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Reflections from a First-Year SA Pro

New Professionals and Graduate Students
January 25, 2024 Mary Ann Jimenez

On January 1, 2023, I began my first “big girl” job in graduate school, marking the beginning of my student affairs career. The year 2023 presented me with not only one but TWO jobs as I moved to a new city post-graduation from my master’s program. The first job (or two) as a new professional can be exciting, daunting, confusing, and overwhelming. As I reflect and celebrate completing my first year as a new professional, I would be remiss to not share all I have learned with my fellow new (or soon-to-be new) professional colleagues.

In my first year as a professional, I focused on three goals that improved my well-being, serenity, and stability. Whether you are a recent graduate or 3-5 years into your career, here are three goal ideas for your professional adventure. For context, I use the 8 Dimensions of Wellness (UM Wellness, n.d.) to assess and form goals each year.

Create a financial plan that meets your goals.
As I began my professional career in January 2023, I experienced having a salary and making significantly more money than I did in my hourly jobs for the first time. The reality is that I was unprepared to handle having a consistent paycheck. Furthermore, I am vulnerable to share that I began my career with student loans, credit card debt, and less-than-ideal savings. As we all currently experience a tough economy, I found it necessary to prioritize financial wellness. I created a monthly budget with a debt repayment plan that I regularly review and adjust. I continually seek information to better understand my finances and make sound decisions for investment and retirement. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, and I was also the first person to make a salary at an early age. Navigating my finances has been one of the most stressful challenges I have encountered, but I have found more security and reassurance in my future. I encourage new professionals to create a financial plan and accountability system. For me, I am fortunate to have a partner who holds me accountable for my financial goals and supports me as I reduce debt through periodic check-ins.
Build a community that supports, challenges, and inspires you.
Shortly after graduating from my master’s program, I did what many new graduates do and moved to a new city to begin a new professional journey. For the first time in 18 years, I was no longer a student benefitting from having a built-in community that shared similar timelines and stories as mine. This new transition period can be isolating, and it is important to create a new community that supports, challenges, and motivates you. As a reserved person, I constantly had to push myself outside my comfort zone during this period. I introduced myself to strangers, intentionally held space to connect with colleagues across the institution, and challenged myself to try new things. I used Bumble BFF, joined book clubs, became an active member of the Junior League of Memphis, and participated in alumni events to find connections and friendships post-graduation. As I still adjust to a new city, I have slowly built a community that fills my cup. I am grateful to have found community in my colleagues, friends, and cats who support me every day.
Develop a professional identity that aligns with your priorities and values.
The benefit of experiencing two vastly different work environments within my first year was that I identified the parts of each functional area and work environment that I enjoyed and valued. During my first year, I learned my needs as a new professional and have felt more prepared to advocate for myself. I have learned the strengths I contribute to the team while recognizing areas of growth. Most importantly, I have learned to respect my boundaries as a person and professional while still believing I am a quality practitioner despite upholding my boundaries. I urge you to reflect on your identity as a student affairs professional. What have you learned about yourself in your work experience? What support do you need from a supervisor? How do you show up for your colleagues and students? What work-life harmony do you envision? What do you need to be happy at work?

As I move into my second year as an SA pro, I can say that I am proud of the personal and professional growth I accomplished in 2023. Here is 2024!


UM Wellness. (n.d.). 8 Dimensions of Wellness. University of Michigan. https://umwellness.wordpress.com/8-dimensions-of-wellness/