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Return to Campus: How one Student Affairs Pro returned to work, transferred her SAHP skills, and found what worked for her

Interview with Susie Becker, Stay-at-Home Parent now Residential Life Area Coordinator who returned to work for her former campus after six years being home.

I recently returned to work on a university campus after being home with my twin daughters and son for two and half years. As I prepared for my first day, I reached out to one of my own graduate school cohort members Susie Becker. I’ve reached out to her before when I first became a stay-at-home parent. She too had worked in student affairs, then became a stay-at-home parent. She is now the Area Coordinator in Residence Life at Seattle Pacific University. We both think about life experiences in similar ways. When she returned to work last year, I knew I wanted to interview her one day. With myself returning to work, I decided now was the time. This past week, she took sometime to reflect on her experience of returning to campus after being home with her children. They are now six and three. She was able to be home for six years and work last two of those six at home.

In my questions to her, I was looking for that reassurance that I wasn’t the only one who had a career in student affairs, decided to stay home with their kids, and then return to work when I was ready. That even though I feared what others would think of me since they had moved further along in their careers, she let me know there was no reason to worry. Everything works out. Her responses assured me and I know other stay-at-home parents would agree that our time at home brings new knowledge and skill sets. That where we arrive next is where we are meant to be. And the best way to tackle the lunch fiasco with three kids is on Sunday, aim to pre-pack all the fruit and veg for the week.

CafeVic: Susie, so great to hear from you. My first question for you is how did you know you were ready to return to work or did an opportunity come to you? 
Susie Becker: I didn’t really make the choice to stay home. It was a financial decision. Childcare costs are very high in our area. I would say that I was always ready to return to work, but the right position had not come along yet. When the area coordinator position came along it was a perfect fit for my skills and interests.

CV: You returned to the university you worked at before you stayed home. What was that like and how had it changed? And then, how had you changed?
I was very excited to return to work at SPU. I had already worked in residence life there and the area coordinator position had recently been created, so I was excited for the opportunity for a new challenge, but at an institution that I already knew and loved. It was the perfect opportunity to take the next step up in my career after being out of the field from several years.

I would say that missing out on opportunities to advance my career weighed heavily on my mind during the years I was working in the home. I feared that it would be nearly impossible to get back into the field, so I feel extremely blessed that this opportunity presented itself.

Having worked at SPU off and on for the last 15 years, in someways many things had changed, but a lot had stayed the same. Most of the people from within my department had changed, not only just different people, but I was all of a sudden the oldest person in my department! Many people from other departments were almost the same. That was nice when entering back in and settling back into working relationships with those folks. It was nice to know who to call when something needed fixing or if you wanted to do a program with someone you had already worked with previously, it just made the transition back a little smoother. It also made my learning curve a little less steep.

Student culture had shifted, but for the most part a lot was the same. Relating with students was a little different then before. Think about how Facebook has changed in the last 7 years. 7 years ago Facebook had just replaced Myspace as the social media site. Now Facebook has gone through several changes and is competing with other sites for students attention. All of these sites do practically the same thing, but how it is delivered is always changing.

CV: What lessons do you take with you from being a stay-at-home parent?
SB: Becoming a stay-at-home parent changed how I think about the experiences in my life, a much more multifaceted approach. I’m a little less worried about controlling all of the details of a project. Think about when you are cooking or crafting with your kids. It’s about that experience and not always about the outcome. Appearances matter a little less. Once you’ve had that screaming toddler in the Target cart or walked around town with spit up on your shirt, you are a little more immune to the judgement of others. I will say that getting dressed for work is both a blessing and a curse. I love getting dressed in clean clothes everyday and at least attempting to look professional. At the same time, I miss my mom uniform of yoga pants and sweatshirt. Especially having worked from home for a few years. Having a phone meeting in my pajamas was nice!

CV: What was the first day like? 
SB: I was very excited, but it was hard to leave my family. Luckily, my husband was able to do childcare when I first returned to work. The actual first day in the office felt oddly like I had never left. I already knew where the copy paper was and who most people were. I got a lot of hugs than most people probably get on their first day at a new job.

CV: What is it like now?
SB: Now I can see how things have changed since I was away. It is nice to see how some of the things I helped to implement are still being used and have had a positive impact. It is also great to be a part of the future of the institution and be able to give context as we think about changes that need to be made

CV: What are your top 3 pieces of advice for anyone who has taken a break from working in higher ed and is now returning?

SB: 1. Don’t worry if you are the oldest person in your department or feel self conscious because you missed out on opportunities to move up in leadership. This was the biggest issue I faced when returning to work in higher ed.

 2. Use everything you gained in the years of being away from higher ed. Encouraging creative problem solving, teaching emotional intelligence, offering choices and explaining consequences for behavior are all things that I have been able to use both in the home and in the work place. If you were a SAHP, then you will have experiences that will add to the knowledge of your students and colleagues. Not that they are children, but think about how you might transfers these skills to the work place.

3. If you haven’t stayed current on literature related to the work of higher ed, take some time to familiarize yourself with what is being published. You also might look into the professional development plan your department offers and utilize that to help freshen up your skills or knowledge base.

CV: What is your special advice for the stay-at-home parent who is returning to work?

