served me well as Student Affairs professional. I have found that the skills I learned from being a student-athlete, are the skills that are needed to work in student affairs. Applying my experiences as a student athlete to my profession in student affairs will be helpful in my quest to positively influence the lives of students that I serve. What aspects of your past experiences do you intentionally bring to your work as a student affairs professional?

Let’s Talk Strategy: A Business Plan for your First Year of Graduate School | Jheanelle Gilmore

Applicants to graduate programs in higher education and student affairs typically do so due to their extensive leadership involvement as undergraduates. However, the concept of involvement is different in graduate school. While your undergraduate years were spent being involved in a variety of organizations to help determine your passions and gain leadership skills, graduate school will require you to be more strategic with your time. Getting involved does not mean joining every organization that your university has available for graduate students. Instead, you will need to be more intentional in terms of obtaining experience in your career areas of interest. For example, if you want to work in student conduct after graduation, seek out graduate assistantships or internships in the student conduct office. Future employers will expect to see evidence of experience in the field on your resume and that you will be able to tell stories about those experiences. As graduate school can be difficult to navigate, the purpose of this article is to provide suggestions on how to make the most of your graduate school experience.

Written by Jheanelle Gilmore of Florida Atlantic University.


Do More than the Minimum

Most undergraduates are inclined to exert just enough effort to achieve a particular grade or to put on a good event. However, the people who future employers are seeking are the ones that consistently do more than the minimum. They read the optional articles listed in the syllabus and they seek out opportunities to gain hands-on work experience beyond their graduate assistantship. For example, a few highlights of my graduate school experience were serving as an intern at The Placement Exchange Program as a first-year student, becoming a founding member of Florida Atlantic University’s Chi chapter of Chi Sigma Alpha, the honor society for higher education and student affairs, and serving as an intern with my university’s Trademark Licensing and Marketing office. In addition, I have consistently sought opportunities to contribute to the success of my graduate assistantship office – after all, the job description is just the start of any position. The most important experiences are those additional duties that you take on not for additional pay or recognition, but simply to learn and to become a trusted member of the team.

Summer Internships

Completing a summer internship within your two years of graduate studies is a critical opportunity to expand your skillset and to learn how a different institution functions. Even if your program does not require students to complete an internship, I strongly encourage you to proactively seek out this vital opportunity to gain hands-on experience. Partaking in a summer internship often involves the opportunity to travel to a different state, where you will experience the culture, the lifestyle, and the policies and procedures of another institution. Such experiences will help you to determine the type of institution and/or office you may want to work in after graduation.  In a time where employers are constantly looking for the right fit, you can help to narrow down their options by already knowing your ideal work environment. Plus, it is also possible that a strong performance as an intern may lead to a job offer after graduation.

Welcome the Red Pen

Have you ever had a professor revise your paper in red ink? It makes your heart sink, no? However, what I have learned in graduate school is that one of the best gifts you can receive from professors, supervisors, and colleagues is honest and constructive criticism of your work. How can you get better if you do not receive feedback? Yes, it initially can hurt your feelings to be critiqued, but usually when you consider the suggested corrections, you realize that your professor has helped improve your writing. As a graduate student, you should actively seek feedback from faculty and supervisors, especially those that are committed to helping you become the best professional you can be. Upon seeking feedback you should graciously receive it, people are more likely to continue to give feedback to those who take the suggestions in the same spirit in which it is given. They will be impressed that you are asking for feedback and actively working to develop into the best professional that you can be. Finally, never forget to thank the people who are courageous enough to give you constructive criticism.


Two years in a Master’s degree program will pass by quickly. Therefore, I encourage you to develop a strategic business plan for making the most of your graduate education. I believe that by strategically seeking out opportunities, doing more than what is required, and actively seek out feedback you are sure to build a strong foundation that will prepare and support you as you launch your career as a higher education and student affairs professional.

Avoid a Game Over: Level Up Your Stress Relief Skills through Gaming | Nicholas D. Rivers

Written by Nicholas D. Rivers of Florida Atlantic University.

