Professional Development on a Part-Timer’s Wage

Recently, I have been bumped down to even more of a part time status at work. Who knew that you could be part time at being part time? Well you can.

Naturally, my professional ego took a hit (again) when the news came out, so I started researching/thinking of ways to stay relevant in my career so I can ensure that I am able to stay up to date on Student Affairs things once the next job search starts (not that it has really ended, but I digress).

Granted I am learning a lot of things at work for the little time that I am there, but I know that I need to be ready for other functional areas and campus climates.

Plus as a part timer, I get absolutely no professional development funds.

Coming from Iowa State where I received $2,000 for professional development just for myself on top of all the things that the department and university provided at no cost to me, having nada was a bit hard to swallow. I was super spoiled there, but it also made me very aware of how important it is to stay in touch with the field outside of my job description.

When I graduated with my Master’s, I thought the world was so open to me. I never thought that almost 4 years later I would be where I am now.


A bright-eyed Master’s grad who has no idea what is about to unfold.

Funny thing is, the world is still wide open for me, it has just taken a few humbling experiences for me to catch on to that.

I have been collecting little tidbits here and there for the past 8 months of how I can still get quality professional development but do it on the dirt cheap. AKA FREE.

So here is my journey to find professional development on a part-time wage.

My part-time-professional-go-to guide so to speak.

–>Organizational memberships

  •  In my field, it is fairly common to be a member of one of the large professional organizations, your functional area organization, and then regional organizations. Here are the breakdown of how numbers work for someone who is paying out of their own pocket.

NASPA (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators)

  • As an individual, it would cost me $75 to join.
  • Conference registration-$400-500 (not including transportation, hotel, and food)

ACPA (American College Personnel Association)

  • As an individual, it would cost me $93 to join.
  • Conference registration-$450-900 (not including transportation, hotel, and food)

AHEAD (Association on Higher Education And Disability)

  • As an individual, it would cost me $245 to join.
  • These are just the big guys. It does get cheaper the smaller the organization. I am sure you get the picture though that memberships cost money. Memberships do award you benefits and access to various things, but right now I am not sure it is worth shelling out my own small paychecks for. Some of these fees may not seem like a big deal, but any amount of dollars can make a huge difference for someone who is only getting 20 hours a week. So no dice on memberships.

Since memberships and conferences were obviously not going to work for me, I went on the search for webinars, websites, and online journals.

–>Webinars were quickly was scratched off my list because of cost again. I am looking for free here people!


  • This should be a no-brainer. Most websites are free to access, although some do require membership log-ins to gain more information, but you can get by without.
  •  My only struggle with websites are that it can get overwhelming really quickly with all the additional links and resources that you can click through. I personally get side tracked easily. I have found that I have to go searching for a purpose otherwise I get lost in time and get stressed out by what I don’t know. I mean is there a dead end on the internet?
  •  Here are some starting points for websites:

The obvious

A little more digging

  • Every functional area is going to have a website so just Google search it.


  • Pepnet (This provides resources for people working with the deaf or hard of hearing population, but the information is invaluable for all professionals! I love clicking though resources, and I learn something new every time I am on the site.)
  • Student Affairs History Project (this is just really interesting to me)
  • I Google searched “student affairs professional development.” With this search, dozens of university divisions of student affairs websites popped up. After clicking through several sites, you can find A LOT of good stuff. I found presentations, articles, general knowledge. Also it was interesting to look into random schools and see how their divisions were organized and who did development on a division level. Fascinating. Mind expanded!

–> Journals, Newsletters, and List serves (oh my)

Upon digging into websites, I continued to find articles, which spawned into a whole category of its own. I have listed only free resources I use currently, but there are tons out there with paid subscriptions as well:

  • Chronicle
  • The Mentor: an Academic Advising Journal (email subscription)
  • Conflict Management in Higher Education-It is no longer being updated, but there are lots of articles you can open and read. And let’s be honest, some things are always relevant, and even if they aren’t it is nice to get historical context on some things.
  • subscription)
  • subscription) At first glance, this may be personal seeing as I am a military wife. However, most of the topics are relevant to college students, and I increasingly am seeing how military students are not talked about much on the college scene (another topic for another day).
  • Student Affairs on Campus (online articles)
  • Journal of Student Affairs at New York University (online issues)
  • I don’t use each of these every day, or even every week, but I try to really challenge myself to open something new every so often. Having a variety of websites to peruse allows me to see different views and issues. With some being emailed directly to my inbox, I can see highlights and click from my email account on topics that I find intriguing.