A few practical tips that I have found helpful:

– Pack lunches for the week on Sunday night! It doesn’t need to be some fancy Bento Box creation. Baggies of pre-packed veggies, crackers (etc.) that you can pop into a lunch box.

– Set out their clothes the night before – this has been a HUGE time saver! No more arguing about what my 3 year old will wear and she knows that she needs to get dressed without my nagging her – seriously a game changer!

– Get up an hour earlier – This gives me a chance to read a book, have a cup of coffee and get my brain and energy going.

These are three things I didn’t do last year, my first year back, and I truly struggled with my mornings getting out of the house. Doing these three things has made our mornings a lot easier!

Think about time at work differently: Before kids you might have thought, I’m on a roll, I’ll just stay at work and crank this out. Now, you might have to stop working to go pick up kids. Even if someone else is picking them up, you might need to make yourself stop so that you can go home, be with them and hear about their day! Now, you might have something that is a true work emergency and you need to stay after hours to respond, and that is part of the job. Just make sure that you are really saving those long nights of work for those times that really matter!

Feelings: Guilt – stick with the guilt you already got! People feel so bad about their guilty feelings and work so hard to rid themselves of guilt. In my experience, once I have gotten over one guilt, then another guilty feeling comes in to take over its place! For example: not able to volunteer in the classroom, can’t braid hair (darn you, Elsa!), and of course let’s not even talk about meal time. I’m NOT saying feel guilty or wallow in guilt. It’s more of a “accept whatever is making you feel guilty as just a part of the process”. I have a suspicion that once you just acknowledge the guilt, instead of being consumed by it, it looses its power over you. (I feel so Brene Brown right now – get Oprah on the phone!)

 The School Drop Off: The first few weeks of dropping my kids off at school or childcare were HARD! (Let me add that we are blessed to have an AMAZING childcare center on campus – but still). The hardest part was having to stay strong in front of my children who were crying and reaching for me. I realized that I had to put on a brave face in front of them. Of course, as soon as I turned around my face would crumble and I would be walking out of the daycare center in tears! Somedays were determined by how well my children did a school or daycare drop off. Over time things got better during drop off and I would swell with pride when I saw my son hop out of the car and run off to start his day or watch my daughter go through the routine when arriving at her preschool classroom. I realized that part of the going back to work process had benefits to my children as well. Lessons that aren’t exclusive to families with two parents who work outside of the home, but lessons in resilience and social engagement that my children benefited from.

 Concern about how colleagues will perceive you after being away from work for a while: Maybe this isn’t a concern for everyone. It was for me. While I was away from work, my peers were moving up and some of my co-workers got younger! I work in residence life, and it hit me like a ton of bricks when I realized that I was the oldest person in my department, of course nobody else talks about it but me (note to self: stop bringing it up). I value the lessons I learned while being a SAHP; an opportunity not everyone gets. There were unique learning opportunities that do add great value to your knowledge and skill set. I also worked from home for a few years before returning to work outside of the home full-time. I learned from that experience as well. All these things prepared me for working outside the home. I do miss the meetings in my PJs. That was nice.

Partner/Spouse: It is very important that you and your partner figure out a new normal for how you will balance home tasks. Lunch making, drop off/pickup, meal making, cleaning, etc. For a spouse who has had a partner taking care of the home tasks, it can/should be a shift in their responsibilities as well. I love that my children see both mom and dad going off to work and caring for them at home. Not that stay at home parents vs. the work outside the home parent can’t also demonstrate this, but for me it felt significant.

 CV: Thank you Susie!

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Leave A Yellow Arrow for Your Students. Reflections From My Hour on the Camino

arrow on vinesHave you found your way? The Way that feels right. That feels good. The way where you get to walk towards peace, knowledge, passion, success? Or are you walking and looking for a sign, maybe an arrow that tells you to keep walking, you’re going the right way.

Now think of that future student who is deciding right now to choose the way of higher education. Are you ready to really help them?

The Fall semester is fast approaching and many college advisors, professors, and student affairs professionals are asking our young people, adults in need of direction, anyone who wants to register at our local colleges and universities to find their way with us. That we will show them the way. That we will provide direction, guidance and support towards their current dream.

I’m realizing more and more that providing the way is a huge responsibility. Students are putting their trust in us that we will do our part. That our class schedules will line up. That we will teach what we know and they will understand. That the right text books will be available. That there will housing for them. Because trusting takes courage. Doing anything on your own takes courage.

Finding The Way in Spain

I recently returned from an amazing trip to the North Coast of Spain. I was in Spain for my close friend Marta’s wedding. It was my first time traveling alone to Europe. I had been to Germany many times with my husband who was from there. Yet, venturing alone was a new adventure for me. While in Spain, I spent time in the fishing town of Getaria and the beach city of San Sebastian. Both amazing places, with beautiful food, warm temperatures and views straight out of a post card.

arrow in zarautzWhile there, I had magically found I was also in towns that went through the Northern Way or Camino del Norte. The Camino path from San Sebastián to Gijón, Ribadeo and on to Santiago de Compostela. When I planned my trip to Spain, I knew I would be at least an hour car ride from the French Way, the most popular way, which is located in the middle of Spain that takes pilgrims through the mountains of Spain.

