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.

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Spirited

Here’s a short post for today, stemming from today’s Spirituality in Higher Education class.

We–whether as higher education professionals or just as humans–struggle with defining the word spirituality. Today, my class again addressed this difficulty. Our instructor mentioned that, at a recent conference, he was clued in on the phrase, “a dialogue on life.” The discussion continued, bringing in elements and ideas about balancing reality and desired peace and harmony, as well as generations’ different perceptions on existence and interaction. Something started stirring in me, and my first comment of the day was convoluted and, as usual, I trailed off, with a perplexed look. I could not quite place what I was trying to say, but the bits and pieces of the conversation were trying to synthesize together in my head.

As we transitioned into a new topic, the concept of wabi-sabi from Japanese culture, I desperately had to get to the ladies’ room. Between leaving the classroom and returning, something clicked. What I was trying to put together, fell together, and I’ll share it now. It’s rough, but it’s a starting point for myself.

Spirituality is…

Spirituality can be considered a way of developing a dialogue on life, encompassing connections (or disconnects) between the physical world, the supernatural and ethereal, and human beings and their societies. It may also encompass one’s search for meaning and purpose, and provide a way for framing and processing events, relationships, and transitions. The spectrum of spirituality and its intensity for each individual being is varied and fluctuating; some people may be devoid of assigning significant–or any–meaning to connections and higher powers, while others may find their life guided by their spiritual dialogues. Spirituality helps articulate the desired harmony and peace which may stand in contrast with the current state in the world, and how heavy that weighs in one’s life is primarily an individual choice.

One last thought: as the class went on, we talked more about the conflict between desired harmony and the harshness of the real world. It seemed like we were discussing it in binary terms, until a classmate suggested that harmony and complexity are not mutually exclusive. I nodded, and then offered my concurrence on basis of the following:

Harmony can be complex. Consider the works of great composers. Their orchestral suites, their symphonies–they are incredibly complex, yet they are some of the most beautiful creations in existence.

Living in harmony, therefore, does not mean we live without the need to try… and to fail…

and, ultimately, try again.

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.

Talking About Diversity

Sometimes it feels like just that: talking about. “Diversity” is a kind of buzz word I hear, especially considering institutional mission statements. In class the other day, we were told to always ask about diversity. If the word is in a mission statement, ask why and how the institution is fulfilling its commitment to diversity. If it’s missing, ask why.

But the thing it seems we overlook is the why behind the why. Perhaps it’s that reason that sometimes people seem jaded when we do talk about diversity and multiculturalism.

Growing up in eastern Washington, my worldview of diversity was fairly limited. In elementary school, the message was “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an outstanding man who stood up against racism towards Blacks in the United States.” It was hard to internalize the significance of that when my school consisted of a primarily 50/50 split between White children and Latino/a children.

I was an outlier, along with a few other students. I remember having maybe three Black students at school through my K-12 career, and my Asian/Pacific Islander friends and I would always joke that put together, we comprised a total of about three “whole” Asians–most of us, like myself, were mixed-race. Diversity in my world often came down to being the “token” friend of color.

Nowadays, that has changed quite a bit. For the past seven or so years, I’ve lived in areas in which I am definitely not the only Asian individual, and that has helped me explore more about my Filipino heritage. Additionally, I have been challenged to consider the fact that I am mixed-race. I am a blend of so many rich cultures, but what does that mean in terms of how I fit in today’s global world? (For starters, it means that I am constantly explaining “what I am” to people. “Ambiguously Brown” is a humorous and sometimes frustrating reality.)

Recently, I read a piece in which I was challenged by the author to think of diversity in terms of complexity. That resonated with me. It’s probably because I’m a complex individual. I am not easily put into boxes (well, minus physical boxes. I’m pretty small), and I have many identities besides my ethnicity and race that are important. I think when we talk about diversity in the workplace and especially in higher education, it needs to be emphasized that diversity itself is diverse and complex. If we only think of racial diversity, we miss so many other important aspects of individuals, including staff, faculty, and our students.

As a future educator, I hope that I will be able to convince people to think in complex terms. I anticipate some resistance, as it’s not easy thinking. Complex consideration goes beyond false dichotomies and black/white thinking. Challenging yourself to consider how diverse we are in the broadest terms of the word will probably help you relate to others in much richer ways than originally possible.

Just think about it.

On Multiculturalism

I promised myself that I would be productive tonight, considering that my personal life has been dominating the past two weeks or so, as well as my awesome, awesome, awesome community college internship. My “productivity” turned into me doing some sit-ups after sipping on my favorite Kona Brewing Co. beer–Wailua Wheat–while watching Jersey Shore. I’m going to try and reverse that by writing a blog which directly addresses a CSSA competency. However, I just took two Benadryl to compensate for my cat allergies, so I apologize if I eventually trail off into shapes and colors.

