Be Their Sunshine

by Olivia Miller

The past few days have been rough in the office – dead week has officially started and the students are feeling overwhelmed by a wide variety of things and emotions have been running strong. Having Empathy in my top five strengths means it is often and easy for me to get emotional when my students get emotional – I am happy and proud when they are thrilled, I am frustrated when they complain about professors not meeting them halfway, and recently I have been close to tears when three different students barely held it together in my office. I have to remember, that like being a brontosaurus, I need to be the sunshine for my students when their world is cloudy and gray.

Last week I had a student schedule an appointment with me to discuss leaving the university early and how he would not be returning. His mother e-mailed explaining he was not doing well and he told me it was a struggle for him to get out of bed and meet with me. He was worried about leaving early, was too afraid to talk to his professors, worried about his lab partner and how him leaving would affect him, and returning his textbooks. Yet, he needed to leave in order to not make things worse, as he said, “before I hurt myself.” I have had many instances in my graduate assistantship where students would get emotional about not knowing what to major in, but this was the first time that I was struck with emotions and something more serious. As we were wrapping up his appointment and I sent him home, he silently and sincerely thanked me multiple times – and I know I did not do much, but I hope I helped him; he certainly helped me to be a better advisor – to be there in the moment with my students until the end.

This week has barely begun and I had two more students near tears. One student was worried sick that he wouldn’t pass his language class and when we calculated his grades and his lowest possible grade I was happy to tell him he would not be on academic probation and would in fact be able to graduate in May. Another student came in worried about rescheduling all of her finals – she just had a death in the family and will be flying home later this week. Having experienced this earlier this year, I told her to first and foremost take care of herself and laid out the steps to work with her instructors on taking her finals in January. Lastly, I’ll start working on a late withdrawal appeal for a student that has returned to Texas to take care of her sick mom. She too has been in a panic about classes and what to do, but we will work on her appeal together and she will be able to return home and focus on her mom.

Graduate school prepared me for a lot of things, but it really did not prepare for me the range of emotions, especially deep sadness, with my students. I know things are amplified now at the end of the semester, but I strive to be that ray of sunshine for my students during this cloudy stressful time. It may be a small gesture, but if we shine bright enough for them to see us and ask for help, we are doing our part. So in addition to being a brontosaurus, be their sunshine.

Student Affairs - the First Years

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