Bridging the Divide: A Call to Action

In a post on Inside Higher Ed earlier this week, author Russell Olwell discussed the importance of faculty mentoring for undergraduates. This rang close to home as I think back on my career as an undergraduate; the faculty that I had in my first year helped me hone my skills as a writer and taught me how to think critically; skills incredibly necessary for an undergraduate student in the program in which I was entering.

Yet, the post also had me reflect on the work I do now as a student affairs educator. I work in Housing & Residence Life at Virginia Tech and our department is constantly thinking of ways to bridge the divide between student affairs and academic affairs (literally divided by the Drill Field) by bringing faculty to the residence halls. Virginia Tech is home to two residential colleges (Residential College at West Ambler Johnston and the Honors Residential Commons at East Ambler Johnston) where tenure track faculty live in the residence halls and interact with students in numerous ways outside the classroom. Programs like these (living learning programs) are essential to bridging that divide and strengthening undergraduate education.

In addition to my work in Housing & Residence Life, I also work with our Fraternity & Sorority Life office due to my position overseeing our on campus fraternities and sororities. In this capacity, I often think of how to bring faculty mentors into the fraternity and sorority life community. While residential programs across the country move towards greater and greater faculty-student interaction, it is essential for other functional areas within student affairs (e.g. fraternity and sorority life, leadership programs, identity centers, etc) to bring in faculty to provide more and more opportunities for faculty and undergraduate students to connect and build relationships.

The work of bridging the divide cannot be left to residence life programs. While the majority of students on a traditional residential campus pass through the residence halls, many students do not find community within those halls. Thus, other student affairs functional areas need to rethink their work (as residential programs still need to do too) to bring in more faculty, helping to bridge that divide.

I’m Home

It’s been a few months since my last post… since graduating in May 2016 with my Masters of Science in Student Affairs in Higher Education I enjoyed a few months off and then began my job as a Residential Learning Coordinator at Virginia Tech. It has been a whirlwind summer and I cannot believe October is in just over 24 hours.

The adjustment to being a new professional has been as expected; challenging, rewarding, stressful, and full of surprises. Having been in school for 18 consecutive years, my first fall without having to go to class, prepare for homework, and worry about the next test has been surprisingly stressful.

I was born and raised in the Midwest; the longest I lived somewhere outside of the rust belt was in Seattle for two and a half months in the summer of 2015. Now, living in the Southeast I am out of my comfort zone adjusting to life as a professional. Overall, it has been positive but there were numerous times when I would ask myself “Can I do this?” or “Why was I hired?” There were even nights when I would think that I was not worthy to be working full time; that I had missed some important lesson in graduate school. Luckily I kept going, mostly hiding my stress and self-doubt from my colleagues, because now I am starting to get it. The sense of self-doubt and fraudulent being is not anything new; anyone adjusting to a new role or new area is bound to experience this ‘impostor syndrome’ that is so often discussed in higher education. I too felt it as I transition(ed) here to VT and Blacksburg.

However, this week was the first week since moving down here that I haven’t felt the self-doubt or worried about the mountains of work. Part of that is we are finishing week six of the semester, but another part is that I have started to connect with friends back home and colleagues here and begun to develop a support system. As cliche as it is, that sense of support and camaraderie has been a world of difference as far as my conception of my role as a professional. Now that I feel this sense of support and camaraderie I can worry less about navigating two offices (I am a dual report to Housing & Residence Life and Fraternity & Sorority Life) or the mountains of emails I wake up to everyday. Instead, I can put my head down and get to work knowing that when I do mess up I have folks who can support me and laugh off the mistake.

I’m finally home.

Waiting

There is something positive to be said about having almost two months off between jobs. I finished my contract at Miami University on May 20th and will start at my new position at Virginia Tech on July 13th. I looked forward to this time off to get my life in order, see friends and family, and recharge after working through my graduate program for two years.

Yet, as I sit in this liminal state, I cannot help but feel restless. Just a few short weeks ago, I was feeling restlessness as I went through the ritual of commencement. In some respects, this restlessness is to be expected for a newly anointed master of student affairs. Yet, that restlessness is tiring.

I spend my mornings going through a ritual of turning on the news, drinking a cup of tea, and making breakfast. This ritual is important, as it adds structure to a time filled with anything but structure. Lately, that ritual has been filled with responding to emails from my future employer about my placement or notes of welcome. The restlessness to move to Blacksburg and start my new position is starting to get to me, and I am in only my second week of my break.

It helps to know that the restlessness I am feeling is natural and one that my peers across the country and undoubtedly feeling. Yet, the desire to get up and get started with my next position hangs over me like a heavy cloud. The possibilities that wait for me at Virginia Tech are numerous and have the rose colored glasses to make the impending transition seem incredibly exciting and without trouble. The next five and a half weeks are going to be filled with restlessness and the desire to get started. How I stay grounded in this liminal state is important to the enjoyment that I can get.

Best of luck to all who are feeling similarly as they wait for their new beginning.

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.