It’s Been an Incredible Journey, by Nicole Thomas


2014 NC State Master’s of Education – Higher Education Administration Graduates

I can’t believe two amazing years have come to an end. I feel so lucky to have such extraordinary friends and colleagues! To echo Summer’s words below, this program is truly special and I have learned so much from current master’s and doctoral students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends.

I am excited about the progress HEA has made this year. We have implemented so many new initiatives, as well as improving current programming. In addition, so many of our colleagues have been recognized for their incredible work. To read more about these accomplishments, check out the Spring 2014 Newsletter.

I want to specially thank the 2013-2014 Executive Board and our wonderful advisor, Dr. Jaeger aka “AJ”. I love you all dearly and will miss working with you! Thank you so much for what you have done and the impact you have had on my life and on the program. Our progress is only a testament to your incredible work! I am also so thankful for the new Executive Board that will take over and continue to improve the work of HEA.

Lastly, congratulations to the Class of 2014!!! We did it!!!


Graduating Executive Board Members: Kiley Moorefield (VP of Professional Development), Jessie Stellini (VP of Engagement), Dani Gates, (VP of Administration), Gabriel Soloman (VP of Finance), Christina Morton (UGSA Representative), Nicole Thomas (President), Patti Baynes, (VP of Recruitment Weekend), Lisa Latronica (VP of Communication).


Lessons Not Learned, by Summer Finck, 2013 Alumna

I regularly draw on the knowledge I learned in the hallowed classrooms of Poe and refer back to the “Green Book” and my binders of notes to inform my professional life. We learned in Capstone that recent Higher Education Administration graduates lacked knowledge of fiscal management, strategic planning, and staff supervision (Waple, 2006), so I was prepared to learn those skills on the job. However, my first year in a full-fledged Student Affairs Educator role has revealed some other gaps in my education.

1. How to Hire Someone. There is a lot of pressure involved in hiring people for your team. In my first year I was responsible for hiring twelve student Orientation Leaders, eight student Tour Guides, and have been involved in the hiring for two professional colleagues, as well as hiring committees. Being able to ask the right questions, discover the expertise and characteristics you seek, make judgments based on a short amount of time with someone, and navigating the Human Resources requirements are hiring skills that I wish I had learned while in grad school rather than on the job.

Summer’s Lesson: Always incorporate an experiential component. For my tour guide hiring process, I made all applicants take me on a tour of 3 campus buildings and their favorite spot on campus and I acted as a prospective student or parent. It allowed me to see their demeanor in a tour situation, their interaction with an audience, and their ability to handle tough questions on the spot.

2. How to Fire Someone. Unfortunately the opportunity to learn this skill came only two months on the job. While necessary, it was still an extremely difficult decision and a heartbreaking conversation. Practicing this sort of scenario with my classmates or graduate assistantship supervisors would have made the real thing a lot less intimidating.

Summer’s Lesson: When having that conversation, focus on the positives that can come out of this. Encourage the student or professional to reflect on the negative things that lead to the firing so they can prevent that in the future so that it does not turn into a bigger deal than it needs to be in the long run.

3. How to Handle a Crisis.  Most institutions have plans in place in the event of an armed intruder, student death, dangerous weather and other crisis situations. However, when you are on front-line of decision making in such events, the plans do not always apply. Risk management training could prepare Student Affairs Educators to make difficult decisions and evaluate different scenarios under pressure. I do believe our counseling component properly equipped me with the tools to handle post-crisis situations and support my students during difficult times. And let’s face it, nothing could really have practically prepared me for making calls on whether campus tours should be canceled during tornado warnings.

Summer’s Lesson: Ask for advice from your supervisor and coworkers. If time permits, reach out and get insight from colleagues at different institutions (I go to my HEA classmates all the time!). Do whatever you can to prepare yourself beforehand so the appropriate reaction is trained into your brain. Most of all, follow your intuition — it is always better to be safe than sorry in these sorts of serious situations.

