Hoppin’ the Fence

On Friday, April 13th (Friday the 13th!), I defended my graduate portfolio. I gave a public presentation, with the audience consisting of my graduate committee, friends, classmates, and colleagues. I was much less anxious than I usually am in similar presentation/performance situations, primarily because I had a massive reality check on Thursday night when I was nearly t-boned at an intersection; things have a funny way of realigning themselves in terms of priorities. Regardless, I felt ready to profess how I have met my nine CSSA competences over the past two years.

While I was later critiqued for my use of Keynote and bullet points by my committee–who believe I can break out of the presentation box (and granted, I had thrown around the idea of interpretive dance or a skit instead of the traditional slide show)–I gave what several colleagues declared a polished and informative presentation. It was the first time I had been in front of such an audience in several years, and although I have given many in-class presentations throughout graduate school, I do have to admit that I felt rusty, especially when it came to managing my non-verbals. (Luckily, I think I did a fair job of controlling my use of “filler” words, so if someone was keeping tabs on how many times I said “umm,” hopefully that tally was rather low.) My timing device for this time around was a soundtrack; this was the first attempt at using something like this to supplement the atmosphere. The volume should have been lowered, and in the future, I would anticipate using this approach dependent on the mood I need to create. For something as personal as a portfolio defense, using “theme songs” of sorts may be okay, of course with more finesse.

Once I got talking, what I said came naturally. It is rather hard, in my opinion, for myself to flub a presentation that is so highly autobiographical. I had outlined my presentation in such a way that I gave myself room to expand and build as new thoughts came to mind, and I framed the defense in a way that allowed me to relay the story of a soul-searching young woman finding her way to a brand new career path. I did my best to main eye contact and address the whole crowd, while using hand gestures to illustrate and accompany my words. However, due to my lack of note cards, I situated myself in one stationary spot, which is a big “no-no” in solo presentations; I should have remembered that I do well in front of an audience, but I do much better when my performance lets me utilize the full “stage.” Although I was technically a more proficient musician (solo piano and clarinet), I felt much more in my element as a dancer and cheerleader. Believe me, I work much better when I’m allowed to move around, so I anticipate building in some literal “wiggle room” into my next presentations.

The questions posed to me during the open Q&A time allowed me to further expand and clarify on some thoughts. This portion of the defense was more fun than I expected, considering that I do not view myself as the most articulate “on-the-spot” thinker. I am a processor, which is why my writing tends to be much more polished than my in-class thoughts and discussions. I was challenged to think about involvement in professional associations based outside of the United States; while I am aware of organizations, such as CTLPA (Caribbean Tertiary-Level Personnel Association) and IASAS (International Association of Student Affairs and Services), I know there are more organizations in which I can become involved. Perhaps I could look at the organizations based out of Australia and the UK, as I have a high interest in pursuing doctoral studies in those areas (SURPRISE, everyone!), as well as organizations based in Southeast Asia and the Philippines. This international leaning and focus has not been abated, only amplified, and that makes me so excited to look globally, even though I will be based in Portland, OR in the meantime. (Which I am also very excited about.)

My committee gave me excellent constructive criticism. I have not always been the most receptive to criticism, which has been a challenge since I was a wee one–it probably began around age five when I started taking piano lessons and hated the feeling of not “getting it right.” I acknowledge it is something I am working on and have seen a vast improvement in growing and learning from what I am told. For example, Eric challenged me to never use bullet points again in a presentation. How will I accomplish that? I can anticipate using related photos without text while speaking in an animated way. I come from a performance background and love being the comedic center of attention. Eric also said I am at my best when I am both goofy and academic. That makes me very happy, because I have kind of gotten into the swing of separating my professional/academic self from the rest of me, and now that I have “permission” to combine those two sides even more, I have a feeling my creative nature will lend itself to discovering new approaches to work, research, and presentation.

