Monthly Archives: May 2012

Hey! That’s Not Fair!

About three years ago on a now-defunct personal blog, I wrote a post about people in several separate incidents who were taking legal action — lawsuits, naturally — against schools and other various organizations.  These lawsuits were based on the fact that a person felt that some sort of action (or inaction) was wholly unfair to them or infringed on their rights in some way.  I thought about posting excerpts from my original post, but since this blog is specific to Higher Education, I would rather this post’s tone be proactive instead of reactive.  In sum, I described the situations in detail and concluded — among other things — that society is setting up its young people for a hard, cruel dose of reality that they are ill equipped to handle whenever it might appear.

I must admit that when I wrote that initial post, I had just graduated with my Master’s degree and had worked full-time in Higher Education for all of two months, so my actual experiences with this sort of behavior were limited to what I read in articles and the occasional story I gleaned through word-of-mouth.  Now, having completed three years of what I hope to be a lengthy career, I find that I am not only wiser and more experienced, but less idealistic and impetuous, which lends itself well to seeing “the big picture.”

With that being said, when we have students come through our offices who display their entitlements like badges of honor, what can we as college student administrators do to communicate understanding as well as provide teachable moments for them?  I would be lying to you if I said it is easy to have a young person sitting in front of us waxing poetic about the injustices that have been inflicted on them because their room is too hot (or cold) or they received a failing grade in a course, among many other things.  However, it is our responsibility to assist all students — including these — with a welcome ear and, when necessary, a civic-minded educational approach to their issues.  Therefore, in order to take on this responsibility, we educators need to first understand the larger picture before we start dissecting individual concerns.

With that in mind, where do we look for reasons as to what is causing/has caused this behavior?  I commonly hear the term “society” being tossed around as the evil-doer for all things big and small, but I believe that is slightly disingenuous to the problem at hand.  Simply saying society is the root cause for a student’s behavior is akin to a criminal saying ‘the devil made them do it.’  It passes the buck without taking any time to evaluate the situation or its causality.  What we need to begin to understand is that there can be just as many reasons for why a student feels entitled as there are students at our higher ed institutions.  What is really important is taking the time to learn about our students and discovering where they’ve come from and the experiences they’ve had before we begin to dole out the how’s, what’s, and why’s.

I understand this is not an easy proclamation to make, especially since our time is already stretched across numerous roles and responsibilities.  Yet we are called to be student-focused in our work, which means we need to holistically focus on the student if we are to have an impact and educate our young people.  As Napoleon Hill, one of the original self-help/personal success authors once wrote, “You must get involved to have an impact.  No one is impressed with the won-lost record of the referee.”  Let’s take this advice and put it forward in our work with students.  The more we get involved with our students and more we get involved in who they are, the better equipped we are to give them the tools they require to be ready for and succeed in the world outside of the university.

Do you have any stories or experiences where you took the time to learn about a student in order to better assist them?  What was that experience like?  How did the student respond?  Please share your insight below!


Transforming Conferences — Transforming Ourselves?

A phrase those of us who work in the field of Higher Education regularly use with our students is to “think outside of the box.”  It’s a common enough idea — don’t stay with the ordinary, think of how you can do something newer/better, etc. — yet for the most part, the more you move up within an industry, the less this advice is preached to you.  Our work lives become more focused on administration and higher level tasks, so that the mundane invariably zaps us of our youthful creativity that brought us here in the first place.  Creating flashy bulletin boards becomes damage billing, devoting oodles of time to our students becomes putting out the daily mini-fires within our buildings/department, and so on.  It doesn’t have to be this way; we can transform our environment to be one that resembles the lighthearted, wholly worthwhile experiences we had as RAs/grads if we only break away from the insipidity that comes with having increasingly less time with students and more time devoted to managing.

I recently had the privilege of attending the inaugural Big Ideas Conference, put together by The Jersey Alliance.  One of the innumerable things that was refreshing about this conference was how it was so unlike any other conference I’ve attended.  Think about the unifying characteristics of all of the conferences you’ve attended.  Now create a conference with the guideline that you aren’t allowed to do those things.  Welcome to the Big Ideas experience.  I understood the basic premise of what this conference was going to entail, but what I didn’t know (and am starting to see after the fact) was the impact that two days would have on my overall frame of mind when it comes to Student Affairs.

I could continue on for paragraphs about how amazing an experience it was to attend this groundbreaking conference, but for space sake, take my word for it (and follow #bigideas12 on Twitter).  The brain trust that is the planners/organizers of the Big Ideas Conference understand that we hold within us the ability to transform our structured, traditional approaches into something much more dynamic and meaningful, not just for our own benefit, but for that of our students as well.  I don’t have to tell you that we are working with students who were born into the technology age (see: “Internet Generation”) and know much more about fast-paced lifestyles and communication than 98% of administrators out there.