4. How Amazing the NCSU HEA Program is. I am a part of the Wolfpack through and through. But I did not realize when I was in school how amazing our Higher Ed Administration program truly is. When I talk to Student Affairs colleagues and current grad students enrolled in the program nearby, I realize how perfect of a balance between theoretical grounding, practical experience, and counseling knowledge NC State has struck. I speak to so many professionals who have no counseling training, or tons of practical experience but are not familiar with emotional intelligence research.

Summer’s Lesson: Talk about it in interviews! Brag about how your graduate program has prepared you so well by setting you up with the information you need and giving you ample opportunities to practice in the field and compare to different institutional types so that you have developed into a well-rounded Student Affairs Educator.

I highlight these topics not to criticize our program but to encourage current students — and other alumni if they have not been in these situations yet — to seek out opportunities to practice these skills and glean insight from seasoned mentors. There is a ton of material to cover in two years of grad school and I clearly think our program does a superior job, but I wish I had known how to do these things when I started in the field.

Waple, J. (2006). An Assessment of Skills and Competencies Necessary for Entry-Level Student Affairs Work. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 43(1), pp. 1-404. Retrieved 21 Apr. 2014, from doi:10.2202/1949-6605.1568

And yes, I had to look up how to cite in APA format because while I definitely learned that lesson many times over in grad school, I have not used it since.

This Just In: The Word “No” is Vital, by Katie Lewis

Throughout a majority of my life, I always thought being told “no” was a sign of weakness, of failure, of exclusion. I had no problem having it part of my vocabulary toward others, but when it came to being on the receiving end…I couldn’t bare it.

I thought I was invincible after getting into graduate school and scoring the assistantship of my dreams – I was easily getting accustomed to the word “yes”. Multiple instances this year felt like I was running into massive road blocks plastered with N’s and O’s all over. Was I elected for a Recruitment Weekend chair? No. Did I win the Graduate Student Case Study Competition at SEAHO? No. Was I selected to be a TPE intern in Baltimore? No. Were some of my ideas in various group projects implemented? No. It wasn’t until recently that I stopped and reflected on this powerful two-letter word; just like I have a choice to utter it, the one dishing it back to me also has that same right.

 Instead of starting back at square one each time rejection surfaced, I had to utilize No to my advantage – to push myself in a different direction. What did that entail, you might ask? First, to start on the more positive end of the spectrum, I reflected on the instances where I have been told yes. Where did my strengths lie, and how can I best transfer those strengths to my not-so-competent capabilities? Then, I thought, “Well…sometimes my yeses weren’t because I was competent in XYZ aspects, but because the ones telling me yes believed there were areas in my toolbox that needed improvement.”

So, that led me to think about why I’m being told no. Have I thought about inquiring from the No-deliverers firsthand, or am I only scrutinizing myself through my own personal lens? Just because I have goals for what I’m pursuing, that doesn’t mean the other end has those same objectives. With any avenue you might be interested in pursuing, there are invisible components that aren’t always visible through your frame. Many times, it’s okay to not be able to see the bigger picture; but, it’s NOT okay to NOT comprehend that the bigger picture exists. 

Reframe any no situation as “opportunities” instead of seeing it as defeat! Ask questions such as, “what were you looking for?”, “how can I better prepare my skills in future endeavors?”, or “where do you see my strengths operating best?” After many of my thoughts pondering over various “no” situations, I finally reached an epiphany! In any given circumstance, I am not being evaluated by the number of no’s or yes’s I’ve achieved in my life; I am, however, being assessed on how I’ve internalized, reflected upon, and successfully navigated through those various responses. I’ve turned those no’s into pit stops to understand what my purpose is, and how I can best accomplish them.

To channel my inner Kanye, I’m honored to receive some no’s every now and then – they’ve made me work “harder, better, faster, stronger!”    

