Reflections of a New Student Affairs Professional: My First Week

This coming week will mark my first month as a Student Affairs professional at the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota. Looking back at this first month, I find it hard to believe how many dilemmas I was faced with during my first week on staff. Here is a look at my week…

My first day as a Resident Director (RD) involved training, interviewing a candidate for an open RD position, and packing to leave for a conference. My second day involved traveling to Notre Dame to attend the ASACCU conference (Association of Student Affairs at Catholic Colleges and Universities). Attending this conference allowed for some great team bonding and a chance for me to learn what to expect from working at a Catholic institution. At this conference, I was able to build relationships and establish myself in a network that I had never experienced before. Almost immediately, I was faced with questions that challenged my new identity as a first year professional. These questions were especially intimidating because I did not know the unspoken, yet established rules that were alive in the team that I had just joined.

One of the big dilemmas that I was faced with involved alcohol. While I know that alcohol is a part of socializing for Student Affairs professionals, I had no idea what to do when I arrived at a Catholic conference where alcohol was provided at all of the dinners and socials. Because it was my second day as an official employee, I decided that it would be best to observe what the other RDs and more importantly, what my boss chose to do. I am happy to say that I was able to assess the situation and make an appropriate decision by observing my institutional colleagues.  

One of the other unexpected challenges that I was faced with at this conference was how to go about interacting with other professionals. At most conferences, I find myself interacting and networking at a high level. At this conference, it was hard for me to expand my network and talk with other institutions because of how new I was to the position. It is normal to not understand who you are and what you bring to your team when you have little understanding of the institutional culture, position, and team dynamics. Looking back, I should have been more forgiving of myself in that situation.   

Another unexpected, well semi-expected situation that I encountered at this conference had to do with how young I look. In my case, and I am sure in others, do not underestimate how young you look to other Student Affairs professionals. At one of the socials, I had left the room and upon reentry was stopped and asked if I was a part of the conference. I know I look young, but it becomes difficult to accept that as a compliment when it happens on such a frequent basis. While I was frustrated, I have to continually remind myself that this is a situation that I am possibly going to face all year with faculty and other staff members. I am going to have to find a way to have patience with those who assume I am a student. What bothers me is that in five to ten years I am going to look back at this and be slightly frustrated with my younger self for not basking in others compliments.

Wisdom for starting your first SA job:
  1.  Expect the unexpected. You are not going to be able to anticipate what challenges you are going to face.
  2. Make it a priority to get to know the staff that you are working with.
  3. Establishing yourself in a team is awkward and uncomfortable. Take time to observe.
  4. Think about your boundaries and who you are on a team.
  5. Have patience with yourself and others.
Through it all…

In my first week, I was faced with learning unspoken boundaries and group dynamics, a new network, and being seen as a studnt. While everything turned out great, I was somewhat surprised by all of the questions I was faced with while attending this conference during my first week. It is safe to say that you never know what you are going to be faced with when starting a new job in Student Affairs.

Katie LaSota

Student Affairs - the First Years

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