For those of you who are unfamiliar with the world of Student Affairs and Higher Education, October is Careers in Student Affairs Month. NASPA does a Photo A Day Challenge on social media and has a prompt each day that encourages people in our field to share their experiences. Today’s prompt is My Story. I think this is by far the most fun prompt of the month because it is so cool to hear why each individual ended up pursuing a career in Student Affairs and how they got there. I thought it would be cool to share mine.
My story starts at the beginning with the college application process. As a #FirstGen student I really didn’t know what I was doing and my parents didn’t have the experience or the knowledge to help me out either. They did the best that they could. Having helped my older brother three years earlier, they did have some basic knowledge, but we still were going into my college admission process pretty blind. We were definitely winging it.
At this time I didn’t even really know what it meant to be #FirstGen. Now, I am wildly proud to identify as #FirstGen.
As a senior in high school I was so ready to graduate. I was ready to leave my small town and go as far away as possible. But I still didn’t know where I wanted to go to school. I have never been a good decision maker, and this choice seemed like the biggest decision ever. Where would I go to school? What would I study? I had no idea. I felt lost.
Looking back, I laugh. I laugh at how incredibly stressed out about this decision I was. Looking back, I find it hilarious that I even looked at other institutions. I went to my dream school and I know without a doubt that I made the right choice. Looking back, I laugh because I think deep down, I knew all along that I was going to Northern Michigan University. Deep down, there was no question of why or where. I just knew that that was home. Looking back, I see this scared and confused 18 year old Joel who couldn’t make a decision even though the answer was right in front of me. I just didn’t want to admit it to anyone and I didn’t know how. I was scared to admit it because that meant that it was really happening. And, while I was so excited, I was also REALLY nervous.
After what seemed like the longest summer of my life, the time finally came! I was moving away to college. I moved in at 8am Thursday morning. The first day of move-in weekend. If that doesn’t tell you how excited I was to be there, I don’t know what will.
My freshman year was amazing. Right away I found a close group of friends with those that lived around me in my residence hall. We were all active in our House and Hall governments and I quickly became involved in other areas of campus life. I loved trying new things and exploring the different involvement opportunities on campus. Toward the end of my freshman year, I applied to be a Resident Adviser, after having a great relationship with mine, and wanting to be able to reach students the way that she had reached me.
I received an offer from Alexandra Marshall, the Resident Director of Meyland Hall. I accepted, and spent Sophomore and Junior year living the wild and crazy and rewarding life working for Housing and Residence Life.
During these two years, I grew more than I can even express. I learned so much from that position and my interactions with my students and staff on campus. I dealt with a lot of crazy situations. I had a lot of fun throwing really cool events and getting to know those living in my community. I formed friendships and relationships with some of my closest friends and mentors during those two years. But what I loved most wasn’t what I got out of the job, but the immense growth and changes that I saw in my students. I fell in love with student development and watching impacts that learning and living had on others.
Wanting more experience in this work, and craving access to more students, I applied to work for the New Student Orientation Staff at the end of my sophomore year. I was offered a position as Staff Assistant and spent that summer learning more about my campus, and the city of Marquette, than I thought was possible. I fell even deeper in love with both the city and the campus communities, and my passion for watching students develop and grow was sparked into a flame.
After having the best summer of my life, I went back to school for Junior year and was excited to work with my students again. But I was also excited for the incoming students that I spent all summer getting to know to come back too. I hoped and prayed that I would have some of these students living in my community so I could work with them as their Resident Adviser too.
Junior year was a blur. I had a lot of ups and downs that year. I had even stronger connections with my students and I dealt with more serious issues. I was balancing a harder class load, and trying to maintain friendships with my friends outside of Housing and Residence Life. It was a really tough year, but ultimately I think it was the year that instilled in me the strength that I needed to move on.
I decided to leave the RA position at the end of the year, but was excited to end the year on a positive note when I was awarded the Paraprofessional of the Year Award.
This fueled me with the excitement needed to spend a second summer on New Student Orientation Staff. This summer I was the only senior returning to staff and I held a leadership role because of this. My staff looked up to me, my Director who was just starting at the university looked to me for guidance and extra support. I had the time of my life my second summer on staff and I built a family with my staff. I had a bond with these people unlike that of any group of people ever before. This summer was different though. While I really felt like I had a great connection with my staff, I felt disconnected from students this summer. I felt like being a senior, I could no longer relate to them the way that I had as a junior. In one year’s time, something had changed, and I felt this distance separating me from the connections that I wanted to build with my students. I did what I could to push through this feeling, and I did end up having some really great relationships with students. I still got a sense of fulfillment when I saw a student overcome something or take a step out of their comfort zone. The growth that I saw in these students continued to be what I loved most about these jobs.
My senior year I lived off campus with three other guys. This was the first time living outside of the residence halls. I grew a lot from my experience living off campus. While I loved the freedom and the kitchen, I also missed the convenience of the residence halls, and that intimate setting with my students. I still had connections and interactions with students through my job at the Center for Student Enrichment working as a Superior Edge Volunteer Center Coordinator, but it was in a different capacity from my previous experiences. During this year, I found a love for volunteer work, and community service. I organized a service exchange with some students from Saginaw Valley State University, and met some of my closest friends today through this service work.
Seeing the passion of other students and communities and seeing a need outside of Marquette gave me a new perspective and got me thinking even more about a future in Student Affairs.
Somewhere along the way-I think maybe, my sophomore year-I met up with the wonderful individuals that were part of Marquette Ending Hunger. This was a student organization that worked to raise awareness of poverty, food insecurity, and hunger in our area. I loved being part of this group and it was the single most rewarding experience of my college career that was not tied to a job that I held working for the university. I loved serving others, raising awareness and educating others. I loved working in the community and hosting fun events like Empty Bowls and NMU Fights Famine in which I fasted for 24 hours in order to feel the struggle that many people around the world feel every day.
I graduated from Northern Michigan University with my Bachelors of Science in Communication Studies on April 30, 2016. I loved every second of my time at NMU and I will forever cherish these memories. It was because of my experiences with Student Affairs that I decided that I wanted to continue my education and pursue a career in this field.
This brings me to today. I am a first year #SAGrad at the University of South Dakota. When searching for grad schools I wanted to go somewhere out of state, somewhere that I didn’t know much about, and I wanted to work in an entry level full time position or in a graduate assistantship. I found that all in one package with USD, and I was able to do so through the Oshkosh Placement Exchange, and the support of my friends that went with me.
I now work for the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life. I live in a chapter house as a 22 year old with no Greek experience. I am pursuing a Masters degree in Adult and Higher Education. I am so far out of my comfort zone, but I am learning and growing everyday.
My love for student growth and development is as strong as ever. I love getting to know the men of Lambda Chi Alpha as well as the other students that are part of the SFL community. I am realizing that there are so many options out there and so much to do in the field of Student Affairs. It’s wild, crazy, fun, exhausting, stressful, rewarding, and fulfilling all at the same time.
I am excited to see what my future holds and where the wild world of Student Affairs will lead me. But I am so in love with where I am. I am realizing that I may not be here forever, and I may not even pursue Student Affairs forever, but right now, it’s where I am supposed to be.
There ya have it pals, my story up to date. And as Natasha Bedingfield once said: “The rest is still unwritten”.