Jennifer Miles, VP for Student Affairs & Enrollment Management/Prof. of Educational Leadership, Mississippi University for Women
May 9, 2017
I’ve recently had several opportunities to present to students and aspiring student affairs professionals. The presentation topics have included building internal and external partnerships and establishing a professional image. As I prepared for these presentations, I’ve thought about my mentors, and how I’ve been influenced as a professional. I have reflected on what I’ve learned from the mentors I’ve been fortunate to have. I’ve also thought about how I’ve approached serving as a mentor.
I’ve had “official” mentors, where emerging professionals were matched with seasoned professionals through an organization. I’ve had “unofficial” mentors, who were professionals I admired and observed, trying to emulate them as I established myself as a professional. I’ve also served as a mentor, and done my best to support those seeking guidance and advice from me.
I’ve been thinking about the advice I’ve received over the years. I’ve received amazing guidance, and I still remember and try to incorporate that guidance in my work as a student affairs practitioner. I received some of this advice over twenty years ago, and it still resonates with me.
I’d like to share some of the wisdom of my mentors.
Always keep your promises to students. It sounds so simple, but it’s so important to remember. Every time we say we’re going to do something, someone hears that and expects us to keep our word. Following through on our words with actions helps establish us as professionals, and as individuals of character and integrity.
Never be too busy to help a student. We’re busy. Unbelievably busy. There are deadlines to meet. Meetings to attend. Proposals to draft. Reports to write. If it weren’t for students, however, we wouldn’t have a college or a university. If it weren’t for students, all of the teaching and learning around us would stop. Remembering that helps me as I prioritize and work through each day.
We’re all educators. It was impressed upon me early in my career that every single individual who works on a college or university campus, regardless of title, is an educator. We are all here to fulfill the mission of our institutions and to ensure that our students succeed, and that the institution succeeds. When interacting with all colleagues, I try to remind myself that we all serve as role models and we all represent our institutions. That representation exists both within, and outside, our campus communities.
Take a break. We enter this profession because we love it. We love students, and we are energized and inspired by teaching and learning. However, we need to take a moment (or several moments) for ourselves. I’ve had mentors tell me to take a day off or watch a funny TV show. I’ve also recommended to colleagues that they take time for themselves to do what they enjoy, whatever that is. As dedicated to our careers and to our students as we are, reminding ourselves what makes us our unique selves only makes us stronger, more effective professionals.
We all serve as mentors and mentees, even when we haven’t been formally placed in those roles. We listen to our colleagues for ideas about how to grow as professionals and how to prepare for the next steps in our careers. Our students and colleagues observe us and listen to us, including how we present information and how we present ourselves as professionals, and sometimes choose to incorporate those behaviors as they develop their own professional identities. I believe this is especially true at small colleges and universities. Many of us choose to work at small colleges and universities because of the countless opportunities we have to work with students in all aspects of our positions. All of those opportunities to interact with students, and for students to see us at work, are opportunities for us to serve as role models and as mentors.
I can’t imagine what the field of student affairs would look like without the commitment to mentoring. After over twenty years of working in higher education, I’m still amazed by the impact of everything we do and say. I’ve observed this in all of my positions throughout the years, including my years as a graduate assistant, a coordinator, an associate director, a director, an assistant professor, and as a vice president.
It’s important that we have a strong sense of identity as the professionals we are and can stand by our words and actions. In twenty years, someone may quote you back to you, or thank you for helping them. Make those moments count. And remember to thank those who have helped you.
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