Thursday, June 21, 2012

Grad school kickoff!

No, there wasn't a formal event to kick off my first graduate level course. I was fortunate enough to be able to register for a summer class, before my 2 year grad school journey really began.

The course, "Best Practices in Student Affairs" is taught by Dr. Jeremy Stringer, the head of the Student Development Administration department, and founder of the entire program (that began 20 years ago this year!). We meet on a strange schedule in order for the class to take field trips to various universities and colleges to tour and learn about how their student affairs departments are managed. We had class from 9 to 5 last Thursday, with lectures and a presentation from SU's civic engagement department, and Sunday we left for the University of Idaho for 2 nights.

Being able to go to the University of Idaho with my 10 other classmates was an incredible experience. We Stayed in their LLCs (Living and Learning communities) which were only built a few years ago, and incredibly spacious. We arrived Sunday evening and met Denise Carl for dinner, an SU SDA alum  who now works in student engagement at the University of Idaho. Over dinner, we got to know Denise quite a bit and my classmates and I were buzzing with excitement for the next day.

Monday morning we got breakfast at the U of Idaho's student dining hall called Bob's at 7:30am. After breakfast we met up with Melinda Lewis, a graduate student, and she gave us a campus tour and briefed us about the Greek population there.

After that we met with Bruce Pitman, the Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students. He taught us a lot about their structure, student learning outcomes, mission, and student body. I was very interested and constantly soaking up every word he said about their institution. I was intrigued to find out that the University of Idaho did a lot of collaborating with Washington State University because it lies just 8 miles away from the U of I on the other side of the state border. They even, without knowing it, chose the same common reading book that year, and have begun collaborating on that project.

I guess they've had a tough year when it comes to student deaths. Usually there is 3-5, but last year they had 14, and one case was a faculty member murdering a student. They've had a tough year, but you can really tell they've worked hard and kept everything in tact and running smoothly. I truly am grateful I got to meet and connect with the student affairs professionals at University of Idaho. They all are exceptional people and I do hope I can meet with them again some day.

the view from the meditation room in the student union. So beautiful

We also met Jeanne Christiansen, the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. She and Bruce are practically attached at the hip, working in sync for the greater good of the students.

Right before lunch we met another Bruce, Bruce Mann, the Volunteer Center Coordinator. I think he blew us all away with his passion and dedication for his job. Starting out as a marketer and promoter for their campus recreation department, he knew what he always wanted to do, and jumped on the opportunity when he saw the open position in their volunteer center. It was interesting listening to him talk; he repeated a lot of the same values and goals that the Seattle University community engagement department listed. I guess they go on service trips several times a year, and there are at least two abroad trips each year.  My favorite, and maybe a quite obvious, lesson from Bruce was that service learning trips must be mutually beneficial for both the students and the community, otherwise it is not successful. Listening to him speak got me even more interested in working with civic engagement on a campus. I'm considering that area much more strongly now.

After lunch we met Ray Gasser, Director of University Housing, and Matt Kurz, Director of Greek Life. They discussed and shared their successes and challenges in student housing. U of Idaho has a large population of students involved in greek life, and there is apparently a lot of pressure to join fraternities and sororities. Ray was telling us about Res Life's challenge and goal to make achievement possible for everyone. They've developed strategies and systems for identifying students at risk and have successfully used it to help students.

I was glad we got to visit the U of I Women's Center, because I find a lot of merit in the department in general. Heather Gasser, Ray's wife, is the director there and she told us about the incredible upbringing of the Women's Center and the LGBTQA Center. In 2008, U of I did not have an LGBTQA Center. I can't recall what happened when, but eventually they created an LGBTQA Resource Center in an office within the Women's Center, but obviously the need for a more welcoming and larger space brought the center out of there and into the student union. Unfortunately the Women's Center is still located in the basement of a building that mostly houses a gymnasium. Just one of the amazing things their center does is have an Emergency Scholarship Fund, mostly for LGBTQA students. A prime example of when a student would apply for use of this funding is if they came out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender and their parents cut them off completely. The funding is for those students who suddenly find themselves with little to no support and need financial assistance to continue. Heather told us about a particular student who was completely cut off from her parents after coming out and her parents actually reported the car that they had given her as stolen.

they have a library in their women's center!
At the end of the day we met again with Bruce Pitman, Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, as well as with Sharon Fritz, a psychologist in the counseling and testing center, currently interim in the student conduct department. They titled their topic of discussion "Campus Safety and Student Welfare post-Virginia Tech era). With higher expectations and student/family fearing American campuses, the post-Virginia Tech era has brought the need for more intervention and intense preparation/detection of and for student safety. Every week they have campus safety meetings with individuals from all over departments and campus areas to discuss students of concern, etc. With the high number of student deaths this past year, they've had a lot to talk about and a lot of new strategy to implement. A good lesson I took away from this discussion was that as graduate students in the field, we should prepare ourselves for the tough situations that WILL come our way, such as those that these professionals have had to deal with. We know student affairs is an enjoyable and rewarding field, but we have to keep in mind there are things such as conflicts, emergencies, and deaths that we will eventually have to deal with in our future positions.

