Ignite Leadership. Influence Change. NASPA 2012.

Hello from Phoenix, Arizona!

I’ve been in this city since early Friday morning (which necessitated a 2AM shuttle pick-up that morning). It’s been a fantastic experience, partially because of the weather, partially because I’m not sick this year, and mostly because being surrounded by so many other student affairs professionals and interested students is incredibly re-energizing.

I spent the weekend attending and helping out at the annual International Symposium, which is a pre-conference event bringing together practitioners from around the world to discuss current issues in global education. I had the chance to speak with several other graduate students in the field, as well as professionals from around the US, England, Pakistan, Germany, and Australia (to name a few). One of the keynote speakers talked about the journey he is currently on, which is–quite simply put–establishing a brand-new university in Pakistan. (More to come in future posts about that.) Being around a pathway like this is so eye-opening to a graduate student and new professional. It again gives me something to which I can say, “I never even knew that was a possibility.”

Digressing a bit, I have to also say that sharing these unknown possibilities with students is going to be a primary thread in how I approach my work. Whether it is transitioning into college or into a new institution (transfer students), or urging students to contribute to literature on Asian-American and Pacific Islanders in higher education, or even exploring new career paths, I want to be able to present new opportunities to my students.

I have seen how theory influences practice through various presentations at this conference, how change can be difficult and slow yet so critical to student success. I have begun to identify areas where I believe I can make contributions: international education, transfer student services, commuter student services, AAPI issues, and how all of these issues translate to the two-year, community college world. I am swimming in ideas–yet I am also aware, by the presence of NUFPs (NASPA Undergraduate Fellows) and other graduate students and professionals, that there are colleagues who yearn to collaborate and contribute.

I have much more to share with you all in the next month or so before my Master’s defense. I hope to have even more to share afterwards.

Life as a Graduate Teaching Assistant

As most people know, I am in full-swing regarding the student affairs job search. I am on the hunt for a job which will allow me to come in, not necessarily as an expert, and give me the chance to grow with the position. I am anxious to find out where my professional journey takes me next.

I would not be framing my job search in this way if it were not for my graduate teaching assistantship. Over the course of the past year and a half, I have discussed my role with the University Honors College (UHC) occasionally through my blog. Here, I intend to clarify how I got here, what it is that I do, and how it applies to student affairs in higher education.

When I was on the interview circuit for student affairs graduate programs, I went through admissions and assistantship interviews with Oregon State University, Western Washington University, Colorado State University, and Seattle University. For each program, I interviewed in-person for different GTA positions, jobs in areas like Career Services, Diversity Development, Health and Wellness, and commuter and transfer programs. The only phone interview I had was with the OSU UHC, and it was after I was already waiting to hear about my acceptance to various programs. I had two phone interviews with the UHC, and I conducted both of them out of a tiny room at my then-employer’s office. The offer to come work for the UHC was extended to me mere days after I arrived in Madrid, Spain for a volunteer program. I wanted to celebrate after receiving that email, but I was certain no one would quite understand why I was so excited over a temporary, part-time job at a university halfway across the world.

Even now, there is some question about my exact role. To put it succinctly, I am a holistic academic counselor. I was hired specifically to be the liaison between the UHC residence hall and the staff, who are located in a different building. My job does not constrain itself to an 8-5 schedule. I live in a residence hall, and I do not live there to enforce conduct and policies; in other words, no, I am not an RA. While I hold office hours in a traditional office several times a week, the rest of the time, my office can take the form of a hallway conversation, an all-floor dinner, or an all-hall event (among other things). I am a relationship and community builder. I am a role model. As the only graduate student living in the building, people know who I am, and I know that my actions can influence not just how I am perceived, but also in how others may choose to model their future actions. I am a generalist and a resource, someone who can answer questions about nearly everything imaginable. Granted, sometimes that means referring a student to someone with more expertise on a given question, but even in this sense, I am effective in my role as liaison.

As an advisor, I help students specifically with questions about coursework and requirements. The nature of the UHC is such that I work with students in many different disciplines. I have grown into this role from my previous experience as an administrative assistant (formal title: Company Services Assistant, as it did encompass more than a traditional admin assistant position–for ease of reference, however, I use the phrase administrative assistant) because at Zumiez, I was tasked with answering incoming questions and then properly directing inquiries to another employee, if necessary.