–>Other ideas I have had over the past 6 months

Stay with me on this one. With social media growing at an alarming rate, pretty much anything is searchable. Including presentations y’all! Bring the conference to me! Boom! You can search topics, student affairs presentations, trainings, etc. If you are willing to sift through search results you can find some pretty sweet gems in there! This takes some patience, because I sure did find some doozies. But in the name of free, it is worth it.

  • Facebook groups

There are a vast variety of groups to join.  I have a few that I follow that range from running to specific job areas. Each provide articles and a chance to connect with professionals across the world. My favorite right now as far as professional development goes is “Professional Development for the Student Affairs Professional.” They are constantly sharing articles, research, apps, relevant questions, etc. This has been easier for me because it is a quick format instead of clicking through links and tabs on websites or doing my own random searches all the time. Twitter would be able to provide similar benefits, I am just not familiar with that platform.

  • Books

I have a tub of professional books that I have collected over the years and have never read, which I am embarrassed to say. I have added this to my goals (30 for 30) to take advantage of these things I have already purchased. Also I am really excited to be connecting with Ellen on this goal as my accountability partner to actually make this happen.

  • Blogs

This one should seem obvious since I am a blogger. Some are just for giggles and are a place to relate and some are more prolific and make me ponder the meaning of my work. Blogs are a great place to see personal views across the field. I have a link on my sidebar to a large list of blogs in Student Affairs-The SA Directory. It is nicely organized in several ways so you can search a topic/area/person, whatever your heart desires. I like bloggers because it makes the profession seem more real and heartfelt to hear the personal stories.

  • Old conference schedules

In my online research, I kept coming across old conference schedules. I would find myself reading through a schedule from 5 years ago to see what topics were covered. This doesn’t give you a lot of meat, however, it is a great place to start if you are wanting to get fresh ideas or want to see what people have done. It has become a springboard for me to search topics and people (yep I look to see if people are “repeat offenders” with publications or presentations). Also, this gives you ammo when looking up things on Youtube. Sometimes you can even get the presentation material if you are lucky! (Can you tell that I am a Learner yet?)

  • Say yes to opportunities

While I may not have money for professional development, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been to any. I have jumped on free seminars here on campus and in my department. I am capitalizing on opportunities that are paid for me. I either find these by word a mouth or watching the daily APSU newsletter.

  • I did a presentation at a Wounded Warrior Conference
  • Seen a few webinars with the department
  • Attended a Women’s Leadership Series here at APSU
  • Attended a Retirement Funds Seminar here at APSU
  • Also connecting with the community I believe counts as an opporuntity-volunteering as POC (point of contact) for Tom’s Unit and working with the shelter are providing me different perspectives of interacting with people and constituents-oh and organizational structure.

–>Podcasts and Radio

My absolute favorite free professional development that I have found are podcasts and radio! Why I didn’t invest in this arena before now I have no idea! These are amazing. I love the ability to listen to people talk while I am working or doing other things. That’s what I call multi-tasking!

  • NPR is my go to radio. I listened to this while in undergrad for some political science and history courses, but I am not sure why I ever stopped. (Maybe it was my interview to be accepted into student teaching that scarred my NPR experience-I still see that professor in my nightmares.) NPR obviously covers a wide range of topics so you can pick and choose what you want to listen to. I think a worldly view is helpful when reaching out in the university realm.
  • You can find podcasts on most major professional websites. Some are free and some are not, but I have had a plethora of freebies to keep me busy.
  • As far as podcasts go, I have to say my favorite is from Life Work Balances. Each week a new interview is uploaded about various people across the field. This one PhD student (Conor) reaches out in different formats to find people to interview. Some he already knew, others recommended to him, and others who contact him. The topics range so widely, but ultimately we are all connected by the college student and striving for balance in this world. It has been really interesting and rejuvenating to hear each person’s story and context. As you know I love stories, so this is probably why this is my all-time favorite. Besides the personal stories, I have learned about various universities, programs and research focuses through these interviews. I learn best through personal connections, so this has been really meaningful for me to listen to these each week.

These are specific resources for Student Affairs and Higher Ed, however, I think the idea can go across professions. It does take some patience and diligence to find some of these things. If you keep at it, you can find a myriad of free resources out there to challenge your thinking and keep your mind fresh. It has been really encouraging to read through/listen to these resources. Being able to still connect freely has given me hope in my part time woes. I want to forever be a “student” in the profession and be able to evolve no matter what my circumstances may be.