At the end of the day during a wrap up talk with Bruce, we asked him what his mission and vision was for the University of Idaho. He answered:
1) A comprehensive freshman year experience. As of now, U of I has a 79% freshman to sophomore year retention rate, and Bruce would like to see 85%.
2) More space for services to be more efficient in their duties. This way they can provide all students with high impact engagement services.
3) More comprehensive services for first generation students.

Another good point he had:

  • If they admit students with a need (first gen, veteran, etc) they must be able to accomodate for those needs, they must be able to provide the services for them. Washington State Unviersity, just 8 miles from U of I across the Washington-Idaho border, recently lowered their admission requirements. The following year they had an unusually large freshman class, however they didn't hire extra staff in student support. Bruce is interested to see the retention rate between year one and year two after the students realize the lack of support. 
Some of the U of Idaho swag they gave us!
At 6:00pm they served us catered dinner (I had an amazing portobello mushroom cap while everyone else had chicken; guess I was the only vegetarian). We got the opportunity to sit with and talk with many of the professionals that we met that day as well as others we had not yet interacted. 

I sat next to Colleen Quinn, Director of Student Engagement. I learned a lot from her. It was actually her first day on the job, but she seemed to be really enjoying it there, and I was not surprised. As I've mentioned, the staff and faculty there seem to be incredible individuals. 

All in all,
I learned SO MUCH from this experience. I'm so glad that I was able to enroll in this summer class. It was wonderful getting to know my classmates on a deeper level, as well as having the opportunity to speak with Jeremy Stringer, director of the SDA program at SU, one-on-one. Now more than ever I am excited for classes to start up in the fall. Now all I need is a job to keep us afloat and my anxieties will be gone!

Today Zach might have a job opportunity up in Redmond, so I'm going up there with him today and we might explore that area when he is done. Seattle has been good to us so far!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The future is becoming clearer

my ideal career future, that is.

(I wrote the following yesterday morning, actually. I just couldn't post because we didn't have Internet and I didn't get to the public library!)

I think I'm finally starting to figure things out when it comes to my future career.  After discovering the student affairs field and consequently choosing it without hesitation for my future, I've come to realize it is a much larger field than I initially thought. Not only are there many specific areas of student affairs (student activities, student career centers, civic engagement, et cetera) but of course there are different levels and positions within those areas that I did not consider before. For instance, managing the student affairs office, assessing the development of a student affairs department, managing a student union, it's facilities, or directing the entire student life department.

I chose the field for several reasons. 1) I know that advising students is something I can be good at with practice and something I want to excel in. I moved from Milwaukee, WI, my hometown, to St. Cloud, MN for my undergraduate studies completely alone.  I turned to whatever department I could find for advice, activities, and advising because I just didn't know what to do with myself. It quickly became an identity crisis; a common phenomena of new students like I was. Searching for advice became a game; each department I visited gave me pamphlets, resources, and/or calendars of events and I gobbled it up. Resources! Free! What can I do with all this! Cool! I wanted to utilize all of them to better myself, make friends, and truly take advantage of my college experience; and that's what I ended up doing, though after some peer encouragement. 2) The university/college setting is where I feel that I fit in when it comes to a work place. Some would argue that I just don't want to leave my college life behind or I'm too afraid of change to start working in a company or firm. Let me lay it out for you: I thrive in changing environments, working with people, and being in more open minded communities. I've worked as a campus event planner for the last two years of my college career, so I already know what it is like to work in such an environment, and I already know that it is the environment for me. 3) Education is constantly growing/improving and education is everywhere. Student affairs may not academically instruct students, but it is still an incredibly valuable part of post secondary education, as I am beginning to learn in my studies at SU. When I was young the job I wanted "when I grew up" was to be a teacher. I couldn't explain it then, but now I know it was a precursor to my desire to work in an educational setting. When I say education is everywhere, I mean education can take me anywhere! Even if I don't work in a university, the things I learn from a student affairs program is going to be incredibly applicable in different educational institutions and I'm even looking forward to grasping that opportunity.

