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

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Taking Breaks.

Hey pals!

I am going to stray from the norm of writing about Student Affairs.  After all, this blog is about my life and my adventures, and Student Affairs is only one sector of my life.  It does not define who I am.

Anyway, as you know from my post about wellbeing I am trying to focus on my personal wellness this semester.  So, I thought I would give a brief check in and update on how I am doing.

I have been taking my daily wellness tracker and according to it, I have been thriving everyday this month except for one.  I would say that this is relatively accurate, based on the questions that it asks me each day.  I have noticed that by starting my morning with this simple reflective practice, I feel grounded and  in tune with myself so I can focus on the day ahead and what it will bring me in terms of wellness.

This last week was quite busy and my stress levels were heightened.  I have my first presentation as a #SAGrad tomorrow, and I have a paper due this week as well.  The pressure and uncertainty of this week really started to settle in and I got very frustrated and overwhelmed.

This morning, I woke up at 4 am with a migraine.  This was a sign that I needed to focus on my wellness and get some rest.  So, I took some ibuprofen, crawled back in bed and skipped my first hour at the office.  Since then, my day has been surprisingly productive.  I have drank multiple bottles of water, I cranked out my homework, and I booked a flight to St. Louis for the NASPA regional conference in November!  Things are looking up and I’m feeling great tonight.

I spent the majority of my day by myself, at the library, in silence.  I needed that “I” time to restore my energy.  Normally I am not one to enjoy silence or alone time.  But today, I’ve needed it.

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I think that it is vital for us to be honest and to listen to our bodies.  I think of the song lyric “The body talks and meditation helps” from the great Nahko and Medicine for the People.  This message is so true.  We must take care of ourselves.  Be in tune with what our body is saying.  Take care of it and it will not let us down.

Practicing self-care and focusing on my wellbeing has been enlightening in the last month and I am excited to continue along this journey of health and wellness.  I look forward to updating everyone on my wellness as I go, but today, I felt that it was necessary to share my feelings.

Rest up pals,

-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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#SAReads: We Believe You.

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I started this book for #SAAM, but unfortunately didn’t have a chance to finish it during the month, as I was exceptionally busy with traveling to South Dakota, studying for final exams, cleaning and packing and moving out of my house, and graduation.  Looking back now I am glad that I didn’t finish it during the month of April because, since I have been done with school all I’ve wanted to do is read, and I’ve had ample time to do so.  This gave me the perfect opportunity to finish this book, as well as to fully take in the stories that are crafted in it.

Each survivor story told in this book is unique and special, and having the extra time to consume the stories at their fullest really helped me to grasp the emotions of each survivor as they told their stories.

I was deeply inspired by this book, and highly recommend it to EVERYONE.  If you are an educator, parent, mentor, #SAGrad, or #SAPro, I especially recommend it to you.  It is so important that we educate today’s youth on the issues surrounding consent, sexual assault, and relationship violence.  #ItsOnUs to build a more positive, healthy, and safe future and we can do so by creating a culture in which sexual assault is talked about and fully understood, especially for high school and college students.

I will be starting my first semester as a #SAGrad this fall, and as an aspiring #SAPro it is my hope that my students understand the importance of this issue.  I want my campus to take sexual assault seriously and to offer the survivor support, and resources.  Most importantly, I want my campus to believe survivors.

In closing, I’d just like to say that I truly enjoyed this book.  It takes courage and strength to tell your story, stand up for what is right, and to fight institutionalized power.  I’m so proud of all of the survivors in this book and all survivors out there, because you are braver than most people in this world.  I believe you.

-Joel

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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