As I reflect though, I have had great experiences since I started my Student Affairs journey and have been blessed with so many opportunities to challenge me professionally and personally. Some of my favorite learning moments have been at conferences that cost me several hundred dollars, and then others that I have done in the comfort of my own home in my pajamas have been just as worthwhile. You just have to be willing to say, “I still want to learn,” but also know your means in order to do so. Even though I can’t afford a lot of the “mainstream” professional development, I can still rock out some good stuff on my own. You have to have the gumption to make your own path sometimes, and with the way that technology is moving, you really can do so much for free. Thank you internet inventors for making this gal a little smarter!

Please note that these are all my opinions. I was not contacted by any group or affiliation to write about them. I got all links and prices directly from organization websites. I just wanted to share resources that have helped me in my Student Affairs journey and make professional development more accessible. My intention was to show that you can still obtain relevant and awesome professional development without shelling out any cash.

So there you have it. My effort to remain a professional as a part-time lackey.

Do you have other free ideas that I should be looking at?

Within Eyesight

Sight, seeing, view, watch, see, look, vision, stare, observe.

Lay eyes on, take a glimpse of, take notice, catch sight of, get an eyeful.

These are just a few words and phrases that I thought of in regard to sight. And these are words that are spoken so casually every day.

This semester I have had one of the most challenging but yet one of the most rewarding experiences as a Student Affairs professional.

And maybe as a person too.

It has been “eye” opening so to speak.

This entire semester, I attended a Math class with a student who is blind. I am this student’s class aid.

Basically, I have been the student’s eyes all semester.

Did I mention it is in a Math class?

Now I was never well-equipped myself in the math area. And here I found myself trying to explain geometry shapes from dot paper and the properties of an isosceles triangle. I would catch myself on more than one occasion talking with my hands in the air to describe a shape-dang hand motions.

Every day in class, as the professor explained problems and wrote out equations, I attempted to show this student via math manipulative kits what exactly was going on.

We used various tools such as these:

This Geoboard became my best friend when trying to explain graphs and shapes.

These came in handy when we had to do reflections of shapes, and where the student was requested to draw things.

We used so many of these things as hand “visuals.”

Even here, I am using a visual to explain my point…see where I am going with this?

Math is so difficult. (I wish I would have paid more attention to my best friend’s math songs.)

So many days I would come back to the office just stuck and frustrated.

Stuck because I had no idea how to explain math. (I went into Social Studies for a reason.) As a visual learner myself, I very often was stumped on how to translate the visual of shapes and volumes .

Imagine adding circles to the this, and each angle being labeled and having to explain corresponding angles….my worst educational nightmare.

I was frustrated by how quickly the student was left behind to our own devices. We were usually two or three steps behind the rest of the class because it would take me a second to collect the information and then get the manipulatives set quickly to explain things while regurgitating the lecture with the objects we are using. I was frustrated that I couldn’t go faster, and frustrated that the rest of the class just moved along without us. Most of all, I was frustrated because I could see the answer but I had to keep my mouth closed. It was their math lesson to learn, not mine.

I was also an aide for a different student in a biology lab. Due to mobility issues, they needed someone to be their hands for various lab practicals. Ha, watching me put knocked out flies on lab slides and draw blood from a student’s finger was a trip…

These two classroom experiences allowed me to witness the myriad of things that students with disabilities face. Since I was just an observer, I picked up on so many things that I missed while attending school.

  • On one hand, you have professors who have no clue how to provide accommodations to make the material accessible so they just don’t (even though they are supposed to). For the most part this professor put forth the effort to make the math available, but there were moments where they were just as stumped as I was–like how to evaluate the student’s shape drawing abilities.
  • You have other students who want to rush through group work and wont take time to include the student. They will just do the work for them. Or they will get mad and say “this isn’t fair” if they have to do more clean up or set up because the physical part of the lab isn’t accessible to the student. In some instances, group work was like getting picked last at recess for these students.
  • Comments degrading students restrictions and limitations-just creating more barriers. I was dumbfounded at some of the things that are being said at the college level…
  • You have instructors who will eliminate parts of assignments and just let the student “skip” that material.
  • People are nervous about disabilities. You have the range from staring stupidly to full out ignoring the student. This nervousness factor alone causes so many reactions across the board that I could not even begin to explain them all.

However, I did see some awesome moments throughout the semester. There were several students who would speak up to help slow down the class if they saw us struggling. Some would offer to help tutor after class and plan study sessions together before big tests. I also had the chance to get to know these two individuals really well, which was a bonus for me to hear about them personally and academically. I saw professors do their best to find techniques like hooking a computer up to a microscope or spending hours puffy painting worksheets and providing wiki sticks for class work.