With that in mind, the idea of walking the Camino didn’t seem possible. Instead, I planned to enjoy a week of traveling and celebrating both on my own and with my friend and her family. It would be the first time I would be away for a whole 8 days from my two year old twins, 5 year old son and husband since they all came into my life. In motherhood and in marriage, it would seem like a once in a life time trip. For this student affairs pro, mom and wife, it was.

Which leads me back to why finding the Camino and finding your way means so much to me. When you are the one leaving the arrow for the next person, you are believing that your way is worth the walk.

There is more than one way

For years, I advised community college student leaders to plan campus events, represent students and to finish their degrees. I advised to seriously consider transferring and when it got tough, to trust their investment in higher education would pay off. Today, I support students and other professionals through my writing and looking towards my own college degrees to provide my next direction. What I’m realizing now is was what I really needed was a yellow arrow.

It was after the wedding that I discovered the Camino Northern Way. The wedding festives were happening at the San Prudentizic Hotel, over looking the Basque Country.

spainish wineAn area know for Geteriako Txakolina wine, and pinchos (fish and meat on bread). Between the views and this amazing food, life was good and we were all taken care very well. I was part of the crew that was staying at the Hotel Itxas Gain, in downtown Getaria. The crew included myself and this amazing group of PhD students from University of San Fransisco, who happen to be friends of the groom.

To get back to our hotel, we would either need to get a ride or walk. Rumors were flowing that all you need to do is walk the Camino back down the hill. I thought to myself, “The Camino? Wait. The Camino is at least an hour car ride from here.”

What I didn’t realize was, there was more than one route to Santiago de Compostela. I followed the crowd out the door and before I knew it I was walking back to my hotel on the Camino. That night, I thought about the Camino. How here I was, finally near a path I had longed to walk.

Do you ever wonder how many college students out there have felt the same way. That they probably had days where they would drive by your college wondering maybe this is the year I sign up. Or maybe this is the year I come back and finish. That night I decided, I would walk the Camino.

Someone has laid the way

The next morning, I went down to the front desk and shared my desire to walk the Camino. Not sure how long or how far, but that I wanted to walk some part of it. The owner of the hotel printed me a map of the Camino, which way to go, and how to get to the next town. He was a little concerned with me being a newbie. (An hour later I would understand why. The part of the Camino I was to walk would take me up a few steep mountains.) I smiled and said thanked the owner for his advice. I headed back up stairs and packed my bag. My good friend Marta drove me back up to the hotel where the wedding was and where the Camino continued. We hugged, she wished me luck and I was off.

road to camino

The first thing you notice about The Camino is yellow arrows. Someone before you has laid the way. To me it was the best test of faith. For centuries, people, known as Pilgrims have walked these paths; following the directions left by someone before them. At the end of the path is the church Santiago de Compostela. I knew I wanted to walk the direction that the pilgrims were walking. You might be asking, what makes the Camino so different than a hiking trail in the mountains? You get a map and you walk. The Camino offers purpose. Direction.

For our students, we ask them to follow our arrows. To gain purpose. Direction. Maybe it is direction towards a passion. Maybe it is direction out of town. Maybe it is the direction towards a purpose they knew in their heart they would be good at. Either way, we leave arrows for them shaped as educational plans to find their way. I love that someone ahead left an arrow to help me find my way. The Camino, the Way was my way that day. As I walked, I thought to myself, whatever I’m meant to do, to have, to live, to love is the Way. The Way that is meant for me. The yellow arrows taught me to never doubt, the way is always there. You will find the next arrow you need. When you need it.

Why are you walking

The Northern Route travels through 7 large cities and many small towns. To walk the whole thing, from San Sebastian to Santiago, your talking at least 36 days, over 806km. You can carry your supplies and backpack with you or you can invite in a tour guide company that meets you along the way. There are many ways you can sleep on the Camino. Hotels, hostiles, camp. For the hour I walked the Camino, I was able to travel from the town of Getaria to the city of Zumaia.

zumia on the hill

When I got to Zumaia, I felt like I could just keep walking. And walking. I felt this amazing energy along the Camino. At one point I met two Pilgrims from Holland. They had been walking for three months. Whenever you meet someone walking, you always want to ask why? Why are you walking? What are you learning? How has it changed your life? These Pilgrims have taken a break from their lives back home to walk. To connect with nature, themselves, each other. In away, I was doing the same.

I was walking because I always wanted to. But always wanting to do something can only take you so far. What was it that I was really searching for? I wasn’t walking the Camino with my husband like we always planned. So I felt some hesitant to even walk. Will he be hurt I went ahead without him? Yet, years ago, someone told me that the Camino will call you when you least expect it. For a special reason, it was my time. I was to walk, what I could, by myself.

We often ask students, why are you going to college? Why are you studying this particular subject? We ask, because we know purpose fuels direction. That if you know why you are doing something, you are more likely to follow through, even finish it. Maybe even it enjoy it. We also know that getting a college degree or certificate is truly a journey you walk by yourself. There are moments there are others around you to support you, guide you. And then there are times you are left alone to succeed.

I can see now why a student might not finish. I can see how a student might feel overwhelmed with even the idea of 12 units, 4o units, 60 units, 120 units. The pilgrims that passed me, amazed me. The Camino is a long journey that takes time, energy, money, and the will to finish. Earning a college degree is a long journey that takes time, energy, money and the will to finish. Of course, walking the Camino will end faster than a college degree, but they both provide that direction, the need for purpose.

