by Patty Hambler
For all of the New Professionals attending CACUSS NPI… and their colleagues, mentors and supervisors
Reflecting on what it means to be a Student Affairs Professional
While working on the CACUSS Competencies project, I had the opportunity to have some great conversations with folks about our work in Student Affairs – what we love, how we learn, why we do what we do. That conversation about how you ‘ended up’ in Student Affairs: did you ‘grow up’ in residence, graduate from university and into your first entry level position? Did you enter from another field – perhaps completing teacher training or a B.Ed., and then find yourself either coming back to or finding out about this wonderful line of work? We all know that ‘Student Affairs Officer’ wasn’t on any career list in high school! It’s interesting, no matter the path, some of the things that emerged as common across these conversations: the passion for learning and being an educator, the desire to make an impact on others’ lives, the strongly held values of social justice, and the belief that what we do matters.
I remember when I worked in Residence Life, I loved key parts of my job: I loved developing and delivering training for the residence advisors, I loved working with dedicated and competent people who cared about their work, and I loved the opportunity to contribute to building community and to positively impact students’ lives. What I didn’t realize at that time was that I loved those core parts that make me a Student Affairs Professional. I didn’t think of myself as a Student Affairs Professional at the time – partly because my frame of reference didn’t allow for this, partly because of the division that sometimes exists between Res Life and the rest of Student Affairs.
Once I left Residence Life to explore other areas of Student Affairs, I soon realized that my ‘job’ wasn’t just a ‘job’. I had a full-fledged career! Everything I learned in those eight years could be applied to new contexts: developing a peer programs network, expanding our campus approach to health education and health promotion and contributing to the leadership development programs on the broader campus (orientations, student clubs, etc.). Once I accepted my new identity as a Student Affairs Professional, I embraced it! This thing that no one had thought to mention to me when I was a high school student who wanted to be a child psychologist and a university student who wanted to be a high school teacher, had become part of my identity and would form my future.
In my current role, I am learning more every day about what it means to be in this profession: the passion and values that drive our work, the love we share for contributing to student learning and growth, and the skills required to do the job well. Whether we are counsellors, doctors, senior leaders, administrators, orientation coordinators, accessibility advisors, career educators, campus life animators, communications experts, community learning facilitators, residence life professionals, case managers, conduct officers, academic or financial advisors, health educators, or any other number of other roles, I do believe we hold core aspects of our work in common.
To all of the new professionals, whether attending NPI next week or not, welcome to an amazing career! Whatever brought you to this point in your journey, you are in for an amazing ride! Take the time to get to know others you meet at NPI and others across your broader portfolio back at home. Your specific role at your institution can only be strengthened by learning from others, even those who don’t share the exact role or portfolio as you. Take risks to join or seek out working groups and committees that allow you to explore your interests and passions and develop your skills. You never know what might lie ahead of your current role in terms of opportunities.
To all of the colleagues, mentors and supervisors, take the time to reach out to your new colleagues. If someone new asks you to go for coffee, do you what you can to make the time. Invite the ‘unusual suspects’ to join your working group… not just those in your immediate network. The more we can cross-pollinate in our work, the more we can network with one another, learn from one another, get to know each other’s work and support each other.