Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Let's Get Technical: Post 10

For my last blog post for my summer internship, I would like to share a few memories and stories that have stayed with me. They may be snippets, instead of fully formed stories, but that is the way that memories often shape up.

1) During training, we threw a gigantic ball of yarn to each other, appreciating one another. I don't remember the color of the ball of yarn, but I remember how many smiles there were and how much appreciation there was between the professional staff, the student staff, and the interns.

2) The Northeast MTC campus was absolutely stunning. I loved the gazebos, the space-age technology and furniture, and the plush chairs in the boardroom we advised in. I could feel the air in the campus change. There was so much pride at advising in a place like that campus. It amazed me how much location can change attitudes. (There was also free coffee.)

3) Outside of work, a bunch of the student staff and interns went to dinner and to see The Secret Life of Pets. We had so much fun getting to know one another better, laughing at the movie, bonding. That was one of my favorite experiences of the summer.

4) I've had some incredibly special experiences with students. One student told me that she'd moved from Virginia for a fresh start. I could see a story unfolding in her eyes. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to hear all of it. I remember another student telling me his dreams to work in film in L.A. and about the contacts he already had there. I had many students come through with excellent grades from high school who wanted to save money by attending a two-year college. Many students knew exactly what they wanted to do with their lives and knew that their goals could be achieved through a community college--saving them time and money. I met with a student who wanted to pursue English and reminded me of myself when I was first headed into college. The stories and memories are endless, and even long after their faces may have faded, I know I'll still see the smiles.

5) My favorite memories of all are of spending moments sharing one-on-one conversations with different staff, student, and interns. As an introvert, I love one-on-one and small group interactions. I've made it a point to try to travel between the people that I work with to develop stronger relationships. Many of the conversations are too personal to share, but I know that they're engraved in my heart. It's been a wonderful summer of building new relationships and has reminded me how important that part of the human experience is.

It's been a wonderful summer, one that has flown by. In just a couple of weeks, we will be back in classes and 2nd years in our Master's program!

Though I may forget details and colors from the summer, I know that I'll never forget the warmth I feel for Midlands Technical College.

Until next time!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Let's Get Technical: Post 9

I'm veering away on reflecting on my summer internship at Midlands Technical College for this post. In addition to working my internship, I have also been the summer graduate assistant for the College of Education.

Before I transitioned into the Student Affairs side of the collegiate world, I worked for the Academic side--first in a writing center, then in the testing and proctoring center. Working for the College of Ed. has been a great way to reconnect to the other half of college operations.

I've worked on several projects specific to my Master's program, including to help redesign our Practicum I course, build a new program manual for incoming first-years that focuses more on academics, and work on finishing our new comprehensive exam, which will be a portfolio of student work. In addition to these large projects, I worked on the orientation manual for PhD students in our higher education program, and I oversaw a lot of day-to-day administrative operations for the whole of the College of Education.

I've learned so much about what it means to have a long-term vision for a program. I understand far more intimately how all of the individual pieces--decisions, faculty weigh-in, program alterations--fit not only with a department's vision, but also the institutional mission and demands.

Though some of my days may consist of answering phone calls and emails, at the College of Education, I have always felt like my opinion has been valued. I've been on the ground floor of massive changes that will not only impact my last year in graduate school, but will leave their impact for years to come.

Working for HESA (my cohort) and closely with our education faculty has been an incredibly rewarding and--honestly--fun way to spend my summer. A large part of me wishes that I could continue the work that I've started over my last year of graduate school. However, I know that when I turn the position over to the new GA, I'll have done all that I can to improve and care for the program and that I'll leave it in capable hands.

Everything I've done for the College of Ed. this summer has reminded me of my years as an AmeriCorps VISTA--lots of strategic planning, lots of goal planning, lots of project implementation, but little contact with students. On the other hand, everything that I've done at Midlands--high student touch, little connection to long-term planning, day-to-day impact rather than multi-year planning--has resembled my earlier years in the world of higher education.

This summer has been a good balance of two very different worlds and very different jobs. I'm thankful for the opportunity to have pursued both of these jobs.

Until next time!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Let's Get Technical: Post 8

As we are entering the final weeks of the summer as advisors at MTC, I've been able to do a lot of reflecting on the kind of supervisor I see myself being in future positions.

