During my second job search in higher education, I hoped to come back to Indianapolis, Indiana and work for my undergraduate institution, IUPUI. However, I expressed my desire to also diversify my career profile within my long-time mentor Tralicia Powell Lewis; she encouraged me to consider applying for jobs at the local community college, the Ivy Tech Community Colleges of Indiana. Ivy Tech also happens to be the largest two-year single system institution in the nation. Her thoughts were working for a community college would be differentiate my experiences, as well as enable me to work with a different student population. Most of my paraprofessional and professional experiences derived from Texas A&M University and North Park University, both traditional student and residential institutions. IUPUI, where I attended and was active in student involvement, was founded as a commuter campus who continues to grow as a traditional student, residential institution.
To be honest, I was hesitant about employment at a community college. At the time, I did not feel my skill-set was one that could be best utilized in this setting as I had never worked with non-traditional student populations. For instance, my interactions with veteran students were limited. I encountered older students who were attending college part-time due to their role as caregivers to their parents or raising children. Further, I definitely had not served many students who are working full-time jobs at 40 hours (or plus) a week. Nevertheless, I felt I was up for this new experience! I applied for two positions at Ivy Tech Indianapolis. In hindsight, I thank my mentor for her encouragement to try something new professional, as working within the community college system has been and continues to be very rewarding.
As a health and nursing academic advisor at Ivy Tech, I had to expand my student affairs toolkit to better serve students. I discovered a different set of practices I had to dig deeper than foundational student affairs theoretical approaches due to serving non-traditional student populations. Sometimes, it may have been as simple as figuring out how to calm a child down with crayons and paper while trying to advise their mother. More commonly, I had to explore different approaches to ‘meet my students where they are’. An important population I served regularly included international students. Especially regarding international men, I had to acknowledge the dynamics of the student and myself as an authority feature as it related to their culture. There is more to it than ‘being nice ’to all students, but applying a true understanding of the student’s perspective and their reaction to your service as the practitioner. The lessons and skills I gained from working in the role as academic advisor at Ivy Tech are endless. This is the reason why I believe not only master level students, but new professionals as well should consider working at community colleges as a means to #AddValue by diversifying their professional profile.
Why are community college important in higher education? I am so glad you asked! For starters, community college students immediately add to our workforce by entering vocational occupations via their Associate's degrees and certificates. These students go on to work in our communities, directly impacting our local and statewide economies TODAY. Yes, many community college degree earners may go on to earn the bachelors, but it is not the end plan. These students may have other aspirations, thus the student affairs practitioner has to work with the student to figure out how to best plan for them, not our own visions. However, as Assistant Director of the Passport Office: IUPUI & Ivy Tech Coordinated Programs, I encounter many students and their families who are starting to plan their higher education journey with community college in mind. Community college such as Ivy Tech offer lower tuition, smaller course ratios to instructors, flexible schedules, and mindfully crafted degree articulation agreements such as ‘2+2 programs’ which outline of course requirements at Ivy Tech and IUPUI. The Passport Office not only assist faculty at both IUPUI and Ivy Tech degree and course articulation agreements, but we provide pre-transfer academic advising services to ensure the student is guided from the 2-year institution to the 4-year institution. I own the prefect professional ‘marriage’ of working for my undergraduate institution and serving transfer students all to my first role as a health and nursing academic advisor at Ivy Tech.
Academic advising is not your cup of tea? Here are a few other roles to consider within the community college job search. My colleagues within student affairs at Ivy Tech are awesome in exploring different approaches to meet the programming needs of community college students. This role is a great challenge is for those who enjoy work with a great sense of creativity. Obviously, flexibility in the time of day is considered in community college students’ programming needs. However, the larger consideration is addressing the diverse topics and issues that best serve this population than the traditional student. Of course, there will be some traditional events like movie nights and basketball games, how homecoming would be different on a community college? What does alternative spring break look like within a college community service programming schedule? Which program design for ‘Weeks of Welcome’ greet the various profiles and schedules of your community college students (and their families)? Overall, I commend community college student life professionals think in, out, around and under the box to provide inclusive and relevant student programming. Also, advising student organizations within the community college setting will also have unique considerations to apply to one’s student affairs approach. Other roles such as admissions, student conduct, bursar, and assessment also exist in community college student services.
I highly encourage you to consider community college in your higher education career search, not as a backup or secondary option, but as a part of your primary search. There are many student needs at the community college. Yes, you can pursue a job in academic advising but also consider financial aid, student life, and learning communities (Veteran Affairs, TRIO, Honors, etc.). You can find opportunities now to work part-time teaching a first-year seminar course or complete an assistantship at your local community college. This will allow you to get your feet wet working within this student population and gain greater insight into the system. Many of the community college positions are not listed on higher education employment recruiting sites. Rather, the posting can always be found on their institutional websites. Overall, be open to seeking employment at your local community college, as it can be a great means to diversify your career portfolio and further expand your practice in higher education.
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Sharee L. Myricks is currently Assistant Director of the Passport Office: IUPUI & Ivy Tech Coordinated Programs. Sharee presently serves as Co-Chair for the NPGS KC. She loves jazz, being a Yelp Elite member, life as an active AKA Sorority, Inc. member, and exploring Indy. Sharee can be reached on LinkedIn at shareelmyricks.