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Influencing Change and Community as a New Professional - My Pro Tip: Create Your Own Platform

New Professionals and Graduate Students New Professional
January 26, 2021 Marissa Stephani

As a new professional, I know that I am not alone in feeling boatloads of inspiration, but often questioning, just how to harness that energy to create positive change from an entry level role. When my campus shifted to 100% remote learning, I couldn’t help but ask myself, what was I going to do to support my students? What would I say that I did to make a difference during the global pandemic? I found myself waiting for someone else with a ‘higher’ title to put forth the initiatives. The quote, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” started to ring in my head and I realized my waiting was just pesky imposter syndrome clouding my judgement. I wanted to further my institution's adoption of technology to support students and realized that despite my own self-limiting beliefs, I already had everything that I needed to inspire change. 

When I realized that I could create my own platform using the multiple forms of available technology at my fingertips, I did. I didn’t need to reserve a lecture hall or ask permission. I could just start making moves. I began by leveraging my confidence, knowledge, and digital meeting tools to build a webinar series, “FIT LINK FRIDAYS: Supporting Students During Covid 19.”  Through live-demonstrations I showcased the strategies that campus partners could utilize to promote their resources to students through FIT LINK (Anthology, Campus Labs Engage). My department was incredibly supportive of my play on alliteration and overall initiative.  My supervisors helped share the series upwards and across the institution. I remember feeling so incredibly nervous reading their emails forwarding further and further. I was so anxious. I was stressing that no one would show and was shocked when there were over 20 participants across the student affairs and academic affairs divisions at my first webinar. Just by creating the space for it, I had formed a group of professionals who were dedicated to developing strategies for using technology to connect with students remotely. When I originally started working with our online engage platform, we had under 300 annual users and today have hit over 8000. I found my virtual voice and leaned into it to create my own platform for positive change. 

 I continued to leverage my virtual voice and love for alliterations and puns to create space for connections amongst my own team.  As student affairs professionals, we constantly foster community for our students. We too as humans have been adjusting to the isolation and challenges of remote education. I am at heart a relationship builder, includer, and empath. Which to say the least, has made it challenging to virtually fill my interpersonal bucket.  I came up with another idea - “I-miss-you-a-latte-coffee-and-conversations” and shared it with my supervisors.  After a few designs in canva and virtual invitations later, my coffee and conversations series was launched. I used my institution's provided webex room to create bi-monthly space for my department’s team of 9 professionals to virtually gather and touch base on a humanistic level. I wasn’t sure it would be well received and was hesitant to add yet another dreaded zoom meeting to the calendar, but my team showed up eager, with giant smiles, and cups of coffee. It filled my spirit to connect to my team again as people and have our what-would-have-been-chats-around-the-water-cooler-in-our-makeshift-office-kitchen right through our computer screens.

I am so grateful to fulfilled my first full time professional role in Higher Education at an institution that has not only nurtured my new ideas and initiatives, but supported me as a new professional leading campus change and developing community.  I share this to say, to my fellow new professionals out there, you don’t need to have a fancy title to lead or initiate change. You don’t need to be at your next professional role. You don’t need to be in command or control of campus wide initiatives. You just need to be you and use your voice. You can design space for what you want to see, with what you have, as who you already are. After all, if you don’t do it, who will? 

Author: Marissa Stephani serves as a Program Coordinator of the Department of Student Life at the Fashion Institute of Technology.  Marissa is an active member of NASPA Region II and is a newly appointed NASPA NPGS KC Member at Large.  Marissa is a certified Gallup Strengths Coach and is passionate about helping college students identify and cultivate their strengths to achieve their personal, academic and professional life goals. Marissa enjoys all things yoga, photography, and the outdoors. You can find Marissa at www.linkedin.com/in/marissastephani and @MarissaStephani on Twitter.