As an academic counselor, a term with which I became familiar through the CSSA program, I provide support for students’ concerns that may or may not directly relate to classes. For example, students have asked me about balancing their schedules many times. My recommendations often include advice on pursuing interests they have outside their academic majors. Other times, I take on a sounding board role where students talk through and process issues. Sometimes it’s how to deal with prioritizing activities and classes, or sometimes it’s how to find a better sense of health and wellness.

Notably, there have been several instances in which I told students to check out OSU’s Mind Spa at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). As a person who moved from eastern Washington to the rainy side of the Cascades, I have often battled with seasonal depression, and some students have expressed the same kinds of issues; that is why I recommend the Mind Spa, or checking out a SAD light from Health Services, since CAPS had the foresight to build a space with a SAD light and other stress-reducing tools. I openly discuss these resources because I know from personal experience how draining it can be to want to do well in school when stress or depression is keeping a person from doing so. By sharing these important resources, I help students learn to help themselves while letting them know that it is okay and they should not be ashamed.

As a program planner, I develop and plan events. These events range from very small programs to large programs for our students and their families. In order to develop or refine new and existing programs, I approach my work in a collaborative manner. I advise a student organization, the Honors Activities and Advisory Committee, which is a group dedicated to planning activities and events for the UHC community. Their initiative and enthusiasm has grown tremendously over my time at OSU. When I started planning events, it was almost like I was on my own, with some input and advice on what the event had looked like in the past coming from my students. Now, students are enthusiastic about taking the lead to plan community events, and I provide logistical support, as well as answers to questions that come up. Additionally, I provide support in terms of ideas and presence at activities to McNary Hall Council and the McNary staff. Sometimes, I find myself in awe that this role is so much fun. I get the chance to see how different programs engage students in new thought processes, in new social settings, in ways that make them feel empowered. One of the best feelings is helping students with a program and then having someone else, at the end, ask about how he or she can become involved. Program planning was an intimidating aspect of the job, at first, since I had only minimal experience; while it is by no means a stress-free component, it has become something I cherish. After seeing how my students and I can plan successful and engaging events, I am anxious to see what I can provide to my next community.

I made it my goal from the beginning to be someone who was not intimidating. I did not want to be the grad student that was simply a walking encyclopedia. Instead, I wanted students to learn several things from interacting with me: (a) that staff and faculty are real people; (b) that these real people care about students’ success; (c) that it is okay to be undecided or change your mind–exploration is encouraged in college; and (d) it is worth it to consider meaning and purpose. I remember an RA telling me last year that so many others saw my personal balance and composure and decided they would strive for a life like that.

Overall–and as I was told would be the case–my GTA position has allowed me to touch on all of the CSSA competencies. I can see how a program grows and evolves. I have learned incredible amounts of the dynamics of a small college within a large university setting. Every day, I see how my role and my colleagues’ roles can influence student development.

I just want to close with one of my favorite aspects of my assistantship. I love the moments when I’m walking on campus and a student recognizes me. That smile of recognition (which is always greeted by one from myself) is almost beyond words.

This is why I do what I do.

Winter Quarter 2012: Week 1

That’s a wrap. Here’s a summary in bullets:

