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.