Lesson to be learned

When I was getting off the plane from Madrid, I discovered I was sitting next to a woman and her daughter who had just walked the whole Camino across Spain. It was the mom’s second time. I asked her, what did you learn. She told me everything works out in the end.

The Camino provides you with direction, purpose, yellow arrows. It reminds you to yes, follow the yellow arrows but don’t worry if you don’t see one. Instead, “let it be”. Unless you really need to say something, find something to do, let it be. Life is meant to be enjoyed, to explore, to love, to be inspired, to share. If for some reason you feel lost, look for the “yellow arrow”. It will be there. And if you don’t see it right away, keep walking. You will see it. Sometimes where you least expect it.

For our students, they are walking the Camino of Higher Education. The next time you are with a group of students, and they seem a bit lost, think about the yellow arrows on the Camino and ask yourself, what can I do to provide a sense of direction. What kind of yellow arrow can I leave for them. For you, I’m leaving you with the yellow arrow I found walking to the Combs in San Sebastian. At the moment I took this picture, I felt a sense of peace. My direction, our purpose is meaningful. Keep following your yellow arrow.

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Aggie in Argentina Returns. Transfer Student Studies Abroad Part 2

The Transfer Student Interview Series continues with Lexie Munevar, past community college student leader and now university transfer student who recently studied abroad.

Back in September 2014, I had the pleasure of interviewing UC Davis undergraduate Lexie Munevar before she went on her first study abroad experience at the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo in Mednoza Argentina. You can read part 1, Aggie in Argentina, here. Before she left on her trip, I asked Lexie some questions about what she was looking forward to, what she hoped to learn, and I promised that I would interview her once again when she got back. Now she is back and I’m happy to share my second interview with you.

In this interview, Lexie provides us with some excellent insight of her life now, great advice on what to do before you study abroad, and insight on the American habits she was happy to let go of when she was in Argentina. Enjoy!

1) Now that you have been back for 2 months now, what have you noticed about yourself? What has changed? (Lexie spent her 2014 fall quarter at the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo in Mendoza, Argentina)

What I’ve noticed about myself is that my outlook on life has been altered a bit.  I definitely experienced counter-culture shock upon arriving home – I wasn’t ready to leave! I compare my adventurous life there where every minute seemed well spent to my routine life back in the States. Yet like all things, you simply get back into the flow of past behaviors even though it had been months since I had driven a car, shopped at a chain grocery store or used a smartphone to get in touch with friends and family. These and many other luxuries were things I forgot about the first week being abroad and not until it was over did I notice that I never missed these things to begin with. I can say I now view and value things differently from the way I used to before my experience living abroad.

2) There is a trend on Travel Blogs to share what American habits they lost when they moved to a new country. What were some of yours?

  • Stopped Checking My Phone. I definitely stopped checking my phone as much as I am used to doing in the States. In order to avoid any security issues, I left my smartphone and laptop at home and would go out with my old flip phone provided by the program. Because I didn’t have much of an interest in it, I wasn’t much of a texter and would actually look at my watch to check the time! I also found myself talking a lot more to people around me because of this and was more observant of my surroundings.
  • Being Fashionably Late. A habit that I obtained being abroad was being fashionably late everywhere. It was definitely part of the culture and as our time there progressed our outings would start later and later. We all got used to this eventually.
  • Started Using Cash More. An American habit that I lost was the famous card swiping habit! Because a lot of places only accepted cash, I got used to carrying pesos around with me at all times whereas in the States I never would have cash because I would always rely on using my card everywhere.

3) What did you learn about international education? Were the classes harder? Same?

I absolutely loved the public university I attended while abroad. My favorite professor there was one of my Argentine professors that taught our Literature & Culture class and Argentine Cinema, both in Spanish. She really engaged us into the material and brought us to all be confident in using the language to the best of our abilities. My two professors that came with us from UC Davis were also excellent professors and proctored the classes just as they would if we were at our campus. The courses were dense, but a lot of it was participation and practicing our literacy skills. Although they were demanding, the professors were understanding that we were abroad and wanted to sightsee and travel as much as possible during our time there so they were somewhat lenient with deadlines. I was proud of myself because despite the heavy load, I was able to pull a 4.0 while abroad.

4)  What did you learn that has changed your life?

This one is a tough one because every time I travel somewhere it always makes me feel like I’ve changed in some way although it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how. Argentina was an interesting country because although I was in Latin America there was a strong European influence. The Argentines definitely prided themselves in being of Italian descent. I was prepared for not my typical Latin American experience (or so I thought) but I definitely learned that you can’t really expect absolutely anything to be one way or another when you travel. You just have to go with the flow and try everything! I’ve traveled to Colombia for several consecutive years now and it is familiar territory. Argentina was the first time I was “on my own” for I wasn’t staying with family, had no idea how to navigate around the city upon arriving, and had to learn the new dialect of different words here and there. It was an amazing growing experience and for the first time I felt like I could travel anywhere in the future. It’s all about your mindset and letting go the fear many people, especially women I might add, have of traveling on their own. There is a lot of false misconceptions around Latin America and I think it is important to stress that it’s all about educating yourself prior to travel and utilizing common sense upon arriving.

