My #CSAM17 Story.

October is Careers in Student Affairs Month which means its the time of the year to focus on and celebrate all of the weirdos (like me) in the world who chose to pursue a career in Higher Education (more specifically, Student Affairs).

Like most people who wind up in this field, I stumbled into it unexpectedly while in college. I had no clue what I wanted to do with my future, but I loved every moment of college. I thrived in college!


I quickly became involved on campus my freshman year at Northern Michigan University, serving as the Vice President for my Residence Hall Council, joining different clubs and organizations on campus, and attending every event I possibly could.

After my great experiences in Hall Council, I knew I wanted to apply to be a Resident Adviser. The selection process was pretty intense and competitive, but I managed to survive…and was hired for a position my sophomore year. I worked as a RA in Meyland Hall for two years and had the best supervisor in the world – we’re still best friends today!

The summer before Junior year I was hired to be a New Student Orientation Staff Assistant and I spent that summer falling even more in love with Northern Michigan University.

Junior year I was a RA again and got super involved with the organization Marquette Ending Hunger! This group would soon become my Marquette Family and the “friends you meet in college that you will have forever”.

The summer before my Senior year was my second summer working with New Student Orientation and would be an even better summer than the first because it was my last summer in college and I lived up every moment!

Senior year I worked in the Center for Student Enrichment as a Coordinator for the Volunteer Center and the Superior Edge leadership program.


After four years of campus involvement and a growing passion for this work – and no clue what to do with my communications degree – I knew I had to go into Student Affairs.

I applied for graduate school, GA positions, and entry level full-time positions at universities across the nation. It was intense and scary, but I knew I was making the right decision.

I attended the Oshkosh Placement Exchange and interviewed with many institutions. I loved OPE – and found a GA position because of this great experience!

I was accepted into the Adult & Higher Education program at the University of South Dakota and was offered a graduate assistant position with Sorority & Fraternity Life.

While at USD, I was provided the opportunity to attend the NASPA regional conference in St. Louis and it was here that I became obsessed with professional conferences, networking with other Student Affairs professionals and deepened my love for this work.

Seeking even more work in this field, some time away from the Midwest and professional development opportunities, I applied for summer internships at other institutions through ACUHO-I. This search led me back to my housing roots when I was hired for a position with Residence Life and Conference Services at Western State Colorado University.

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In one month’s time, I gained more experience in this internship than I had the entire first year of grad school and when a position opened up in this department, I jumped at the chance to apply and stay in Colorado.


This all leads me to today. It is mid-October. I am laying in my hotel bed after just completing the ACPA Residential Curriculum Institute. I landed that open position that I applied for during my summer at Western and am still happy to be in Colorado! I am finishing my masters degree online through USD while working full-time!! It is a challenge, but is so worth it.


This is my story so far.

Here’s to writing more of it as I continue my way toward graduation and a bright future in this awesome field – with an even more awesome team!

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Residence Life staff
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My RAs and I
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Residence Life Professional Staff (minus Paul)
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Resident Directors

-Joel

*All photo credits: Western State Colorado University Social & Digital Media Coordinator, Taylor Cull.

*If you’re interested, I wrote a post last year for this same topic.

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November.

November.  It’s the month of the year that is always hard for me.  It’s definitely not my favorite month.  With the start of November comes the end of my favorite time of the year.  It means that snow covers the ground instead of bright colored leaves.  And with snow comes cold weather.  I am realizing as I get older that I hate cold weather.  I love the snow, but I am miserable in the cold.  This makes for a miserable four(ish) months of my life each year.  I definitely believe that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real thing.  I feel a drastic change in my attitude and behavior during the winter months.  Brought on by the cold, lack of sunshine, and lack of time spent outdoors, I go through a slight depressive state at this time each year.  I can blame it on the weather for the sake of pointing fingers but I also know that Winter time is not the only thing that makes me depressed.

I don’t typically share this part of my story, but I feel the need to do so today.  This post is hard for me to write but I want to anyway.  I want to share why exactly I can’t seem to shake this slump that you may witness me in during November.


November.  A time to give thanks; to be thankful for loved ones and jobs and all of the positivity that the last year has provided.  We can be thankful for sweaters and flannel, and hot cocoa and warm pumpkin spice/peppermint flavored drinks.  We can be thankful for holidays and time off of work and school.  We can be thankful for health and for an abundance of other things.

