March 19, 2018
I’m a new student affairs professional who was so eager to enter this field that I hoped to attend graduate school for a student affairs program starting during my sophomore year at Appalachian State University. Several student affairs professionals (Shout out to my NUFP Mentors!) encouraged and mentored me to end up in the Student Affairs and Higher Education program at Missouri State University. They provided me with many professional development opportunities and I enthusiastically soaked it all up. They coached me through the graduate school application process and provided me with a plethora of advice about the field. I am so grateful for their help in my development into the professional, and person, I am today.
However, the opportunities I was provided with aren’t always handed out. Don’t get me wrong; I am grateful for the learning and growth that each opportunity presented, but the thought that my experience wouldn’t necessarily be replicated in graduate school never crossed my mind until recently. I also believed that the folks in my cohort were arriving with similar, or better, experiences than I had. I quickly became aware that my assumptions weren’t true. I realize now that my undergraduate experience privileged me with professional development opportunities, such as attending conferences and serving as a student representative on search committees. It would be fantastic to offer every person interested in student affairs the opportunities I had, it is not always possible due to constraints in resources.
Now that I am in graduate school, I don’t have as much time (a constrained resource for sure) to devote to opportunities outside of my academics and assistantship without compromising my responsibilities to each. I felt like I wasn’t being exposed to as much about student affairs in graduate school as I expected, so something needed to change. Every chance to volunteer is one I take so as to expand my learning and make the most of my experience at Missouri State University. What I learn in my classes and my assistantship leaves me with many questions about our profession. In undergrad, I had my mentors to go to with my curiosity and they would usually satisfy my need for an answer. Unfortunately, what this did not teach me is how to search beyond my immediate professional network for learning opportunities.
I was so excited to be a graduate student that I didn’t reflect on how I would take advantage of the opportunities at my institution and through professional organizations. I really thought I had this whole professional development thing figured out because of my undergraduate experiences. Thank goodness I am required to do two practicum experiences in my program because I otherwise would not have reached out to other departments and professionals on my campus. It was difficult for me to grasp that my supervisors and class readings didn’t have all the answers I was hoping for, but that I actually needed to actively seek them from others on campus.
Through my first practicum, I connected with the #SApros in our Office of Multicultural Programs, which led to connections in our International Programs office, which led to me volunteering to help our New Student and Family Programs office, which led to even more chances to meet faculty and staff across campus. This is a good never-ending cycle of volunteering and building relationships across campus for me to be in. I would have never initiated immersing myself into the campus had I not been required to complete two practicums. Now I look forward to helping offices across campus with large events they plan, such as volunteering with Admissions to host our Inclusive Excellence Scholarship applicants. Each opportunity is my time to seek the answers I thought would get handed to me by my textbooks and supervisors.
As prospective graduate students contemplate where they would like to continue their education, I would like to offer some advice. You won’t do all of your learning about student affairs in the classroom. It definitely won’t happen in your full time position, or a part-time assistantship. Don’t rely on one or a few people for all the answers. Pay attention to what’s happening on campus so you can volunteer with various events, like prospective student recruitment days or visiting speakers. Academic or student affairs offices across campus will appreciate the help, and you’ll gain answers to questions you didn’t even know you had.
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Millicent Bean (she/her/hers) is a graduate student at Missouri State University in the Student Affairs and Higher Education program. Her assistantship is in Residence Life, Housing and Dining Services. She was a NASPA Undergraduate Fellow. Tweet at her! @totesawkazn
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