I was also challenged to think about my role and future roles in a leadership position. I have collective tendencies, partially due to the way I was raised and my Filipino heritage. Those tendencies can be viewed as weakness in the individualistic American culture, and I need to navigate expectations of what leaders are to many others, while utilizing my leadership style. In a similar way to how introverts are often expected to perform as extroverts in society (especially the world of business), a collective leader must perform as an individualistic leader–to a degree. It is important for me to distinguish the difference between being a leader and wielding power. As a leader, I analyze the big picture then the details, and from there, I identify which team members are best suited to assist or even head up other tasks. This is something I did when I was put in charge of my college cheer squad; there is nothing fluffy about running an athletic team–especially one in which risk of injury is so inherent–when you are a peer leader. It is tough work that requires understanding weak spots in the program, setting forth goals and outcomes, and getting people to buy into your vision. In the same way, future work in leadership roles will require me to step up and build upon these experiences and skills, while being accountable to students.

Possibly the hardest part of the defense was the waiting. My committee deliberated for quite awhile with me out of the room, reviewing what I had written and composed, what I had presented, and other aspects of the defense and portfolio. As I said upon leaving the room, I had not been that nervous since cheerleading try-outs my freshman year of college; I had given my all and it was up to the judges to decide whether my efforts were worthy of recognition. During my committee’s deliberation, I went from “I got this!” to “Oh no, this is taking much longer,” to “Okay, what do I do if they don’t pass me today? How do I collect myself to give it another shot,” to “Wow, I really drank way too much water earlier. Do I have time to run to the bathroom?” As Dave, my advisor, had said, “Once you feel like you can’t take it anymore, we’ll call you back in.” And that is when I was summoned back into the room to debrief a bit longer, clarify on even more points–and ultimately, be informed that I passed (with the caveat that I compose a reflection on the defense).

What I learned from my defense is… I am still learning. I will continue to learn–about myself, about my field, about my students. I have a lot of work to do, and I will only get better by stepping up and taking on new projects and roles that challenge me (like my dual roles in the NASPA IEKC now, as well as my full-time job), finding presentation outlets and actually presenting in front of audiences, and extending and broadening my literature and research bases (and then contributing). I also realize that I value my personal well-being and the time to reflect more than I assumed before; I must continue to incorporate these elements into my everyday being so that I can be healthy and happy (and productive). Essentially, it would be a failure for me to stop and say, “Good enough,” and declare my work and learning over.

Not so.

As I step into my new role as an advisor, I embrace the opportunities I will have to see first-hand how the organization operates, how I fit in, how I best assist the student population, and how change happens. I look forward to this new environment as the next place in which to cultivate my spirit and to continue my transition.

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.

Beauty and the Beast*

*in this post, The Beast is social media. I am quite obviously The Beauty.

One of my internship supervisors and colleagues–who also happens to be a CSSA graduate–told me that in every CSSA cohort, there emerges one or two “techies.” Apparently, in my cohort, I’m one of those (our other stand-out techie is someone who is logical and rational, not quite as off-the-walls bouncy and aloof as me–so naturally, I question this label I’ve gotten). I just happen to be a young woman that’s a social butterfly, and if that means connecting from the comfort of my room whilst on my laptop, so be it. There are so many people out there, and they have so much to say!

I suppose that’s why I’m a nerd for social media. It’s especially helpful that social media has played a large part in my sanity during a turbulent transition out of college, into the working world, and back into the academic zone.

Let’s look at a run-down of how social media and communication shaped and influenceds my student affairs grad career thus far:

