What is Student Affairs without the Students?

By Megan Reilly

The holiday season is my favorite. I love the smells, the sounds, the wonderful mood that everyone is in, and especially the treats. I love how the campus looks after it’s rained or snowed (although we haven’t had much snow yet) and how hauntingly beautiful the trees are without all their leaves. I love watching the faces of students walking out of lecture halls and seeing the elation of the students who have just completed their last final exam. And most of all, I love the feeling of accomplishment and nostalgia as the year winds down and you reflect on all the joy it has given you. As the semester winds down (and grad students finish their own finals – YAY!), the number of students on campus starts to dwindle for the holidays.

For many departments, the end of the year and fall semester means the first break time they have enjoyed since before summer orientation! And I’m sure there are people who aren’t too upset about that prospect. But what is working in a higher ed setting like when the students all go home? Do you ever get asked what the purpose of your work is during holiday breaks? Does anything drive you crazier than a student’s surprise when you say you don’t get the same breaks that they do? Probably.

But what about the professionals whose jobs don’t relate directly to students? Do these professionals question their role in the field all the time? I can’t speak for everyone, but in my role, this is something I struggle with frequently. I see my colleagues within my graduate cohort gaining experience in residence life, career counseling, academic advising, and student activities. I made a choice to leave my residence life position for personal, professional, and financial reasons and I do not regret that decision. But there is rarely a day that I don’t miss my interaction with students and the daily inspiration that comes with that kind of role.

As an aspiring student affairs professional in a slightly unconventional role, this is the frustrating sacrifice I made. I know the work I do supports and makes certain things possible for the students on my campus and I love the team I work with, but that component of student interaction is still missing. Sometimes I am blinded by that frustration and don’t appreciate the amazing institution I work for, how lucky I am to be here, and all the opportunities I have been given.

They say that raising a child takes a village. Every person in the child’s life plays a different role, some minor and some major, but all that contribute towards the child’s upbringing. Well, maybe getting a college student from orientation to commencement also takes a village. Students think that just their professors help them graduate. But all of those people I mentioned before, the academic advisors and residence directors, all contribute to student success in their own way. And so do the people who the students never see, but who keep the school running. I mean the assistants who keep the deans offices open and running, the payroll department who keep the employees coming back to work each week, the campus operator who helps you figure out where to direct your question, and the external relations offices who gain support for the university in the local community, the development office who make scholarships possible by bringing in donations, the IT department who keeps the wireless on and working, the facilities staff who keep the res hall showers and the busy classrooms clean, and all of the countless array of hard-working staff who make the university a great place to work – even when the students go home.

Follow Megan on Twitter at @MReilly90! 

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