Making Waves.

My life mantra is “make waves” because I seek to live every day as the water does, ebbing and flowing, trying new things, being changed by the environment and giving back to the community around me.

In the last year, this mantra has become so important to me. I remind myself to live intentionally every day and to make waves in the lives around me, but also to allow my surroundings to make waves in my life as well. Living this way allows for growth, opportunity, spontaneity, and a lot of fun; it’s how I have found myself in so many new and exciting situations and places in the last year. I have made so many new friends, and gone to so many cool places and I hope to continue to do so…

Which brings me to this: I will be moving to Colorado!!!

I have spent the last two months in Gunnison, Colorado and have been serving as an intern at Western State Colorado University. This position has provided me so much experience as a professional. I have moved to a new location. I am working on a new campus. I am adapting to a new culture and community. I am supervising student employees. I am having a blast.

Working in this position has also provided me the opportunity to land a full-time professional position in the same department. That’s right, you heard me, I have landed my first #SAPro position as a Resident Director. I will be managing two buildings during the school year and will be coordinating housing arrangements for camps and conferences during the summer months. What a great opportunity!?

By jumping out of my comfort zone and trying new things, allowing my world to be changed by my environment, and focusing on building relationships and community in all that I do I have made waves here in this small community and it has made waves in my life in turn. I have stirred things up, brought something new, learned so much and am excited to keep doing this work.

I guess it pays to work hard and push through the seasons of life. Sometimes life comes crashing down and sometimes it’s a smooth sea, but if you don’t make a little waves in that smooth sea, nothing changes, and what is the fun in that?

I have only been in Sunny Gunni for two short months, but it has been two of the greatest months of my life. I truly believe this is a “right place at the right time” situation. I was meant to be here for my internship. I was meant to come to this campus. Western is a great fit for me and I am thrilled that my first professional position will be here in the Rocky Mountains where I will be working alongside an amazing team of professionals who will challenge and support me every day.

I’ll post updates as I know more information about my move and what this new role will be like. Stay tuned.

-Joel

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#NASPA4WE: My First Professional Conference Experience.

As you all know from my previous posts, I recently spent a few days in St. Louis, Missouri for the NASPA4WE conference.  This was my first professional conference and let me just start by saying…I’m hooked.  I know that I am meant to be in Student Affairs.  I know I say this a lot, but it just keeps getting reaffirmed.  This conference was definitely an opportunity for reaffirmation.  I fell in love with Student Affairs all over again.

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Attending this conference with fellow graduate and undergraduate students from USD was so great!  I love getting to know my peers outside of work and class.  Seeing them in action in settings such as this is the perfect way to get to know them better.  Being in attendance with my boss, Dean of Students, and Associate Dean of Student Services was also awesome.  I got to meet their colleagues and friends and see them in a different professional setting than what I am used to.  And…let’s be real here, who doesn’t like to have a glass of wine with university administrators?

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Connecting with other inspiring, creative, adventurous, and driven individuals in the field is something that I truly cherish.  The Woo in me obviously gets a little carried away.  It is in times when I am in the company of other passionate educators and leaders that I find myself digging deeper into my love for working with students.

While I love connecting and networking with other professionals-both new and seasoned-what I absolutely cannot get enough of is time spent connecting with students.  This is one thing that I love about NASPA.  They allow for undergraduate and graduate students to be widely involved in their conferences and their organization at large.  While I was not involved with NASPA as an undergraduate student, I am so happy and encouraged to see student leaders from across the nation getting so involved with this organization.

I was privileged to meet an amazing group of undergraduate students and I spent an evening getting to know them and their pursuits.  It was this night that I felt the most invested, uplifted, and fulfilled.  This is what I strive for.

Yes, meeting students and professionals and having the time to network and socialize is fun, but we also know that Student Affairs is not all fun and games.  We are educators, leaders, professionals, first-responders, counselors, and peers.  Why we attend conferences and network with others in the field is to build off of the foundations that others have established.  We connect and bounce ideas off of each other.  We seek innovation and creativity in our everyday jobs and we are always on the look out for upcoming trends and issues within our field.

I attended some great presentations and sessions on topics ranging from peer assessment to social justice.  And from forgiveness as an aspect of health and wellness on our campuses to generational trauma for the American Indian student population.  I wanted to attend sessions that I both found interesting as well as applicable to my future or my current job.  Some sessions were obviously more interesting and impactful than others, but all relevant and worthwhile to our field.  I look forward to attending my next conference and seeing what other topics are presented upon.

I was also inspired to look into ways to further my involvement with NASPA and to grow and develop professionally.  I am tossing around the idea of presenting at a conference next year or joining the conference committee.  We will see!

