Reflections on the SCU Division’s Inaugural Early Career Development Institute

naspa groups & divisions small colleges and universities division

Augustine “Gus” DeBacco and Dr. Cory Owen

September 14, 2018

By Gus DeBacco and Dr. Cory Owen

The Small Colleges and Universities (SCU) Division proudly launched a new signature initiative during the 2017-2018 academic year, the Early Career Development Institute (ECDI). The ECDI was designed to provide new, full-time professionals in their first three years in the field an opportunity to connect with peers and senior staff members at SCUs and to explore specific competencies essential for practitioners.

During the first half of 2018 the initiative boasted 19 new professional participants who were coached by more seasoned or senior-level administrators. In addition, ECDI participants experienced six online professional development sessions each month as follows:

·      January 2018: “The Small School Experience as a Professional” presented by Laura DeVeau, Mount Ida College

·      February 2018: “Supervision—Up, Down, and Across” presented by Carrie Petr, Doane University

·      March 2018: “Recruitment, Retention, and Persistence” presented by Jesse Grant from Bemidji State University

·      April 2018: “Social Justice and Inclusion Work at Small Colleges and Universities” presented by Anna Gonzalez, Lewis and Clark College

·      May 2018: “Navigating Institutional Politics” presented by Joel Pérez, Whittier College

·      June 2018: “Utilizing Organizational and Human Resources” presented by Byron McCrae, Davidson College

Augustine “Gus” DeBacco, Area Hall Director at North Central College, was coached by Dr. Cory Owen, Assistant Dean of International Advisement & Diversity Initiatives, at The Juilliard School. They were eager to discuss their experiences with the ECDI initiative.

●     Why did you pursue the ECDI as a mentor/mentee?

○     Gus: I pursued this program because I was encouraged to apply by my Vice President of Student Affairs. She had heard about the program, and thought it would be a beneficial and unique opportunity. I decided to apply for the program, because the I liked the idea of networking with other early career professionals, and by having a mentor that didn’t work at my current institution. 

○     Cory:  I never had a formal mentor when I first joined the field and I feel that I could’ve really benefited from a program like this.  It has been such a great experience to learn more about each other and I’m so grateful that I had such a great mentee!

●     What has been the most valuable part of the experience for you?

○     Gus: I most valued the opportunity to meet and work with Cory. I could not have hand picked a better mentor. It was nice having a person who did not work at my college being my mentor. I felt like I was able to ask questions and discuss certain topics that I wouldn’t have normally felt comfortable talking about if my mentor was from my institution. This allowed Cory and I to have real genuine and honest conversations. 

○     Cory:  I’ve really enjoyed how our conversations have not be structured and we’ve been able to see what is on our minds for the month.  Gus and I have been able to share our experiences working in small schools and it has been great to chat about the unique experiences we have compared to our colleagues in larger institutions.

●     Has a particular conversation topic or piece of advice really impacted you? Please share.

○     Gus: The first thing that Cory pushed for me to do was to get involved and network, both at my current institution and at other conferences. Because of this, I have joined more committees and am more involved on my campus. Additionally, I have also attended multiple conferences/networking events in my area. I have been provided far more opportunities due to Cory’s guidance.  

○     Cory:  We had a great conversation about understanding the different career paths in Student Affairs.  I came into Student Affairs a bit later in my career so it was an amazing opportunity for us to talk about all the different hats possible and how to strategically discover different avenues.  I think that’s what makes working in a small school such a rich experience--you’re able to explore so many different aspects of student engagement and determine what the best fit is for your skill set.

●     Given that the ECDI is designed to help new professionals develop in the professional competencies, what insights can you offer based on your experience so far?

○     Gus: I think the thing I am really walking away from this experience is a sense of confidence. Confidence in my own abilities moving forward. I feel better prepared to continue in the Higher Education field, have a firmer grasp on different avenues I can take, and have a stronger knowledge about working at smaller institutions. 

○     Cory:  As a mentor, it was such a great experience hearing things from a new lens.  It helps reinvigorate you and it is such a gratifying experience to chat with someone who has an entire career ahead of them. If you’re on the fence about participating, I recommend thinking back to when you first started in the field and what you would’ve benefitted from and use that as motivation to give back to the field.

●     As small college and university professionals, what are the benefits of a mentoring relationship between individuals who work at these types of institutions?

○     Gus: As an RA and a grad, I only worked a large institutions. Transitioning to a smaller institution comes with its own set of benefits and challenges that I never would have expected. Having a mentor that could help me process and dissect these changes has made me feel more prepared and secure in my current position. This mentorship has allowed me the chance to reflect with an impartial voice, and I feel better prepared because of it. 

○     Cory:  I think mentoring relationships like this are so critical because in small institutions, we often don’t have large teams to bounce ideas off of or we don’t always have a safe place to vent about typical work frustrations.  By having someone outside of your institution who understands the joys and difficulties of working in a small school, it really allows for both people to grow.

●     What advice do you have for the next generation of ECDI mentors and mentees?

○     Gus: For mentees, I would suggest taking some time reflecting on what you want to get out of this experience before your first mentor meeting. If you are looking for something in particular, do not be afraid to ask for it. This will help your mentor create material and to help guide the conversation. Additionally, do not be afraid to hold your mentor/yourself accountable. If you or your mentor are unable to meet one week, be sure to reschedule, don’t just cancel the meeting. Lastly, follow through on your mentor’s suggestions. If your mentor encourages you to complete a task, be sure that task is completed before your next meeting. You will get out of this program what you put into it.

○     Cory:  Figure out what works for the two of you.  We were lucky because neither of us enjoy working in a very structured environment so we never went into our calls with a specific agenda in mind, but rather allowed the conversation to meander based on what was going on in our institutions or in the world.  This really allowed us to explore so many different topics over the year and was incredibly fruitful.  However, I know that others thrive in more structured settings, so do what feels right for you!

Hopefully the positive experiences highlighted by Cory and Gus have inspired you to get involved! You can learn more about the SCU Division’s Early Career Development Institute by clicking here. The application deadline is for the 2019 cohort will be announced soon.

Augustine “Gus” DeBacco has served as an Area Hall Director at North Central College in Naperville, IL since 2016.  Dr. Cory Owen serves as the Assistant Dean of International Advisement & Diversity Initiatives at The Juilliard School in New York City and has been there since 2013. 

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