Of course, I could go on, but those are the main reasons I chose the field. The past few months it has been a struggle whether or not to decide what specific area I wanted to specialize in, if any. I loved the idea of working in a student career services center; helping students establish career paths, helping them find jobs in the area, et cetera. However, I couldn't find a passion for it. I considered student activities, where I have years of positive experience as an undergraduate, but my heart wasn't in that path 100%. The past year or so I've been looking at what I can do abroad, and I've dappled in researching working in an education abroad office, but I hadn't really been serious about it until recently. Here in Seattle I have been fortunate to come across several job postings that have helped me clarify the skills I want to attain and the responsibilities I want to practice in my daily work. It's a match made in heaven: I can advise students, I can work with people abroad, I can travel abroad, I can run orientation programs, I can use my Spanish skills, the list goes on! I have more research to do, but I'm confident that this is the area I want to work in. 

I do have one reservation about my career aspirations. Many can argue that student affairs in general doesn't exactly save lives, its not changing the future of a third world country, nor does it have much to do with national social justice issues. A long time ago I decided I wanted to work in whatever field would make an important difference in the world. You can argue that student affairs has the capability to make worldly and significant changes, but I can't get over the fact that in this day and age, the rich and privileged are still the majority of college students. The last thing I want to be is some superficial director of a study abroad office designing incredibly expensive programs for upper class students who might not take the program very seriously anyway. 

Well, what exactly do I want to do with an education abroad position, then?
There are a few things I am sure of:
I want to make programs affordable for everyone. I want to include civic engagement in all abroad experiences. I want to be a resource and friend for all the students who walk into my office and tell me how badly they want to experience the world around them. I want to design orientation programs and return programs for study abroad students in order for them to get the most out of their experience. I want to expose students who have never left the country to environments they'd never imagined before. I want to make sure they never forget their experience, and never forget that there is more to the world than their city or state. I want to involve them in something bigger than themselves.

And so my journey continues. I'm going to start searching for professional development opportunities that would give me an advantage in the education abroad field, as well as search for positions in Seattle that will help me develop relevant skills. I'm looking forward to everything I'm going to learn in the next few years in the Student Development Administration program at Seattle University so that I can apply it to my career plan.

Its an incredible relief and excitement to finally know what I want to do with my future.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The first 24 hours

We got into our neighborhood just in time to meet our landlord. As usual with apartment leases, we had tons and tons of paperwork to fill out. She is an incredibly nice lady and I'm glad that she and the maintenance worker both live in the building and are easy to contact.
This is what our building looks like:

After about an hour and a half of paperwork and a tour of the building, Zach and I start unloading the car.
Street parking here is $4.00 an hour! Yuck. For lunch we went to this little Polish place across the block from us called George's Sausage & Delicatessen for $5 sandwiches that our landlord recommended to us: yes, they were very good. The place also sold a lot of Polish food that I had never seen before, most of them with labels in Polish. Moving everything in and unpacking what we could took up most of our afternoon and evening. After we exhausted our energy on the studio, we followed through with our plans to go see Prometheus at 9:00pm. We only got a little lost on the way there. After that it was obvious to our bodies that we needed to pass out; so we did. It was a beautiful sunset that night:

Saturday, this morning, we had to move the car before 8am because there was only free parking until then. Unfortunately we had to pay to keep it in a lot all day. We're trying to sell it; not only do we just not want one, but it's also very expensive to have in this city, not to mention useless. Gas here is $4.20 right now. Day and monthly parking are hardly deals; we were looking into renting a storage unit maybe an hour out of town and sticking it there. I think we're ultimately going to decide to sell it ASAP. Traffic is not only sucky, but scary, and even if we kept the car for convenience I wouldn't want to drive it around here.

Our plan for the day was 1) get to a thrift store 2) grocery shop 3) spend time in library, mostly for Internet sake. We found a thrift store not a few blocks from Seattle University called Value Village. They were pricy, but I shouldn't have been surprised since everything is a little more expensive in big cities. We got a decent stool/chair for our breakfast bar (so happy to use that thing) as well as some other necessities for the place (garbage can, plunger, etc). After dropping them off at our studio we took off in the opposite direction to Pike's Place Market to grocery shop. Of course, things seemed a little spendy again, but we were buying fruits and veggies after all. On the way back home we stopped at a convenience store and bought a big bag of rice.

Inside the top floor of the Seattle Public Library where we were sitting
Now, we're in the library working on updating things, browsing Craigslist, and applying for jobs. We won't have Internet in our place until Thursday 14 June (which is also my first day of class!). I have an Interview for a job on Monday and the director of the Student Development Administration program at SU said he'd show me around campus early next week. I have lots to do, including get a student ID card before class starts.