In addition to networking and attending presentations, conferences also allow for the opportunity to adventure and experience a new city…you all know my passion for adventure and experiencing new things, so I am sure you can imagine how in my element I was in St. Louis.  I hopped on a walking tour of the city, went out to a few restaurants and bars, and obviously went up into the Arch…because, well duh!  Oh, the conference also hosted a 5k fun run…so I was able to connect with members of the running community that are also part of the Student Affairs community.  Dabbling in two of the most important spheres of my life makes my heart happy!

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Going back home to Vermillion, and encountering snow after 75 degree highs was definitely the low of my week.  But, all good things come in moderation, and then it’s back to reality.  Luckily I only had three days of rest and work and it was back on the road.

Thanksgiving break is upon us, and I am spending my week in Minneapolis visiting some relatives and one of my closest friends from NMU.


Since it’s Thanksgiving day, I couldn’t end this post without suggesting to take some time to reflect on what you’re most thankful for this year.  I’ll start.

Just a few things that I am most thankful for this year are:

  • Friends; new and old.  Moving far away from home is tough.  Leaving the place I love and the people I love is painful.  But, I am so so so blessed to have found a great group of people to fill that void.  South Dakota has treated me pretty well so far.  Shout out to those of you who’ve made my transition to Vermtown easier.  You know who you are!
  • Health and wellbeing.  Obviously, this has been a huge aspect of my life in the past few months.  I have a whole new perspective on what it means to be well, and I hope to continue living a healthier lifestyle.
  • New experiences.  This year has been full  of them.  I am so grateful to be expanding my mind, heart, and soul as I adventure on this path into my future.

 

Sending big love and positive vibes to all today!

-Joel

Fostering Multicultural Leaders.

This weekend I was invited to be a facilitator for a Multicultural Leadership Retreat hosted by the Center for Diversity and Community at the University of South Dakota, and I am so happy that I was given this incredible opportunity to work alongside colleagues and professionals in the field of Higher Education, as well as to learn from interactions with students.

In my experience, offsite retreats provide environments conducive to growth and learning in a way that is unlike any other learning environment.  This weekend was no exception.  Being a retreat dedicated to fostering multicultural leaders, the retreat center was designated as a brave space for all participants.  A brave space allows for all who enter to feel comfortable, able, and willing to have conversation, create dialogue, and take steps out of comfort zones and into stretch zones.  We wanted questions asked, statements made, and experiences and growth to occur without judgement or bias.  Creating a brave space allowed for such things to happen.

I believe removing ourselves from our home communities (in this case, the University of South Dakota) and the comforts and distractions of those places, allows for the creation of brave spaces to happen organically.  I’m not saying that we need to leave our communities to create brave spaces-we should create brave spaces everywhere we are-but it somehow feels easier to create brave spaces when in settings that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable, yet sought out, such as at a retreat like this.

Removing ourselves from the comforts and distractions of home also allows for genuinely deep, meaningful, emotional connections to be made and for experiential learning to occur.  These types of retreats act as catalysts for student development and allow for learning to occur in a different way than that which occurs in the classroom or on campus.  This was fascinating to watch and rewarding to be a part of.

During this retreat I learned about intent versus impact.  I learned about the difference between safe and brave spaces.  I listened to stories and experiences told by my peers.  We discussed topics such as race, ethnicity, social class, gender expression, sexual identity, privilege, oppression and so much more.  I engaged in conversations that were not easy to engage in.  We delved into topics that are often avoided and ignored.  I allowed myself to be vulnerable and to be real, raw, and genuine.  I watched as others allowed themselves to do the same.  I learned the importance of having these tough yet courageous conversations with my peers, students, and others.  Most importantly, I grew from this experience, and I know that each and every person in attendance grew as well.

Social Justice and Higher Education go hand in hand, and that is why it is so critical for there to be multicultural leaders on college campuses (and everywhere).  I am excited to keep learning how to be a multicultural leader on campus and in the world, and to continue on a path toward social justice.  I hope to work alongside the students that I met this weekend and to grow as a professional with the other facilitators (colleagues) as the year continues.

I gained a lot from this experience, but the one thing that sticks with me is a quote from Disney’s Zootopia (yes, we viewed this film as a group and analyzed it from a multicultural perspective!).  It is important for us to be having these conversations and to be attending retreats like this so that we may lead the world to change.  So as the wise and courageous Judy Hopps said at the end of the movie…

“Look inside yourself, and recognize that change starts with you.  It starts with me.  It starts with all of us”

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The #SASearch.

Hello and welcome to the adventures of Joel Kaskinen!


 

A few weeks ago I attended the Oshkosh Placement Exchange, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  For those of you who don’t know what that means…this is a conference for Higher Education professionals to connect with others and to interview potential candidates for open positions at their institution (click link above for more information).  I participated as a candidate and I interviewed with nine amazing schools for both graduate assistant positions as well as full time entry level positions.

