Being A Student Affairs Professional

Viewing my growth and development at a professional over the past two years from 10,000 feet, I still hold the energy and drive I have for working with and for students. However, I have matured in my approach to work in student success and services. Go 10,000 feet higher and you will see a bigger picture, one that incorporates much more than just a focus on students. While I work in Student Affairs and consider it my career and profession, I like to use the language of "Higher Education Professional" to describe what I am within the context of the work I do. My professional philosophy revolves around this terminology and what it means to work in higher education. 

Staying "people-centric"

Much of the work we do in Student Affairs and Higher Education involves policy and procedure. Education in the United States is highly political and governed, with each state holding its own priorities for its higher education institutions. To operate a university effectively requires policies that govern everything from human resources and office functions to learning and course design. Additionally, higher education institution hold mores that dictate how things are accomplished. While focusing on implementing policies and procedures effectively to ensure the university is accomplishing its goals of educating students, we lose the core of the work we do: working with people. I would know this because of the transition my office went through, as the staff left standing used policy and procedure to run an office efficiently without considering the disparate impact on the people with whom the office had touchpoints. Going through that office and departmental period of transition ingrained in me the importance of putting how I impact others at the pinnacle of my practice. I say "people" and not "students" because as Student Affairs professionals, we work with more than just students. The impact of our work on students may be more salient, but we nonetheless have just as much impact on colleagues at our institution and in the profession, parents and family of the students with whom we work, and faculty who teach the students with whom we work. I put people first in my practice and balance this philosophical approach with the obligations I have to institutional policy and procedure, leaving those with whom I interact as a professional in a better physical, mental, and emotional state than where I met them. 

Student learning as a true imperative of the profession

In the past two decades, Student Affairs professional have sparked a push towards student learning and success that matches the founding principles and values of our profession, as outlined in the 1937 Student Personnel Point of View. However, I am of the opinion that as a profession, we still have not integrated student learning and success fully into our practice. We have not generally thought critically about how the programs, initiatives, and support services we offer enhance their learning from courses. I have had the opportunity to integrate this mindset into my practice because I work with a population of students that are marginalized in the classroom and course design. Because students with disabilities come to see me in a position of wanting to succeed academically but not having the resources to do so, I see firsthand how the support Student Affairs professionals provide when directly targeted to helping students making meaning of their learning is crucial to the success of the field as a whole. Student Affairs practice must directly address learning, whether it is providing access to learning opportunities or facilitating the learning itself. Student Affairs professionals should be able to articulate how the programs, initiatives, and support services they offer help the Biology student learn how to be a leader in their academic field of interest or help the Business student advocate for themself. 

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Embracing our inner entrepreneur

While I am certainly opposed to the idea that a higher education institution and a for-profit business are identical in operational matters, the two have similarities. An impactful mindset Student Affairs professionals can benefit from is one of an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur maximizes the benefit of a product with the realities to produce that product. Being an entrepreneur requires vision, creativity, critical thinking, planning skills, and teamwork, all attributes that can benefit the work we do with student. These are all skills that I have tried to develop or have been strengths of mine throughout my graduate studies. They have helped me react and take action to institutional, departmental, and office change, challenges posed by supervisors to address problems of practice and operations, and discussing trends in higher education appropriation and governing. The important caveat to these skills is, when using an entrepreneurial spirit, the prioritization of the benefit to students. Student Affairs professionals must be able to react to challenges in their practice, such as budget cuts, with creative and efficient ideas and can do so with the skills that come with an entrepreneurial spirit. 

Unwavering belief in equity and inclusion

Finally, Student Affairs professionals should be keen on promoting equity and inclusion in their practice. An inherent principle of higher education is its ability to open opportunities for individuals. Society considers a higher education degree the key to opportunity and improvement of life. Student Affairs professionals have a front seat to the impact of learning and development opportunities in higher education on students, helping them make sense and direction of their passions and interests. Consequently, it is antithetical to the work we do as professionals to uphold systems of oppression that withhold access and inclusion of students from marginalized or disadvantaged backgrounds. As I continue in my career, I want to take the numerous opportunities at Florida State University from which I learned to promote the ideals of equity and inclusion and put them to practice. 

Final thoughts

Taking into account my experiences so far, I have become attached to the Student Affairs profession through these tenants and mindsets. They match my strengths and proclivities in practice. Considering this, I still have extensive development and growth to accomplish in these parts of my professional philosophy. The work that comes next in constantly reminding myself of this imperative and seeking opportunities to accomplish those goals. Grounding myself in the core beliefs of this professional philosophy can help me get there and sustain my energy and passion for Student Affairs work as a Higher Education professional.