Finding My Place: A Reflection of Finding My Way To and Through Grad School

naspa graduate associate program gap

Luz Rodriguez

May 1, 2019

As I reflect back on my undergraduate career and my first year of graduate school, I can’t help but think how fast time goes by. Way faster than I ever imagined! I think it’s important to know however that no matter how fast time goes by, you can achieve your goals if you are intentional about them.  Something that has been important to me in my journey to become a student affairs professional, is my ability to understand and establish what kind of skills I want to gain as well as what my strengths and weaknesses are. I have also realized that speaking about the skills I want to gain with my supervisors and the professionals around me helps me continue professionally developing.Looking back at my undergraduate career, my degree in sociology gave me a foundational understanding of the systems that function within American society, including education. I learned about topics such as systemic racism and inequalities that have given me a larger context of how higher education and the work of student affairs reflects our society today. Having this understanding has given me the tools to succeed in my program.

When I discovered I wanted to become a student affairs professional because of my past experiences, I figured out how to be intentional about the experiences that I wanted to gain in my senior year of college and throughout my undergraduate program. Even before I entered grad school, I began to lay the foundation that would lead me into a graduate program with a better sense of what I was capable of and areas within higher education that I would enjoy. The summer before my senior year I applied to be the coordinator for First Connection, a pre-orientation program that focuses on supporting minority students during their transition from high school to college. Through these experiences, I was able to acquire the following skills:  managing a budget, training student leaders and facilitating a diversity training workshop.

Going into my graduate program, I wanted to expand on the experience I had as the First Connection Coordinator, as well as continue my goal of having different experiences. Since most graduate programs are 2 years, you really have to plan out what kind of experiences you want to gain to shape you into the best new professional you can be. To begin with, I knew I wanted to be challenged and find opportunities that would help me push myself beyond my limits.I knew I wanted to gain advising experience and I wanted to practice my public speaking and facilitating skills.  Therefore, I spoke to my supervisor and she gave me the opportunity to advise a student organization on campus. In order to utilize and practice my public speaking and facilitation skills, my supervisor had me present and design my own workshop geared toward developing student leaders. I also had decided that I wanted to gain become more familiar with  orientation and the first year experience. I went through the NODA process which I learned about through one of my coworkers. 

For those of you who are about to enter graduate school, are considering graduate school, or if you are already in a program and want to find more direction on what will be the area that works best for you, here are some of my tips on becoming intentional about your choices:

  1. Take a look at the list of professional competencies established by NASPA and ACPA.
  2. Write down a list of your strengths
  3. Write a list of your weaknesses
  4. Write a list of skills you want to gain
  5. Seek out opportunities that can give you the skills you want to gain
  6. Share this with your mentors! They can provide feedback and even share opportunities that can help you achieve your goals.

Although I am unsure of the functional area I want to work in after I graduate, I am working toward diversifying my experiences based on the competency skills and the student populations I am passionate about. I am optimistic about the time I still have in graduate school because this summer, I will be the NODA Intern for Orientation at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and I cannot wait for the adventure that awaits with this new opportunity!

Luz Rodriguez is a first year graduate student in the Higher Education and Student Affairs program at Northern Illinois University. Currently she is serving as the Graduate Assistant for Student Organization Services at the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership Development, she is also a part of the GAP program and a member of the newly reestablished student led organization at NIU, LEGA-C (Latinx Engaging in Graduate Academics Community).  Her interests in student affairs include new student orientation and advocating for marginalized students. 

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