Surviving Isn’t Easy, But It’s Worth It

By Jenni Batchelder

Hello SA First Years community! My name is Jenni and am one of the original writers for this amazing blog. I started writing during the final semester of my master's program and shared my experiences through my first student affairs job. Since then, I have gained experience in different areas of student affairs including career services, residence life, student activities, leadership, and new student orientation. This field has given me insight into four very different institutions, a variety of supervisors and co-workers, inspiring and challenging students, along with professional development opportunities. It is now my sixth year in the field and I am currently a first-year doctoral student at Florida State University studying higher education with a focus on student involvement and leadership development.

This week we are celebrating six years of this blog and I am celebrating my sixth year in the field and I have learned so much! There are many highs and lows involved in this field and as someone who has “survived” the first years, I have a little bit of advice. I’ll start with some of the difficult things first.

If I am honest, it hasn’t always been an easy experience, but I think that is important to know going into the field. As a student who had a great college development experience, you want to continue to inspire future students, but as a professional your role changes which will challenge you. You will be introduced to the politics of higher education which includes work environments, campus politics, and local/national politics. Masters programs do their best, but there is not really a class that teaches or prepares you for these situations. I recommend that when you are looking at institutions, really get a feel for the personality of the campus (beyond just reading their mission statements). Use your interview to understand how the staff works and who plays what role on the team. I know getting a job offer is exciting, but as a new professional, your job (especially in this field) becomes a large part of your life, so be sure the city, the staff, and the job is actually right for you! As for campus politics, you cannot get away from it. EVERY campus has it... meaning one staff likely doesn’t like another, there is always someone who is hard to work with, and you have to figure out the red tape around certain policies, but you can make your own decisions about them. Some staff may give you a heads up about other areas, and my advice is to check it out for yourself. I am a WOO, so I understand it comes more naturally for me, but I have simply asked some people to have lunch with me so I can get to know them and it has given me the opportunity to really get to know them and for them to get to know me. Follow up with your new colleagues and take an interest in their roles and what’s important to them and their interest in you (along with your partnerships) will follow.

Another difficult part of this field is that, in an ideal world, you want to work with all great students, but you will inevitably come across difficult students. Some students really need an advocate for “light” topics like homesickness to more difficult topics like racism, sexual assault, or DACA status concerns. Some students will disappoint you even if you thought they knew better. Other students will be difficult because they have different values or beliefs than you and, though you do not agree with them, you still want to fairly support them. For each of these situations, and many others, I would say stay optimistic, take each situation day by day, and learn. The optimism, for me, had to come first because it’s what brought me to the field. I want to believe that I can make a positive impact on all of my students even if the situation is difficult. With that said, remember to focus on the situation and not the person... they are separate! Good people can do bad things, but they can also learn from them. Take each situation day by day because... especially on difficult days, it’s really all you can do. If you have someone you can talk to, DO! Call or meet up with a friend from your master’s program, a co-worker, or a sibling/friend, or a mentor to talk through your situation (if FERPA doesn’t allow you to talk about specifics, you can still talk about how your difficult situation is making you feel. I also had a very supportive supervisor and Dean of Students who welcomed conversations and even late-night text messages (I was blessed). And of course, you want to learn from difficult students and situations. We learn, from our master’s programs, the importance of reflection and assessment and we have to remember to do this for ourselves as well. Take some time to think about what you think you did well and how you would do it differently if something like this happens again. I also recommend talking about these situations with a mentor if you can!

Then there are all the AMAZING things that happen in student affairs! There have been incredible students I have had the privilege of mentoring through their college development. I have guided students through many instances of self-doubt and celebrated many beautiful triumphs. I have now seen cohorts of students go from freshmen into the professional world and being able to advise and support them through job interviews, reference letters/calls, scholarship and graduate school applications, and general life celebrations have been tremendous. Students have been my drive and purpose; they help me to remember why I joined the field and they continue to inspire me to fight on their behalf as an administrator (even though it has me battling those politics I mentioned). Take time to celebrate! Your students need to celebrate their accomplishments and you can too, after all, you did have a little something to do with it!

Beyond the students, I have had the privilege to work with amazing colleagues. I have been inspired by supervisors and other student affairs professionals both on my campuses and by professionals from other institutions. I have many colleagues who I call friends (pic below) and look forward to seeing at conferences (since I don’t live near any of them anymore). I have even been able to mentor new professionals in the field through conferences, on my campuses, and through this blog which has also been rewarding!

In my experience, even though surviving the first years isn’t easy, each of these positive experiences has made the challenges of this field worth wild! If there are any new professionals who have any questions about surviving the first years, please don’t hesitate in reaching out via twitter or to our blog!

I wish you all the BEST as you begin the first years of this amazing field!

~Jenni with an “i”


Student Affairs - the First Years

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