I’m Going to a Conference! , by Christina Morton

In undergrad, some of my best memories were traveling with my peers to the annual National Society of Black Engineers conference. Everyone was dressed to impress as we connected with other students from all over the country, attended workshops, represented our region, and secured summer internship and co-op opportunities. Attending the annual conference was rejuvenating, inspiring, and affirming.  To be in one place with thousands of students and professionals all reciting one mission was truly a sight to behold. To me, that conference was much more than a professional gathering. It was a reunion and celebration of our field.                                     

Reflecting on my experiences as an undergraduate, I was uncertain about what to expect at my first professional conference in Student Affairs. However, I was happy to find that my experiences as an undergraduate in engineering and a paraprofessional in higher education were not so different after all.

This February, I attended the Southeastern Association of Housing Officers (SEAHO) Conference in Kentucky. On a whim, I submitted a program proposal and I was fortunate enough to be selected as a conference presenter. Thankfully, I had my supervisor’s support and he agreed to serve as my co-presenter. In the weeks leading up to the conference, I attended preparation sessions offered through my graduate student association and assistantship site.  One of the most valuable tips that I received was that conferences are not just for job seekers. Connections can be made at every level in one’s professional career, and there is no telling what opportunities can come of those connections. I would not consider myself to be a “networker,” but I do pride myself on building relationships with others, so I greatly looked forward to meeting other professionals and fostering mutually beneficial relationships with them.

When I arrived at SEAHO, I was determined to make the most of the experience. I volunteered as an interviewer for my current institution, attended sessions, presented, and participated in social gatherings to meet new people. Before I left Raleigh, I had goals that I wanted to accomplish at the conference, and I measured my success by how exhausted I was afterwards. I wholeheartedly believe that I earned my morning in bed that Saturday.

Taking lessons from my SEAHO experience, I am approaching my next conference with just as much enthusiasm and intentionality as my first. Within the next couple of weeks, I will be attending the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, NASPA conference.  I have already mapped out the sessions that I plan to attend, contacted friends in the area, and organized my wardrobe.  I am looking forward to connecting with faculty members and students from several universities, including institutions where I submitted doctoral program applications. I am also excited to connect with my mentors and old friends that I met during my Master’s search process.

As I continue to develop and progress in this field, I recognize how valuable relationships are in the profession. Professionals in Higher Education are notorious for saying how small our field is, and attending conferences like SEAHO and NASPA only affirm that. With that in mind, I plan to continue building and maintaining strong relationships throughput my career. I hope that eventually new professionals will consider me a mentor, and I can help guide them in the profession. Also, understanding how intimate the field of Higher Education can be, I will always keep in mind that I am a product of where I have been, and my reputation is an attestation to where I am going. 

Trusting the Process, by Brooke Bailey, 2013 alum

Be prepared to know that things don’t always go as planned.

There is a strong possibility that during interview season you will make mistakes.  What’s more important to know is that you’re going to walk away with a job, regardless.   Mistakes allow an interviewer to get a glimpse of who you really are as they watch how you recover.  Anyone can give a perfectly canned answer for how they deal with stress and surprises.  Letting an interviewer see you exercise grace as you pick yourself up is a different matter altogether. 

Before my first on-campus interview, I practiced my introduction over and over so I would feel prepared when the Assistant Director of the Housing department picked me up from my hotel.  (I’m an introvert and the introduction is the scariest part for me.)  When he finally got there, I shook his hand, gave my best smile, and told him, “It’s great to meet you, Brooke!  I’m Jason.”  That would have been fine, except that I had managed to switch our names in the process of trying to deliver the perfect handshake.  Later, after riding a golf cart across campus in the middle of March to meet the V.P. of Student Affairs, I had no idea that there was bright yellow pollen all over the back of my black skirt when I walked into his office. Even worse, the resume that I handed everyone that day was printed on iridescent, gold paper. (If you didn’t learn from Elle Woods, learn from me—just say no to anything that isn’t ivory.)  A week later, that school offered me the job.

