It’s All in a Day’s Work

If I had a quarter for every time that someone asked me exactly what I do all day…

Well I would have a couple hundred bucks. Maybe. But it still feels like I get asked that all the time.

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I am a Student Success Advisor, which is an Academic Advisor of sorts.

I work at a small private liberal arts college, which means everyone is wearing a lot of hats. And that is no exception for my office of three people.

My office deals with everything. We have a focus on retention work, but that entails everything on the campus level. If you think about it, everything from the caliber of classes down to what is being served in the dining hall affects retention on some level. So naturally we deal with it all.

We have an early alert system where any staff or faculty can write a concern that they have for a student, and then our office either reaches out to that student ourselves or facilitates passing it along to the appropriate area. A huge chunk of our responsibility is managing these alerts and making sure the students who need assistance are receiving it. We do some manual alerts throughout the semester such as attendance, late payments, not meeting with advisor, just to name a few. We are not traditional Academic Advisors in the sense that students do not have to meet with us for registration, but we do assist in registration matters and four year plans.

My main responsibility though is meeting with all the students who are on probation. These are students whose cumulative GPA fell below a 2.0. They are required to meet with me three times during the semester, but most choose to meet more. I have a couple students who are meeting with me every week. We discuss old habits and make goals for new ones. We take a pretty close look at what brought them here to probation and the best plan to get them off. I take a look at them as a whole person. We don’t just talk about classes, but we also take a look at their jobs, families, basically any out of class experience to see how it is impacting them. Usually there is a lot going on with these students that make a difference on their success in the classroom. I also have to have some conversations that getting off of probation is not realistic and advise the student through the next steps. A lot of these students are also raking up loans, so we often discuss that as well. (The financial piece is the most nerve-wracking part of my job.)

You would be surprised by how many students do not come to college prepared AT ALL. They need help to stay. And I feel that my job is to have stark conversations with these individuals and provide them with resources and tools to be successful. I tell them that I am their coach, but ultimately they are the play-makers. I want to leave them in a position where they can do this on their own. I am here to help, but they have to do the work. It’s my job to make suggestions, but it is their job to make the changes. Some choose to, and some don’t. I find though that a lot of these students want to do well, they just have never been taught how to utilize their strengths to make things work for them.

I really do love this approach of coaching students on their academic success. If you think about an athletic coach, the way we approach our advising is the same way. They come in for regular practice and warm-ups, and we facilitate that training. Than they go and perform. It can be an intrusive approach, but generally we see that it helps keep more students on track for graduation who would have given up without the guidance. Our office has become a liaison for students to all things college. It is really amazing the buckets we have our hands in. I think I asked every day last semester, “Is that really our scope?” To which the reply was, “It is now.” I am ok being a catch-all department though because it keeps things interesting. It is also pushing me professionally to delve into areas I have never had experience in (i.e. financial aid).

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In the first two weeks of classes this is what my schedule has looked like:

  • 21 individual hour long meetings with probation students
  • Spent at least 10 hours prepping for those meetings (going over transcripts, configuring GPAs for repeated coursework, gathering general knowledge about the student, and creating their coaching folders)
  • Met 3 times with two other staff members about a workshop we were designing for Student Success
  • Put on said workshop
  • Had 3 campus meetings that either pertained to academic advising or retention efforts
  • 2 office staff meetings
  • 1 student staff meeting
  • Assisted with training three new staff members
  • Spent 3 hours working on an online advising certification course I am taking (chapter reading, discussion posts-entry and response)
  • A couple hours working on our second year experience initiative (brainstorming and researching)
  • I am running a pilot mentoring program through our office, so I spent a couple hours working on this. I collected names for mentoring opportunities and contacted those students to set up meetings. I also created a meeting outline for the semester off of things I have used at other institutions-no need to recreate the wheel my friends.
  • Ran attendance alerts and contacted students who missed classes in the first week to remind them of the “withdraw without penalty” deadline
  • Checking in (several times) with probation students who have yet to schedule their appointment with me
  • Every day I update our Retention Alert system with any notes I have from the meetings that day (this can take me anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour depending on the day)
  • Helped organize all the books for our book scholarship that our office does each semester
  • Double checked a colleague’s report on un-used scholarship funds
  • I had a few student walk-in concerns ranging from their schedule being dropped to losing a scholarship. A lot of problem solving time with emails, phone calls, and calming of fears.
  • Handling concerns from our front desk area-the first couple days of classes were particularly nutty
  • And of course email management and other random administrative tasks like data collection happen on a daily basis-some days are slower than others.