Yet in spite of that, we — for the most part — continue to go with our normal approaches in our work with students, when deep down, our students are longing for something that speaks their language, something that they can understand and identify with.  Bulletin boards and brochures are archaic for our generation.  Anything over two paragraphs (or 140 characters) goes unread.  Emails go unchecked.  These are widely-used methods in our industry that just aren’t working for our current students.  What we as Student Affairs professionals need to do is to take a page from our Big Ideas colleagues and take part in what Higher Ed blogger and social media pro Eric Stoller calls “status quo deconstruction.”  Find ways to incorporate what our students use on a daily basis (texting, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) into our approaches with them.  If you noticed, all of what was listed has to do with technology — think about it.  Come up with innovative ways to handle judicial sanctions, programming ideas, advertising, etc.  You have to step outside the box to think outside the box, so quit thinking like an college student administrator and start thinking like a college student.  What would you want to see from your residential/university experience?  How would you feel connected?  These and other questions are the building blocks to becoming a field that is truly student-centered.

What are some things that you and/or your department do to meet our college students where they are?  Are there any Big Ideas that you have developed that have resonated with your students?  Please share them below, and remember:

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets credit.” – President Harry S. Truman

Communicating With The “Internet Generation”

In our work with today’s college students, one of the major themes that presents itself is the issue of communication. This manifests itself in a number of ways, whether it’s the “at your fingertips” accessibility to communication platforms, the steady decline in our students’ attention-spans, or the overall lack of effectiveness shown in the manner in which our students communicate with one another.  

Over the last decade, roommate mediating has gone from a not-so-very-often, only when a situation was slightly extreme in nature occurrence, to something that is a very normal (and most times, easily preventable) part of our daily lives as college student educators.  That isn’t to say that situations that understandably warrant our attention do not exist–because those can be just as commonplace these days–but how often as professionals do we see roommate conflicts that arise and explode simply because of a single misunderstanding which becomes exacerbated by the lack of face-to-face communication on the parties involved?

Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, and the advent of the text message have done wonders for providing “up-to-the-second” updates on the world around us, as well as the ability to initiate, develop, and maintain personal and professional relationships.  However, these things have also led to the slow disintegration of understanding social norms and providing a space to “confront” issues without actually having to be in the same room with those involved.  These are the facts and the realities that we as Student Affairs professionals face with our students each day.

Although we can mediate and educate our students about positive confrontation skills and ways to proactively communicate with each other when conflicts arise (a comprehensive collection of articles related to these topics can be found here), we need to start thinking proactively about providing resources and programs for the “Internet Generation.”  After all, our mission as college student educators is to give the young men and women we work with the methods and tools to develop into successful leaders and productive members of society both on-campus and off.

What are some methods/approaches that you have used with your students in regards to improving communication skills and overcoming conflicts?  Do you find that some things usually work better than others?

Using The “Spring Break Slow-Down” To Your Advantage

During the spring semester, breaks seem few and far between, especially because of room selection processes, RA interviews, the conference/placement season, etc.  All of these vital processes really stretch the time that we as college student educators have to focus on our building, staff, students, and future initiatives.  With that in mind, Spring Break becomes extremely valuable for us to catch up with our job and gives us the opportunity to start spinning those creative wheels again.  “This could be a great summer project” might be a common phrase to hear in meetings with your supervisor, but with the free time that you may have during Spring Break (sorry, conference goers), why wait another two months when you could get started on things a little early?

Here are some things that, depending on your role in your department, you could begin to work on during the “Spring Break Slow-Down”:

  • End-of-the-year Recognition. The end of the spring term is around two months away, but instead of waiting (a month? a week? a day?) before your staff banquet/hall closing, spend some time strategizing ways you will thank your staff for all of the hard work they have put in during the academic year.
  • Revisit your resume/job application materials. For those of you who aren’t currently searching for jobs, Spring Break is a great time to devote some time to some documents that have been gathering digital dust on your computer since you searched for the job you currently have.  Updating your resume materials now to reflect things you are currently doing in your job will save you a lot of time once you are ready to re-enter the job search world, whenever that might be.
  • Evaluate your projects over the past year. We in Higher Education work in a fast-paced, always changing environment, and that environment doesn’t always allow us to focus in detail about what went well or not so well in regards to presentations, programs, and initiatives we’ve done this year. Allow yourself some time to jot down thoughts related to these projects — pro/con lists seem to work well — so that once the summer arrives, you will have already started a foundation for improving the work you do for students.
  • Evaluate departmental processes/initiatives. For those Student Affairs professionals who work at smaller universities/in smaller departments, the opportunity you have to make an impact on a departmental level is relatively high.  You get to see the intricacies of many/all of the work that goes on in your department, as well as have a front-row seat to observe the effectiveness of that work. Spring Break is a great time for you to look at initiatives like RA Selection, RA Training, and your department’s judicial process (to name a few), and think of ways to improve them as well. If your department is truly focused on student development, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind hearing any proposals you might have to make their processes even better!
  • Clean/organize your office. After all, it is Spring Break, so why not do a little Spring Cleaning! Not only will this help you to organize your office life, but it can even act as a motivator for that final push toward the end of the semester.
  • Relax! This might be the most important suggestion on this list. I know that there are several work-related suggestions above, but don’t make yourself crazy by trying to tackle everything and more during the Spring Break. Think of Spring Break as a time to get a jump on some old/new tasks, but if those tasks don’t have an immediate deadline attached to them, don’t treat the reopening of the residence halls after Spring Break as the time to get these things done! Always remember to make time for yourself!

