Tuesday, September 23, 2014

My #SAStory

One of the biggest questions people always ask one another when making small talk in the Student Affairs field (at least among new professionals and grad students) is how they wound up pursuing a career in it. I feel like I've told my story over and over to aspiring and current #SApros, and each time more and more of the story gets chopped off for fear of boring everyone and coming off as self-centered.

I do really enjoy my story, and when I tell it I remember what inspired me to get into the field in the first place. I figured that before I get further in my career and the details of why I got into this field get hazy, I should write it all down with photos and all! This will likely be a longer post, so if you'd like to learn more about how I decided my career path, please click the cut! (And you'll get to see me in all of my college glory... #embarrassing)

September 2008 - 18 year-old freshman Riley moves onto the Lasell College campus...

Class of 2012 Welcome BBQ! :)

My older sister went to a military university and I had no idea what to expect from a civilian college, I just knew that I was pumped. I had made a few friends at my new student orientation in June and we had stayed in touch throughout the summer, so we were very excited to see each other and to begin this new, scary, and exciting journey together.

Before arriving to campus, I got a letter informing me that I had been accepted to be a part of a the Leadership Scholar program. I had applied for this program not really knowing what it was, but knowing that it would likely be a good way to get connected to my new school (and it had a scholarship attached to it which didn't hurt). In addition to taking a few courses, this program required me to participate in community service projects, attend additional seminars, and get involved in a club on campus, all things that I wouldn't have even thought about had I not joined this program. My main goal was to take classes, hang out with friends, and play lacrosse, but the Leadership Scholar program opened up so many more doors for me and I am so happy I got the opportunities that I did!

I had also landed a work-study job on the Athletics Event Staff before arriving to campus. This position was perfect for me because I could work as much or as little as I wanted. The job consisted of setting up fields/courts, tracking the score books for various teams, and generally helping out with all the components of making a game run (it's more than you'd think!). This was a great way to meet some different students outside of my residence hall and begin my relationship with the Athletics department before I started lacrosse in the spring.

During the first week of class, my good friend James and I found out that the college radio station was looking for DJs. Being arrogant college kids (I mean, our taste in music was clearly superior to everyone else's) we jumped on the opportunity. (My first college involvement!) Our radio show, "The Dime", aired from 10 PM - 12 AM on weekends, and for a few months we had a blast playing music and hanging out in the station together. I wound up sticking with the radio station with various co-hosts for pretty much all four years except the spring semester of my Senior year.

In the booth! Clearly we thought we were the coolest Freshmen to grace Lasell with our presence.

With the spring came lacrosse season and finally getting involved in one of the things that drew me to Lasell in the first place. Joining the team was a difficult transition. Trying to balance my school work (taking an 18 credit course load - 3 credits more than the average Lasell Freshman), my Leadership Scholar commitments, my work-study job in Athletics, and my social/family life was stressful in itself, so adding a varsity sport to the mix (a commitment of 3+ hours a day, 6 days a week) was extremely overwhelming. I almost quit the team my Freshman year because I didn't think I could handle it, but my coach talked me out of it, and I wound up becoming a Freshman starter! Being part of a varsity sport really pushed my time management and balance skills, and though I've been relatively organized my whole life, I think this is what turned me into the hyper organized person that I am today. Lacrosse was a huge part of my life at Lasell (I was a 4-year starting defender and was selected as captain of the team my Senior year) and I can't imagine my college career without it.

Freshman Year - Spring 2009

Sophomore Year - Spring 2010

Junior Year - Spring 2011

Senior Year - Spring 2012

Senior Year - Spring 2012

I entered my Sophomore year in the Fall of 2009 and began to want more. I loved everything I was involved with my Freshman year, but I didn't really have the confidence to push myself harder. I started to gain that confidence after successfully completing my first full year of college. In the fall I went out for an additional work-study position with our Center for Community Based Learning, and was given the opportunity to be a tutor with the America Reads program. I got to work with a couple awesome 3rd graders through this program and connected with a handful of new Lasell staff members who provided me with more opportunities for community involvement.

This was the year that I applied for a spot in the Lasell Study Abroad program and was accepted. Going into college, I never thought that studying abroad would have been in the cards for me, but after attending a few info sessions and talking to a few friends who studied abroad themselves, I finally went for it. I was accepted into the Richmond University program in London, England for Fall 2010 and could not have been more excited about it! But first, I had to accomplish the rest of my Sophomore year.

I also gained the confidence this year to go after two positions that I had been interested since I walked through the doors at Lasell - Orientation Leader and Resident Assistant. Though I had the confidence to apply to the positions that I hadn't had as a Freshman, I really didn't think I was going to get either of them because I was set to study abroad in the fall, and both positions had fall semester obligations. Acceptance/denial letters for both positions went out on the same day and to my surprise, I was hired for both positions! I had to defer the RA position until the spring semester, but I was able to commit to the June program for the OL position and I had a BLAST. 

I would say that becoming an OL is what made me fall in love with being involved on campus, and really started to empower me and think of myself as a student leader. The bonds I formed with my fellow OLs (who were all relative strangers to me before this experience) and the connections I made with the professional staff members are ones that are still strong to this day. More importantly, meeting and working with the incoming first year students was a definite highlight of the position. Hearing that some of the students in my group were truly interested in becoming a student leader themselves filled me up with such happiness that I couldn't really explain. It made me feel good to make the first year students feel welcome and at home at Lasell, and it brought me such satisfaction to know that they were just as excited about being there as I was. I knew it was what I wanted to make every student feel - to love Lasell just as much as I did.