I also serve on a couple committees that meet randomly throughout the month. Again most of them pertain to prevention strategies or retention efforts.

So that is what I do in a nutshell!

I really love my job. The only thing missing from my job description to make this THE perfect job is doing something with learning communities. I enjoy getting to work with the at-risk population or those students who are considered in the middle. Helping them be successful gets me jazzed. Academic Coaching is really where my heart is. I love teaching in this individual manner. Giving these students attention sometimes makes all the difference in their success.

And then this is my life. Yes to every.single.statement.

What do you do at your job?

Last Day

This week I had plans to close out my time at Austin Peay as a professional. Tomorrow was supposed to be my last day.

Well, best laid plans go to spoil sometimes.

Tuesday, I spent 4 hours in the hospital for the second week in a row because my doctors are concerned that I have pre-eclampsia. My blood pressure has been way too high these past two weeks, and no matter what I do, I cannot get it to come down. I have never before had any blood pressure problems which made them come to the conclusion it was because of the pregnancy. So I had to be submitted each week to be observed for several hours and have several tests done. (Yesterday I had to collect my pee for 24 hours in a bucket…never thought I would do that.) Right now, they do not believe I have it since all of my additional tests are coming back normal, but I have to be closely monitored from here on out just to be on the safe side.

Which means, I am now on strict bed rest for the rest of the pregnancy and have to go in twice a week for testing.

Which also meant that Tuesday was my last day of work.

Not as much closure as I was hoping for, and I hated leaving my last few projects that I had planned on closing out just half done. But as several people told me as I cried over the bed rest instruction, I have to do what is best for George.

But I digress. This post isn’t supposed to be about the pregnancy, it is about my time at APSU.

Much like my exit from the position, it was never something I expected.

I accepted this position the day Tom came home his deployment. At the time, I was told it was a temporary position that they had intentions of turning into full-time. I was excited about the prospect of helping with that transition, and felt that it was a perfect time to move out of housing.

What I didn’t bargain for was that even as a part-time position, it would be one of the most challenging positions I took on.

More of it was personal challenges as I thought about my self-worth. Being introduced as “part-time” or “temporary” all the time began to take it’s mental toll that I wasn’t actually a true professional. I had to dig down deep many days to be reminded of why I came to work. There were moments were I didn’t feel like I was taken seriously, and I felt like I was just a student worker or less. I had to push those comments aside, and know that this is all part of a plan in the long run, and this is just one of those hurdles that I have to get over.

As frustrating as it was to learn that my position would never go full time due to budgets and the way Obama Care was structured, and also never finding anything else in my field that allowed me to go full time, I am glad I had this position.

It allowed me to do a lot of things that I hadn’t done before.

I became a master at Excel…which for me is saying a lot.

I learned an exorbitant amount on assistive technology, which will help me in the long run when being a resource for students. The things that are available are astounding!

I learned how to speak in disability law and documentation, not fluently but I am much more aware of situations.

I was able to interact with non-traditional students which is something I had not received in my previous housing experiences.

I learned how an office of 4 staff members functions much differently than a department of hundreds.

I had the opportunity to be a classroom aide to two students, which is by far the most eye-opening professional experience I have had to date.

I was able to stay connected to my Student Affairs roots, even if it was just part-time. If anything, I do have to remember that even though I didn’t find a full-time job, I at least had something.

So while everything wasn’t great in this position and on paper it wasn’t the most challenging job, I was constantly pushed personally to define myself. And there were a lot of positives that I gained from this experience.

It was a humbling experience that I am thankful that I had. Even through the struggles, it is one of those that makes me the professional that I am. Our experiences make us, and I am going to take that for what it is and be thankful for the opportunities I was given.

And that is what I am going to choose to focus on as my time ended there.

So thanks APSU, these last 16ish months have been real!

I Have Caught The Education Bug

People have told me since I got out of grad school that one day I would get the itch to go back and go after a doctorate.

For years, I said, “Never. No way. Not happening.”

I hate research, like despise it. I enjoy reading and learning from research findings, but the act of collecting data scares the daylights out of me.