  • Project discussions for the remainder of the term and spring term continue. Details to come once I know more.
  • Legal Issues (AHE 554) met for the first time yesterday. I’m pretty excited to delve into this topic, as it’s been years since I’ve been around law. For those who don’t know, I used to work at a courthouse as a file clerk. I got to see how part of the legal system worked, and so hopefully, that makes tackling legal issues from another angle a bit less intimidating. We’ll see. I’m hoping to learn more about issues surrounding technology (e.g., what happens when hate speech circulates on Twitter/email on a school’s end) as well as liability and risk management (specifically thinking about risk management for college and university cheer teams, including club-level squads, and related topics).
  • Spirituality (AHE 599) is going to be excellent. I look forward to expanding my articulation about how I exist and what I believe, and how that can help students in their own personal journeys. I am also very pleased to share that my class will be holding a conversation with Dr. Alexander “Sandy” Astin! I had a chance to hear him and his wife speak at NASPA conference last year on the topic of spirituality, and I would say that was a key point in my student affairs career. Right now, I am working on developing a proposal with a colleague on how to use purpose and meaning (through talking spirituality, for instance) to support transition, whether that’s into/out of a two-year/four-year institution or into/out of graduate school or into the working world. There are many facets to explore.
  • New Media Communications 101 is another course I am looking forward to. Yes, I am enrolled in a 101 class, but it’s directly applicable to my interests. As a big fan of social media, NMC 101 will talk about how to effectively create and deliver messages through various media–including comic books, social media outlets, etc. and so forth. We’ll be viewing The Matrix with a critical eye, looking at how techniques communicate certain messages, for example. My communication and rhetoric undergraduate self is leaping for joy. I am also using this as a chance to observe classroom techniques. One thing I’ve noticed is that the class section is only about 40 students large. According to our instructor, that’s down from a cap of around 70 from last term. Additionally, we spent a little bit texting our responses to a question to our professor yesterday. That might not seem significant, but having a professor say, “Please take out your phones and open your text messaging function,” is really, really cool! It allowed us to contribute somewhat anonymously–and yes, he did accommodate for those who may have to pay per text. Students will be able to submit through alternative methods to contribute to this body of knowledge.
  • Salsa I! I love dancing. Apparently, so do other grad students, as a good percentage of my class is comprised of grad students from various disciplines. Happy to see others are looking for balance and also finding time to learn something outside of the “professionally practical.” I’m sure you could argue that social dance is practical, and I wouldn’t really stop you.
  • Work is also going well. We had our first staff meeting of the term today. There was discussion about how to better support students in creating posters for their thesis projects. Currently, there are optional workshops available now and then. As I listened to the discussion, I recognized that skills I picked up at my internship in Wenatchee could apply to the situation. I suggested that we perhaps craft a few online presentations that utilize visual as well as audio instructions to assist students. I figure that allows some flexibility for busy seniors, as they can log on at their own convenience. It will also free up our resources as it would allow our staff to continue offering workshops as they can while also giving us some flexibility; presentations can also be used year after year (with updates!).
  • I turned in another job application for the Portland area last night. I’m really hoping I at least get some nod of approval on this one because it would be a great fit for my personality and strengths. I have a few more positions to apply for during this long weekend. That said, if you’re so inclined, please put in a good word with the universe and any and all Supreme Beings. 🙂
  • I am also in the process of starting to schedule my defense. Time flies.

A Butterfly Flaps Its Wings…

We all understand the butterfly effect; the littlest thing halfway around the world can change wind patterns in New York. What if that butterfly was something in your past? I spend a lot of time contemplating the paths I’ve taken. Every now and then, I remember a moment that seemed insignificant at the time, but now I wonder if it was indeed a sign from the universe. I wonder how much has affected me due to my inclination to listen or to let the “sign” slide.

Here’s one thing I recently recalled….

The scene: AP US History class, junior year of high school. One of our school’s guidance counselors has stopped by to talk about talking more AP classes during our senior year. I’m already in the process of looking into Running Start, a collaborative program allowing high school students to enroll in community college classes for both high school and college credit–for free. At some point, the counselor states that “it looks better to have AP credits” on your transcript as opposed to community college credits. I freak out. I challenge that, asking him wildly if that means I’m realistically going to be denied admission to a university because I chose to take a program that essentially guaranteed me a jump-start on the college environment and credits. I remember him saying something about how Ivy League schools would want to see AP credits versus Running Start. He moved on after providing me that answer, leaving me flustered and agitated.

Two things that bothered me about the situation: (a) I was only looking at public universities out of necessity; and (b) he was trying to tell us to spend an entire year learning a subject, and after that, we would have to pay almost $100 to take a test to prove we knew enough to maybe grant us college credit (and it was dependent on your university!).

What none of us could have known was this: (c) someday I would eventually grow up to be the young lady that wanted to stand up for community colleges, public education, and opportunities that make sense for the “common” student.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that situation was a catalyst. If anything, it was a nudge in the direction the universe was hoping for.

Now, I am an individual that could–if she truly wanted–probably make it into elite institutions. I hate saying things like that, but I can’t really hide the fact that I’ve always been involved, insightful, academically successful, and so forth and so on. It just happens that I’m some sort of middle class genius, raised by a father who spent his educational career in the public ranks.

My dad taught me that it doesn’t take elite institutions to cultivate the smartest or most successful students.

(Then what does it take?)

Genuine interest in the world. Interest in a broad selection of activities and passions. Time to contemplate, and time to act. Giving back to your community. Good friends. Valuing yourself. Valuing your family.

