Kassey Steele, Tulsa Community College
February 6, 2018
“Have you thought about working at a community college?” This question stuck in my mind for months during my post-graduate school job search. I had never thought about working at a community college, my immediate response to him was, “do they really even have student activities there?" I look back on that conversation now and laugh at how naïve I was. I also think of that question on the first day of classes every year when I’m reminded of the great work the local community college does.
The first day of classes is always my favorite day of the semester. The eager students and “buzz” around campus is the best feeling. My institution's first day typically looks like this: Inspirational quotes and encouragement is written on the sidewalk to welcome new students, our diversity in inclusion office hands out buttons that state “Our Institution Welcomes All,” and this recent first day of classes three family members stood cheering on the sidewalks with signs that read “WAY TO GO, WE ARE PROUD OF YOU, YOU CAN DO IT NATE”. It’s the first day that I’m most reminded why I love working at a community college. Below are some highlights of my experience over the past 3.5 years.
A Snap shot of our students
My two favorite students are Ruthie and Wayne; they take one class together each semester, use the fitness center each day and attend most of our programming in Student Life. My heart swoons when they ask for assistance with their online portal or need advice on which tutor is best for their algebra class. Our average age student is 27 and many students we serve are first-generation, just like me. There is something special about a mother coming to school for the first time in 30 years, or working with concurrently enrolled high school students as they learn about their passions, getting students involved in leadership development as they feel more of a “fit” at our institution and assisting our international students with a more affordable education before transferring. The diversity is rich and it brings me joy to advocate for our students.
Wide-Array of Experiences
My job title is the Director of Student Life. What does that mean? Student Union Director, formerly, New Student Orientation Director, “third in command” on my campus, supervisor of the supervisor of the Fitness Center, student organization coordinator, supervisor of 6 full-time employees and 4 part-time staff members. These a few of my duties. In addition, most committees I serve on are college-wide and involve academic affairs. The learning curve was very steep the first two years of this position. However, not only has this made me a better supervisor, it has allowed me the opportunity to engage in most facets of higher education–academic and student affairs.
Intentional Programming Develops Creativity
Although some community colleges have residence halls, most do not. That “captive audience” of students who live on campus does not exist. At first, this seemed like a disadvantage and for the few first months, I would sulk when few students came to our events. Then, I dusted off my student development theory books and we went “to the students”. Our team is very creative and student-centered. If we are not creative and students do not see the value or incentive to attend programs, they will not come. It truly sharpens you as a professional and makes you understand what it truly means to be student-focused.
The Culture at a Community College
My philosophy in life is that a job title I hold, a meeting I attend, a book I write, etc. will NEVER be my greatest success in life. My greatest success(s) in life will be my investment in someone, not something. Working at a community college allows me this opportunity. Most of our programming fits our students’ schedules; therefore, many of our programs happen during the lunch hour, early afternoon between class breaks and during class times. This allows me to have more time to spend with family, to attend events in support of my mentees and be involved in community organizations.
Community College’s Need YOU!
I encourage you to study the work of community colleges. You may learn a thing or two about initiatives we are leading for example. FREE COLLEGE–We just hit our 10th anniversary of FREE COLLEGE for Tulsa County Residents. Also, know that community colleges need professionals like you, we just need professionals who believe in the power of higher education!
As you search for that “perfect” first job out of graduate school or maybe you are ready for your next career move–“Have you thought about working at a community college?”.
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