As a college first year, back in the dark ages when phones were attached to the walls and we still used trays in the cafeteria, I found my calling in student affairs. Many of us have that first SA job that was the centerpiece of our collegiate experience. For me, it was student government. I started out as a modest first year floor representative, and won a heated (hardly) election at our first floor meeting during orientation. (There were no speeches or campaign posters, thank goodness!)
I attended meetings and learned Robert’s Rules and just tried to be the best little “freshman rep” I could be. I am sure that our adviser the Dean of Students, Dr. Carver, was present at all our meetings, but I was far more concerned with not embarrassing myself in front of the older students who seemed to know what they were doing (I later learned they were faking it too), and through my years in college worked my way up to become the president of student government my senior year. They gave me a gavel with my name on it and everything.
As I grew into the role, I became very close to our Dean, and learned at the feet of the president before me, whose personal style was very different from my own. As president, I helped update our constitution, represented students at trustee meetings I didn’t even know existed, and purposefully learned every word of the alma mater and school hymn because I was forever seated next to our college president at campus events and she knew the words. I discovered ways to serve my beloved institution, and I sure learned a great deal about myself. Along the way, I fell in love with working on a college campus, and the rest is history.
Flash forward to my job today as VPSA. On my campus the VPSA is the adviser for our student government, and it is one of my very favorite parts of my job. I get the privilege of meeting weekly with our student government president and of being quiet at the back of their meetings, piping in as little as I possibly can (Anyone who has spent 15 minutes with me cannot imagine me staying silent, but it happens, I promise!). As we all know, now they do business via all methods of communication, wrestle with a whole host of student issues that I could not have dreamed of during my years in college, and serve the university they love. I have a front-row seat for their passionate discussions and successes, and serve as witness when they learn from their challenges.
Some things stay the same: Robert’s Rules still gets confusing, trustee meetings are still intimidating, the alma mater still must be learned. It is my job to order the new president their own personalized gavel. I love watching them grin when they use it the first time after being sworn in. As we begin another academic year, I am grateful to get to watch these students growing into their roles, and grateful for those who helped me find this profession I love.
Dr. Carrie Lovelace Petr is the Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students at Doane University in Crete Nebraska. She is delighted to serve as the liaison for the Small College and Universities division for Region IV-W.