It is clear that student affairs is a stressful profession. The stress comes from a variety of sources, including student issues, supervisory concerns, lack of time, pressure to retain students, and rapidly decreasing budgets. The good news is that there are many ways to lower stress levels, including yoga, physical exercise, reading, listening to music, spending time in nature, talking with friends, and more. However, my favorite way to lower my stress levels is to play video games and I am not the only one playing video games: “In the United States alone, an estimated 99 percent of boys and 94 percent of girls play video games with 97 percent playing at least one hour per day” (Vitelli, p.1 2014). That is a lot of gaming! There are some downsides to playing video games, including rude online players, difficult learning curves, high prices, as well as the idea of playing video games becoming “an addiction” (Wood, 2008). But there are benefits associated with playing video games, including cognitive development, improving interpersonal relationships and communication skills, acquiring problem solving skills, and more. The purpose of this article is to share types of video games and the benefits associated with each type of game. Ready, Player One?

Role Playing Games

Role Playing Games Examples: The Sims, Mass Effect, World of Warcraft, Skyrim, Persona

Role playing games are great to help escape some of the stress of reality. These games allow you to walk in another person’s shoes by creating and embodying a unique character. Many of these games require using decision-making, interpersonal, and conversational skills to perform better in the game; all of which are important skills for student affairs professionals (Gallagher, 2013). One of my favorite role playing games is the Mass Effect series due to its rich storyline, attention to character development, and complete control of decisions both personal and overarching in the story. It feels like reading a novel, watching a movie, and living in a fantasy/sci-fi world all at once. These games are all about choices and letting the player have control of what is going on. If it feels like things are hectic in life, grab a controller and try out one of the games listed above!

Puzzle Games

Puzzle Games Examples: Candy Crush Saga, Portal, Tetris, Bejeweled, Professor Layton

Puzzle games probably have the most daily players due to their accessibility, quick gameplay, and fun factor. These games have some amazing benefits including “increased mental flexibility [and] improved ability to engage in multiple tasks simultaneously” (Gray, 2015, p. 1). These are typically the easiest and cheapest games to get into because most can be download to your cell phone. If you need a break from solving problems, try playing a few rounds of Tetris!

Competitive Games

Competitive Games Examples: Call of Duty, Halo, League of Legends, Overwatch, Rocket League, FIFA

While competitive games are some of the most popular in the “hardcore” gaming scene, there are both positives and negatives associated with them. The benefits of these games are that they are fun, fast, and allow people to interact with friends and family across the globe! These games focus on working together as a team and bringing out the strengths of each player. The negatives of these types of games is that these games can get very intense very fast and players can flip from having a great time to “going full tilt” at any moment. When looking to get some satisfaction from competing with a group of friends, check these games out, but also be wary of keeping emotions in check and not taking the competition too personally.

 Tips and Tricks

These are only some of the games available to help relieve stress. Not sure where to start? Check out the classics like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, or Sonic the Hedgehog. Also, feel free to reach out to others for game recommendations. See if you can find a group to join that also enjoys gaming, but be intentional about limiting the time spent on video games.


In the stressful world of student affairs, playing video games can be a great way to relieve stress and to build relationships with others. Remember to watch out for the difficulties that may come along with gaming and that at the end of the day, they are just that: games! Do not take them too seriously and just have fun!




Gallagher, D. (2013, March 10). 7 health benefits of playing video games. Retrieved from


Gray, P. (2015, February 20). Cognitive benefits of playing video games. Retrieved from


Vitelli, R. (2014, February 10). Are there benefits in playing video games? Retrieved from


Wood, R. T. A. (2008). Problems with the concept of video game “addiction:” Some case

study examples. Retrieved from         http://dh101.humanities.ucla.edu/DH101Fall12Lab4/archive/files/03cf69085504b44dc8b43f81b8462198.pdf

Boarding the Right Bus: How to Find the Best Institutional Fit | Meagan Elsberry

Written by Meagan Elsberry of Florida Atlantic University.

Securing your first job out of graduate school can be analogous to finding the right bus to take you home on the first day of kindergarten. I distinctly remember the first day of school when my mom was so excited to have me take the bus home to increase my independence. That morning she had me memorize my bus number and also wrote down our home address to confirm with the driver that I was indeed on the right bus. Yet, despite my high level of preparation, when the final bell rang and I emerged through the main doors, I froze at the sight of what appeared to be hundreds of buses. How was I supposed to find the right bus in a sea of yellow? Eager to get home, I jumped onto the first bus I encountered. Needless to say, I was on the wrong bus and ended up hopping off when I was within a few miles of my house and walking home. When I graduated with my Master’s degree and was searching for jobs, I similarly faced a sea of jobs that were available through placement exchanges and through job ads. So, how do you pick the right bus that will take you to your new home?

