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.
  • Meetup.com: 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. 

It’s All About Balance, by Ashley Grantham

One of the things I have struggled with the most during my doctoral work so far is finding balance:  balance between school and work, research and coursework…and I know a lot of you are in the same boat!  I am by no means the poster child for time management and work/life balance, but I’ve discovered some helpful patterns that help me keep it all together.  If you’ve found ways of finding balance and managing your time that work for you, please share them with the rest of us—we’d love to hear them!

Exercise in the mornings

When I decided to go back to school, I was already employed on campus and decided to continue working when I started the program.  On nights I have class, I’m on campus from 8:00am until 7:30pm and by the time I get home, the last thing I want to do is go on a run or head to the gym.  I’ve switched around my schedule so that I start my days with exercise a few days a week which gives me more energy to get through the day and also prevents my workout from getting bumped when unexpected meetings or other complications arise during the day.

Prep your food on Sundays

I try to bring my lunch and make dinner at home as much as possible, but at the beginning of the program and during peak busy times in the semester was relying on fast food and take out much more than I liked.  I came across a blog post recently written by a woman who preps all of her food for the week on Sundays, and decided to give it a try.  It has been a lifesaver! I cut up all my meat, wash and prep vegetables and fruits and put everything in bags or containers labeled with the meal the ingredients are for.  That way, when I get home from class or work, I can just dump everything in a pan and enjoy a quick, healthy meal. You’ll be less stressed about trying to get dinner ready or figuring out what you want to pick up on your way home and you’ll likely save money by eating at home more often, which is always a good thing!  

Schedule fun

This one sounds a little counter-intuitive, but it is working for me!  You could fill up your whole life with research and studying in graduate school if you wanted to.  I used to have the mindset that if I wasn’t working all the time that I was wasting time, which left me stressed and burned out.  Now, I make sure to schedule fun activities into my calendar (dog walks, tennis, lunch with friends).  Planning a fun outing gives me something to look forward to and also helps me stay connected to my support network of family and friends. 

Taking these steps has helped me become a happier, healthier graduate student. While we often talk about the courses we are taking, the projects we are working on, and professional development activities we are participating in, graduate students don’t often talk about our lives outside of work and school, creating a culture of constant “busyness.”  Hopefully, establishing a sense of work/life balance now as graduate students will help us all become more balanced professionals in our future careers, no matter which path we take.   

See Yourself as Part of the Picture Perfect Pack!

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19, 51, 16, 11, 18, 3, 1

What do all of these numbers have in common?  They are all related to 2014 Higher Education Recruitment Weekend.

19   There are only 19 more days until Recruitment Weekend officially begins.  Starting on February 13, candidates will get to meet faculty, staff, and current student to learn more about our awesome program.

51   This is number of candidates that have signed for Recruitment Weekend!

16   How many states are represented at this year’s Recruitment Weekend?  You got it.  16.

11   11 employers from various institutions in the Triangle will be coming to Recruitment Weekend to interview our candidates.

18   North Carolina State University’s College of Education national ranking!!!

  Three days packed full of interviews, exploration, and fun!

1   The one and only Wolf Pack!  GO PACK!                                                                                

Be on the look for opportunities that you can help out for Recruitment Weekend!

Recharge and Recoup, by Dani Gates

You chugged that Starbucks, you read more CAS standards and crammed more theories into your brain than you thought even existed (for the record, there’s SO many more), and you participated in more group projects than you EVER would have imagined grad school would entail. After all that, you finished ONE semester in graduate school. For some of you, it might be your very first semester, but regardless of wherever you are in your journey towards achieving that Masters Degree, we’ve reached that time of the year when many people are thinking “all that work was only for ONE semester?” To those people, I’d like to remind you how very short your graduate career is. For many of you, this experience will only last two years, so all the work that went into finishing that one semester is one quarter of your Masters Degree.

Just recently I received news that my program proposal for SEAHO (Southeast Association of Housing Officers) was accepted, and I will be presenting on making the most of the Grad/Advisor relationship in February. As I sat down to put the finishing touches on my presentation, I thought about how easy it is to allow your graduate experience to fly by without even taking real notice of it. As a student, graduate school is the opportunity to learn, grow, make some mistakes, gain experience, make more mistakes, and figure out what our next step is. So I want to take a moment to remind everyone: as this semester comes to an end, so does a quarter of your graduate school experience. What are you going to do with the rest of your time in this program?

I realize that some of us are still cramming for finals, and others are completely drained from the end of the semester, so I’d like to offer six suggestions for how to recuperate over the winter break:

  1. Take some time to yourself – read a book just for fun, see a movie by yourself, take a walk, or just take some time to be alone with your thoughts

  2. Ignore your e-mail – you are a student and you deserve a break too. For once, turn your e-mail off on your phone!

  3. Catch up with the friends/family you ignored during the end of the semester – they love you and are remarkably understanding of your academic endeavors. Take some time to make it up to them!

  4. Do something active – Your eyes are sore from all that late night reading. Give your brain a break and stretch out those neglected muscles! Might I suggest ice skating on Sunday, December, 15 (shameless plug for the mentor/mentee outing!)

  5. Get ready for next semester – Get your books, communicate with your professors, and just generally get mentally prepared to rock out Spring semester!

  6. Make a list of what you want to accomplish for the rest of your graduate career – Like I said… we tend to forget how very short our graduate program is – so don’t miss out on great opportunities. Make a list of all the experiences you want from your graduate program and figure out how you plan on accomplishing those with the rest of your time.