Junior year meant jetting across the pond for this gal. My parents dropped me off at Boston Logan at the end of August and off I went - on my own - to London. I didn't know anyone on this trip, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. But my nerves were soon at ease when I realized that pretty much everyone else in the program was on their own as well, and we soon embarked on the most magical 4 months in Europe!

Getting dropped off at the airport!

Left: On a Thames cruise, next to Tower Bridge in London, England | Right: Experiencing Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany

Wading in the sea in Brighton, England

Pouring a pint at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

Seeing Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England

Getting the opportunity to do a semester abroad was, of course, one of the highlights of my college career (and more accurately, my life!), and the Orientation Leader in me had an itch to spread the life changing experience that is studying abroad with the rest of my fellow Lasers and hopefully give them the opportunity to experience what I did. Students that studied abroad were given the opportunity to become Ambassadors for the Study Abroad program, which I quickly jumped on. I wanted to be able to share my story and answer any questions that other Lasell students had about going abroad so they, too, could experience what I did!

Upon my return to the States, I was re-offered my RA position at Lasell, and jumped right into it in January of 2011. I was pretty nervous to be starting as a new RA in the middle of the year, and especially so because I was a Junior on a predominantly Senior student floor. I was nervous that none of my residents were going to take me seriously, and if I were being honest, I would say they didn't. It was tough getting through my first semester as an RA, but because it was so tough, I learned a lot of what it took to do the job well, and when I returned as a Senior RA in a Sophomore building, I felt much more confident and I was able to connect with my residents on a much better level. I had very positive experiences helping my residents with some tough situations, and really fell in love with ResLife in general. My staff was awesome (we even won staff of the year that year!), my supervisors were awesome, and my residents were awesome. I knew that helping other Lasell students was what made me happy, and I did not want that to ever had to end. At this point, I was dreading having to say goodbye to it all.

Staff of the Year 2011-2012! The Quad Squa<3d :)

And so, Spring 2012 had arrived, marking my final semester as an undergraduate. I had just started looking for jobs in the Advertising field - what I had been studying for for the last three and a half years, but not something that my heart was really in. I had luckily started a job in Career Services at the same time as my RA position, and had become quite close with one of the Career Counselors that I worked with. She, along with several other of my campus mentors, talked to me and introduced me into the field of Student Affairs. Though I had been super involved on campus and had interacted with these Student Affairs Professionals, it had never really clicked in my mind that this was a career path that I could realistically go down. The idea was a little surprising at first, and it also threw me off that I would more than likely have to go for my Master's degree (something that I had never anticipated for myself), but the more I toyed around with the idea in my head, the more I liked it.

The year came to an end, and with it came campus award season, where I won a Lasell Bowl (an award for students who had outstanding campus contributions during their time) at the Leadership Awards, and graduation where I crossed the stage receiving my diploma, Latin honors, and no post-graduation job to speak of. I left Lasell confused and nervous for my unknown future.

My Lasell Bowl!

My diploma!

I applied and interviewed for a number of positions in both the Advertising and Student Affairs fields, but I was happy (and relieved) that the first position I landed was in ResLife as a Resident Director at Dean College. I wanted to see if Student Affairs was a realistic career path for me before committing to graduate school, and this was my opportunity to find out. I moved into my apartment at Dean in August of 2012 and began my professional journey with the beginning of Community Advisor training a few days later. My first semester at Dean solidified that I really loved working with students. I wouldn't say that it was the easiest personal transition for me, but working with my residents and CAs made me so happy that I knew I was in the right place. I knew that I wouldn't be happy if I wasn't working with this age group in some way, shape, or form in my life, and so I began looking at graduate schools. 

View from my apartment the day I moved onto campus at Dean - August 2012

I really had no clue what I was doing when it came to finding the right grad program for me. Luckily, one of my fellow Resident Directors at Dean was a graduate student pursuing a degree in Student Affairs and told me all about her program at Bridgewater State. It was counseling based, which was what I was looking for, and she had nothing but positive things to say about her assistantship and the connections that she made at BSU. In addition to a few other schools, I applied to the program at Bridgewater and got in! I landed an assistantship in the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership, meaning great experience throughout my two years and tuition remission which was a huge help after racking up some serious student loan debt at Lasell. I began my #SAgrad experience in July of 2013 and have been loving every minute of it since I started!

OSIL staff photo - August 2013

Presenting at the BSU/Stonehill Leadership Summit - October 2013

Shots from Homecoming 2013, my first major event at BSU! - October 2013

With the BSU delegation at NACA Northeast - October 2013

Presenting with my professor at ACPA Indianapolis - March 2014

Shots from my grad internship with BSU's June New Student Orientation program - June 2014

Partial OSIL Staff Photo - August 2014

As a second year #SAgrad, I'm taking on my practicum requirements and starting to think about looking for full-time positions in the field. I'm very interested in pursuing Student Activities with more of a focus on leadership development programs and advising larger student organizations. I find that my interests lie in working with large groups of students and helping them grow and develop into student leaders, whatever their definition of that term may be. I'm hoping my internship working with leadership programming at Clark University this year can really help me see my potential in that path and hopefully open up some future opportunities for me. Who knows where my #SAstory may lead me come graduation, but I'm excited to find out!

Where are my #SAfriends at?! I'd love to read about your #SAstory!
Share in the comments below, or leave a link to where you have posted it!

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