This is where yet another bus metaphor can help make the decision. Jim Collins (2001) used a metaphor to advocate that employers should focus on getting the right people on the bus in the right seats and the wrong people off the bus to help organizations go from “good to great” (p. 41). So, how is Collins’ bus metaphor relevant to finding that first job?  Simply imagine the potential employer as the bus. Your job is to figure out which bus to get on and what seat is going to be the best one to help the organization move forward. By utilizing key concepts from Jim Collin’s (2001) book Good To Great, this article will offer concrete advice for navigating the job marketplace to ensure you secure the correct seat on the best bus, not just hopping onto the first bus that drives past.

Hedgehog Concept

According to Collins (2001), a hedgehog is someone that “has a piercing insight that allows them to see through complexity and discern underlying patterns. Hedgehogs see what is essential, and ignore the rest” (p. 91). The Hedgehog concept is an understanding of what you can be the best at and reflecting ahead of time on where do your strengths and weaknesses lie? Determine, and then show what you are deeply passionate about. If you are not passionate about the job/school/duties of a job then why apply? While a job is necessary, if the job is not aligned with your strengths and passions, you may become frustrated and find yourself searching for a new bus.

Level 5 Executive Leadership

Collins (2001) defines the concept of Level 5 Executive Leadership as “an individual who blends extreme personal humility with intense professional will, and has a resolve to do whatever needed to be done to make a company great” (p. 21). Level 5 leaders consistently demonstrate their personal investment in the organization and its success. While interviewing, share your personality, demonstrate how you have invested in your work previously, and articulate what you are passionate about.  Ask questions focused on the organization and highlight how you can contribute to helping them achieve their mission and goals. Prior to the interview, look up the values, mission, and vision statements for the department and institution. Ask questions based on this research, such as, which of the institution’s strategic initiatives are driving this department over the next few years? What is the most important role you need the person hired for this position to play in living out the mission of this unit?

Who’s on the Bus?

Great vision without great people is irrelevant.  Collins (2001) talks about “first who, then what. Getting the right people on the bus who want to be there because of who else is on the bus and not because of where it is going, if you have the right people on the bus they will be self-motivated to produce the best results, and will not be afraid if you need to change directions” (p. 42). This concept provides encouragement to ask questions during an interview that help you understand the vision, strategy, and culture of the organization. These questions will help you envision yourself fitting in and understand if you will be in the right seat to help the organization move forward. Questions can include: What are the top three qualities you are seeking in the person in this position? Please candidly describe the office culture and approach to working with students. Does the staff goes to lunch together? Do they do things outside of work together? These are great questions to determine the value placed on teamwork and relationships in the workplace. Ask questions about the things that you seek and value in the workplace.

Confront the Brutal Facts

Collins (2001) encourages leaders too not side-step the reality of organization life by confronting the brutal facts. This is an important reminder to job candidates to inquire about the culture of the unit. Is it an honest and transparent culture? The on-campus interview is the time to ask good questions that will allow you to learn about the true nature of the organization. What issues are they struggling with?  What large-scale projects are they hoping to accomplish in the next few years? Pay attention to not only what people say, but what they do not say in response to your questions. No place is perfect, so if they make it seem like all sunshine and rainbows that may be a red flag.

Final Thoughts

In a later article, Collins (2003) talks about identifying what you are deeply passionate about, what you feel you were made to do, and what you can do to make a living. The goal is to find a job at the intersection of the answers to these three questions. By using the techniques from Collins (2001) book Good to Great, such as finding your inner hedgehog, asking good questions, confronting the brutal facts, and becoming a Level 5 leader, you will get on the right bus and find the best seat. Although conducting your first professional job search can be scary, just like it was scary for me to get on the wrong bus heading home from the first day of first grade, these techniques will prepare you to pick the right bus.



Collins, J. (2003, December 30).  Best New Year’s resolution? A ‘stop doing’ list.  USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/best-new-years.html

Collins, J. (2001).  Good to Great.  New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Applying Tina Fey’s Rules of Improv to a Graduate Assistantship | Jaclyn Kulls

Written By Jaclyn Kulls of Florida Atlantic University

Improvisation (referred to as simply, “improv”) is a learned art form, much like the realm of student affairs within higher education. Improv is a process through which individuals cultivate creativity and actively practice collaborative strategies to produce effective outcomes and solve complex problems (Rossing & Hoffmann-Longtin, 2016). Professionals within higher education must also actively practice creative problem-solving and collaborative strategies when it comes to the myriad of issues, projects, deadlines and crises within higher education. Comedian and actress Tina Fey (2011) wrote about her rules of improvisation in her book, Bossypants, which can easily be applied to fields outside of stage comedy. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how Tina Fey’s rules of improv can assist new graduate students to be successful in their graduate assistantships.

