Building Connections, Building the Future

This fall I attended my first professional conference, NASPA Region IV-E, the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education annual regional Midwest conference with a partial scholarship from the Interfaith Youth Core. For three days in Madison, WI Student Affairs professionals, graduate students, and undergraduate student leaders from across the region gathered to share ideas, brainstorm, and collaborate. The title of the conference was, quite appropriately, “Blurring the Lines”. Indeed, a reoccurring theme I heard in conference sessions, chats over dinner, and at cocktail hours was the increased need for collaboration in the field of higher education. 

As a new year begins, I think about the next phase of my professional career as an up-and-coming Student Affairs professional, and this desire for collaboration is exciting because it is something I have done for years. Interfaith work is all about bringing people with different ideologies together to form a common ground and progress our global society. Since my freshmen year in college, I longed to bring people together to talk about meaningful things and learn from one another. Diversity trainings, interfaith programming, and planning a variety of campus-wide events have fed my desire to encourage people to grow together. One of the things I love most about a college setting is that the very point of higher learning is to LEARN; and when diverse students, faculty, and staff join together in community, the lessons to be learned are endless.

A conference setting is a wonderful learning environment also. In fact, perhaps what I enjoyed most about the experience was the variety of professionals I had the privilege to interact with.  One night, an administrator and I discussed over coffee how the field of higher education has changed over time, since she was a graduate student some thirty years ago. She assured me that our profession has always had challenges to overcome and obstacles to combat. From defining the role of a college student in the 1960s and 70s to determining the role of the Internet in the classroom today, our field has relied on the power of collaboration to create a positive impact on college campuses throughout the world. 

“I think nowadays, however,” she said, “there are more players at the table and more voices to be heard.” Indeed, in this global society it is not only students in the United States that come to campus, but also international students. As MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) take root, the lines of the classroom will continue to blur. Likewise, within our country the face of a college student looks very different depending on what type of college or university that student attends. Gone are the days when everyone in college was an 18-22 year old white, wealthy, male. Undocumented students, adult learners, first generation college students, and students juggling families, work, and other priorities enter the university doors at increasing rates. The government, media, and general public watch the cost of American higher education rise with a very critical eye. Student Affairs professionals must evaluate and justify their work while forming partnerships with faculty, administration, and the larger community. The future of higher education is a daunting one, and the sometimes the path to progress will seem blurry. But I think that makes the need for collaboration that much more important. We need to rely on each other, not only in the context of higher education, but in the world at large.  

In my work with interfaith programming, I’ve learned that collaboration is as beautiful and wonderful as it is stressful. It also requires patience, persistence, and practice. But, as a wise senior affairs officer once told me, “Nothing worth having is easy, but the point is to never lose sight of your goals and to take each day at a time. The future doesn’t happen all at once, but merely 24 hours at a time.” The vision I have for my life, my work, and my world will require collaboration. In fact, it relies on collaboration. I know I will not reach my goals alone; I will need the guidance and support of a community. I understand that my work as a Student Affairs professional will depend on my ability to cooperate with others in the field of higher education. The world I desire is one that is built on mutual understanding, where people of difference blur the lines that have divided them for centuries and transcend beyond them to create peace. 

Christina Ferrari

Student Affairs - the First Years

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