Who cares if I don’t have a degree from Harvard or Stanford on my wall? I’m proud to see the words “Western Washington University” on my diploma, proud to call myself a Viking.

What does it matter that my Master’s is from a land-grant (and sea-, space-, and sun-grant) institution? I’m proud to be an Oregon State University Beaver, the place where I learned to cut my teeth (no pun intended–okay, pun intended) as a student affairs professional.

And it’s worth it to dig up the extra transcript from my senior year of high school–the one that says “Wenatchee Valley College” to show that I took the initiative to attend college as a 17-year-old, to learn from classmates with experiences more diverse than I could conjure up, to immerse myself in a place where learning happens yet students and the community seem to take no pride.

Of course, given the economy, I will not be able to limit myself to only public institutions. I know that if I find myself at a private institution how I will be able to shift my energy, and that I will be able to support students that could–as I probably would have–feel as if they didn’t belong.

Maybe if my school counselor hadn’t stopped by, I still would have enrolled in Running Start. I probably would have been content, but I wonder if that agitation instilled a sentiment that was roughly around the lines of, “This educational opportunity matters, and I’ll be damned if people continue to discount it.” What if I had gone through Running Start, simply content with my decision to get free credits? Would I have been as inclined to take in the diversity of my classes? Would I have let the experience affect me the same way?

Who knows?

The most I can say right now is that this story is still writing itself. And every day, until the end of time, I know I will encounter beautiful butterflies–even if they’re in disguise.

That Was… Interesting.

Week 7, in a nutshell, was interesting. It was interesting in that “I’m not sure if I’d want to do that again, but whatever” kind of way.

Monday I’d gladly do all over again, but that’s because I got to sleep in, spend all day in my jammies, and do laundry. I’ve tailored my winter schedule to allow for a lot of PJ-clad portfolio writing, so I’m looking forward to that!

Tuesday through Thursday was jam-packed busy. I’m leaving tonight to fly to San Diego for the NASPA Western Bi-Regional Conference, so naturally, I was rushing to cover my bases. A combination of delegating more event-planning responsibilities to my trusty students and only taking one academic class has left me feeling like I’m forgetting something. According to my to-do list, though, I’m okay.

However, I spent Wednesday night onwards trying to process a lot. I’ve been up in my head and spewing out verbal nonsense here and there.

I came to a few conclusions, or at least reaffirmations of what I already knew about myself.

I am not an activist. I am not an activist in terms of racial equality nor gender equality nor anything else. That doesn’t mean I don’t care. I am, like we discussed in Multicultural Issues, a “tempered radical.” I do my best work by seeking to understand the context of my environment and making subtle shifts and changes here and there. I am proud of my heritage, and I am frustrated when my mixed identity confuses others. I am sad that I haven’t found a support network like WWU’s FASA here at Oregon State, but I fault myself for not being proactive in some ways. I don’t blame OSU for the make-up of its student body or its staff or its faculty. They are working towards becoming a truly multicultural institution, and that comes with hiccups and uncomfortable stops along the way. If change and progress were easy, well then, why would we even care to try in whatever capacity we can?

I lead by example. This is something my former cheer coach told me. Maybe I was the worst stunter on the team, but I did the work I needed to do. I networked with other members of Athletics, and I did my best to keep a program I cared about on the path to being great. No, I was not a perfect leader, and there are many instances I would go back and alter. I wasn’t necessarily loved dearly by everyone, but I can tell you that I cared about all my teammates and that I saw potential in every single one of them. I tried to provide positive feedback, reminding individuals, “Hey, you’re really skilled at x. I want you to take charge of this because you’re great at leading, too.” We all have our strengths. We are not all perfect. Some of us are better at seeing the big picture and putting smaller pieces into place, and that’s my style. I don’t lead by establishing myself as an expert. I lead by trying to show others how to cooperate and move towards a common goal.

I’m not done developing. You can snicker a bit at that sentence, since it sounds like I’m talking about puberty. Regardless, I recognize that I still have a long ways to go. I still feel like a 25-year-old child. (Turning 26 rather soon, too.) Like Robin Scherbatsky, I have this cool-girl attitude that masks the fact that there is a lot of confusion and some hurt that I still need to work through. In a recent episode, Robin says, “I’m such a mess. Why do you even like me?” She gets two very different answers when she asks that question. The second response affirms her, stating, “I am constantly amazed by the things you say. Entranced by the things you do… I hope that one day you see yourself the way I see you.” I think I’m pretty rad, don’t get me wrong, but I need some time. I am still becoming. (Sometimes we forget the “students in transition” thing applies to graduate students, too.)