  • In 2007, a friend tells me about “this new website that’s kind of like… just Facebook statuses.” I get a Twitter account, post one update, and remain confused.
  • Late in 2008, I begin a blog called “Word Whirl Too,” which will eventually be exported to a WordPress.com blog called “Trains & Sunsets.” Its intention is to log my professional growth and serve as an electronic career portfolio.
  • 2008/2009, I slip into a valley of depression. I start questioning my choices about my industry and purpose in life. I begin using Twitter to connect with old friends and businesses, trying to distract myself from the poor choice in housing I made.
  • Spring 2009, a local life coaching company follows me on Twitter. I take a look and an am inspired to rev up my efforts in finding my purpose in life. I have previously decided to investigate the world of “student affairs in higher education.” Luckily, I realize that there are several outstanding resources in SA, both in the blogosphere and on Twitter.
  • At some point, I connect with an individual named Eric Stoller. He seems to be well-versed in the world of student affairs, as well as familiar with the Pacific Northwest. I start following his blog and Twitter account, connecting with more SA folks from there.
  • I decide to commit to the student affairs graduate program search. I concentrate my search in the western United States. My former roommate jokes that I should look at Oregon State University for grad programs. A quick internet search shows that OSU is home to a Master’s program called “College Student Services Administration.” I panic because it’s the only program on my prospective schools list that requires professional experience. Eric tells me he’s CSSA alum.
  • I start subscribing to SA blogs via RSS feeds (in Google Reader). Blogs of note include those focusing on international education/study abroad, women in higher education, and graduate students in student affairs. The list continues to grow into my initial ventures into my graduate program, and I eventually find myself focusing on topics like non-traditional and transfer students.
  • I start using Twitter to connect with other prospective student affairs graduates. We exchange questions and stories about the application and interview processes. Most of us will end up at very different institutions, but we will continue to connect using the #sagrad hashtag. The #sagrad community is a great resource for support and collaboration, I soon find out.
  • 2010 rolls around. I officially enroll as a Master’s candidate at Oregon State University. It doesn’t take long before I decide to convert my “career portfolio” personal blog into my capstone project for CSSA.
  • Network, network, network. I connect with the #sachat community, a community made up of professionals and hopefuls (a.k.a., #sagrad, etc.), which carries out a weekly discussion via Twitter about issues in student affairs. Not only are there many perspectives shared, I am also exchanging ideas and thoughts with new professionals as well as seasoned professionals across the country and throughout the world. The communication major in me is thrilled as my own notions are consistently broadened and challenged.
  • In 2011, I become a part of the HigherEdLive.com family as a production assistant and intern for Student Affairs Live. This show utilizes live webcasts, as well as conferencing software and Twitter, to deliver a show about issues in student affairs. Eric Stoller functions as the host, and I take a behind-the-scenes function, sending Tweets out throughout the show containing related links, comments, and questions. We use the #SAlive hashtag to facilitate a running conversation with Twitter followers concurrently with the show. The internship allows me the privilege of learning from others in the field while also exploring first-hand the power of social media’s information delivery systems.
  • Additionally in 2011, I attend a “Tweet-up” (a.k.a., a meet-up for Twitter users) at the NASPA annual conference. I connect with several #sagrad members and professionals in real life–including making a memorable connection with Mamta Accapadi, who happens to be the Dean of Student Life here at OSU.
  • I take on a role as the Technology Chair for NASPA’s International Education Knowledge Community. This allows me the chance to explore working with website design and updates. I translate this over to my Fall 2011 internship, learning how to edit pages using a different type of editor.
  • Currently, I’m working via Google Docs with a colleague based out of the University of the Pacific to put together a conference proposal for the NASPA Western Regional 2012 conference. We initially “met” over the phone during CSSA interviews, then became Twitter pals. We have briefly met for only a few minutes on my last day at NASPA Western Regional 2011. The power of the Twitterverse compels you.

These are all reasons why I believe that social media is a powerful tool for student affairs professionals. While I am not at all discounting the value of traditional face-to-face networking, I find that using Twitter and other outlets has allowed me to vastly expand my network, my knowledge of relevant issues, my familiarity with the diversity of institutions which exist, and my ability to communicate via different media.

Additionally note: It’s not just all business! A lot of SA folks are into sharing music and decompressing using turntable.fm where people can play and share music.

SPLAC

The following post is a reflection I wrote about my Fall 2011 internship experience. It was composed in early December, and my projects are now fully complete.


SPLAC: Small Private Liberal Arts College
(I don’t think this acronym is in heavy rotation, but what a shame.)