Because I have worked in a college setting since 2009, I have had the opportunity to supervise others many times at this point in my career. As such, supervision is always on my mind--what I can learn, what I would do, and what I wouldn't, based on my bosses.

From the leadership course that I took in my graduate program, I know that one of my main leadership styles is Authentic Leadership, meaning who I am at work closely mirrors who I am in the rest of my life. I chose to embody this leadership style because I consistently hold myself to higher and higher standards both in my personal and professional life--and I like to think that I encourage others to do the same.

Likewise, I strive to be someone with whom others feel safe both in my personal and professional life.

I also believe that you should be comfortable being the person you are no matter where you are--and if you aren't comfortable, you should seek out why.

Of course, MTC has given me insights to how others lead, encouraging me to once again examine how I see myself as a supervisor in future workplaces.

Everyone on the professional staff at MTC is incredibly warm and personable. I feel like I'm surrounded by family. This is the kind of office environment that I want my future students and staff to walk into. Like in a real family, there may be ups and downs, but above all, I want to support and challenge each individual with whom I work.

On the flip side, MTC has enforced that I truly want to ensure that with that challenge and support aspect, I also want to be as transparent as I am able to be. If I see work done incorrectly, I want to pull the individual on the project aside and have a conversation. If I see conflict between employees, I want to confront it early. If there are any policies or procedures that need to be addressed, I want to do that as soon as it becomes apparent.

While overwhelmingly my experience at MTC has been positive and affirming in every way, I have learned from the staff's decision to make broad observations in group meetings about problems seen (for example, filling out an advisement sheet with incorrect numbers for a class or for the number of credits given) that I want to address things not only in a group setting when appropriate, but I also want to pull individuals aside and give guidance on how they can approve their work.

I received a half a point off for professionalism on my final evaluation, based on the fact that I have back tattoos that may show when I wear sleeveless, business casual attire. I wish that this was a matter that had been brought up with me early on by a supervisor during a one-on-one meeting, instead of showing up on my final evaluation.

Personally, I take great pride in my ink and everything that my tattoos stand for--and I find that it makes a great conversation starter with students or staff who also have tattoos--but I also respect that some workplaces still see ink as a negative, instead of a positive. (Here's to hoping that we continue to break that negative stigma!)

Happily, I would have covered up the tattoos (I have them in places that are easily concealed for this very reason) had the issue been raised to me in person or talked about during our training when we went over MTC policy and procedure. Unfortunately, the issue went unaddressed until appearing on my evaluation where it now affects my grade for my internship class.

As a future (and past) supervisor, I have learned a lot from this experience about how I want to address issues. Being up front and honest with my employees ties into my Authentic Leadership style. I want to be able to balance appropriate discipline and difficult conversations with a caring and warm environment where individuals are unafraid to be themselves.

I have learned a great deal from this experience and plan on taking it into future workplaces!

Until next time! 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Let's Get Technical: Post 7

We are halfway through July, which means that we only have a short few days until our internships at Midlands Technical College are over.

At this stage, several things are happening:

1) I've started composing my final reflection paper for my internship class. This means rereading my blog posts and spending some contemplative time by the river.

2) We got PAID! One less than ideal circumstance with the internship was the delay in our paychecks.

3) We had the option to opt into NODA and NACADA student internships. After this summer, I am fairly certain orientation isn't the place for me to be, in terms of my professional career. However, I could see myself as a director of an advising office at some point.

4) The team bonded! We saw The Secret Life of Pets as a group, had dinner together, and also formed closer, smaller relationships within the team that hopefully will last the duration of our professional careers (at least).

5) We have a country shindig to look forward to at our supervisor's house. Community colleges truly do target their communities--both in terms of attracting students and employing staff. That means that several staff members grew up around Columbia or in more rural areas of Columbia, SC. It's been neat to learn more about their lives. The party should be a fun piece of cultural sharing to round out the internship experience!

In all, so far I've had an excellent time both advising students and getting to know the individuals with whom I work.

I couldn't be happier with my decision to remain in Columbia for the summer. Though I didn't need much of a positive experience to solidify that I belong in a community college for my higher education, this great one certainly didn't hurt.