At my mid-program review, I discovered that I had an astonishingly small amount of multicultural experience while in grad school, as compared to my experiences while an undergraduate. (Or at least, that’s how it seems to me.) While I was at Western Washington University, I was an active member of the Filipino-American Student Association (FASA), and I was fairly engaged my last year in the general Ethnic Student Center (ESC) due to my role as FASA’s steering representative. I met weekly with all the steering reps from the ESC, as well as our ESC advisor and VP of Diversity, to report and hear about what was going on with other clubs and vote on decisions that would impact the greater ESC and WWU communities. It was great, and I attended several Northwest FASA conferences, even participating on the conference planning board my junior year when we hosted the event.

My experiences at WWU, to put it lightly, changed me. Combined with my communication major, I found myself exploring issues of identity for the first time. When I really started to consider what it meant to go through life as a mixed-race person, I reached what felt like a higher level of consciousness. You know how some people say their partner is a missing puzzle piece? My missing puzzle piece had to do with my ethnic identity. To be honest, I’m still working through that, and as such, I haven’t quite explored all the pieces of my identity. When I look in the mirror, I see brown first, before considering what it means to be a female, and a straight female at that.

I love exploring how identity develops. Things clicked for me as I started to combine worldly experience with textbook knowledge. I’m hoping that I can facilitate that for others. My current problem is that I feel a bit limited in my ability to do so right now. For one, I can’t seem to figure out what’s going on with the Filipino club on my campus right now. Additionally, NWFASA conference was on hiatus this year. I found it hard to make it to the Asian-Pacific Cultural Center unless I was meeting my friend there. And my interactions with students of color and international students were constrained by time and even which floor I lived on.

And then there’s the whole issue of “multiculturalism” pertaining to cultures beyond race and ethnicity. Since that’s my biggest personal piece right now, I seem to get caught-up in those types of experiences. I did attend a workshop on the US Census and how race factors into numbers and implications. I also went to the PeaceJam talk, but that had a cultural tone to it. And my internship at UWI was definitely eye-opening, but at the same time, it was hard to dig into issues like spirituality and LGBTQ concerns.

It was suggested that I find a way to participate in the LGBTQ community at OSU. I don’t see why not, considering I am already friends with quite a few LGBTQ(and so forth)-identified persons. It sounds trivial, but when I’m out with my friends at the Seattle gay bars, I feel incredibly comfortable–and not in a “Oh thank God, no one’s hitting on me,” fashion. I would love to participate in events, but I would also like to be present as an ally and/or a friend. I’m not sure what else I can say right here, so I suppose if someone knows who I need to talk to, let me know.

Exploring issues of spirituality is also another key interest. I have a few CSSA buddies that are working closely on projects tied to spirituality, so that’s been a good outlet for discussion and exploration. (I’m not truly wrestling with my own issues of spirituality, as I seem to be creating my own personal doctrine which borrows from Catholic tradition and Eastern philosophies and what have you.)

I guess, in general, I would like some guidance for where to go to get these “beyond ethnicity” multicultural experiences. I also would love a hand in connecting with the Filipino-American community in Corvallis, though–I haven’t really said it this past year, but I feel a bit isolated. Even at the general Asian-American organization meetings, I’m one of like… two… Filipinos.

In closing, while I work through my own identity issues, I would like to find opportunities to help others work through their identity exploration process. I want to be able to encourage students to look beyond their own circles, as I do so myself. (This also translates into international experiences–yay!)

Okay, the Benadryl is kicking in. One last thought: how much cultural coaching and prep were the cast of Jersey Shore given before going to Italy? None? Oh, it breaks my little heart to see so many people travel somewhere with zero prep (except Vinny. How adorable is he, actually wanting to learn the language?!).

Yup. I’ve lost it for tonight. Congrats for getting this far.

“The Secret Lives of Women” by Deb Schmidt-Rogers, DePaul University (via WISA – KC)

Like.

"The Secret Lives of Women" by Deb Schmidt-Rogers, DePaul University So my WISA blog post was written and ready to be sent to Ann Marie for posting on Wednesday and then just a few minutes ago I received a DM on my twitter account that read, “Really need some prayers for strength and perspective today.  Struggling more than I have in a really long time” I had been struggling with this blog post since I agreed to write it. I am not really good at writing on demand. I have to somehow feel my subject and while I have … Read More

via WISA – KC

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