What IS Behind the Curtain?

In Time to let them see behind the curtain. Are we overselling a career in Student Affairs?, Tim St. John asked “What was your path to Student Affairs like?  Were you prepared for your work?  Any surprises?  Share your story.”

One of the concepts beaten into highly promoted in my Advanced Student Affairs Theory course was storytelling–our story informs who we are. So, when I went to answer Tim’s questions, I knew it would warrant more than just a comment.

My path was a little different from most. I discovered that Student Affairs was something I could actually do for a living about 6 months before graduation–before that, I just thought the staff I worked with on RHA and in the Campus Center just happened to fall into a pretty cool job. I didn’t have time to experience any kind of mentoring, let alone the deep mentoring Tim was able to experience. Once, as part of the Gay/Straight Alliance, the e-board was invited to meet with the Board of Trustees as part of a bid by the Campus Center & Student Activities to get more support–the biggest groups were given half hour meetings to discuss what we were doing with our money & how we benefited the school. This was probably the coolest thing I did as an undergrad, and gave me a little insight into how things work.

Higher Education is not all parties and icebreakers (for the record, I loathe icebreakers, and ‘woo’ is as far outside of my vocabulary as a word can get when one understands the meaning of a word). It’s not even all advising and mentoring students. For 5 years, I worked in benefits at Brandeis–I’m not sure I could have had less student contact, but everything we did was driven by student needs in staffing and faculty. Today, I work in Registration, and can safely say that I am the only person I know in this functional area (other than my counterparts and colleagues in other BU schools); even my Twitter feed is empty of other Registration people (as far as I know). Obviously people are finding their way into this area, but how?

Honestly, I’m happy I found this position as it’s MUCH more in line with my strengths and personality than a job in, say, Student Activities or Res Life would have been. But I can also honestly say I would not have thought this was “Student Affairs-y enough” if I hadn’t finished my MS in 2011 when the job market was so terrible. I’d like a little more student contact sometimes, but I get plenty, and most interactions allow me to put my education to work, actually helping students matriculate and proceed to graduation.

Student Affairs is a lot bigger than Res Life, Orientation and Student Activities, and future SAPros don’t often get to see these ‘hidden’ areas and duties until they are well-invested in the field with a master’s degree and suddenly tasked with creating a budget; or sitting in committee meetings for 3 days a week; or find that working in Orientation as a summer intern is way different than doing it 40 hours/week for 50 weeks a year.

How can we teach these skills to future SAPros? Should we? Do SAPros need a Masters in the field, or is there room for other educations levels/types?