little by little.

what I do.

Posted on: September 8, 2009

I belong to a field of professionals that struggle to explain to the rest of the world what it is, exactly, that we do.

“What did you get your Masters degree in, Laura?”
“Student Affairs Administration in Higher Education”.

I am a Student Affairs Professional. I work in Higher Education. I am an Area Coordinator.

Sometimes I just try to explain by saying, “I work at a college, but not necessarily the academic-side. I could work in admissions, financial aid, residence life, student activities…” Even so, family and friends mostly smile and nod. I’m pretty sure most of my aunts & uncles, cousins, grandparents, and friends don’t really understand my job or why it’s so important to me.

Instead of simply typing up my job description, let me attempt to use feeling and explain my career choice to you.

When students come to St. Olaf College, most of them live in the residence halls (minor note: this term has generally replaced the word “dorm” across the country). Residents of a hall can’t be expected to live their without certain terms – this is what I and my staff try and provide: Structure. Developmental opportunities. Fun. Safety.

A week and a half ago, 100+ students arrived to campus early – our residence life staff. Some of them are RAs (Resident Assistants on each corridor, who live amongst the upperclassmen/women) and some are JCs (Junior Counselors, who live/work in pairs and work with the first-year students). The RAs and JCs are supervised by the Area Coordinators (there are 5 of us) who each run 2 residence halls. One filled with first-year students, and the other with upperclasswomen/men.

The staff have been trained on all sorts of topics — how to plan fun events for their corridors. How to handle a roommate conflict, a depressed resident, a sexual assault. How to confront policy violations and do rounds of the halls during the evenings. What to do when the fire alarm goes off. These wonderful student staff members spend time making the floors and lobby look welcoming for the arrival of the masses. And I’m here to oversee, to step in, to guide, to support.

I also meet with students who are struggling. Maybe they were caught breaking a policy and we have a conversation about how things could have gone differently. Maybe they are struggling with their sexuality, or they’re going through a hard break-up. Maybe they just need someone to talk to. Whatever it is, I’m here and I’m a good listener.

Of course there are other parts of my job that are also important – meetings with hall custodians/my staffs/my supervisor/professional staff, 1-on-1s, advising Hall Council, administrative duties, office hours.

Tonight I spent 4 extra hours “working”… 2 with each staff, just bonding and getting to know each other. It’s the time of year where that is most important. We are learning to trust each other and are forming strong relationships right off the bat. And I tell you now, they’re an unbelievable group.

Why do I love my job?
It’s so simple.

I love college. I loved MY college experience.
I love the students here. They are so smart, so genuine. Eager and inspiring. To be a part of their college experience, and hope that I may influence them in some positive – even insignificant – way, makes me feel that I have chosen a profession that is considered noble.
It truly is not about me
– it is about something larger, something so much better. Being a part of a positive and growing community that provides so many opportunities for its members. It’s just a great way to spend the rest of my life.


6 Responses to "what I do."

Res Life 4 Ever. 🙂 The Oles are lucky to have you as a BHMTL or BACTL…

You forgot that your odd sleeping habits actually fit in quite nicely with your job.

Hi Laura,

I saw your link on The Student Affairs Blog for this post and wanted to cross share some thoughts about this.

I think this issue stems from 3 things:

1) In general across the country, Student Affairs doesn’t get much respect on campus. We don’t have a seat at the admin table in equal power with the rest of the departments.

2) The older someone is, and further away from how schools are run now, the less likely they are to understand this relatively newer profession because college wasn’t like that when they were in college.

3) The Student Affairs profession is a big broad catch all for a lot of areas. Just check out the wikipedia article for it >

Love it. I get asked this question all the time.

So what do you do?

Me: I’m an academic counselor.

Oh…I never saw my academic counselor!

Amy, I get the same comment all the time! I work as an academic advisor as well. Or, I get the comment, “Oh, my advisor was terrible when I was in school!” Great, thanks for judging me based on your previous experience!

Isn’t that the truth? I need to write a post on this. They usually respond 1 of 3 ways when I tell them I’m a counselor:

1) I never saw my academic counselor.

2) My advisor was SO mean, she made me cry!

3) I was totally misadvised and took all these classes I didn’t need!

Um…does anyone have a good story to tell? Jeebus.

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