5) What advice would you give to someone who is planning on studying abroad this summer or fall?

Advice to those going abroad in the future:

  • Research where you will be going! Although there is the folk that loves to dive into the unknown, a little background information never hurt anyone! Take advantage of review websites such as TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet for helping you choose where you will stay (if you are not doing homestay), what is worthwhile seeing, conversation hour exchanges, etc.
  • Look up how their economy is doing. It’s a good idea to see what their currency is valued at and figure out the exchange rate beforehand – You don’t want to get ripped off in a taxi upon arriving! I used OANDA.com which you can also download onto your smartphone.
  • Have a backup plan in case you run out of money abroad! Take some cash with you and if possible also take at least ONE card with you to use abroad in case of an emergency. If you run out of money a great website to transfer money to yourself or have parents send you money is Xoom.com.
  • Have copies of all forms of identification. I strongly recommend making copies of all forms of identification you take on the trip with you – Passport, drivers license, etc. To play it safe, I would leave my IDs at home and take the copies with me when I went out.
  • Keep in touch with family members and/ or loved ones back home! It is very easy to get carried away in your adventures and forget to keep in touch. But you don’t want to leave on a 10-day excursion where you will be without communication to the States and have family members frantic over your whereabouts!

Final Thoughts? These are all common sense tips I learned abroad that I think are very useful and worth emphasizing. Don’t deny yourself the opportunity of traveling anywhere due to fear of the unknown or stereotypes the country may have. There are so many beautiful countries out there with so many things that are worthwhile living and seeing for yourself!

Thank you Lexie! To read more from Lexie’s study abroad experience, you can visit her blog at Aggie in Argentina


The 4th Semester Sweet Spot

If my 21 month old twins were one of my community college AS board members, then I’ve just hit the 4th Semester Sweet Spot. You know that moment when it hits you that you have a number of students who will be graduating or transferring next fall and this semester or quarter will be your last with them?  They are the students in your group who have started to hear back from colleges and universities and/or are nervous every day because they know this could be the day they hear something and their life is going to change forever. And for you, the reality has really set in that they probably won’t be on your board next year.

You either feel a wow, I’ve been advising them for a 1 year and 1/2 now or more and they are amazing. I really got through to them. Or you might be asking yourself, will I ever make a difference with that student? But you’ve hit the sweet spot. The moment you know your time with them is getting shorter, so you cherish the good stuff. You look ahead to the Spring and know you and your team are going to rock it.

My twins will be 2 in May and can officially start preschool. I’ve hit the sweet spot. It’s been pretty amazing to know I’ve been their mom, plus their first advisor, teacher and friend. I’m going to miss spending my days with them. However, this mama is going to be proud, the way I’ve been with all my past students.

So fellow advisors, take a moment and take in the 4th Semester Sweet Spot. You deserve it! Every student who comes into your life has a story and a journey, and you get the honor of being part of it.


The A to Z of Transferable Skills in Student Affairs

If someone offered you a job outside of student affairs, could you name the skills you would bring with you? What if you had a chance to move to an area of the country (or world!) you have always wanted to experience; do you think you have that courage to work outside the field of student affairs?

I’ve shared before that unexpected life changes lead to me taking a break from work. With the arrival of twins and my husband’s company closing, we both had to make a choice that would work best for our growing family. As a result, I have to find a new job in a new area. As I continue on that journey to find my next place of work, I am discovering that my work in student affairs is very unique, but at the same time, our field of student affairs offers tons of transferable skills!

Think about the favorite part of your job. Now think about what other kinds of college jobs, academic or student services-related, your skills can apply to. Studies continue to show that you will change jobs approximately seven times in your life time. At some point, you will face budget cuts. You might come to a time when you want to be closer to a loved one. You will most likely find a life partner, and their job might affect where you work. And sometimes, you’re just ready to make a change. So, thinking outside the Student Affairs Box is useful!

I wasn’t working on a college campus in 2014, but when I look back at the year, I used a lot of the skills I used in student affairs. So many, in fact, that I came up with the A to Z skills that every Student Affairs professional most likely has and probably use every day.

A – Accounting. Many student affairs professionals, including myself, have experience managing either a Student Activities, Student Center or a Student Body fee. If we don’t document and account for the money of the students, students will come after us with questions and demands. This past year, while serving on my twin club board, I found myself addressing the importance of documenting and accounting of expenses.

B – Budgeting. Every year we teach and advise our AS students on budgeting their money for the upcoming year’s activities. Budget skills are a huge asset at most jobs. When my husband and I moved to one income, we signed up for Mint.com. It helped us handle all the changes, helped me with applying my budgeting skills, and kept us from going over budget.

C – Conflict Resolution. An excellent student affairs pro knows how to defuse a student conflict and to get a group of students or adults to work together. Now imagine two toddlers learning to play together. I’m defusing mini conflicts on a daily basis!

D – Developer. Student development is the foundation for anyone who works in Student Affairs, and the great thing about having developer skills is that you can work easily with others: you have the ability bring home the development side of any project. Every company, city government and non-profit is looking for employees who support the development of their services and others.