The job search took other interesting turns because I found myself frequently changing my focus.  While others were methodical with the search, I felt directionless because of how often my attention wandered.  After working a graduate assistantship in Housing, I decided I wanted to explore other functional areas within student affairs—until a very charismatic cohort member talked me into going to a housing conference at the last minute.  I had promised myself I’d stay in the Triangle, but at SEAHO’s job placement, I quickly fell in love with a Housing department in Georgia that had a living community I found intriguing.  When I was given the opportunity to work there, I had to decide whether or not to take the leap and leave my support network.  I decided I couldn’t leave my family and friends but felt torn about turning down the chance to work with people that would have been incredible colleagues that shared my values.  The scariest part was turning down a job without the promise of another offer to replace it. 

During the same general time frame, I was taking a class in Adult Education where I became interested in professional education.  I came across a job listing at UNC’s School of Government that entailed working in continuing education with public defenders.  I sent it to my professor to give to her other students, assuming I wouldn’t be qualified.  All my student experience was with undergraduates and I had no legal background.  Later the same night, I decided to throw my resume in the hat on a whim.  It’s a good thing I did.  I’m a Tar Heel now.

There are days my colleagues look at me strangely when I use “I language” and try to bring up identity theory in staff meetings.  Sometimes that makes me think back to the class discussions on cultural and institutional fit.  Then I remember the bigger picture.  I chose this position because I wanted to broaden my understanding of what it means to work in higher education.  I’ve co-authored a business plan in order to figure out how to generate more revenue in difficult budgetary times, worked with grant writing and administration, served as the continuing education liaison to a professional licensing board, and have planned events completely different than those I executed within my previous positions.  This is not what I envisioned for myself this time last year, but if I hadn’t opened myself up to possibilities, I would have missed out on what has been a great learning experience.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: be flexible, be forgiving of yourself, and bring ivory resume paper.

Connecting Classroom Learning with Professional Practice, By Tara Hudson

One of the many things our program does well is helping students connect classroom learning, including theories and scholarly research, with their professional practice as student affairs educators and institutional leaders. As a graduate of our master’s program and a current student in our doctoral program, I can attest to how much value our faculty place on connecting theory to practice as well as on using our practical expertise to inform our scholarship. My assistantship experience this year has really illustrated these connections for me.  I’ve been working with a university-wide committee working to secure reclassification for NC State as a Carnegie community engaged institution.

To share a little background: NC State was initially classified in 2006 as part of the first group of institutions across the U.S. to receive this prestigious designation. By “community engagement,” Carnegie means “the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.” NC State literally wrote the book on institutional community engagement: our own Dr. Audrey Jaeger, along with Dr. Courtney Thornton, a graduate of our doctoral program, and several other faculty and administrators at NC State, published the defining scholarship on the topic after the initial wave of institutions were classified in 2006.

Much has changed since 2006, however; there are some ways in which NC State’s commitment to community engagement is less evident than it was eight years ago. And so despite our longstanding reputation as a national leader on institutional community engagement, our reclassification is not guaranteed. Yet there are many things we’re doing well, and the solid grounding in the scholarship of higher education I’ve gained through our master’s and doctoral classes—especially organization theory—has helped me recognize these strengths and advantages. For example, in constituting our reclassification committee, we made sure to include representation from a wide variety of units across the university. As a result, the committee has access to a much wider network of information and institutional resources to help us in completing our application, the wide participation helps minimize potential complaints about being “left out” of the process, and symbolically, we’re demonstrating that community engagement touches almost every part of NC State in some way. In fact, this is one of the things that differentiates us from other NC institutions who’ve been awarded the Carnegie classification—engagement is not a single office on campus, but rather has permeated the university. Yet this also complicates our committee’s efforts to collect data and relevant information, as the loose coupling (those who’ve taken org theory will recognize that term!) between different campus units means that much of the excellent engagement work that goes on here never receives the recognition it deserves.