There’s where I’m at in my program right now. I don’t do things “perfectly,” whatever that may be. I am still getting the most out of this experience, though. I came to this program to make my experiences, not to just get them.

Week Five in Review

Well, seeing that Week Four basically didn’t happen, this week was full of scrambling. I have meetings to set up and assessments to develop for my internship, and I have a fairly big assignment due Tuesday. I am also leaving tomorrow for a Girls’ Weekend in Vegas.

The end of Week Five also means this term is almost over.

I feel rushed, and there’s a nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something. The reality is I have lightened my load compared to last fall, and I’m probably comparing the two terms in the back of my head. I’ve delegated responsibilities much better for the student organization I oversee this time around, and the class I’m teaching has much more structure. I am in the groove with spacing out my assignments and readings, and I am definitely finding personal time.

My biggest jams are job searching and emotional health. Those are different challenges that are significant in different ways. Negotiating them into my life is difficult, but not impossible, and I am very hopeful.

Oh, also, we had a wonderful speaker in class on Tuesday. The president of a local community college came in, and he is inspiring and down-to-earth. He has a very “normal” background, involving switching majors as an undergrad a whole bunch, failing a class, and never setting out to be a college president.

He had great things to say about how higher education’s purpose (or perceived purpose) has shifted away from “How does this benefit my community?” Actually, he focused on purpose–purpose of college, personal purpose, and the like. “Purpose” is a thread woven through my SA grad experience, and it will be what guides me in my career. I am here to help others be their best by realizing their purpose and pathways.

A good week, in hindsight. More good things to come, I hope.

So Wotless

According to UrbanDictionary.com, “wotless” is “a word meaning to not care profoundly about anything, and just having a hell of a time not caring what anyone says or thinks of you.”

While it may appear that I’m only on vacation, my experience in Trinidad thus far has been a learning moment. On the way back from Maracas Beach the other day, down the windy road in a friend’s car, I thought about what I’ve seen and observed in the weeks I’ve been here.

On one hand, there is style of work. Going from department to department, speaking with people at UWI – St. Augustine, one can see how seriously people take their jobs. For one, student affairs professionals are much more formal compared to US colleagues. My friend and I had to rush around one of the malls to search for more office-worthy clothing; even so, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get by with my linen cropped pants.

Either way, I’ve still be able to make some good observations. For one, just like any university, UWI has its strengths and areas of opportunity. Budget woes translate too familiarly to departments and units here. However, people are making due with what they have. Staff members are busy, often changing gears from appointment to appointment.

That said, there exists some divisions and silos. While this fracturing can sometimes contribute to inefficiency, staff members recognize this and are working to slowly push for reorganization and alignment.

Like any good student affairs professionals, the people at UWI approach their jobs with enthusiasm and a genuine want to help students get the most out of the university experience. We’re in the midst of the 14th annual CTLPA conference, and after the first day, I’ve already gotten a better sense of how culture really affects students in higher education. One presentation presented preliminary findings between UWI – St. Augustine and the University of Louisville’s incoming class of students. Results from the questionnaires showed differences in students’ perceptions of themselves, as well as some differences in motivation for going to university. Overall, though, the bottom line is still how do student affairs professionals provide the best services and the best experiences for all students.

My internship partner and I are the first student affairs grad students to attend CTLPA conference, at least this is what we’ve been told. While we may have found this opportunity through a series of personal connections, it came about because we took the initiative to seek out international opportunities.

I’m happy because what we’re doing speaks to the notion that as professionals, we need to develop ourselves in order to help others grow. It’s about taking the time to step out of the “norm” and look around at what is happening in the world. It’s taking the time to challenge oneself by traveling to a country one may realize he or she really knows nothing about.

For me, it’s about loving what I do (and what I hope to do) yet simultaneously being the opposite of wotless. I care profoundly about what I do, and to an extent, I care about how others perceive me. I want them to perceive me as competent and responsible, caring and lively, motivated and willing to learn.

And in a sense, it’s about working really hard but having so much fun, y’all are none the wiser.

(In other related news… I’ll be back Stateside by this time next week. Odd.)

Military & Aerospace Museum