The Power of Agreeing

“The first rule of improvisation is AGREE… Start with a YES, and see where that takes you” (Fey, 2011, p. 76). By saying “YES” to opportunities, graduate assistants demonstrate their commitment to the overall mission of the office. Not all opportunities will be presented in a neatly wrapped package with a fancy bow and an envelope full of instructions. In many cases, graduate students must use creative-thinking and problem-solving strategies to create new processes and demonstrate efficiency. Saying “YES” to ideas and projects aligns new professionals with the office leader’s vision, placing them in a unique and rewarding position for professional development. Although it is easy to say “No” as young professionals who are trying to balance life, work, school, and professional activities, this reply may make others think that you are unwilling to work hard or participate in department initiatives. Although it can be challenging for new professionals, embracing the unknown and saying “YES” to new things can transform ordinary graduate assistants into the go-to collaborators. These go-to individuals are the ones who are often promoted first or develop networking connections that can lead to future opportunities in the profession.

The Art of Contribution

“The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND… It’s your responsibility to contribute… your initiations are worthwhile” (Fey, 2011, pp. 76-77). As graduate assistants, it can be difficult to overcome insecurities or stigmas in which we feel like we are “less than” seasoned professionals. We may remain silent in boardrooms and meetings, thinking that our ideas are unworthy. Other times, we may speak up only to be shut down or criticized for challenging authority. It is important to remember that while your thoughts, ambitions and ideas are indeed important and worthwhile, there is a proper way to communicate these ideas and contribute to the overarching goals of the office.

Balancing the ability to contribute can be difficult, but there is a middle ground between speaking out of place and remaining silent: learn how your department communication channels work, and then, use this information to your advantage. Bringing up a new idea or disagreeing with an existing one in a meeting full of executives may not be the most advantageous way to contribute. The best way to say “YES, AND” is to present to your supervisor an innovative idea AND outline a plan for achieving it. Then, your supervisor can pass the message through the appropriate for consideration and possible implementation by the office director. By making it a habit to say “YES, AND”, you will be seen as a willing and engaged office participant a person who both understands and can navigate office politics.

The Role of Confidence

Making statements, the third rule, “is a positive way of saying, ‘Don’t ask questions all the time.’… Whatever the problem, be part of the solution” (Fey, 2011, p. 77). While it may feel like a natural reaction to question processes and the “why’s” behind programming, it does nothing to contribute your talents to your department or institution. No one wants to be around the person who constantly points out mistakes or questions authority, yet contributes nothing new to the field. To be a “YES, AND” person, you must find confidence within yourself and your abilities. Start with small contributions and then work your way up to larger ones.

Tina Fey (2011) writes, “MAKE STATEMENTS also applies to us women: Speak in statements instead of apologetic questions” (p. 77). Some women tend to increase the pitch of their voice at the end of a statement, transforming it into a question: “I’m here to give a presentation on resume writing…? I work closely with employers so I know what they look for…?” This will cause your audience to question your experience and credibility. This transformation in tone is called “upspeak” and it can damage your reputation and perception as a future leader (Baldoni, 2015). Leaders are expected to be confident and make statements. Confidence not only comes from one’s presence, but also one’s tone of voice (Baldoni, 2015). The next time you approach your supervisor with a solution to a problem, try saying, “I have an idea,” instead of “I think I have an idea?”

Lessons From The Field

The final rule of improv is, “THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities” (Fey, 2011, p. 77). Professional development generally occurs in two ways: by learning something new and applying it, or doing something wrong and learning from it. Within higher education, professionals view themselves as lifelong learners, and therefore, are prone to making mistakes. Your graduate assistantship provides a safe space for you to make these mistakes and an opportunity to grow both personally and professionally. Your supervisors are there to guide you and can assist in your transformation. Take advantage of this and seek mentors who are not afraid to challenge you and push you to try new things. The important takeaway here is not to steer away from making mistakes, but to meet them head on and remain open-minded enough to change your actions in the future.


