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From Strolling to Advising: How My Sorority Prepared Me for a Career in Student Affairs

Region II Graduate New Professional Undergraduate
November 16, 2020 Adrieanna Reyes Columbia University - Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science

Transferable skills – two words we hear put together all the time in our field… But what does it REALLY mean? If you break it down with the help of Merriam-Webster:

  • Transferable: to convey from one person, place, or situation to another (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/transferable)
  • Skill: the ability to use one's knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/skill)

So it’s pretty much using what you know in one circumstance and applying it to another. When it comes to student affairs, even if you think you’re coming in with no formal experience or “skills”– you haven’t thought of the transferable ones yet.

Like many other people, I had tons of different jobs and was always involved in a lot of extracurricular activities at school. From working with the Dallas Mavericks Foundation to being an assistant store manager for a skate/surf inspired retail store, I’ve always been able to take a skill away that I could brag about during interviews.

I think about the diversity of Dallas Mavericks fans I’ve talked to and encouraged to donate to their foundation. We had our favorite sports team in common and the passion to give back to the initiatives the team was involved in throughout the Dallas community. That’s not too different from the students I advise now. As an alumna of the university I work at, I share school pride with my students. We also have the same goal – to get my students to graduate and explore their interests along the way. Conversations may have shifted from basketball to engineering, but I’ve learned how to build rapport with different groups of people and provide insight into education and resources to achieve a mutual goal.

I also have to give a big credit to my sorority. I’ve been a proud sister of Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority, Inc. since 2015 and have seen many different sides to my organization. Being so involved with my sisterhood is what even inspired me to explore a career in student affairs. In my undergraduate chapter, I had a lot of responsibilities similar to my position now – creating events from beginning to end, budgeting for all chapter expenses, developing marketing for our social media, etc.

I would even argue that learning how to stroll and step is a transferable skill I can relate directly to my current position. Strolling and stepping have elements linked to performing and unity. I grew up on the stage, but I had never done anything like this. So, what did I learn from strolling and stepping? I learned how to be uncomfortable, but also persevere to achieve a common goal with my sisters. Does it sound like a student affairs project yet? When you’re starting off as a new professional, there are going to be times when you feel that way – uncomfortable, but needing to work as a team to accomplish a goal. When I first started interning in my office back in 2018, I was clueless. I was in a new city, university, and functional area. I had never worked with engineers before, and my humanities degree wasn’t something that necessarily translated to the classes my engineering students were taking. I had a learning curve – just like many other new professionals and just like when I was learning to stroll and step for the first time. Maybe this one isn’t a transferable skill you’d put on a resume, but it is a transferable mindset, which may be just as important.

The beauty of student affairs is that there is no straight path to this career. Student affairs professionals come from all walks of life, which means that they’re bringing something different to their students. Just like our student population, our field is diversifying, so we have to make sure that we’re using all of our past experiences in our current positions. Whether it was the wacky job you had when you were sixteen or a career you were in before making the switch to higher education, there’s always going to be a way to use those experiences and be successful. The same way we challenge our students to apply their interests and experiences from their childhood to the entirety of their college career, we need to challenge ourselves to do the same. At the end of the day, it’ll make us better professionals, and also offer even greater help to our students.