Started from the Bottom....

By Olivia Barker

Going into my third year as a student affairs professional, I am embarrassed to admit, but I am still a little shaky on advising. Theory guides me for the general ideas of how to approach it, but my practical experiences have proved that every day is a new adventure in advising student leaders. My good friend Drake once said, "started from the bottom, now we here" and while this statement is not grammatically correct, I cannot help but sing this song every time I think about my journey in advising.
I started my position after three months of not working…a period I like to call "funemployment." As you can imagine, I was rearing to go and excited to get settled in my new role of advising students for a programming board. I did not have a ton of experience directly advising students, but I had seen my supervisor do it, so how hard could it be? After three student leaders quit within my first six months, I decided I did not like advising.
I challenged my students and I asked a lot of questions and frankly they didn't like me or this new advising style I brought to the table. As a brand new advisor and first time professional, this of course hurt my feelings and killed my confidence, but I tried to remember that everyone was learning and growing. After practically begging my president not to quit (not one of my proudest moments), I realized it was better to let her go and reevaluate the needs of my board.
Our office went through some significant changes and gained new leadership, allowing us to restructure our board. We combined two programming boards to make one huge powerhouse and I began advising several student leaders, but the two who stuck out were a shark and a teddy bear. My shark was my biggest challenge, but also one of my favorite student leaders. She is an incredible person and one tough cookie. She loves strict processes and black and white answers and as we all know, that is just not how student affairs works. During our transition period, another student leader quit and my shark was voted in as president. She was exactly what we needed for our first year. My shark got. things. done. She helped develop a relatively strong foundation and we were ready to rock for the year!

After seeing my shark, who I had been advising since I started my position, finally achieve something she had talked about since I arrived made me feel so proud. I thought, finally, I have an understanding of advising and I kept saying “I can do this”…and that is when she told me she was burnt out, did not have the same passion for the organization and not only did not want to be president anymore, but she wanted to leave the board to pursue other interests. My heart broke a little and that is when I realized, I will never fully understand advising.

Once my shark left the board, my teddy bear was elected as president and is currently serving in this role. She is learning and growing every single day. She has a huge heart and is so passionate about our organization and the students involved. Watching her grow into the position and seeing her mature has given back that little spark of “okay…I get this advising business,” but I know I will forever be developing as an advisor.

This spring, I received an email stating I was nominated for advisor of the year and for a second I could not believe what I read. I struggled so much with advising and swore I did not like it, but turns out, I was a little too hard on myself and my students really appreciated the work I did, even if I was not the best in my own eyes. I was humbled when I was announced as “Advisor of the Year” and every time I see that beautiful glass trophy on my shelf, I am reminded that I started from the bottom, but now I’m here. 

Student Affairs - the First Years

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