During the past two academic years, as I have pursued my masters degree at Oklahoma State University, I have had a graduate assistantship about 50 miles down the road at the University of Central Oklahoma. Today is my last day at UCO. Which is all weird and terrifying and stuff.
At the beginning, I was working in the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs, but in mid-October of my first year I began to shift over to the Department of Campus Activities. I have worked with a number of amazing and incredible students, professionals and faculty. As part of my reflection, I wanted to create a “Top Ten” list of things I have learned for my professional career at UCO. Though I guess it is not really a top ten list, more of a “Ten-Fun-Things-I-Want-To-Share” list. I would like to note that these items are in no particular order – I have learned that these are all equally important.
Wear Your Name Tag on the Right – This lesson, learned from the Director of my department, is so incredibly simple. Over time I have learned how important it is, and it is incredible to see how well this sinks in for our students. I am surprised it took my until grad school to learn this. One is always supposed to wear their name tag on their right side. This makes it easier to identify an individual when you meet them. Reach out, shake their hand, and boom, their name tag is right there.
Never Run – This lesson is from our Coordinator of Parent and Family Programs. The idea is that one is never supposed to run during a program. It looks unprofessional and can make people thing something is wrong, thus drawing concern. It is pretty simple, and undergrad Nathanial could have used this lesson a lot. Especially sophomore year.
The Backwards Calendar – This helps minimalize the occurrence of last minute issues. It helps to put yourself in the mental space of “today is the program, what do I need right now?” Then to go the day before and thing of what you need then. Then the week before, the month before, etcetera. It is an incredibly useful planning tool, especially when working with large programs and balancing lots of things.
Conferences are Important – As much as regional/national conferences and organizations are important for getting undergrads involved in something bigger than themselves, they are important for professionals to stay connected with each other, to learn from each other, and to meet each other. The experience I had with conferences as an undergrad got me involved in the student affairs field, the experiences I have had with conferences as a graduate student have taught me how to be a better professional.
Commuting Sucks – Driving 100 miles a day across the open flatness of Oklahoma is a unique way to familiarize oneself with a new place. Quickly. My first year I commuted a lot more than I did my second (upwards of four times a week, compared to maybe twice a week). I became very good friends with my car. But that does not mean I necessarily enjoyed it. Sure, there was lots of time to think and process, but less time spent doing other, more productive things.
Take Risks – Toward the end of my first year, I was looking at buying a car. I was close, but absolutely terrified. I sat down with our Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs and we were talking about it, and he reminded me of a few things I will never forget. He reminded me that there is no perfect time for any major life choice. There is always an excuse or reason to not do something. But some things, like buying a car or going to grad school or getting married are things that generally turn out to be good life choices. Sometimes you just have to jump. Get over your fear and anxiety and make the choices that are in front of you, with strong decisiveness and certainty for the future.
Wear a Real Bow-Tie – In the words of Doctor Who, “bowties are cool.” That being said, you will never see The Doctor wearing a clip-on bowtie. Likewise, you will never see me wearing a clip-on bowtie again. Because anywhere I might wear a bowtie is a place I would probably be photographed wearing a bowtie, and I know the Assistant VP of Student Affairs would definitely call me out for it, since he has before.
Hard Decisions/Conversations Suck – Nevertheless, decisions still need to be made. Conversations that might upset need to be had. As someone who wants everyone to be happy and feel good and leave with positive feelings, sometimes that is a thing that is not possible. This is something that breaks my heart, but is necessary, especially in Student Affairs. As a Student Affairs professional, one is not always going to be a bearer of bad news. In fact, if we are, we are doing our job wrong. Having challenging conversations is an area I have grown tremendously in this year, and look forward to growing in more over the course of my professional career.
Never Underestimate the Impact you Make on Another Persons Life – Sometimes I do this. I think, I am just another person getting by, doing what I need to do. NO. WRONG. FALSE. I am an influence on the lives of those around me. The actions I make and the things I choose to do determine what kind of influence I have on those around me. Because of this, I am reminded to always perform at the best I can on any given day.
Details are Important – In my undergraduate experience, I feel like it was always just a matter of making things happen. I was attentive to details, but because they were part of what I was trained to look for. In my role at UCO, I have had to look more for details than I ever have before, and I have learned a lot about when (and how) to improvise and when to plan ahead and look out for details. For example; planning an event that involves tables? Better have a thematically appropriate centerpiece!