The day we went over statistics in grad school and discussed how to analyze data points and the frequency and what nots, I went home and cried. In all seriousness, I may have teared up in the class because it was so over my head and I just couldn’t grasp it. I was so overwhelmed from the information. I was beyond frustrated by the fact that I just could not comprehend how those tables and numbers explained something. I had never felt so stupid and embarrassed that as a graduate student I just didn’t get it.

(I must mention that I am fairly stubborn, so if I don’t get something right away, I generally avoid it like the plague. I don’t like that feeling of inadequacy at all.)

From that experience, I vowed never to pursue a degree that required actual research.  I didn’t ever want to feel that way again, and I knew I wasn’t going to intentionally put myself in a program that required me to take more classes on statistics or research analysis. That one day in grad school was enough exposure for me!  So I have been merrily running away from anything statistical or doctoral for the past four years. I thought I had shut that door permanently and was content not searching for positions that required a doctorate. I don’t see myself in higher level positions anyway.

That was until I heard this podcast.

This by far is the best interview I have ever heard, mostly because it stirred something in me.

Rosina McAlpine is a visit scholar at the University of San Diego and originally from Australia. What intrigued me the most was how she came to infuse higher education theories to create a base for learning strategies as a faculty member.

My passion is in academic coaching. I really enjoy working one on one with students to assess their goals and explore new strategies to help them become owners of their educational experience. They can only control how they react so let’s make sure the student has all the tools they need to be successful.

But I am always stumped with how to approach them when underneath it all is the issue that “the professor doesn’t know how to teach.”

As a side note, before I get to this point I do try to help the student  adjust and analyze their own reactions to that instruction and develop strategies to adapt to any style. I do understand that education is a two way process and the student needs to be responsible for their part. Just need to make sure that is said.

However I feel that this is a growing trend in higher education with how tenure works and research expectations with a little teaching on the side. Teaching styles will need to vary from a 20 person class to 300 people, or even in person to online. From my observation,  a big concern for students is when they can’t learn from the professor.

Especially when they are paying for it.

The requirements for faculty and instructors will be different from school to school. What is expected of academic folk can depend on how long they have been there, tenure status, university mission, private vs public, and the list goes on.

I began to wonder though:

  • How many actually require some teaching experience or provide some instruction along the way on classroom strategies.
  • How many are going off their own experience of talking at the student, giving roll, and providing answers?
  • Do professor training programs exist? If so, what do they look like? And how many are required?

Now I see from my very little  exploring that there are schools that do offer various types of professional development, but most of these seem to be optional.

This interview spoke to me on so many levels of learning. Coming from a teaching certification background, I like to look at the educational process as a whole and see what all parties are doing with this investment.

How do we motivate and inspire students to work in the classroom? What is student learning to professors and are they engaging students beyond handing out a grade? What are students actually learning, and are they effectively learning? So many questions!

There are many wickedly intelligent people on the university campus. However just because they are the most talented physicist does not mean they are able to teach worth a lick.

Teaching takes skill and passion. Even in my own college experience, I could tell which professors where there for the subject versus the student. I will tell you that I respected and learned more from professors who were invested in my learning experience in addition to the facts about history.

Rosina McAlpine discussed the fact that many students pick a major and aren’t even excited about that. Why aren’t we doing more to infuse passion and excitement into learning? Are we just expecting a grade, or are we expecting them to become a new person because of the change that has occurred in the classroom?

Obviously I buy into holistic learning seeing as I am supporting students outside of the classroom and value student growth. The holistic approach comes with the territory of being a Student Affairs professional. It made me start to wonder why is this not a thing with the academic side of the house?

I have so many questions that have spurred from this one podcast.

  • Why aren’t faculty shown how college students develop and ways to motivate this population in their educational experience?
  • And if they are, is there a trend with certain degree programs, types of universities, state legislation?
  • Are we expecting too much from faculty that it detracts from student development? Some faculty teach several courses in addition to being advisers, committee chairs, researchers, presenters, etc. As with many professionals, faculty are pulled in a lot of directions. So does this leave less time for a student focus?
  • Are learning theory questions  asked when they are interviewed? What exactly do we know about their teaching style when offered a contract?
  • Do schools offer additional trainings or professional development throughout one’s career? Are they optional or required? Do faculty senates play a role here?
  • Is there a correlation in graduation rates/employment status for graduates with schools that do have a focus on teaching development?
  • Why do we expect K-12 school educators to undergo massive training requirements and not expect similar for higher education professionals?
  • Do students even care? Is this something that would encourage more students to apply to a program knowing that their professors are not only biologists but certified teachers?
  • What makes a good teacher? Are these skills we are looking for when hiring faculty?
  • And what about graduate students and teaching assistants who instruct classes, do they have instructions or are they just thrown to the wind?