I am not perfect. This semester was so difficult and challenged me more than I would like to admit. I was frustrated when I couldn’t get the message across and felt like I was at a dead end. There were times that I said, “Well just look at it this way.” I often tried to move faster than I should have. Sometimes, I was nervous to challenge the student and wanted to go the easy way out.

But it wasn’t my educational experience on the line, so I had to buck up and admit that I needed help. I often stayed after class to ask the professors for advice and voiced my concern. On more than one occasion, I met with these students one on one outside of class to adjust our strategies and ensure we were on the same page with communication and expectations. At least once a week, I sat in my boss’s office to brainstorm strategies specifically for these students or found myself digging through boxes to find other manipulatives that we could use. It was a huge reminder that it isn’t about me. I am not in this field to help me. So I had to put away my fear of math and science and just dive right in with the students.

Bring it on bugs and math charts!

For these students, we need to work to make educational readily available. If that means that we have to stay a little extra, do more research, change the format to create the same result (without making it a freebie), and acknowledging the skills they bring to the table, that is our responsibility as educators. What works for one person, doesn’t work for all. Just because you get it, doesn’t mean that everyone is on the same page. So regardless of whether the student has a disability or not, I feel that this was a huge lesson/reminder for me.

Just because we are at a college level, that doesn’t give us the right to just leave people behind. I understand that students have to step up their game once they hit college courses. But I think educators should do the same, and often they are standing behind the guise of this is college so deal with it. We have to give them an equal chance to put in the work. If the student isn’t willing to perform, that is obviously on them. I am more than happy to tell a student they need to do more. They have the responsibility to ensure they ask the questions and speak up for their education. And when they do, we need to be sure to provide them with adequate tools to play the game.

You wouldn’t give a football player a tennis racquet to head into the Super Bowl. Why would you expect a student who is blind to understand what you are writing on the whiteboard?

Not only was the experience a life line for me among all the administrative work I had found myself in, it was a life line for my educator sole.

  • It taught me to always be vigilant towards injustice, because in this era of “equal rights for all”, those with disabilities are often forgotten.
  • It reminded me to be aware of what I say and how words as simple as “look at this” and all those listed at the beginning of this post can have an affect on someone’s perception and participation.
  • It taught me to slow down because although it may not be my first rodeo, the person whom I am working with, it may be their very first time out of the gate.
  • It taught me that you need to understand each student’s strengths and barriers in order to encourage them the best way possible.
  • It taught me that sometimes you have to keep your mouth shut in order for the student to learn, even if that means watching them fail.
  • It taught me how to be a better advocate for my students.
  • It encouraged me to ask questions when I was uneasy about a situation.
  • It taught me a whole lot about communication-verbally and especially non-verbally.
  • It taught me all things are relative within eyesight…

(Additionally, I have learned a lot about math and biology. Apparently when I don’t have to take the test, it soaks in a lot more. Not that I would ever need to know how to tell the sex of a fruit fly, but I can.)

On an unrelated note, there are a lot of “That’s what she said” moments in a biology lab. The pipette day alone…oh goodness.

A Little Bit of Thanks

I work in a profession that you cannot always do show appreciation with flashy things or a raise. Often the students that I work with do so much for very little pay or none at all.

I really try to show them that their time and effort means a lot, and there are so many ways to show this gratitude without breaking the bank.

My favorite way is baking because you can always find something to hit a sweet tooth. This is a great way to personalize a token of appreciation to what that particular student likes.

But sometimes I decide to do other things.

I coordinate our volunteer note taker program at work. This is were a student who is registered in our office cannot take notes on their own due to their disability and have requested a note taker. I then recruit within their class for someone to volunteer to turn in a copy of their notes. It sounds easy, but semester after semester we still have 40-50% of our class requests unfilled. So I have been working to decrease that all semester. And successfully, I have gotten the unfilled request to about 25%. Whoop whoop.

One way I have found effective is constant contact with the classes and the students who do volunteer their time.

I wanted to say thanks for taking the time take effective notes and let us copy them. Although it may seem easy to turn in something you should be doing already, it can be added pressure to these students. Their notes are supposed to help someone else be academically successful, and that is a big reason why most people don’t follow through with this volunteer role. So I wanted to thank the 100 students who did this semester.

I made these treat bags to hand out one Friday when they all typically come to turn in their notes.

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We got the candy bags from the dollar store, and the candy was on sale from Halloween. Then I just made the tags in Publisher and whole punched them to use the twist tie to attache them to the bag.