I spent Fall 2011 interning at Willamette University in Salem, OR. I spent one day a week over the quarter working in the Office of Student Activities, a centrally-located office housing administrators over-seeing various campus functions. OSA additionally functions as a hub for student interactions, with various student leaders coming in throughout the day to complete tasks, hold office hours, and generally catch up with each other.

One of my main goals with this internship was to gain a better understanding of the environment found at a small private university. My background in education has always been public, from K through grad school. My undergraduate university was mid-sized, with about 13,000 students total; my graduate institute currently enrolls about 24,000 students. By comparison, WU has about 2,800 students currently enrolled. How does a small population affect the campus atmosphere? I noticed that the smaller physical layout of campus allows staff, faculty, and students to pass familiar faces often. As a result, I observed folks carrying on conversations that would last several minutes when each party was simply walking to a class or a meeting or running some other errand. People know each other on WU’s campus, possibly from a combination of housing, small classes, programs and organizations, as well as seeing each other while passing through campus. This creates a comfortable atmosphere, and the campus culture seems to be very friendly and accommodating.

A concern I have for myself, in terms of functioning within a smaller campus population and environment, is that I seem to embrace a degree of anonymity. (In other words, I feel like I can flourish by breaking through the walls that students may perceive in certain organizations.)  My personality and goals seem to align well with community colleges and mid- to large-sized public universities; this is something that I have been hoping to determine since starting the CSSA program. I originally thought a smaller environment would suit me the best, but as a high school classmate said (who, incidentally, goes to WU), “It can be a bit cliquey, and ‘high school drama’ tends to manifest.” I can observe how that would be possible, and I am not sure that would fit well with where I am in personal development. However, I had a positive experience at WU and could very well adjust to the right small institution in the future; nothing is ruled out!

Another key piece in this internship was improving my familiarity with technology. Main components of the technology piece included the following: (a) updating and editing WU webpages; (b) using Prezi to develop a final document; and (c) navigating Google Docs in the context of higher education (since I am trained in Microsoft Office in previous work environments).Through my internship, I was able to learn how to use WU’s web editor, which helped me build upon my knowledge of editing websites. I have some previous experience through my position as the NASPA International Education Knowledge Community’s Technology Chair, and regularly update our site by using SavvyTools. In comparison to that software, WU’s editor is more user-friendly, and works across multiple platforms. Since I work off of a Mac primarily, I appreciate software that accounts for this and allows me to continue to be effective in my work. I am still in the process of identifying pieces of the WU OSA webpage that could use some touch-ups, and I hope to have those pieces complete by the time I depart for winter break.

I gauged which changes were necessary for the website by reviewing peer and aspirant institutions’ pages, as well as talking to students about what they would have liked to see. Overall, websites tend to list too much information, making it hard for students to find what they need. Items are sometimes in hard-to-find or non-intuitive locations. A hearty reorganization and paring-down effort is necessary to bring WU’s OSA page up-to-date; luckily, as I have often said, its interface is already light years ahead of some institutions’ pages–one of which was literally a big block of text without any hyperlinks or guidance.

The largest component of my internship was my assessment of student organization advising. My project focused around identifying best practices in advising student organizations, along with developing working documents in order to address existing areas of opportunity. The biggest divergence in advising student organizations at WU is found in whether or not an advisor oversees organizations as part of his or her job description. Advisors that have dedicated time for advising meet and/or communicate with students more often, find more scheduled time to attend and support events and activities, and overall express a calmer demeanor toward the advising functions. Advisors that do the job on a voluntary basis seem a bit more detached, although that is often due to the type of organization with which they are involved. However, what was consistent was a sentiment that there was not adequate time in advisors’ schedules to communicate and meet with students; their professional schedules, along with students’ class schedules, do not allow for time away from essential job functions.

One advisor who also is a faculty member suggested that WU re-evaluate requirements for tenure-track professionals. She stated that perhaps, given WU’s position as a liberal arts college, professors could be able to use advising a student organization as a type of fulfillment towards tenure. This would dually allow advisors more time to tend to advising needs, thereby allowing students more interaction and hopefully better support.

