by Kathryn Magura
Tell us about a special moment with a student that highlights why you work in student affairs.
When I saw my blog prompt for this week, my mind immediately began spinning with memories of how I have assisted students over the years. I serve over 4000 students in our residential communities on campus, and push myself to find new ways to serve them daily. I also supervise 40 students, who I strive to mentor as they navigate their college experience. What story will I pick??
It would be easy for me to say “I can’t pick just one!” But that is a bit of a cop-out, in my opinion. As student affairs professionals, we all have that moment that happens when things just sort of click, and we determine, “YES!! This is why I do what I do!”
For me, my most recent stories revolve around helping parents help their students. I work hard to build collaborative partnerships with parents, and strive to see them as allies (rather than enemies) in the educational process. If I can help a parent understand our policies, and how they can inform their student of the consequences of violating these policies, then I have succeeded in my job. My newest charge has been taking angry parent phone calls in my office. I almost see these conversations as a personal challenge: If I can turn this conversation around, I can do anything!
One day this past spring, I had the opportunity to take one of these parent calls. It was about a week after our cancellation deadline for students who were planning to return to campus for the next year, and the student in question had missed the deadline. The result was the assessment of our $2000 cancellation fee for breaking the contract. Naturally, as the person footing the bill, the parent was not too happy with this fee.
When I took the call, I checked our online Customer Service Log to catch up on the story. Side note: if you don’t have a way of tracking customer calls, I strongly encourage you to find/develop one. Knowing the story behind the call eliminated the need for the parent to rehash the story. I was able to provide a synopsis of the situation as I understood it, and then provided an opportunity for the parent to add clarity as needed. As I listened without interrupting (this is my #1 rule for customer service: shut up and listen), I could hear how the parent was frustrated with the process as well as with the student for missing a known deadline. The transition to college life can be difficult for a parent who is navigating the experience along with their student, especially when they are physically removed from the environment. This parent was clearly struggling with helping their student understand deadlines, but was also frustrated with some confusing information received from my office.
After the parent finished venting to me, I acknowledged how the information received from my office was confusing, and apologized (rule #2 for customer service: know when to apologize). I clarified some pieces of the puzzle for the parent, and then asked some questions about how the first year of college was going for the student. This is when the parent really opened up to me about some concerns felt regarding the student’s study habits and lack of solid friendships. Furthermore, the student was canceling the housing contract because they had a lead on a potential house off campus with some people the student met online.
At this point, it was clear to me that the cancellation fee was just a symptom of a greater problem. Knowing this, I was able to say, “Before we move on, I want to let you know that due to the conflicting information received from our office, I am going to waive the cancellation fee.” For me, it was important to set some context before offering resources. I knew that this cancellation fee issue would be a sticking point that could prohibit progress. Removing the cancellation fee changed the whole tenor of the conversation, and allowed us to take the conversation in a different direction. I was able to build trust with the parent and offer some resources available to the student on campus. I was also able to alleviate some concerns about the housing situation by offering the opportunity to contact our office in August to explore potential on-campus options, should the off-campus situation fall through.
My goal for that conversation was to build opportunities for future interactions, which provided me my “A-HA!” moment of why I work in student affairs.
So now it’s your turn to share. What experiences have you had with students that articulate why you work in student affairs?