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Since I had a lot of students, I went this route. I have made more intricate things in the past for a smaller group.


I made these “dynamites” out of Rolos, construction paper, and string.

You roll the Rolos in the red construction paper and glue them in place. Then tie three “sticks” together in the middle. You will also leave a little string out on the end as the “part you light.” Then I glued the circle in the middle with my note to the student.


I love the cheesiness factor, which I understand may get lost on some students. It is the thought that counts!

Do you have little ways/small gestures to thank people in your life?

Combining Passions

I have really tried to be more positive with my work and find different ways to feel fulfilled with my current employment.

One of the ways I have done that is asking/seizing small opportunities to bring some of my outside hobbies into the work place.

I have talked about how I love bulletin boards which has allowed me to bring some creativity, even if in small doses to my job. I love love love cutting out and decorating boards. This is the elementary school major coming out in me. (That was about the only thing I liked about being an elementary school major, which is the reason why I promptly changed after the first semester to secondary education.)

Another hobby/passion of mine is photography. I have always been fascinated by capturing moments in time. Memories, glimpses of life, emotions, so much can be expressed in one shot.

I can still remember my parents getting me a camera when I was 5 that had the disposable flashbulbs. I took pictures of everything. I mean literally everything-flowers, vases, tables, bed spreads, dog hair, you name it I had a picture of it. I also cut off everyone’s head when I took their picture at this age.

(I promise I have improved from the head cutting off stage.)

I really started learning the art of photography in high school where I worked on the school publications. There I learned the technical things about composition, lighting, editing (although much has changed since then), and my favorite place -the dark room. We shot on manual film, and to me one of the greatest moments is to watch film develop right before your eyes. And you feel pretty cool taking the film of the reel in complete darkness.

I stayed away from photography as a major in college outwardly because I did not think that I could afford all the “stuff.” But inwardly, I didn’t think I could measure up in the digital age we were coming into. So I shied away and stuck to “point and shoots” that could fit in my back pocket.

Luckily, the art has recently come back full-force when Tom and I decided to take the plunge and invest in a wickedly nice set up (camera, lights, tripod, lenses, etc…). It has always been a dream of mine to open my own studio, and my hands down dream job would be to be a sports photographer. Slowly we are creating a base for this to occur, but that is another topic for another day.

So a passing comment at work about someone needing to be in charge of capturing a shot at the opening office BBQ turned into a wonderful opportunity for me to combine my passions.

Education Photographer. (Yeah? I think it works.)

I have become the office picture lady. We have many more than a “shot” on hand now of our office activities. They may have gotten more than they bargained for by letting me run with this.

It has been really fun to find a way to be more involved outside of my spreadsheets and emails. And I am developing my photography all the same. (There has been somewhat of a learning curve going to a completely digital system.)

We just had our annual Wheelchair Basketball game, and I was giddy to be on the sidelines clicking away. This may be my favorite photographer moment I have had ever to date. It was cathartic for several reasons.

  1. I had that sports photography going.
  2. Basketball is my favorite sport.
  3. Working with this population is always a humbling experience for me. I felt honored to hear their stories and capture their strength and determination.
  4. It was the moment that I realized that I was going to do just fine here. I felt energy again; it was like electricity running through my veins. I was pumped to be doing what I am doing. I finally thought, “This isn’t so bad. I’m not so awful at this transition.” Part-time failure freak out over with.

Boom. It feels good to feel needed.

These are just a few of the several hundred shots I sifted through.




One of my favorite shots of the night.








I had so much fun.

So I would tell everyone who may be struggling to find small ways to find joy again. You will quickly see how that joy will flood over into other things.

Painting a Reminder

I am a very visual person. I have to write things down or see it in order to remember it. Post its are my favorite office supply, and I have several planners to keep track of all my lists.

So when I was going through some of my rougher days trying to remember to be passionate about my job, I decided to give myself a reminder.


Start with a blank canvas and paint


drop dots of paint all over the canvas


Use a small paint brush to smooth and blend the colors together. There is no method to this, just create what you want!

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Paint wooden letters then hot glue them on the canvas.

This was so easy to make and is a great reminder in my office every day. I am there for the students.

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Adding some color to the walls

This project is super versatile. You can do it without the letters and just have the painting. You could also keep the colors in the same hue to blend. Obviously, you could have any saying/words you want. You could also tape the words down first then paint over it and peel it up so it isn’t 3d like I have here. You could also do this finger paint style if you want to do it with kids (or adults).

As you can see, this is easy to create to your own style.

I love reminders, and I love art:  perfect combination!