I am designing a Prezi to function as the focal point of administering a training session for advisors. Advisors, often times, are not up-to-date with materials, where things are located, or how to best communicate with their clubs. A Prezi allows advisors a fun and engaging way to get updated on advising, as it serves to deliver information in a way that is more dynamic than email. An electronic format, furthermore, allows flexibility; this is crucial since many advisors are already pressed for time with other job functions.

This has been a very good experience for a term. I have learned more about current technology, small colleges, advising, and assessment. I have been immersed in a new campus culture, and I am happy with the experience. I now have new perspectives to add to my personal skills. I envision that the ability to understand how to best support student organizations will allow me to be an effective and engaged advisor in the future.

First Week

Twelve-hour day, 9AM-9PM, at school and work yesterday.

Today?
A trip to Eugene and UO. It was a beautiful day to get out of town. I figured I could set up at a coffeeshop to happily Tweet away for Student Affairs Live.

Cue me rushing into a strange library, frantically asking library administration for permission to get on the network when the coffeeshop failed me. Whoops. I did snag an “Internet Only, 15-Minute Limit” computer with the unofficial go-ahead of, “No one monitors how long students are on those stations.”

Two hassle-free hours later, disaster had been averted!

Then there was a bit of looking ’round the surrounding businesses and lunch and the search for a new backpack (my Dakine bag finally developed a gaping hole in the bottom).

And back in Corvallis I got some work done, cooked a pattypan* squash for the first time, and generally lazed about.

Tomorrow is full of appointments and one ballet class. I can handle that.

*I had no clue what this squash was called at first. I had to Google the phrase, “I have a squash shaped like a spaceship,” to figure it out.

AHE 510: COB Internship

My internship with the College of Business has been, to sum it up, fun. I have worked independently to evaluate two social networking tools and their relevance within higher education.

The first network I have been evaluating over the term is LinkedIn. LinkedIn is commonly thought to be the “professional” version of Facebook, just another collection of “people I know.” However, LinkedIn has the potential to be a wonderful tool when used effectively. My job this term was to research what was being said about LinkedIn and synthesize a users’ guide from there. What I have learned is that LinkedIn is in another realm of its own, and while the functionality is just being discovered, it will be incredibly helpful to emerging professionals. For instance, LinkedIn has a feature in which users can recommend each other; for employers, this means that instead of hunting down formal letters of recommendation in a job search, those recommendations are only a click away. Granted, it is not a perfect method of communicating information, but it is a step in the right direction, especially in our growing tech-savvy world.

The second network I began evaluating is Chatter.com. Chatter is an intranetwork tool, meaning that it is intended for offices to communicate within themselves, not to network in extensive ways, like LinkedIn. Chatter combines elements of an exclusive Facebook and Twitter site to offer a unique form of communication. It is easy to use, which is the basis for social networking sites, but it simultaneously offers a way to promote quick, informal transfer of information between office members. Instead of sending cumbersome emails to one another, employees are able to post updates and share thoughts with ease. Its usefulness in higher education is something that is being evaluated, as it was developed by Salesforce.com to drive communication and collaboration in the corporate world. That said, it has the potential to streamline processes in various areas of universities, not just the OSU College of Business.

Whereas my internship with IDEA required a good portion of in-office time, one thing I particularly enjoyed about the COB internship was its portability. Although not necessarily something I had anticipated learning more about when I started my internship, the “working from home” portion gave me some insight into the appeal of telecommuting and how the work week is reshaping in today’s society. A tool such as Chatter retains its functionality from computer to computer, whereas remote email (like mobile Outlook) does not. I could see Chatter becoming a big player in the realm of admissions and recruiting, when members are on the road. It could also serve as a more tight-knit version of the Twitter “backchannel” at professional conferences; members of a group would be able to share their thoughts using trends (words prefixed with the # sign) on a platform that would ensure the rest of the team would see it.

Competencies addressed: (7) Teaching, Presentation, and Publication; (8) Individual, Group, and Organizational Communication; (1) Knowledge of Higher Education and Student Affairs [particularly in tech-related areas]