When I was co-leading my twin club garage sale, I put an emphasis on growing as a team as much as developing our sale. I started each planning meeting with an ice breaker/check in because I wanted the members to get more out of their experience. At the last planning meeting, I had everyone share what they learned from the experience. It was great to hear everyone’s answers, and I thought the exercise gave us that extra push of energy and support to make it through our three day event.

E – Experience. If there is one thing I learned from my stay at home in 2014 it is that experience is something you take with you to any job, to any activity, to any group. Trust yourself and your talents when you are transitioning to a new campus, a new stage of life or a new career field! Any work experience you have will benefit your new place of work, even if the environments are totally different.

F – First To Know. Student affairs professionals are trained to have a thumb on the student pulse so that our deans, vice presidents and even our college presidents are not caught off guard. Think about it: we work so close with students that we are often the first to hear things. How often have you picked up the phone or walked into the college president’s office right after you heard of a student disruption or an unfavorable agenda item? This skill is huge when building trust, especially with supervisors, at any job or on any team. It shows you have excellent communication skills.

G – Group Facilitation. I’m at my best when I’m facilitating a group. It doesn’t always have to be the actual leading of the meeting: the real skill is to keep the meeting on track, and every group needs that kind of person. At my previous job, my student government officers appreciated me keeping them focused; currently I’m the person sending out the agenda and meeting reminders for my Chamber of Novato Leadership Team. Once we meet, I hand over the facilitation. If I need to, I step in and get us back on course.

H – Hotel Reservations. Need to book hotel and plane reservations for 10 people? Count on a student affairs professional to make it happen! With you have to take student leaders to three conferences a year you get this hotel reservation thing down – an easily transferable skill at any work place.

I – Ice Breakers. I love this skill! In my opinion, one of the top proficiencies that student affairs professionals bring to any department is the ability to lead a group in an ice breaker. Ice Breakers are huge! They build trust. They break up a day or meeting. They can be used in many different work situations, but not everyone is big on them. It takes someone with experience and confidence in the exercise to make the magic happen. If you are forming a new team or leading a work retreat, volunteer to lead the ice breaker. In a job interview, don’t forget to sell yourself on that skill.

J – Jump. Student affairs professionals have an amazing ability to jump from one task to another: While I was volunteering to co-coordinate my twin clubs annual garage sale fundraiser, I remember thinking: “If I can run a college commencement, I can do this.” Come that Saturday morning, before we were ready to open the doors to the public, after thousands of items from 94 different sellers where organized and ready to be sold, I took a deep breath and rocked it for the next 8 hours! I jumped from helping the cashiers to moving items, to making sure the bathrooms were stocked, to unloading the racks in our club’s storage. I loved it. Having the skills to move from one task to another is huge and I’m grateful to my years in student affairs for making me an excellent floater.

K – Keeper Of Documents. Who is better at keeping documents than a student government advisor? Just watch yourself every time the students vote to approve a financial expense! I bet you are back in your office filing away a document to document the vote, keeping a paper trail of every decision that has been made. It is all about history and transparency.

L – Learning. The ability to incorporate learning into your work with others is a skill worth sharing. Some of us love learning and it shows in our work. Some of us love supporting others learning and always find a way to ask the question, “What did do you learn from it?”

M – Multi-Department Management. Student affairs teaches us how to manage more than one program. Because campuses and budgets are small, many of us often find ourselves managing multiple programs and projects. Companies and agencies appreciate someone who is capable of managing more than one area.

N – Negotiation. Student affairs pros always negotiate with concert promoters, speaker managers, students & administration. This is valuable experience that any place of work benefits from. Think of a time you negotiated to positive results! It also helps at home! This past year, I had to negotiate with my husband on who was going to get up during the night feedings. (Remember, we had twins so this it was double night feedings).The result was a happy wife, and a happy life.

O – Opportunity. Student affairs is a field of opportunity. There are always new programs in development and new students arriving on campus. Which means that you too can find new opportunities when you need them! The key is to not sell yourself short. As I mentioned, many people might not understand what you did for a living but remember, you bring unique skills that can benefit many places of work.

P – Promoter. Who is the person handing out flyers to upcoming campus events during the monthly managers meetings or the weekly staff meetings? The student affairs professional, of course. I don’t know a single SA professional who is not a promoter.  When I enrolled in my local Chamber Leadership Class I had been home with my twins (and away from a college campus) for over a year. During my first leadership class we took the DISC personality assessment and predictably, I scored in the Promoter area. I kind of laughed to myself. “Hmm.. how many past concert or speaker series posters have I held on to? When was I not handing out flyers on a daily basis before I went home with the twins?”

Q – Qualification. Never doubt that you are not qualified. The challenge with finding a new job or transferring to a new area is that sometimes, it takes more than skills to land a new job. You also have to find the right fit. It takes rewriting a cover letter. It takes practice on selling yourself. It might even take starting over. And that is okay. We are all qualified for the next job we will do. Trust yourself.

R – Retreat Planning. When I think of my ‘top five musts’ at any job I do, I always put retreat planning on my list. I love the planning of, and the experience of going on, a retreat. Retreat planning brings out our teaching, facilitating, organizing and creative skills. When my students return after moving on, they always tell me that our AS Retreats is one of their favorite memories.