On a more personal note, it's been nice to be in a stable location for more than a year. While my AmeriCorps placements were fun, I couldn't imagine myself moving yet again for the summer when I had the opportunity to stay and strengthen connections at home.

Did I make the right choice? I'm pretty sure this picture answers that question.

 Until next time!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Let's Get Technical: Post 6

For today's post, I wanted to take the time to talk about my lovely team and how every individual works together at Midlands Technical College to make orientation come together.

To start with, we have our executive team of professional staff. MTC believes in a philosophy where there is no job too small for someone to do. That means we see our director and assistant director on the ground floor with the rest of us, pitching in, advising, giving presentations, smoothing over all the rough edges to make orientation seem seamless.

Underneath the directors are the team of full-time advisors that work alongside us. Advisors do everything that we do, everything the executive staff do, and more! One of the full-time advisors was in the same graduate program that those of us doing the summer internship did. It's neat to see how far HESA took her.

The team of HESA interns are not the only students that the orientation and advising departments employ. MTC also employs orientation leaders and orientation assistants. Honestly, without the OLs and OAs, we'd be lost. If there is behind the scenes work to be done--setting up signs, setting up rooms, getting out snacks and water at intermission, directing students to orientation, and so much more.

All of the teamwork leads to smooth transitions and happy students. Advisors, like me, have time to go through their students' paperwork and prepare for our sessions. We are able to pitch in with orientation and with registration, but we know that we have a full team of individuals around us to help with every step of the way.

So far, our students have given us high ratings on the survey that asks about their experiences. Students come to me grinning and hopefully leave just as happy. Students talk about how excellent all of their experiences at orientation are when I ask them how things have gone so far.

I leave 9 out of 10 sessions wishing that I could get to know the students better. As I've talked about in previous posts, I know short a time our 15 minutes are with students. Yet, I also know how impactful those 15 minutes can be. They can deter students from their dreams. They can inspire a new dream. And for me, the students have a huge impact on me and how I see my job. They've helped reaffirm that I belong in the community college setting, and they've spurred some of my reflection on the issues that are facing our time.

Each of us plays a part in our team. Without the entire team, we wouldn't be able to function. But together, we make a great unit that helps students reach their goals.

"You can go anywhere from here." --Midlands Technical College slogan.

Until next time. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Let's Get Technical: Post 5

It's hard to believe that our internships at MTC are halfway over. The summer has flown by. A month from now, we'll be gearing up for classes and returning to our graduate assistantships.

In many ways, this internship is a blip on our professional careers. However, I don't believe it's just the internship experience that will stick with us, I think it's the entire summer and everything that has happened within it.

As I have mentioned in past posts, at a community college, we serve students from all walks of life. For me, this knowledge intersects with everything that has happened this summer--the shooting in Orlando, the shootings that have sparked Black Lives Matter protests all over the country (including the protests in Columbia that blocked off our highways), the bombings, the growing refugee crisis, and how the upcoming presidential elections will potentially impact all of the students who walk through my door.

This morning, as I was serving my diverse body of students, I felt my heart clench in fear that one or more of these lovely, hardworking individuals with their entire lives and a beautiful future ahead of them may fall victim to the horrors we have seen in 2016 (and years prior). Of course, I worry about my friends, my family, and myself (as a queer person), but I had never felt such acute worry for individuals I had just met.

I didn't just feel the heavy weight of my heart, which has become a constant with the state of the world.  I didn't have a passing fear that an acquaintance may be in danger. I had a gripping, paralyzing, heart-wrenching emotion pass through me. While I have stared into the earnest eyes of these incoming students, someone stupid and hateful may not take the time to do so.

We have a duty on college campuses to protect the people that come to us. We have an obligation as student affairs professionals to help make a positive difference in the world. As the doors at MTC rotate day after day, I feel that obligation's weight more and more.

Today, I urge my fellow student affairs professionals to stay a moment longer with your students. Help a little more. Check in with someone who seems sad. Make a bigger difference. You never know when that opportunity may be your last--for yourself or for them. You never know if you could change a life or save a life with your impact.

Be the impact.

Be the change.


Until next time. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Let's Get Technical: Post 4

What does a typical day look like as an Orientation Advisor at Midlands Technical College? I could take the easy way out and say there is no typical day. However, I thought it might be interesting to lay out our schedule.

