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Saturday, July 5, 2008

When Opportunity Meets Preparation

Lately, I've been thinking about my experiences in the field of student affairs. I have been contemplating how, when, and why I'd like to write this entry. Sitting here now makes my eyes water because of the amount of gratitude I want to share with everyone who has helped to carry me to this point in my life. It's amazing to me to think that I have been in the field for 7 years! What's even more amazing is reflecting on all that I've learned in those 7 years. While it may seem obvious to most that with 7 years of doing a specific type of job gives you a certain level of expertise, I'm here to talk about another. The unofficial mentor.

When I say unofficial, I'm talking about those individuals that you see and think, "Wow, I want to learn how they did/do it!" and you don't necessarily discuss with them your intentions. This all comes to mind with my last work experience at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I have a tremendous level or respect and gratitude for having worked with the people I've had the opportunity to engage in dialogue and share experiences. This is not to discount my other experience as a hall director in Georgia. Having spent 5 years at one institution, I feel compelled to speak directly of this particular experience.

In 2003 I began my journey at UNLV. I really had little knowledge of student affairs theory, of what it meant to attend a national convention, let alone which one to attend, and I had yet to put together a proposal, official document, or otherwise for a university and/or its upper administration or even a national publication. I was indeed, green and sometimes green with envy because of my new colleagues seemingly extensive knowledge of the theories I had never fully understood or even studied. I'll be the first to tell anyone that my masters program was not terribly enriching.

It's not easy being green. I learned that during my first year when I was passed up for a merit pay increase, when everyone else who was also new around me received one. At that moment I sought out my first unofficial mentor. Since I had become friends with him, I would ask questions on how to improve and jokingly tell him that I was indeed on the same fast track to success. I definitely modeled some of my professional choices after him and it paid off. The next year and each year thereafter, I did receive merit. There were other unofficial mentors in the Division of Student Life. The level of support, those valuable teachable moments, and trust meant a great deal to me. I truly feel that I would not be in the position I am now poised to take on had this journey and your guidance not been a part of my life.

Some of the things I've learned are:
  • professional ettiquette
  • writing minutes
  • running meetings
  • indulging my creativity
  • taking risks
  • learning how to honor commitments
  • learning the importance of being on time
  • student affairs theory
  • how to be developmental
  • working smarter not harder
  • having rich diaglogues
  • goal planning
  • creating a vision
  • creating event binders
  • being thorough
  • playing devils advocate
  • knowing how to say no
  • knowing when to say yes
  • being stern when necessary
  • "playing nice"
  • the value of inclusivity and collaboration
  • the constant use of student affairs lingo
  • walk the talk
  • how to do bigger and better events
  • report writing
  • assessment
  • the value of autonomy
  • becoming a better writer
  • drafting "official" documents/emails
  • being "collegial"
Leaving UNLV was a really difficult choice especially with so many unknowns with taking on a new position. I remember the conversations I had with our Assistant Director and Director on why I wanted to do a job search. The only thing I could really speak to was that I needed a change from the job I had been doing for the last 5 years. I knew that role like the back of my hand but something kept telling me to move on. I resisted and even drafted a "new duties" document to outline how my position could be better utilized.

Now I sit in my new home in Virginia, reflecting on this journey and sharing it with my readers. I didn't mention the names of individuals because they deserve to be recognized for being great professional role models and helping me go from a green newbie to a seasoned professional on a more personal level.

I titled this post, "When Opportunity Meets Preparation" because honestly, I was watching TV and someone said it on a show. It was in reference to luck and it made me think of my situation and how, during the last 7 years I was being prepared for my new role. If you recall my previous posts, I did a job search. I went on two campus interviews and for whatever reason, I did not fit their needs and I'm okay with that. It's the fit with an institution and the department that you'd be working in that's most important. It was on the third campus interview where I seemed to find a fit and they did, too. Fast forward to the present and by the end of this month, I will no longer be in the position I was hired for. After two months on the job, I was offered the opportunity for a promotion and the opportunity crossed paths with my preparation!

Going back to the position I had in Georgia, a book that a Dean I worked with gave to our housing department has been ever influencing in how I do my work. The book is, "The Four Agreements" by don Miguel Ruiz. It's a quick read and a simple concept to digest and implement into your life. Be sure to check out the link to read the what those agreements are.

I say all of this for two reasons, to show my appreciation for the professional development I received from my UNLV family and to let you, the reader, see how it all comes together when you're ready for it. To develop as a professional takes mentoring in the unofficial or official versions. I doubt that any of the people aside for one who I am friends with, even realized they had that type of influence. It's always the little things that add up to be really important. Just watch how people work and do their work - you'll be amazed at what you pick up. And those times when you get reprimanded, can also be those influential moments that stick with you forever and create a stronger professional. If you don't ever make mistakes, how can you ever grow? Had preparation not met those opportunities in Georgia and Nevada, I would not be prepared for the new professional opportunity I've accepted. I plan to pay it forward to each green newbie whose opportunity crosses my path.

Thank you to everyone who has played a part in my experiences, whether you saw your contribution in this entry or not, everyone has had a part in helping me be who I am as a professional and friend today.

With sincerest gratitude,

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