S – Shopping. As a student affairs professional, you know your way around Smart & Final, Office Depot, Costco, Custom Ink and countless other stores. Think about all the shopping you do when you plan events! Depending on where you work next, that experience will come in handy to get the best deals for the next company event!

T – Team Building. Team building skills are needed everywhere, and most places of work rely on team projects to make things happen. Use your knowledge in personality assessments, team dynamics, and trust-building to make your current or next place of work shine.

U – Unity and Social Justice. When a campus is in crisis, people look to the student affairs professional to provide insight, support and advice. Beyond our experience and training in diversity, social justice, and advocacy, we have the innate ability to bring people together.

V – Visionary. Every year, you must lead a group of students to think big and envision what the upcoming school year will look like. Each year, in your program review, you have to envision what students will learn, what your department will achieve and how you are going to make it all happen. That vision will be useful anywhere!

W – Willingness To Try New Things. We constantly encourage our students to try something new.  As one student affairs pro to another, I encourage you to try something new! There is usually a reason we give this advice. Maybe our students are stuck planning the same kind of events. Maybe one of our students is lost. We have this ability to encourage others and to try new things in our lives too. This past year, I tried writing more and got published. I tried leading a group of women who where not students but fellow twin moms and made a whole new group of friends. If your boss or you see a new opportunity come up, go for it. I know you can naturally do it.

X – Roman Numerals. Don’t you just love it when your student government insists on numbering their agendas with roman numerals? How is it that, even after 20 years of high school, I still use roman numerals?

Y – Young At Heart. There is an old saying that working with college students keeps you young at heart. It’s true! It also flows right into our last letter: Z.

Z – Zip Line. If you have been on a retreat with a ropes course, you have probably gone on the zip line. And this zip line brought you back to life. I’ll always remember my first retreat after I had given birth to my son Sam: it was 8 months later, and I was back at work on my AS Fall Leadership Retreat. As I stood there, watching my students go on the zip line, something happened: I usually pass on the zip line! But this time, something came over me. “If I can give birth, I can do this.” So I climbed up, wearing my favorite AS t-shirt, listening to my students cheering in the background. And as I pushed off I felt a huge wave of energy. The kind of exhilaration that reminds you that are always young at heart. Always. At the end, we took an amazing group photo and I never felt more alive.

Okay: I’ve given you 26 reasons, words, skills why YOU can work wherever life takes you and wherever you want to go. Any place would love to gain the skill set of a student affairs professional, be it in leading the ice breaker or in leading the team through the Zip Line.


How to make One More Thing something you want to do

In Student Affairs, as in many part of our lives, there is a moment when we manage to juggle all the balls in the air as one more thing is added. To survive the circus of it all, we use our mad multi-tasking and planning skills. Yet, for some reason, even though we say it will be different every semester, we still find ourselves suffering from winter break burnout.

For me, I know when I can start to feel the winter break burnout. Dec. 1. Before I know it, the task of decorating, shopping, holiday card making is back and yet, I still need to achieve my regular weekly projects. I started thinking about this annual dilemma and the one thing that kept coming back to me is, how can I make this One More Thing, something I want to do. I started thinking. What makes me WANT to do something? What makes me NOT WANT to do something?

Thing I thought some more, and with every month, every week, even sometimes every day, there will always be one more thing to do. It’s life. It’s Student Affairs. It’s the end of the semester and it’s the Holidays. I’ve discovered, that the key is knowing when to say yes and when to say next time.

Say Yes

-To the holiday party.
-To the warm seat by the fire.
-To the student who is nervous about going home for winter break.
-To hanging Christmas lights.
-To putting up a tree any size tree, big or small.
-To making holiday cookies with your kids, even it it keeps them up late.
-To help. If someone is offering it, take it!
-To getting a picture with Santa, even it means you might be waiting in line or maybe not. One year, I for some reason showed up at the best time.
-To finishing up strong.
-To cleaning out clothes, toys, books, office things you don’t need and donating them.
-To getting rest.
-To getting exercise, even taking a 15 min walk in the cold.

Say Next Time
-To that one extra holiday party you really can’t do.
-To that event idea that someone is thinking about it but you know it will be rushed.
-To that one more item on the agenda, save it for after Winter Break. It can wait.
-To Holiday cards that must come before Christmas. Some years in my family, we do New Year’s cards.
-To making sure you get away for winter break. This year, go simple. Stay home. You know you want to just enjoy being home.
-To staying home and if you know you want to, and you know yourself best, book that Winter Vacation and go!

If you find yourself with that feeling not one more thing, take a deep breathe, write down what you are currently doing and decide, what is the one thing I must say yes to, that I want to say yes to. Then, what is that one thing I can say next time. See if it works. I can already feel my mood changing. Logging on to Shutterfly now!


“Aggie in Argentina” Transfer Student Studies Abroad Part 1

The Transfer Student Interview Series continues with Lexie Munevar, past community college student leader and now university transfer student studying abroad.

“When in my life time would I ever be able to live abroad if not now?” How often does that thought cross your mind? For many of our college and university students, the thought of living abroad might come to them when they see a flyer on a campus bulletin board or a tweet reminding them that the deadline for the next study abroad trip is in a week. For my latest transfer student to interview, the idea came from the Transfer Event during her first quarter at university, where she saw the study aboard program.


