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KC Wednesdays: A Reflection on my First Year as a New Professional in Student Affairs

by on September 12, 2012

As I sit here, glaring outside of Panera’s window, I reflect on the past year of my professional life.  So much of my life is so different from what I had envisioned in my head when I walked across the stage in May of 2011 to receive my Master’s in Higher Education. The journey has been a roller coaster, some days filled with excitement and accomplishment and others filled with disappointment and sadness. With all the ups and downs, I still think I would have done everything exactly the same.   I write this piece in hopes that a new professional or graduate student will find comfort in hearing some tips I have picked up from my professional journey thus far.

If you want your dream job bad enough, find a way to get it.

The job search can be quite a humbling experience. Don’t let this get in the way of achieving your dreams. For me, working in Orientation was a must. After all, it was why and how I got introduced to the field and after spending summers volunteering as an Orientation Leader, I had developed a restless passion for working with first-year students. I was told time and time again from seasoned professionals that finding a job in Orientation straight out of graduate school would be close to impossible.

After graduation, I moved back home to NYC and eventually turned down my only full-time job offer. Instead, I took a chance by taking a part-time offer working at John Jay in the Vice President of Student Affairs Office assisting with answering phones, helping students, and being an extra set of hands for the Orientation Planning Committee. Although most of my duties revolved around making copies and answering the phone, I did it with zest and eagerness. I made it a point to be on time, dress professionally, and speak up during meetings. Eight months later, the institution chose to create a new department to house Orientation and Commencement under one roof. I applied for the full-time position knowing I had shown my co-workers my dedicated work-ethic. Today, I am proud to say that I am the Coordinator of Orientation Programs. I am exactly where I wanted to be. I tell you this story because there are a bunch of roads that lead to your final destination. Don’t let a road block prevent you from achieving your dreams.

Dedication and hard work lead to developing a positive professional identity.

Once in your new position, remember to remain dedicated to the work you do. Work hard to get the best result possible and always look to improve things for the better. Volunteer for committees, attend your colleagues’ events, put in an extra set of hands, and always know what it going on around campus. If you put yourself out there, people will get to know you for your work ethic. This leads to developing a positive professional identity. Positive professional identities can lead to endless opportunities.

Get to know the people who are behind the scenes.

The storytellers and wise ones are the people who protect our students, keep our campus clean, and don’t nearly get as much credit as they deserve. I’ve learned that these individuals, the custodians, graphic designers, the mail clerks, the chefs, these people are the ones who provide comfort in my day to day life. I’ve found that they are the most interesting and hardworking people on campus. If you take a moment to get to know them, you will quickly realize how much these individuals know about the campus culture and how fast they can get things done. It’s important as a new professional to learn from these folks and to befriend them.

I recently worked with a writer from the Marketing department while planning our Commencement ceremony. I learned that he has worked at John Jay since he attended college here almost 40 years ago.  My supervisor and I invited him to speak to a group of our students about his experience as a John Jay student. There was something fascinating about having a John Jay Alum standing there before current students explaining the transformation of the college community over the past 4 decades. It’s people like this who have a strong passion and deep understanding for why we do what we do. Working with them gives me constant motivation.

Do something you are absolutely petrified of doing.

Public Speaking…insert Jaws theme song….I am absolutely aware that this is one of my weaknesses. Be vocal with your supervisor about things you are afraid of doing in your professional career. Whether it be networking, public speaking, applying for a leadership position with your professional association, we are all capable of overcoming our fears with a little bit of practice. I worked with my supervisor to overcome my fear. We took baby steps which included speaking in front of small, medium, and then very large groups. After one year, I am proud to say that I got on stage and spoke to over 2100 incoming students at our New Student Orientation. I now find joy in working to overcome this fear. I look forward to public speaking because I know the more I practice I have the better I get. Don’t let your fears hold you back!

Get to know your students but don’t be afraid to set boundaries.

Take time to develop strong relationships with your students as this will be one of the most important aspects of your professional career. Getting to know who they are, where they come from, and what they value will allow you to better serve them. Get to know their personalities and the way they work with others. You will be able to tell when one of your students is having a rough day without even saying a word and by watching how they interact with the people around them.

I try to develop strong and separate relationships with each of my student leaders so I know what’s going on in their lives and I can check in with them periodically. I have found that students really appreciate knowing that you have listened to what they have told you.  Reminding your students that you are there to help and guide them, sets a tone of comfort. Students will open up to you when you least expect it, but know that you must provide a door to let them in.

As a new professional, it is important to set boundaries. I let my students know that they can call and text me anytime, but on the weekends and after 5pm I will not answer unless it’s an absolute emergency. This rule has worked really well and my students have learned to respect the fact that I too have a personal life outside of campus.

Learn how to have one life and not two. It’ll be less confusing.

This concept of work-life balance is one that is spoken about time and time again. For me, I’ve found that it’s integral to lead ONE life and not two (a professional v. personal life). This is your career, not a chore. Your career is going to be a huge part of your life. Did you know we spend 2080+ hours a year working? To say what we do at work and what we do outside of work will never intersect is not realistic.

Get Involved

Getting involved in professional associations can be intimidating at first. Find someone at your institution that can mentor you in this area. These individuals know of opportunities and people to connect you with. Essentially, this is how I am in my new position as a Knowledge Community Representative. Once you get your foot in the door, you will be exposed to other opportunities. For me, once I became a KC Representative I was introduced to other opportunities to sit on Conference Planning Teams. Contact you regional NASPA  representative.

Don’t be afraid to ask the President what his favorite ice cream flavor is.

Our president’s is Ben & Jerry’s Milk & Cookies.

Our KC Wednesday post this week comes from Tiffany Onorato, Coordinator of Orientation Programs at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Region II’s representative to the New Professionals and Graduate Students Knowledge Community.

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