Ultimately, understanding how higher education organizations function—which I gained through taking and co-teaching org theory—has given me insight into both the micro level of our reclassification committee’s functioning as well as the macro level of how engagement works throughout NC State. In turn, NC State’s experience with this reclassification process is providing us with rich material to follow up on the scholarship produced after our initial classification, to expand knowledge about what’s effective—and ineffective—in institutionalizing community engagement for the long term. Serving on the Carnegie reclassification committee has given me a lived experience with how practice informs scholarships informs practice as well as an opportunity to apply what I’ve learned in my classes in “real life.” I know many of my colleagues in our program have had similar experiences with their assistantships, and this is, in my mind, what makes our program one of the top higher education programs in the US.

“Do you know anyone in Florida?” by Becca Bender, 2013 Alum

“Wow you’re moving to Florida? Get ready to sweat.”
“Hope you know how to survive a hurricane.”
“Why would you move from NC to a place that gets even hotter?”
“That’s going to suck to like, start all over.”

These were some of the real life questions and comments I got when I decided to leave North Carolina, where I have lived my whole life, and take a job at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida (southeast coast, just north of Fort Lauderdale). Point of advice to everyone – don’t make stressful, somewhat negative comments to someone who is already freaking out about moving hundreds of miles away from friends and family!! After unsuccessfully searching for jobs in NC (where I assumed I would be my whole life), I redefined my job search and participated in C3 at ACPA in Las Vegas. Through that experience, I was fortunate to  be offered the job for Coordinator of Student Involvement, working with service and leadership.

The biggest adjustment for me, moving to a brand new place, was/is finding PEOPLE. It’s so different than being an undergraduate/graduate student, where you have tons of people around you all the time to hang out with. I am lucky that I have great co-workers, who are around my age and also new to the area, but I’ve found that it’s really important to me to find friends outside of work. There should be a class in grad school, or even in undergrad about HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AS A GROWN UP. Seriously. Nobody tells you these things.

As someone used to having lots of friends and family around to entertain me at all moments of the day – I’ve had to get creative being in a brand new place. A few things that I’ve tried include:

  • Joining a gym. The plus is that Florida offers really cool fitness classes on the beach. It’s a great way to meet other people and a good outlet after work.
  • I’ve always been a little sketched out by online activities. But Meetup is cool because there are interest groups based on whatever you want to do. There are book clubs, running groups, networking, fitness, happy hour, etc. And the coolest part is that literally everyone that goes to events is in a similar situation trying to meet new people. I’ve met some cool people through those events and they have led to other, non-Meetup hangout time.
  • Join a professional group: This is a great way to meet people but also help in your career. I work in service and leadership – I joined the Junior League in my town which is a women’s group focused on community development. So far, it’s been a great way to meet other like-minded women and learn more about community partners in the area.
  • Find other professional opportunities: I managed to make some higher education connections outside of my job at Lynn, which has been helpful and helped me meet other SA pros in the south Florida area. I got involved with LeaderShape in SoFL, which is a collaborative institute between 7 institutions. INSTANT NETWORKING! I also got connected to a fraternity at Florida Atlantic University, which was in need of another adviser, through HEA’s very own Scott Leighty! I feel like these connections help me branch out from my job and help me meet other people to add my social and professional network.

I was really scared moving to a new place – especially after I really thought I would be settled in NC forever. It’s still pretty scary. Not really knowing what comes next. This is the first time in my life I’ve started something that didn’t have a built in deadline. But it’s also exciting! …to be starting in a new place and figuring out how to make it on my own. I’m learning a lot about myself and what I need and want out of my life and my job. My best friend from home made the trek with me from NC to FL and when I had a mini-breakdown two days after we arrived here (because it’s scary, I was going to be all alone, I didn’t know anyone, it was a million degrees out…fill in the blank), she said something I’ll never forget. She said, “Becca, just do it because you can!” And I can. As I am finding out.