Forging My Own Path

by Kristen Abell

Last week on the #SAchat, the topic was “getting ahead in student affairs” – which I think might have been a little tongue in cheek on the part of the moderator, but I think it still begs a good question. What does it mean to get ahead in student affairs? And exactly why do we strive to do it?

Well, sorry, but I’m not here to answer those questions for you today. Instead, I thought it might be nice to share the path of a nontraditional student affairs professional – one who has bucked the ladder completely, as well as most definitions of getting ahead. Too often we hear of those who progress straight up the ladder and think we must be doing it wrong. I want to offer a different perspective for those who just aren’t sure the ladder is for them.

First of all, I got into student affairs the same way most of us did – as an undergrad who stumbled into an RA role and found I had an aptitude for leadership. But unlike many of our colleagues, I didn’t go on to get my master’s in higher education – I got mine in social welfare. I held down a 20 – 24-hour internship both years of my grad school program while also serving as an assistant hall coordinator. And of course, because of all that, I wore myself down and ended up with pneumonia, but that’s a story for another time.

Once I graduated, I struggled to find a job that was a good fit for me – I was hoping for a job in a women’s center, but those were few and far between. I finally ended up working in a TRIO program on my alma mater’s campus for a year until my partner graduated. We moved together halfway across the country, where I found a job in residence life doing training and curriculum for student staff. In many ways, the position was a great fit for my interests. In other ways, the atmosphere was not. But I stuck it out for my partner’s two years of grad school until we moved again for his first full-time job.

I spent half a year out of work because the university he was working at was going through and economic crisis and was downsizing instead of hiring. I then stumbled across dream job number one – in a women’s center at my alma mater. I worked in this position for approximately two years – it was a sexual assault education and services position. During that time, I had a child and decided I wanted to be a teacher. So I went back to school and added a third major to my bachelor’s degree in English. All while working full-time and taking care of a newborn with my partner. Did I mention that I’m not always the smartest of cookies?

In any case, after thinking about the fact that I would have to be an extrovert for eight hours of the day in order to be a teacher, I quickly dispensed with that career choice and instead became the assistant director of a women’s center on another campus closer to my house. I held this position for two years, became extremely involved in my regional NASPA board, and got to be known as a bit of techie in student affairs on my campus. I also got the chance to really dig in and hone my social media skills in this job, as well as my web editing skills.

When an associate director position in student housing with responsibilities for marketing and online presence opened up at the same university, it seemed like a great chance for me to continue to hone my social media and tech skills in an area in which I already had a lot of knowledge. Little did I know how much that job would change within just a few months of me starting it. The director was promoted shortly after I began there, and I took on acting director responsibilities for the next two years, finally being promoted to director. This left very little time for expanding my marketing and tech skills, but hey, I was on the right path headed up, right?

Or at least I was until I began to be plagued by a series of health problems exacerbated by my stress level – and the fact that I almost never stopped working anymore. Why was I doing this again? Just because it was the logical next step? Suddenly, that didn’t seem like such a good reason. When a position in our marketing and communications office on campus opened up, I threw all caution to the wind and applied – being completely honest about the fact that I had minimal web development skills but was eager to learn and I had plenty of other translatable skills to bring with me. I didn’t get it – instead, I had an incredibly supportive vice chancellor at that time that wanted to keep me and created a similar position that was also half-time student affairs so I could remain a part of the division and continue to advise my colleagues on their online presence.

It was a step down and over, and not everyone understood it. Some people who are at the director level don’t talk to me nearly as much or respond to my emails as quickly. I’m sure I lost credibility with some folks in professional associations or that I had met through social media because I took a path less travelled. You know what? I’m okay with that – those people don’t have to live my life. Those people don’t get to come home to my awesome family, enjoy the books I read, or the hobbies that I find entertaining.

At the time for me, it seemed like dream position number two. Then I realized that there really is no dream position – I really love parts of my job. I really struggle with other parts of it. It’s not a dream – it’s reality. And it won’t be my last position, but it’s a good fit for me right now. I’m building some great skills, learning what things I love and what I don’t, and I know when the next position comes along, I’ll be ready for it.

If you also have a different path, I invite you to share yours, too – let’s change the perception that the only way to go in student affairs is up. Share a blog post or a video about your path and link to it in the comments below. I know there are people that want to hear your story.

Forging My Own Path

The Importance of Breaks

By Brenda Bethman

If, like me, you work on a campus that follows a semester schedule and also doesn’t have a fall break in October, you likely are currently dealing with zombie students, faculty, and staff. And not because of Halloween, but because at this point in the semester, those of us who didn’t get a mid-semester break are (to put it mildly) exhausted. It’s the time of fall when I start fantasizing about excuses I could use to cancel class (I don’t use them, but I do wish I could some days), when said classes are sparsely attended and the students there lethargic, when faculty and staff have shorter fuses, and when it feels as if Thanksgiving will NEVER get here.

It’s also the time of year that reminds me that taking breaks and practicing self care are just as important as work (and maybe even more so) as it’s the breaks and care that allow us to do the work in the first place. We’ve still got three weeks until Thanksgiving and the longer break that I am craving, though, so in the meantime I’m finding ways, some utilizing technology and some tech-free, to help me take mini breaks. Here are the ways I’m coping at the moment:

  • BreakTime (Mac and iOS): BreakTime is one of my all-time favorite apps. Its use is simple — set a timer that tells you to take a break at pre-determined intervals. To help make the break happen, the app will freeze your computer or phone for the duration of the break so that you can’t ignore the reminder and continue to work. If you have trouble remembering to take breaks, this app is a great way to force yourself to do so. (Windows users can download Breaker, which is a similar app).
  • Exercise (or just move): I traveled a bit more than usual in September and October, which wreaked havoc with my exercise routine — and I am feeling it. For November and December, I am recommitting to spending time in the gym or outdoors as getting exercise and/or fresh air in my day definitely helps with my energy levels. A midday workout or walk is a great way for me to get through the afternoon slump.
  • Take a break from technology: Recently I found that being on Twitter felt more draining than useful, so I drastically scaled back my use of Twitter (to the point where I’m essentially not using it at the moment). Lately, I’ve been thinking about doing the same with Facebook and other social media as it seems that using social media is more stressful than fun at the moment.

What about you? How do you survive “Zombie season” on your campus? Share your tips in the comments!

The Importance of Breaks

What’s in a name? Changing your online identity after marriage

by @JessMSamuels (formerly @JessFaulk)

 “What’s in a name? That which we call Jess Faulk by any other name would be as sweet.”  Changing your online identity after marriage.

I have a confession to make.  I have been married for over 3 months and I have yet to complete my online identity transition.  I’ll be completely honest, the whole idea intimidates me.  Not the name change itself.  I changed to Jess Samuels without much concern. Even though I consider myself a feminist, and can appreciate anyone who chooses to keep their own name, I liked the idea of having a family name, being a recognizable unit, and Faulk hyphenated with anything is just too much of a mouthful.  I can also appreciate my friends who change their name because it is more unique, and more brandable. For example, how easy would it be for me to show up in Google if my last name happened to be Simpson?  Meranda Adams in her article “The Age of SEO, How Do You Change Your Name After Marriage?” laments that her name change meant she was much less recognizable. Meranda says, “If only I’d fallen for a guy with a more original last name.”  After having made the choice to take my husband’s last name, Samuels, I could relate.

The name change in my offline world was relatively easy. I moved through everything from social security to credit cards within weeks of getting married.  Checking those things off of my to do list felt manageable, however, changing my online identity felt insurmountable.  When I Google “Jess Faulk” in a incognito search, 8 out of the first 11 results in Google are me.  My twitter, my institution’s staff listing, my website, my picture, my pins.  When I search “Jess Samuels” however, only 1 out of the first 11 results in Google are me.  To start all over from scratch, building an online presence is intimidating, but not impossible.

SAWTT

Where to start

Before I even officially became Mrs. Samuels, I started with knowem.com.  This site allowed me to quickly determine which sites have the username I desired available.  I had to decide whether having Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, and YouTube (or dozens of other sites) all with the same username was important to me.  Because I knew branding myself online after already starting with another username on so many other platforms was going to be a challenge, I decided that having one consistent name was important, and thus selected JessMSamuels for all of my userprofiles.

Holding Period (i.e. Engagement)

While you are waiting for everything to become official, you can start collecting some of your new profiles.  Grab your .com and your Gmail to start.  Gmail won’t let you transfer the name of your account from one name to another, BUT it will let you forward from one account to another, and import all of your messages, so there is no reason to delay in grabbing the account you will eventually use.  Choosing your Twitter should technically also save you the concern of someone else grabbing it while you are engaged, however, a word of warning – you do need to release the new name before you can change your old account, so it may be a little trickier than changing your name on Pinterest or Facebook.

Making the Change – What’s easy, and what’s not, AND how to do it.

Next Steps

SEO Chicks provide the valuable advice to be careful when changing your accounts.  Many online accounts will be attached to other accounts (such as Facebook and Twitter), and you have to make sure all of the links still work after changing usernames and emails for those accounts.  They also wisely suggest keeping your avatar while you are doing your initial name change.  There will be enough confusion when you change your name, so keeping the consistency of your old image will help people know it’s you.

This blog post may have been more therapy for me than anything else.  While intimidating, it shows me that moving through my social media profiles are just as doable as moving through the cards in my wallet.  Of course, I know that there will always be unforeseen challenges – such as changing the name on all of my Student Affairs themed infographics (esp. after I lost my hard drive with all of the original work), but I will get through that as well.  That is what Photoshop is for!

Anyone have any other name change tips?  Post them in the comments, I would love to hear your approach to this branding challenge.

What’s in a name? Changing your online identity after marriage

The New Professional Life – Finding Balance (And Keeping It)

By Lauren Creamer

Not a single one of my graduate classes or experiences truly prepared me for life as a new professional.

… Okay. That’s only partially true. You just don’t know what it’s like until you live it.

This past July I began a my job in Residence Life at an elite institution that is approximately 13 hours away from my home in Rhode Island and 15 hours away from my graduate life in Boston.  I’m down here with a very limited support system and in full swing with my new job. As you can imagine (or potentially remember from your own experience), I’ve been a tad bit overwhelmed. And it wasn’t until this month began, that I finally started to get myself grounded.

Let me start by saying, that I have some of the world’s greatest frolleagues (you know, friend-colleagues). They have been incredibly supportive and great mentors throughout my transition. Without them, I would be completely lost.  

While I once would have liked to believe that I was the captain of my own ship, I’ve recently learned the following: you cannot do it alone. You cannot do it all. And you cannot forget that.

I typically work a 50+ hour work-week. It’s never less and sometimes it’s more. I answer emails all day, every day. I let my staff members text me with questions. I live where I work. I work where I live.  I continue to talk about work with anyone who will listen at any point in any day. And I’ve recently discovered just how stupid I am being. That is a great way to burn myself out in year one. So, what have I done (and what can you do) to bring back the balance?

  • Leave the office at dinner time. Yes, we all stay later. And that’s fine. But not at the expense of your own health. For the love of Pete, there will always be more work to do. Leave it and eat a sandwich.
  • Stop checking your email all night. Oh, hello iPhone, you devil, you. While it truly is wonderful to check email on-the-go, those nights where I let it charge and ignore the buzz are the ones where I am the least anxious and most relaxed. If there is an emergency, someone will call you.
  • Go off the grid on the weekends. It isn’t until I leave town that I truly feel free. No laptop. No “homework”. No nothin’.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  I think I spent eight straight weeks avoiding asking more questions than I thought were appropriate. That was dumb. It’s better to know than to assume.  Plus, everyone wants you to do a good job anyway.
  • Call your friends and family. Do you remember that wonderful invention called the telephone? Use it. Friends and family keep us sane. At the end of a long, hard day, it helps to hear the voice of someone you love.

The moral of my story? Unplug when you need to and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Since I’ve recognized the need to change in me, my mood has improved, my overall happiness has increased, and I feel more confident in my position. (And it’s a good thing I didn’t agree to write more blog posts this season, otherwise there would have been more on my plate and less in my outbox).

The New Professional Life – Finding Balance (And Keeping It)

Technology in Times of Tragedy: #BostonMarathon

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By Jess Faulk

As a Student Affairs professional in Boston, I lived through one of the most emotionally and physically exhausting weeks I could imagine.  The bookends of the week were Monday’s  Boston Marathon explosions, and then Friday’s city-wide “shelter in place” (aka lockdown) and killing and capture of the suspects.  This is never something you can can fully prepare for, but when tragedy does strike you feel very fortunate for systems and technology you have in place to help you manage the crisis.

All week, I have been reflecting on the tools we have used, both to communicate among each other, but also more importantly those used by our students to communicate with their friends and loved ones.  I’d like to share a few of technologies that I feel have been indispensable this week.

Camera and Video Phones

Thanks to the ubiquitous nature of smart phones, investigators had access to thousands of photo and video files.  Following tips from witnesses, they were able to pour through this overwhelming  volume of data and identify several photos and videos of the bombing suspects.  It’s amazing to me that anyone in the crowd might have a photo or video that leads to identifying those responsible.

Texts/Text Alerts/Phone Alerts

Shortly after the explosions on Monday, Boston news sources began pushing out important information about safety measures and street closures. Texts, email and phone alerts were used by Universities to communicate these updates with students. Cell phones became useless as everyone tried to call from and to Boston to check on loved ones. Until cell phone lines cleared up, texting became the most expedient way to communicate with the Resident Director (RD) on duty, my family and friends, and the Campus Emergency Response Team. This made me reflect on our need to come up with separate emergency plans in case of complete cell phone outages.  Do you have plans in place for communicating via home phone?  Office phones? Walkie Talkie?

On Friday, I awoke to a phone alert that Boston and several surrounding towns were on “shelter in place” alert because police were hunting down the 2 suspects.  These phone alerts allow us to quickly respond to incidents as they are happening.

Facebook & Twitter

I was extremely grateful these technologies were available.  They did not exist when 9/11 happened. Back then you couldn’t message your entire community with one post to let everyone know you were okay.  In my first official email communication to the Simmons residential community, I suggested all students post status messages on Facebook and Twitter to let loved ones know they were safe. While we certainly received some concerned parent phone calls after the explosion, and during the manhunt, we received many fewer calls because these communication tools were available.

Opportunities for support also popped up all over Facebook as the week progressed, including information about community vigils and OneFund, which was set up by Boston Mayor Menino and Massachusetts Governor Patrick to support survivors.

Google Docs

While the explosions happened 1.4 miles from the Simmons College campus, we knew that many of our students could potentially have been hurt or killed in the blast.  The Boston Marathon coincides with Patriots’ Day a statewide holiday. Therefore, thousands of students from Boston’s 53 colleges and universities have the day off and chose to line up along the Marathon route to cheer on the runners.  Some Simmons students go the extra mile and volunteer at the finish line and in the medical tents.  Several of our student life staff were also running in the race.

As soon as we were able coordinate communication, each RD sent an email to the students in their building and asked everyone in their building to check in either in person or via email.  We were adamant in tracking down every student, whether physically on campus or off.  Many students were at home with their families because of the long weekend.  By the end of the day, RDs were able to confirm they checked in with 99% of the students in their buildings. RDs entered all of this data onto a shared Google doc spreadsheet. I shared the Google doc with the Emergency Response team, Dean’s office, and ResStaff so everyone had access to real-time head counts.

When parents or friends called in to check on a student, we were able to check the Google doc to confirm that we had heard from the student and they were safe.  Not only was this extremely useful in verifying that our students had all (thank goodness) survived the blasts without harm, but it also made the students FEEL extremely well taken care of.  RDs reported receiving dozens of emails from residents thanking them for checking in on them.

Google doc spreadsheets were also used by the Boston Globe, to set up an “I have a place to stay” document for the thousands of Boston Marathon runners who could not go back to their Back Bay hotels immediately following the blasts.  Google also set up a “Boston Marathon Explosions Person Finder.”

For more information on how how technology and social media played an important role in supporting the Boston Marathon investigations, check out the stories below:

Technology in Times of Tragedy: #BostonMarathon

Blog Prompt: Playlist of the Week

By Anitra Cottledge

Tell us how your week went by putting together a playlist of  five songs that represent it.

1. “We Used to Be Friends” by The Dandy Warhols

Um, hello! The possibility of Veronica Mars, one of my favorite shows of all time, being made into a movie? Good news all around.

2. “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge

I don’t have sisters, but I love my family, and was reminded of their awesomeness this week.

3. “Glory Box” by Portishead

Does one need an actual reason to include Portishead in a playlist? It’s not so much the lyrics but the music; I felt like I was in a slow, slightly trippy brain fog for most of the week. I blame Daylight Savings.

4. “Breathe” by Lalah Hathaway

“Just breathe/remember to breathe.”

5. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by The Eurythmics

I have had nothing but odd dreams all week long. I’m also going to blame Daylight Savings for this, too.

What song(s) represent your week?

Blog Prompt: Playlist of the Week

Downton Abbey vs. Walking Dead, #dontmakemechoose

by Jess Faulk

walking-dead-downton-abbey

Sunday night. Housework done. Snow shoveling done. Weekend winding down.  Should be a relaxing time for most.  And yet, it brings with it a very difficult question that would stress out any reasonable human being, what do I watch on TV tonight? Downton Abbey or The Walking Dead!?!

Lucky for me, thanks to the invention of TIVO, I know my answer to that question – both!  Although it did make me wonder, how many others are in the same boat as me, psyched to watch these two radically different shows?  I am sure it is not a coincidence that they have placed these two wonderful shows opposite each other, on the assumption that they won’t attract the same demographic.

It is possible I am an outlier, having full appreciation for the romance, drama, and history of Downton and equally loving the gore and intensity of the post-apocalyptic world of Walking Dead.  However, I have a hunch that I am far from being alone in this mixed genre affection, and that my fellow blog readers are among those who can appreciate a wide range of interests.
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I still vividly remember listing to NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me’s bluff the listener game in February 2009.  They shared three stories about classic works of literature being “improved.”  The stories were all equally unbelievable as usual.  But when I heard the story of blending zombies and Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice, I listened intently hoping that that story was true.  The question of whether Mr. Darcy will capture Ms. Bennet’s heart, or whether that heart would be eaten by the Zombie hordes is just too exciting for it not to be true!  As we now know, it was true, and Seth Grahame-Smith published the awesome mash-up, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  I felt like it was written just for me.

As a female geek I am (almost) used to being questioned when I express an interest in stereotypically different interests.  Growing up, I liked playing video games and also liked playing dress up.  I liked watching the Terminator and liked watching Titanic.  These days, I like reading tech blogs and also like reading romance novels.  And as I’ve made obvious, I love Downton Abbey and also love The Walking Dead.  I have found excitement in these “contradictions” and I hope that future generations of young women feel comfortable exploring whatever interests they want to without judgment.  Talking about it, normalizing it, and celebrating a variety of interests with both little boys and little girls is important. Who knows, maybe when our kids grow up, they won’t have to choose between two of the greatest shows on TV because the networks will schedule shows based on a new demographic that loves both!

Blog Prompt: What hobbies are you into that other people feel are contradictory?

Photo Mashup: by Brian Huntington on http://www.notzombies.com/tv/downton-zombie/
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un LA Times article on the similarities between Downton Abbey and The Walking Dead

Downton Abbey vs. Walking Dead, #dontmakemechoose