An Ode to the Alma Mater

by Lisa Hill

As student affairs professionals we are connected to many different institutions of higher education.  Some we attended as students, others as staff.  When our educational home becomes a professional home, there are unique lessons to learn.

Last fall, I served in an interim position at my alma mater, in the same office where I had been a participant, student leader, and student employee throughout my undergraduate years.  Transitioning from a student to a full-time staff member was challenging and informative, easy and straining.  Here are three of the lessons I learned.

1. They knew you at 18, but what matters is how you act today.  Trying to start a professional career when your colleagues remember you as a freshman can bring up some uncomfortable and definitely unprofessional memories.  As an 18 year old I was completely unaware that I was making an impression on my future coworkers.  I was busy being awkward and making mistakes because learning is MESSY!  When I arrived at the office on my first day last fall, I told myself that I had a clean slate.  I occasionally made jokes about myself as a student but no more than I would at any other institution.  I used the opportunity to talk with people who know my history to have honest conversations about my future career.

  1. Your history is an asset, but don’t fall behind the times.  Returning to the same office, I was amazed at how much had changed in the two years I was at grad school.  The fundamental values and mission were the same, but much of the programming had changed.  I caught myself wanting to say, “We used to do…” While history is important, change is necessary.  Finding the balance and accepting the differences made me a stronger professional, and hopefully stopped me from annoying my coworkers.

  1. It’s ok to leave the past in the past.  I like to think of my alma mater as my first love.  Nothing will compare yet I don’t need to relive that period of my life.  On Saturdays, instead of tailgating and going to football games, I woke up early to go hiking and get away from the football crowd.  I found new restaurants and stores to frequent and only revisited my undergrad favorites once or twice. #ThrowbackThursday anyone? I made new friends and became involved with new activities.  I loved my time as an undergraduate student, but my time as a professional was a separate and new experience.

Returning to an alma mater can be a great experience filled with reflection and growth, if you approach it with the right mindset.

Who else has returned to their alma mater?  What lessons did you learn?

Student Affairs - the First Years

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