            Improvisation may have comedic roots, but when applied proficiently, it can become a powerful tool for working in higher education. Graduate assistants and new professionals within student affairs should remember to be strategic with their initiatives. Say “YES!” to things even when you cannot see how it will benefit you. Say “YES, AND” to demonstrate your professional commitment and collaborative mindset. Make statements with your actions and words to show confidence and to be seen as a rising leader in the field of student affairs. Do not be afraid of change or trying new things because they will help you grow and learn from mistakes in the future. These rules of improv can help graduate assistants and new professionals succeed in their careers through the basic tenets of collaborative strategies, creative problem-solving, and open-mindedness.


Baldoni, J. (2015, July). “Will ‘upspeak’ hurt your career?” Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnbaldoni/2015/07/30/will-upspeak-hurt-your-career/#67f391f47a47

Fey, T. (2011). Bossypants. New York, NY: Little Stranger, Inc.

Rossing, J. P. and Hoffmann-Longtin, K. (2016). Improv(ing) the academy: Applied improvisation as a strategy for educational development. To Improve the Academy, 35(2), 303–325. doi:10.1002/tia2.20044

Moving Up in Higher Education | Woosly Calixte

It can be challenging to get your foot in the door to start your career in higher education, but it can also be equally challenging to advance your career once you have started. Through my five years as a higher educational administrator, I have been blessed with opportunities to learn and obtain skills and knowledge that have allowed me to continuously grow professionally and advance my career. The purpose of this article is to share four strategies to propel your career forward as a higher education professional.

Written by Woosly Calixte of Florida Atlantic University.


Embrace Opportunities to Learn

Embrace the opportunity to learn everything you can as a new professional in higher education. Be the person who volunteers to take on additional duties and projects. Also, get in the habit of doing more than what is written in your job description. For example, my first position was at Broward College as a part-time Administrative Specialist for the Dean of Students. It was not my ideal entry-level position, but I knew I had to start somewhere. Beyond doing regular clerical duties, I took the initiative to learn the functionality of the office. I was fortunate to get first-hand learning experience about the process of student conduct, disciplinary appeals, and crisis management. I also took the initiative to ask my boss to observe a few student conduct meetings and got a better sense of how to manage critical situations. This was a great way for me to learn and develop my skillset.


One of the most important things that you can do as a young professional is to intentionally build and nurture your professional network. Ask good questions of people that you interact with daily, including inquiring about the most rewarding and challenging aspects of their jobs. Be sure to ask for any advice they might be willing to share as well. Networking is not as scary when you realize that it isn’t about you – it is about learning from experienced professionals and figuring out how you can be of service to others. I have been intentional about building great relationships and have learned so much by listening to the great career advice that I have received. One of the most important pieces of advice I received was to return to school to pursue my Master’s degree in Higher Education Leadership to become qualified and prepared to move up into senior level administrative positions.

Seek out Mentors

It is important to have mentors to guide you and help you to advance your career. Golden (2016) defines mentoring as a professional activity, a trusted relationship, and a meaningful commitment. There are different types of mentors one can have: a wise leader, teacher, peer, and/or confidant. You want to have a variety of mentors with expertise in different areas of your career and life. When I stepped into an administrative role, I asked one of my supervisors, Dr. Johnson, the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, to be my mentor. He took me under his wing, invited me to join departmental meetings, and showed me the qualities and skills I would need to be a great leader. He also encouraged me to read to stay up-to-date in the field and has helped me define my career goals and aspirations.

Get Involved

It is important to get involved on local, state, regional, and national levels. Cherwin (2010) suggests that joining professional associations can help advance your career. It is also important to join campus committees and take on leadership opportunities whether on your campus or within a professional organization. Keep in mind that early on in your career it can be easier to get involved through state or regional levels of professional associations. I am currently involved with the Emerging Leaders Group for Broward College and Brothers en Humanidad. The Emerging Leaders Group provides opportunities for leadership development, access to college and community leadership, and opportunities for networking. Brothers en Humanidad is an organization that cultivates mentoring and leadership programs for Black and Hispanic/Latino male students to increase completion, retention, and enrollment rates. My involvement with these two initiatives has already benefitted my professional career. Through the Emerging Leaders Group, I have met and worked alongside senior administrators and Brothers en Humanidad provides me the opportunity to reach out and mentor minority male students and to help foster their educational success.

In summary, advancing your career in higher education administration is about intentionally embracing opportunities to learn, building your network, seeking mentors, and getting involved in professional organizations.  Implementing these strategies can propel your career in the right direction.



Cherwin, K. (2010). Why join a professional association? Higheredjobs.com. Retrieved from


Golden, C. (2006). Cultivating careers. Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE.