Coming Home

US-127 and I-96 come together to the southwest of East Lansing, Michigan. The dial of the radio has been tuned to the well known Lansing area radio stations, and instinctively I merge right onto US-127 north for Clare. Almost immediately I am at the East Lansing exit. I exit US-127 and enter East Lansing, Michigan.

It has been some time since I have been in East Lansing; almost six months which has been the longest time I have spent away from campus since I moved here in August 2010. For four years of my life, East Lansing and Michigan State University were more than a temporary residence and an institution of higher learning. Michigan State and East Lansing became my home. It was where I first learned to live on my own, have a roommate, and began the long and arduous journey into adulthood. The four years I spent in East Lansing and at Michigan State were ‘transformational,’ or whatever other cliche you want to insert. Yet, that well worn cliche is true.

Now that my car is turning onto Trowbridge road, it feels as if I am returning back home to the comforts that I knew for four years. This feeling of coming home is vastly different than the one I feel when I return to Howell, my childhood home and where my parents still live. The feeling I get when I see the ‘Welcome to East Lansing – Home of Michigan State University’ signage is one of pride and nostalgia. My four years at Michigan State were incredible, and during the tough days that was graduate school I would wish, only slightly, that I could return to those better days.

Three days ago I left Oxford, Ohio and Miami University. The feeling was vastly different than when I left Michigan State University two years ago. While I was sad that I would no longer be with my cohort, friends, and faculty, it was not at all like the feeling I had when I left. And that’s okay. For me, the time I spent at Miami University were just as transformational and filled of learning. Yet, that growth and transformation pale in comparison to that which occurred at Michigan State.

The pride I feel when I tell people that I have a degree from Michigan State University is one that will carry with me for the rest of my life; the feeling I will get when I tell people I have a degree from Miami University will not be connected to the institution, rather the program that I studied in. Maybe that is normal, but it is something that I have been thinking on as I drive through campus.

No matter how much campus has changed in my two years away, I feel a strong connection to Michigan State and the home that I built here. As I transition out of Michigan and the Midwest for Virginia and the South, I will miss the easy access I had to Michigan State and East Lansing. For now, though, I am going to enjoy the time I have at home.

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Restlessness at Commencement

J4816 2016 Spring Commencement Yager Stadium
2016 Spring Commencement Yager Stadium- Photo Credit: Ricardo Trevino Jr. Photography

Saturday May 14th 2016 I, along with my cohort, graduated from Miami University. It was a cold and blustery day on that Saturday afternoon. The chill was more akin to early November, not mid-May. Yet, we sat through the ceremony eagerly awaiting our opportunity to walk across the stage, shake the President’s hand and know that we completed two years of hard work and are no longer Masters Candidates; we are Masters.

As I sat through the University Commencement, I saw myself reflecting on my time at Miami University. It was a strange feeling, knowing that I was done studying (for now) and would no longer be taking courses; I would be working a full time job in just a few short months. That excitement (and anxiousness) was palpable among my peers. Yet, I also felt drastically different than when I graduated from Michigan State University with my Bachelor of Arts.

Two years ago when I walked across the stage in the Wharton Center for Performing Arts, I was filled with immense pride, joy, and nostalgia. I had completed something that no one in my family before me had; I was the first to attend, graduate, and complete my studies at an institution of higher learning. I knew I was going to attend graduate school by my commencement ceremony at Michigan State, and I knew I would be leaving behind friends that became family. It was a bittersweet moment to be sure.

Two days ago, when I walked across the stage at Yager Stadium, I was filled with restlessness and pride. The feelings were strikingly different than when I walked a similar path two years prior. My time at Miami University was a good one; I developed friendships that are akin to a family unit, I learned a great deal, (both personally and professionally), and once again accomplished something that no one in my family prior to me had done: attended, graduate, and complete my studies in graduate school. Once again, I knew where my life would take me in my next chapter. But the feeling of nostalgia and joy was missing from this commencement ceremony.

Graduate school is vastly different than undergraduate studies. I made strong friendships and continued to grow, but that feeling of restlessness and eagerness to move on was something that I had not yet felt. Maybe this feeling of restlessness is a product of being in school for 18 years straight, but somehow I think that is too simple an explanation. Instead, I think the restlessness is a result of knowing that I am ready for the next chapter.

When I left Michigan State, I was unsure if I was ready to be a graduate student. I was not entirely confident in my ability to be successful. Now, after completing two years of a rigorous Masters program, I know I am able to be successful in a full time position. I know that it will be challenging, but I know that I can persevere through those challenges.

Restlessness is not a normal feeling at University Commencements, but it’s a feeling I’m glad I felt two days ago.

Transitioning

With every major transition, the inevitable packing of boxes, donating of old clothes not worn in years, and the puzzle of fitting everything into a car is always in the mind of folks as they transition out of an experience. Yet, more important than that picture hanging on the wall and the closet full of dress clothes, are the relationships that were accumulated during an experience.

Right now, I am sitting in my office having begun the packing process. In a few days I will graduate from Miami University with a Masters of Science in Student Affairs in Higher Education. I am excited about my new position at Virginia Tech and am eager to return home and see my friends from Michigan State. The summer will be filled with camping, seeing old friends and family, and relaxing before my transition to Virginia Tech is complete in July.

But over the last few days, I have begun thinking of how to successfully transition out of Miami and keep the relationships I have formed, close. I know that my friendships with folks will undoubtedly change, as we will not be on the same campus any longer. Yet, keeping in touch with people is important and it is something that I know I will have to do to be successful.

Everyone I talk to, and everything I read, makes a point of saying ‘oh, social media makes it super easy to stay in touch with your friends, no matter where they are’ and that is true. Yet, as someone who often falls prey to the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ trap that often comes with location changes, I know I have to put in an effort to sustain friendships.

My transition to Miami University taught me how to keep relationships. I have successfully kept in contact with my friends from Michigan State, but even now we still are struggling to conceptualize what it means to have friends all over the country. Still, the transition away from 24 people who I have built strong friendships with during my two years here wont be easy and I will have to relearn how to sustain friendships with these people.

Undoubtedly, friendships will fade. Yet, as numerous folks are moving across the country this summer to start new opportunities and adventures, it is important to really reflect on what it means to transition away from friends and how to sustain those friendships. No advice, not even the cure-all that is social media, will help someone in that transition. Best of luck; it wont be easy.

On Searching

During my posting hiatus, I was immersed in the job search. I had a few on-campuses and a great deal of time to sit and reflect. The search process was stressful and seemed to take many turns. Yet, now that it is concluded, I felt it important to share my thoughts here for other folks that will search or are still searching.

The (False) Hope of TPE

I attended The Placement Exchange in Indianapolis. I had an interview schedule that I was happy about and a few jobs that I was intrigued by. It was a busy three days, yet I left TPE feeling good about my experience.

TPE has a mythic lore surrounding it. No matter who you ask, you will get some opinion that mentions the importance of self-care and not to do too many interviews. Both of those bits of advice were true. What I found frustrating was the amount of folks that I spoke to, all made it sound as if TPE is where you will get your job. For me, that was not the case. TPE was great practice for interviews, but I felt the pressure to get a job from TPE and when I kept getting ‘no thanks’ emails after TPE, my stress levels skyrocketed. However, that does not mean that TPE does not work for some people. TPE was a generally positive experience and I would recommend it to anyone searching.

The On-Campus

During my search I had four on-campus visits, one of which was for a non-student affairs position. These experiences all varied, but what stayed true was the exhausting nature of the on-campus. As an introvert, having to talk about myself all day is not only taxing, but slightly stress inducing. The seemingly never ending onslaught of people talking with you and little time to take a breath alone was an experience that I don’t want to experience again.

I had hoped that the on-campuses would allow time to recharge, even for a few minutes, during the course of the day. However, that was not the standard and I would find myself hurrying to the bathroom just to be in silence.

Landing the Job

The job search is a vastly different experience for everyone who goes through it. Some are bound by geography, others by functional area. Yet, no matter what stipulations you have (or don’t have), the search is not any less challenging. The process is bumpy and an emotional roller coaster. One of my cohort-mates, describes the search as a constant state of being manic, and I find it hard to disagree with her.

After my on-campuses and the initial offer, I was ecstatic. The job that I most connected with was the on-campus I felt least confident in, yet they saw something in me that would work on their team. I could not be happier to be working there starting in July.

It is a surreal feeling, knowing I am done with the search. I don’t think it has really sunk in that I am done with graduate school and will be starting full time employment. Yet, the lessons I learned through the job search will stay with me as I advance through this field.

Quantitative Methodology in Practice

For the entirety of my final semester in graduate school, I have been involved in an independent study where I am using quantitative research methodology to investigate the impact that required LLC courses have on students sense of belonging.  Through this experience, I have learned the importance of using quantitative research methodology in my practice as a student affairs educator.

Specifically, I learned the importance of using data to drive decision making. Being able to understand the impact educational strategies have on students learning is essential in making decisions. In an era of ever increasing accountability, being able to reference the data and show that an educational initiative had a statistically significant impact on student learning is incredibly powerful.

Additionally, quantitative research methodology ensures that student affairs educators to understand how impactful their practices are on students.  For example, this semester I learned that required LLC courses have no impact on students sense of belonging.  Thus, the Office of Residence Life should evaluate as to what the purpose of required courses are.  If the courses are to foster belonging, then continuing to devote resources to supporting required LLC courses would not be good use of resources.

Finally, quantitative research methodology is important to advancing knowledge of the profession.  With George S. Blimling’s (2015) book Student Learning in College Residence Halls: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why as the essential text on high impact practices in residence life, it is important for student affairs educators to assess the impact those strategies have on student learning. It will be vital for residence life educators to ensure the practices that Blimling (2015) talks about are working for the students we work with.

Utilizing quantitative research methodology is not easy. It is time consuming and labor intensive to conduct quality quantitative inquiry. Yet, the results that come from conducting quantitative inquiry are incredibly valuable and heighten the educational impact.

Reference List

Blimling, G.S. (2015) Student learning in college residence halls: What works, what doesn’t, and

why. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.