Many Assistant Vice Presidents have heard the common adage “You’ll need to move around in order to move up in the field.” In my experience, this adage could not be truer. As I enter my 20th year in the student affairs profession, I have lived in five states: Florida, Virginia, Iowa, Illinois, and currently Ohio. I’m originally from Homestead, FL (25 minutes South of Miami; made famous by Hurricane Andrew in 1992) and had you told me 20 years ago that I would’ve moved around as much for my career, I would’ve laughed out loudly.
My travels began when I enrolled in the master’s program in higher education and student affairs at Florida State University (FSU) in 1999, I was one of two Latinx-identified students in my cohort (this will continue to be a theme throughout my student affairs experience). I loved my experience in the FSU HESA graduate program and when I graduated in 2001, I took a position in Diversity Programs and Services at George Mason University (GMU) in Fairfax, Virginia. As a first-generation college student, this was HUGE for me as I had never lived outside of Florida and was leaving behind all my family and close friends. I had a great experience at GMU and was there a few years until I was encouraged to apply to doctoral programs. After being accepted by two programs, I chose to attend Iowa State University. Again, I was the only Latinx-identified doctoral student. Although there were times in which I experienced imposter syndrome, I was validated by my cohort and faculty. After graduation, I had the privilege of accepting a role as Director of Multicultural Affairs at my alma mater, FSU. Yet again, I was the only Latinx-identified director within the Division of Student Affairs, which included my peer directors and senior level administrators.
After FSU, I accepted my first Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs role at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) in Chicago. At NEIU I was part of a five-member senior leadership team consisting of all men, three of which were men of color. It was also at NEIU where I also began experiencing an additional adage colleagues shared: “As you move up in the profession, it will be lonely at the top.” I learned quickly to call upon mentors and external colleagues to bounce ideas and thoughts, of which I was grateful. This adage has continued at my current institution, the University of Cincinnati where I serve as the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students; I am the only Latinx, male, gay senior level administrator on the student affairs leadership team and our division. I moved to Cincinnati not knowing anyone; my partner lives out of state, and as such, we are committed to seeing each other once a month. A majority of the time I have lunch solo (of which I do not mind as I use the time to reenergize) and I continue to call upon mentors, colleagues, and friends to reflect on how I can continue to serve my students best.
As AVPs, we sometimes take a variety of routes in order to move up in our field. Although this may not be applicable to all, it has been my experience and I encourage others to embrace these moves. My personal philosophy is ‘No Regrets’ and every opportunity and space I have had the privilege to work and live in has provided me a wealth of experiences and knowledge that I have greatly benefited from. Take that chance and step out of your comfort zone. You may be the only one but you are there for a purpose and such opportunities are life changing, personally and professionally.
Juan R. Guardia, Ph.D. | AVP for Student Affairs and Dean of Students | University of Cincinnati
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