For me, as hard as I try to avoid it, I always find myself in a slump during this time.  I try to remember all the flannels and lights and fun flavored drinks that warm the body and the soul.  But I also remember sadness, sickness, and loss.


November.  The month in which I have experienced the most loss.  Unfortunately, I have lost a great grandmother, two uncles, a grandma, a grandpa and a relationship with running during the month of November.  I have been impacted by each of these losses differently, but each has been tough in some important way.

I was extremely young when I lost my great grandmother.  To be honest, I don’t even remember her very much.  This loss didn’t hit me until recently, actually.  For whatever reason the thought that I don’t remember any of my great grandparents saddens me.  I don’t think a lot of people know their great grandparents, but thinking about how special that relationship must be makes my heart warm.

When I lost my two uncles, I was more hurt for my cousins that were experiencing this loss.  I personally wasn’t that close to either of these uncles, but knowing that my parents, cousins, and grandparents were losing brothers, fathers, and sons makes my heart hurt.

Some may think that this next one is a strange one.  But for me its part of my identity.  If you had known me growing up, you know that ALL I did was run.  Losing that in November of my senior year of high school is still something that haunts me.  My senior year of high school was when I realized that I would never be great at running.  While running was my passion, it wasn’t my strength or my calling or my future.  I realized that I was not as good as the others.  I was not going to compete at state finals.  I was not going to compete in college.  I was not going to compete ever again.

I still run; it’s just a little different.  I no longer have a running community.  I no longer run competitively.  I no longer run for others.  I run for me and me alone.  I run because it is my escape from the negativity in my life.  I run to let go.  I run to prove to myself that I have strength, stamina, drive, and endurance.  I run to prove to myself that I am worth it, no matter what anyone said or thought back in high school.  I run because I love it, and that will never change.

This next one is kind of strange too.  I didn’t actually lose my grandfather.  He’s still alive.  I just lost him in the sense that I no longer believe that I have a relationship with him.  When I lost my grandmother, I lost the thing that tied my grandfather to the rest of my family.  He has become like a distant relative in some ways.  I never see him.  I never speak to him.  Sadly, I don’t care to.  I feel like he doesn’t care about me, or anyone else in my family.  Part of me blames my grandma’s death for this.  I can’t even begin to imagine how anyone who has lost their partner must feel.  Losing a woman as special as my grandma must have defeated him.  I believe that when my grandma died, so did he.  He’s not the same man that he once was.  It sucks.  But, I also don’t care to know the man that he is today, so it is easier to avoid it all and to be distant.

Now, the hardest one of all…my grandma.

Today, November 19, 2016, is the nine year anniversary of my grandmother’s death.  I can’t believe that it has been nine years already.  It seems like just yesterday and it seems like forever.  But it doesn’t matter.  She’s gone.  It is still one of the hardest things to cope with.  My grandmother and I were incredibly close.  She was someone that I looked up to for everything.

I inherited many great things from her.  I inherited my love and passion for caring for others.  She did that well.  She was so attentive to her loved ones, and so willing to sacrifice everything of her own for someone else.  I believe I am pursuing work in a helping profession because of witnessing the love that she shared with others and wanting to do that myself.  I also inherited my outspokenness from her.  My grandmother had a way with words.  She didn’t care who heard what she had to say.  And, boy did she always have something to say.  She was full of stories.  I also inherited my storytelling from her.  I acknowledge the fact that I run my mouth to the point of trouble.  I acknowledge the fact that I talk too much.  I acknowledge the fact that I tell stories.  But I also acknowledge where I got these traits, and why I value communication, speech, and the power of voice so much.

Every November I am paralyzed with that sinking feeling that another year has gone by that I haven’t spoken to my grandma.  I haven’t heard her voice.  Every year I think about the fact that I am losing those memories with each moment that passes.  I no longer know if I remember what she sounded like or exactly how she looked or smelled.  That is scary.  It’s sad.  And every year I fall into this pit of November.

Today, I am far away from family and friends.  I am alone in South Dakota.  I am sad.  I am remembering.  I woke up feeling sick this morning.  I woke up to a work related emergency.  And I woke up to the reality that it was November.  November 19th to be exact.


Since I am working on practicing self-care and focusing on my wellbeing this year, I thought I would share some of my emotions today.  Part of being well is being honest and real with the fact that everyone has bad days.  I want to work on overcoming bad days and bad months and overcoming the demons that November always brings with the cold weather.

With love,

-Joel

Student Affairs: #CSAM16 And How I Found Myself On This Path.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

-Joel