What are some things that you have accomplished over a week-long break like Spring Break? Feel free to share projects you’ve worked on or great ideas you’ve generated during these breaks!

It’s The Time Of The Season: Job Search Edition

We are a week into the month of March, which for student affairs professionals means several things: RA interview processes are over, that long-awaited week of relaxation(?) entitled Spring Break is fast approaching, and graduate and professional job searches are kicking into high gear.  Whether you are a national placement attendee (TPE/NASPA or ACPA) or you prefer a more regional touch (OPE, SPE, or MAPC), one thing is for certain — everyone wants a job.  The question is, how do you get one?  How do you make yourself stand out from the crowd?  How do you prep for something so stress-inducing?

Below are several do’s and dont’s I’ve learned to keep in mind before, during, and after job searching.

***After reading these, if you have any follow-up questions or other things you would like to know about the job search process, e.g. optimal ways to prepare, questions to ask employers, etc, I encourage you to contact me here.  I enjoy these sorts of things, so I’d be happy to assist you with your questions.***

  • DO have at least 3 people review and edit your resume.  During the job search process, your resume is a document that you could potentially rattle off verbatim without looking at it, you’ve looked at it so much.  However, that familiarity with your resume leads to you glossing over potential errors or better ways to word certain things to make yourself more marketable.  Find some people you can depend on and ask for some assistance.  It will benefit you as you continue your job search.
  • DON’T apply to every job out there.  This is particularly important for those who are searching for their first professional job.  While you don’t want to be left without a partner during the job search dance, you also want to find a school/area/supervisor that you will be comfortable with, as well as one that doesn’t go against your personality/needs.  Think quality over quantity, as this will also help you at placement conferences to keep you from running around like a headless chicken to fit every single interview into your schedule.
  • With that being said, DO be open to taking a job that you aren’t madly in love with, especially if it is your first professional job.  Don’t confuse this to mean “be open to work at a job you hate,” because that is certainly something you want to avoid, for the benefit of both parties involved. Working somewhere you love is great for your day-to-day enjoyment of your job, but experience breeds success, so think of it this way: Would you rather have worked for three years at a school that you loved but gave you a narrow area in which to work, or would you rather spend the same time at an institution you were less thrilled about, but gave you ample opportunities to learn and grow?  I’ll give you a hint — take the experience.
  • DO behave professionally at all times during a placement conference, from when you check-in, to when you check-out.  You aren’t just interviewing during the interview itself; you are on display at all times for potential employers, and behaving unprofessionally at any point can potentially affect the way employers (and peers) see you.  You may have had experience being around placement candidates who make it very clear to others about how good they are and all the on-campus interviews they received so far — people notice this behavior, and it certainly doesn’t leave anyone with a positive impression, including employers.  Remember that fishbowl analogy during RA training?  Yeah, it’s like that.
  • DON’T be afraid to think outside the box.  Resumes can be no more than two pages.  There is an order to which you need to list things on your resume.  Use the institution’s website to research about the jobs you’re applying for.  These are just a few of the things that are generally regarded as rules about higher education job searches, but are they helping you meet your #1 goal, which is getting a job?  Think about this another way: If everyone at a placement conference is doing the exact same thing, how can you set yourself apart?  You certainly want to adhere to some sort of structure for sure, but you also want your resume/interview to stand out to employers.
  • DON’T stop thinking about your job search after you get a job.  This is a no-no that many people across numerous career fields fall into.  Just because you secured that job and accomplished your goal does not mean that you are by any means finished thinking about job searching, unless of course, you would enjoy being a Hall Director until you retire.  It is very important to think about what you can do in the job you have now to help yourself gain the skills, knowledge, and strengths you need for when you want to look for another job later, especially if you want to move up.  Chances are the individuals in those higher level positions got there because they didn’t stop thinking about what they needed to do to improve.
  • DO believe in yourself.  If you’ve taken your studies and work seriously, you have the ability to work in the field of student affairs and do it well.  Don’t get overly-conscious about other people who are applying for the same jobs or at the same placement conference.  In the end, the only thing that you can control is yourself.  Focus on what you need to do to prepare and succeed, then put your best foot forward.  Somebody somewhere thought that you could do the work — that’s how you got your assistantship/first professional job, after all — so stay confident and focused, and things will inevitably work out for you.

What are other tips and tricks that you’ve learned throughout your experiences in higher education?  Do you have any methods that have worked/not worked for you in your own searches?  Feel free to share below!

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