Student Life Advisors Do This All The Time

If you are anything like the average person, with access to Social Media, you probably see articles flying through your Facebook updates and Twitter feed constantly. Did you see the piece called “The Three Qualities of People I Most Enjoy Working With” written by LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner? Did your awesome Student Affairs lightbulb go off? Mine did. The first thought that came to me was: of all people working on a college campus, this describes Student Life Advisor  AND it describes people we all enjoy working with!

Weiner goes on to describe how he came to the conclusion that working with individuals who can dream big , who support the values of the place they work at, who know how to get s**t done, and who are able to have fun are ideal people to have on a team.

Let me show you why it’s you.

Dream Big: How often do you find yourself Dreaming Big with your students? Remember the snow day you organized on campus during the middle of summer? Or the largest concert yet? Or being there to speak on behalf of the students when they were designing the new student center? Exactly! You do it everyday and probably don’t even realize it.

Get  Sh*t Done: Just today I bet you completed facilities paperwork, had a discipline hearing or disciplined a student, made a huge sign, ordered food to cater a meeting and/or an event AND spell checked the AS Agenda. It’s the role that WE naturally do it well ourselves because we have to teach students everyday to follow through, to show up and to finish what they started.

Know how to Have Fun: Who else is better at making it fun than a student life advisor? You’re not afraid to start dancing with your students, laughing about the latest trend, and sharing a piece of chocolate. You are not afraid to bring snacks to the Student Services staff meeting. You know it’s just a job yet you know it takes heart and energy to do everyday. If you are not having fun at your job, you need to reevaluate it – and if there is anyone who knows how to do that constantly, it’s the Student Life Advisor. In your life outside of campus, your friends and family probably see you as the person who is the “Coordinator”, “Organizer”, “Conflict Solver” and “Party Planner”. Own it! It’s in your blood. You know how to have fun, it’s your job.

So keep up the great work and keep encouraging your students to Dream Big (even if that means bringing a radical speaker to campus), reminding them to Get Their S**t done (even if that means you might have to give them an F), and most importantly, Make It Fun! How else are you going to make it that Sunday afternoon during an upcoming overnight retreat? :)


blog image collaboration

Leadership Novato 2015 Kicks off with a Lesson on Collaboration

Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, and working together is success. The community needs YOU to exercise leadership. To be effective in community leadership we must strive to work in a collaborative manner. We need to see the future, engage and develop people, reinvent continuously, value results and relationships, and embody values that foster strong collaboration. -Novato Fire Protection District Chief Heine (LN 2010)

These past few days, I have had the honor of being part of the Leadership Novato 2015 class retreat and our first meeting day known as Novato History Day. As someone who has been in student leadership development and facilitated many student lead teams, being part of the team rather than the advisor is awesome.

I already feel like I will be a better advisor, teacher and leader down the road. I encourage anyone who develops teams to pencil in leadership development time for yourself. You will be surprised what new tips you can learn and relearn. For this particular leadership program, collaboration is a major theme that will be running through the monthly classes. They have already provided us with the leadership assessment DISC which specially focuses on how you work and communicate within a team.

I’m a huge communicator and when I commit to something, I always try to follow through, communicate where I am in the project, listen to where my teammates are, and aim so that all of us can be there. I’m passionate about bringing people together and helping them develop along the way.

The big lesson I learned from the retreat was collaboration takes time. It is key to the success of your team, but you have to be willing to work at. To get to know your teammates. To share how you prefer to work and respect how others like to work. Stay focused on the goal and together you will go far. Thanks to a great leadership program team and Leadership Novato Alumni, Leadership Novato 2015 class has officially kicked off!


Tips for Running a Happy Department and Home

(I’m adding photos to past blog posts and found this one. I wrote this piece back in July 2012 when I was working full-time and before we had twins. For anyone who manages both an office and home, I have found these tips to be very helpful, even two years later.)

Okay Student Affairs Professionals and anyone who loves to kick butt at work, this post is all about remembering that you too can put that drive and passion you have at work, into your life outside of work and see results. This week at work, I was thinking a lot about my career and then I would have moments where I would ask myself, ‘Vic, what are you doing? You have your whole life to work. Now is the time to think of having and enjoying family’.

So this morning, I wrote down tips on how I run my department (that I know I do well at) and then next to it, wrote down something I could related it to that is outside of work, so I picked “running a home”. And you know what, it helped me see I am doing both and that there IS passion in my role as a mom and that I’m doing pretty well.

Tips for Running a Happy Department      Tips for Running a Happy Home
-Always keep the candy bowl full                           -Always keep the fruit bowl full
-Have office plants                                                    -Have potted plants and house plants
-Keep a budget binder                                              -Keep a budget binder
-Hang photos of staff and student groups           -Hang photos of family
-Keep weekly staff meetings                                   -Keep nightly family dinners
-Host events                                                               -Have play dates
-Have purpose “teach strengths”                           -Have purpose “relax, play, have fun”
-Take lunch breaks                                                   -Take Exercise breaks
-Take vacations                                                         -Sleep 7 to 8 hours each night
-Leadership development class, workshops       -Read a bedtime and do story time with family
-Schedule colleague meet ups                                -Schedule Date nights and Girls Night Out

These are just a few that has helped me. I encourage you to design your own!