I had the opportunity to meet many like minded students who are just as passionate and in love with the world of Student Affairs as I am.  This was my favorite part.  I didn’t have to hide, I wasn’t told to shut up, I didn’t have the blank stares or questioning faces from those who don’t understand what it is that I do-or rather what it is that I love.  It was so refreshing.  I found myself falling in love with Student Affairs all over again.

This brings me to the reason for starting this blog.

I am pursuing a future in Student Affairs.  I love college.  I love influencing students and watching them grow and develop.  I love leadership and involvement.  And I love the underdog.  This is why my long-term goal is to work with underrepresented student populations, and empower them to grow and develop as students, leaders, and learners as well as to succeed academically and socially and achieve their goals with as few obstacles as possible.

The first step toward my future is to start searching for jobs and graduate programs.  So that is just what I am doing.  And this led me to The OPE.


 

February 26-28, 2016.  A weekend I will never forget.  I attended The Oshkosh Placement Exchange and I interviewed with nine schools.

That list includes:

  • University of South Dakota- Graduate Assistant Fraternity position
  • Truman State University- Residence Hall Director
  • North Dakota State University- Hall Director
  • University of Central Missouri- Graduate Assistant position
  • Northern Arizona University- Graduate Assistant position
  • University of Wisconsin-Whitewater- Assistant Complex Director
  • Michigan Technological University- Residence Life Coordinator
  • University of New Mexico- Graduate Assistant Hall Coordinator
  • Montana State University- Graduate Assistant Resident Director

Each of my interviews with these institutions went well and I met some amazing staff from each institution.

This brings me to the next point that I’d like to make about this weekend.  There are some amazing people in the world of Student Affairs, and I met just a fraction of them at The OPE.


 

Not only did I have the privilege of attending this conference with eight of the most amazing people from Northern Michigan University, but the students that I met from other institutions added to my experience as well.

I need to give a shoutout to a few incredible individuals…

  • Tevin Byers: my roommate at The OPE, you were so encouraging throughout my interview process and you were so much fun to be around.  It was truly awesome getting to know you and seeing connecting immediately with someone who shares my passion for Student Affairs.  Allow this passion for students to lead you as a person and as a professional.  I hope that we are able to reconnect soon.  Hopefully, in a new city, with a new job, and a few beers in our hands.
  • Samantha Hull: My spirit animal.  I am so happy that I was able to meet you this Fall at SVSU, and then to reconnect at OPE.  Seriously though, I’ve never met someone who has as much pride in their university as you do.  Your passion for student life and activities excites me and fuels me with energy knowing that students will get to work with and learn from you.  Keep up the hard work, it will pay off!
  • Trevor Barnes: Thank you for always finding me in waiting rooms and for helping me lighten the mood.  You are confident, driven, and skillful in conversation and language.  Use your power of voice to empower the young students that you work with and provide voice to those students who can’t seem to find theirs.
  • Freddie Bourne: Honestly one of the most genuine and down to earth young men I have ever met.  You were easy to talk to, get to know, and connect with on a meaningful level.  I loved your willingness to open up and speak real, raw, vulnerable truth.  Whether it was deeply personal or it was just that you were nervous for an interview, you were raw and real in every moment.  This takes strength, Freddie.  It’s inspiring to see someone so naturally strong in social settings. Good luck with your search!
  • Alexis Kelsch: Thank you for being my guiding light this weekend!  You have OPE experience and you currently work at Oshkosh.  Having this familiarity really helped me to get to know, listen to, and trust you-and the OPE/hiring process in general.  You had great words of advice to give and you had this air of confidence about you, that I have never seen.  I hope that we end up together again-in Montana, or elsewhere.

These amazing individuals and many others are the young professionals that I want to continue to get to know and grow with.  I hope that we stay in contact, and that the future is good to us.  I hope we all meet up again someday at a conference or an airport or wherever it may be.  And I hope that the world of Student Affairs is everything that we are hoping for.  I can’t wait to see where this road will lead and what the next chapter for each of us will be.


 

Since returning from OPE, a lot has happened.

  • I have had a second phase interview with the University of South Dakota via Skype
  • I received an email from the University of New Mexico stating that I have been placed on a “wait-list”
  • I received an email from Northern Arizona University stating that I am no longer being considered for a position in housing but am being considered for other Graduate Assistant positions available on their campus
  • I have been offered an interview with Northern Arizona University’s Health Promotion Office for a Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Prevention Graduate Assistant position
  • I have been offered the Live-in Fraternity Graduate Assistant position at the University of South Dakota

As you can see, I have been on an emotional roller coaster ride with all of this news.  I have been excited and sad and stressed out all at the same time.  The job search is tough.  But it’s exhilarating.

I will fill you in as I make decisions or if I hear from any other schools.

Wish me Luck!

-Joel