Around 8:30 am, advisors arrive on campus to assist in setting up for orientation. By then, the professional staff and the OLs (orientation leaders) and orientation assistants have already done the bulk of the work--setting up signs so students and parents know where to park, arranging tables and chairs, organizing the names and files of the students attending, and getting the electronics set up in the auditorium for the presentations that will follow.

Students begin arrive around 8:30 (although sometimes they show up sooner). That is where our real job begins. Advisors are stationed in one of many key areas to welcome and assist students. We might be greeters--stationed inside or outside at either the front or the back doors. We might work the check-in table and help students get set up with their name badge and major checked. We might be in the auditorium (my personal favorite spot) where we give them orientation packets and direct them to their seats.

Orientation begins promptly at 9 am where students hear from a multitude of faculty and staff about student life at Midlands, as well as complete activities and games, designed for college readiness and entertainment. At this point, the advisors move into the advising room and begin sorting files and preparing students potential class schedules.

Student schedules at Midlands vary widely. Some may be part-time, due to their jobs or family obligations. Some may want to be full-time, but cannot build a full-time schedule their first semester because they need to complete developmental or remedial courses before moving to the 101 level.

During advising, which follows the overview done in the auditorium, students file in to see us about 10 at a time. We have about 15 minutes to follow the Appreciative Advising model, as closely as we can in such a short amount of time, and to get students set up with a schedule. On a typical day, we may complete two orientation sessions--a morning and an afternoon session--during which we see somewhere between 2 and 6 students apiece. Many students also bring family and friends, adding an extra element to the mix, one that is mostly good and sometimes a little tedious.

After students meet with us, they are advised by financial aid, then finally, they file into the computer lab to sign up for at least one course. Signing up for a course helps students feel more official, as well as adds another layer of "reality" to the fact that they're college students now! Advisors may assist in the computer lab, or they may complete other miscellaneous tasks assigned by the professional staff.

Once students have finished registering for a class, they complete a survey on their experience, receive a free cell phone charger for their car, and are free to carry on with the rest of their day. Then we do it all over again.

The process is surprisingly exhausting. As an introvert, Student Affairs can sometimes be an incredibly draining field for me to find myself within. Some days I can't wait to crash after being "on" all day. But the perspective students give me energy as well. They light up the room with their enthusiasm for the next stage in their life.

While orientation may not be my long-term career goal, due to the large volume of individuals I interact with each day and the amount of energy it requires of this introvert, I do love the people I work with, the students I see, and the purpose behind the position.

I'm thankful that Midlands has given me the opportunity to delve into another area of student services with which I previously had very little experience.

Until next time!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Let's Get Technical: Post 3

It's hard to believe that in five short days we will have been serving as Orientation Advisors at Midlands Technical College for a month! In some ways, it feels like we've been there forever. In others, it feels like we're just getting started.

Since I last posted, we've conducted orientations at several different MTC campuses--something I've really enjoyed. While 4-year colleges may operate on a single campus or may employ an entirely different orientation team on a different campus (for example, USC--Aiken versus USC--Columbia), MTC operates with a limited team and budget, so we're doing all of the orientations.

My favorite campus so far is the Northeast campus, which looked like a cross between a space ship and a Japanese garden. The campus is mostly used for science and engineering students and featured amenities such as wall--to--wall whiteboards, computers in the majority of the classrooms, and industrial spaces to work in the building called the Innovation Center.

During lunch, one of the OLs (orientation leaders) and I explored the Innovation Center--a cavernous space filled with huge machines of which I couldn't even begin to describe the nature.

The campus also features a beautiful pond, gazebos, and balconies with tables and chairs where students can eat their lunches outside. If I were coming to MTC, I would probably want to take as many classes at Northeast as I could.

Here is a picture  (taken from one of the balconies) that doesn't even begin to capture the beauty of the campus.

I also enjoyed Northeast because of everyone's reactions to it (including my own). There is certainly still a perception that communities colleges are secondary to the work that 4-year institutions do, the students they teach, and the facilities that they command. 

Northeast blows that perception out of the water. The students there will go on to easily make 4-figures in the workforce and will perform essential duties without which our society could not function. They will enjoy their time in college at a breathtaking campus with state-of-the-art equipment. And on the day that we spent there, we got to help those students make their bright futures happen. 

Until next time!