It’s Friday, Friday…

Please don’t hit me for getting that awful song stuck in your head.

Since it’s Friday, I’ll post something work-related! I have a feeling that student affairs folks may see the values and traits listed as a “no-brainer,” given the nature of our work, but nonetheless, here you go:

Extraordinary Bosses

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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.

Follow This Leader

You’d think that writing about “leadership” while in a program like mine would be easy enough. For me, it’s really difficult to go on beyond, “Well, I take the lead in planning some projects and activities, and in others, I am more content to be a contributing team member.” I work well with others in the lead or in a power-neutral setting.

However, take a gander at what my program’s “Leadership” competency actual breaks down into:

    1. Fiscal resources, budget development and management in supporting student affairs programs or services;
    2. Human resource/personnel management, including hiring, supervising, and evaluating employee performance;
    3. Organizational structure, dynamics, and systems;
    4. Legal issues critical in guiding and influencing practice;
    5. Campus climate issues, including administrative strategies to bring congruence between campus climate goals and realities.

…what.

Okay, here’s the good news. For one thing, it’s called a “competency” and not an “absolute mastery.” I feel like sometimes we get hung up on what competency really is. To me, being competent is understanding a concept in theory, having the opportunity to apply it in a real situation (or be able to demonstrate how it would be applied), and also readily admitting that I am always willing to improve upon the foundations I have.

Secondly, sub-points 1. and 4. have courses built around them. I haven’t taken those courses yet, but they are forthcoming. Additionally, I get to participate in conversation around those sub-points through things like Student Affairs Live and staff meetings. This is important to remember because otherwise, I’d probably be pulling my hair out going, “OH NO! I’VE COMPLETELY MISSED PART OF THIS COMPETENCY!”

The rest of the sub-points are readily addressed in a course in which I’m currently enrolled, AHE 558 – Organization and Administration. This is a great course for talking about topics from the lens of being an administrator. We had a good discussion surrounding management last night, and it was a good way to build on my knowledge of management both from undergraduate work and real world experience.

One of the biggest points that I heard was that the daily trials of managers and directors in student affairs are often times very similar to the trials I face as a graduate student. People can have disagreements at any level, or be met with seemingly incompatible communication styles, or be faced with working with a very small (and ever-diminishing) dollar figure… and so forth and so on. Knowing that the details will change makes me feel a bit better about moving up in the future.

I also heard second-hand accounts that there are managers out there that would rather not supervise others. In fact, one of our professors stated that he was terrible at managing others. While I’m sure that in time, I can be an effective supervisor, I’m still a little apprehensive about what my first professional experience in supervising will be like. After all, as I told my small group, my supervisory experience is primarily with members of my cheer squad and now, helping four undergraduate TAs lead a class with me. I haven’t had to watch an employee’s productivity, though, or give much feedback on what they could improve. I’m anxious to get to that–partially because I feel like becoming a manager or a supervisor will be crucial to my feeling like a “real” adult and professional instead of a “quasi-adult” as I call myself right now.

However, I know a big part of feeling confident and doing a good job will be showing that I am competent in being a leader. It’s not going to be entirely easy work, but if I stay true to my mantra of life-long learning and admitting when I need help, I’ll be just fine.

And being able to lead by example when it comes to believing in oneself is incredibly important in this field I’ve chosen.

A Grad Student’s Reflection on NASPA ’11

“Educating for Lives of Purpose.”

This was the theme of the national NASPA (Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education) conference, held in Philadelphia, PA. I flew out on Friday, March 11th from Portland, OR, and proceeded to spend the next five days not only learning more about my field, but reaffirming my own personal purpose and motivation for going into student affairs.

My reasons for attending NASPA this year may be a bit different than the typical grad student. Due to finances and my need to save what I can for a potential international internship, I had resigned myself to not attending the conference this year. I rethought this plan of action when my father passed away at the beginning of February.

Dad was a former educational administrator, serving as a guidance counselor and principal, among other things. This past summer, he told me, “You are the type of person who can make a difference.” When he passed, I thought to myself, “Is missing out on this conference because I think it may be too expensive really a good reason?” With the conference theme resonating, and my new leadership position with the NASPA International Education Knowledge Community, I decided that the conference may be just what I needed.

I confirmed my registration and flight the day after Dad passed away.

After spending five days with other student affairs grads and professionals, I knew my decision was for the best. I began my time at NASPA with the International Symposium, leading a thank-you dinner for the planning committee which ended up going quite well. Throughout the International Symposium, I connected with professionals working all over the world–Lithuania, Spain, Germany, Qatar–and learned first-hand what it’s like to work in the different systems. I was particularly inspired by the colegios mayores model found in Spanish universities, which function kind of like living-learning residencies or Greek houses with a central faculty member. What the faculty members do in their roles can be translated to what I do as a grad student: build relationships, inspire directed and in-depth learning, and provide a solid foundation within a much larger institution. This transferability will be helpful when considering how to craft effective programs and strategies.

Speaking of how to craft effective programs, what I took away from the rest of my sessions–not to glaze over them–was that I need to be innovative and collaborative, and that my goal of educating global citizens is in-line with educating for lives of purpose. I want the students with whom I come in contact to think about why they do what they do, and to challenge themselves to create good by being good. I want them to find out what really drives them, beyond money, beyond nice cars, beyond individual status; I want them to consider what they bring to the global table.

I learned not only about new ideas on leadership, but saw how the spiritual side of life seeps into everything else: wellness, academic success, purpose, and so forth and so on. I reaffirmed my inklings that community is what I want to build, and that community is what keeps me happy and sane.

Overall, NASPA gave me that hard reset I had been yearning for all quarter. I connected with people from all over the country–and all over the globe–and took away new ideas and new approaches that I will need to deliberately put to good use.

But most importantly, the conference showed me that I am where I am for a purpose–to be great through being good, and being myself, and not losing sight of that idea of making a difference.