Now I understand that this is still very surface level for me. If you know programs  out there that answer some of these topics, please do share with me! I am just starting to raise the questions for myself, and by no means view myself as an expert with faculty expectations. I am not here to critique and say that all professors are not effective as teachers. I really value my educational experience, and I had some phenomenal educators that have stuck with me years after the class ended. In my time as a professional, I have worked with some fantastic professors and know they are doing amazing things with our students.

Unfortunately though, I have had too many experiences with the other side of the coin that I am worried.

I am owning my biased concern that I feel that universities focus more on outside classroom merits for faculty than they do on how they can teach a student. While I do understand that there is value in having faculty who are doing great research or writing articles and the what have you, I have to ask what good is all of that if they cannot inspire a new incoming architecture major in the classroom for the first time. Where is our focus:  school reputation or the student learning? Can there a good balance of both? Faculty are molding the next generation in their field; I would hope that they would want all the best techniques to do so. I feel that this is not happening as much as it should. Again, this is my own observation and naivete on the subject coming out here. This is why I ask the question so I can learn more and understand the philosophy of faculty development.

I think there is something to be said though about the fact that so many students do struggle with some professors, or that when they sign up for classes they will avoid certain sections because they know that professor is a dud, and they will not learn anything or will struggle trying to understand because of the way information is presented. Too often, I’ve heard the phrase that there are professors who don’t care and aren’t willing to help or change the way the course is taught even if the majority of the class is below average. That is an issue for me.

I do recognize that there is a lot of student mindset training that goes along with this. Students do need to be responsible for adapting and taking control of their own learning, and not to blame everything on how information is presented to them. However when you hear this constantly, it makes you wonder why so many are saying it and if the fault really does lie with the student or are there methods and strategies we can be offering faculty as well?

If learning is to be a two way street, why are we only focusing on one side of the street for repairs?

While I have worked on the student end for many years and worked among their learning theories, it has made me curious about the theories and development on professors.

As you can see from my thought overload, this left me wanting to know more, wanting to dig deeper.

But since I hate research, I don’t even know where to begin answering these questions.

Why don’t I go back to school? Is it really just that silly data program that is holding me back? (In fact, yes it was.)

Tom has been telling me for years that I should just go for it and become Dr. Whitener.

Just as everyone has told me, the itch hit me like a wave. I am wanting to go back for that next degree. I have been out of the classroom for four years now, and I am now dying to go back.

To everyone who said it would happen and took my scowls at the idea of it, you can now tell me “I told you so.”

I really do want to understand this topic more. I feel that it would be so valuable to universities to look at on so many different levels. Again I ask, why do we expect a teaching degree for K-12, but only expect a history degree for a history professor at the university?

My research focus is somewhere in all that mess of questions. It’s a start right?

I won’t be undertaking this anytime soon because who knows what is going to happen to our personal situation in the next couple years, so I would like to be a little more settled before I begin this journey. I am however starting the process of exploring options of degrees/schools and delving more into what I can find online for this topic in the meantime.

If you have articles or know people to get me in touch with to discuss this further, I would love things to be sent my way! I wasn’t able to find a whole lot out there on this so far, so if someone can lead me in the right direction I would appreciate it. I am really interested in professor development so we can help university students in the classroom more. And anything I can learn in the meantime would be great!

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It would be nice to have a degree with Stephanie Whitener on it…just saying.

In addition to all this, that podcast also explored how women have a huge impact on the roles they have been given. She talked about work life balance as an educator, spouse, and mother in the most realistic way. I appreciated her candor and honesty about things. It was real. She talked about compromise in a way that makes you realize that it is really not discussed in education or social fundamentals.

It really is great to listen to if you have time!

Changed my life obviously.

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.

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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!

–>Websites

  • 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.

Random

  • 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.
  • Disability.gov-(email subscription)
  • Military.com-(email 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.