So far I've been using Google Maps a lot to get around the city. I have a good sense of direction, but there's just so much here, it's overwhelming. In fact, I've become overwhelmed and anxious many times since arriving here. The noises, the busy streets, the customs; I just want to understand it all so I can stop worrying about looking stupid or something bad happening. This sheltered, quiet, midwesterner is just going to have to get used to it all. EDIT: I just read this great article called 15 Things You Should Know About Seattle that actually consoled me a bit.

It has been a little over 24 hours that we've been in Seattle, but it's been 9 days since we've really seen anyone from St. Cloud. I really miss you guys. It's so different here and nothing would make me happier than if you all were to come out here and live with us.

Side note:
I've mentally began preparing a funny list of things that I must accomplish in order to call myself a Seattle local, these being:

  • Climbing neighborhood hills without panting all the way to the top
  • Not being afraid to shove through tourists at Pike's Place Market to grocery shop
  • Getting a WA driver's license 
  • Knowing how to use ORCA (public transport) without looking stupid
  • Become friends or at least be on a first name basis with two or more local shops/eateries
  • Having a go-to bar
  • Giving directions
  • Seeing a big name concert at the Gorge Amphitheater 
  • Becoming hipster (just kidding, folks, just kidding)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Our Journey So Far...

We have a place to live in Seattle now. It's right downtown in an incredibly convenient location. We can take a 15 minute walk to Pike Place Market and I can walk to class in about 15 minutes as well. A lady called Zach back in response to some apartment inquiries and she was very happy to work with us. The stress of finding a place to live is over, but the stress of finding employment is growing.

I have applied to many positions: all positions that I would love to have and commit myself to. I think it is close to 40 or 50 so far (I've lost count of a few). However, it's been difficult without a Seattle address; I think employers just don't bother with our applications sometimes because our location is out of state. We have enough money saved up for several months of rent, so as long as we find a job within those first few months, we should be fine. At this point I'm going to start applying to wave-slave jobs in order for us to keep our head above water. Ugh cover letters are my enemy! Only because I always want them to be perfect and it takes me about 3 to 4 hours just to do one of them.

For the past few nights we had stayed in Moorhead, Minnesota with our great friend Lars and helped him move in while he let us stay with him. Right now we're in Medora, North Dakota visiting and staying with our friends Bretta and Dylan. I got incredibly sunburnt on the very first day, unfortunately, but we have some fun things planned such as hikes and possibly an excursion to Dickenson, ND for tattoos...

From here, we're driving out to Bozeman, Montana early Wednesday morning. It should take us about 8 hours to get there, I think. We'll stay in a hotel there, and hopefully head out early Thursday morning for the nearly 8 hour drive to Spokane, Washington where Zach's dad lives. We have a meeting with our landlord at 1pm in Seattle on Friday so that morning we'll leave Spokane early and get there in time to meet her. After 8 days of homelessness, we'll finally be in our new Seattle studio!

The pets have behaved surprisingly well on this long trip. There were a few times that Odin was spooked and/or meowed nonstop for a long time, but for the most part Feared Kraken (our bearded dragon) will bask in the sun on our dashboard and Odin will sleep on the armrest between the driver and the passenger seat. Here he is snoozing amongst some of the crap we have stuffed in the backseat:

Our new studio is kind of small, but Zach and I have never needed all that much space. I'm a little heartbroken we couldn't find a place with a patio or at least huge windows, but this was still an incredible gem to find, especially with it's incredible location and unbelievable price. I hope Odin likes it! Here's the floor plan:

It's June 4th today, meaning my summer class starts in exactly 10 days. I still have to finish reading the textbook due, but it shouldn't be a problem. I'm so nervous about this class! This course is available to both first years and second years, so there will be people A LOT more experienced than me in the class. How nerve-wracking! I have to get my act together as soon as I get there. Ah! I don't know how graduate students are supposed to be, I've never been one before!

To be honest, the night before we moved out I had a little break down at the horrifying thought of moving across the country to a huge city where nothing and nobody is familiar to us; plus we had no jobs and not all that much money. I just lost all hope and faith in our ability to make it. I'm ashamed of it now, because I'm incredibly confident in Zach and I as a team, but I do still think about it and wonder if it was warranted. I try to be so carefree, but something always stops me. I suppose that's the healthiest way to be: a bit cautious, a bit carefree. Oh how I over-analyze everything that doesn't need to be.

This is it, I've come to realize. This whole cross-country move. This is what I've been dreaming of for years and years: getting rid of almost everything I own, jumping on a freeway and driving for hours on end, to end up in a coastal city of opportunity, where I can start a whole new chapter of my life. My SCSU chapter has really been- erm, was, I guess- amazing. Absolutely amazing. I may have complained a lot during my 4 year stay, but I learned more than I ever thought possible. And the people I met? The people I met will stay with me for the rest of my life, whether we stay in touch or not. St. Cloud was where I found myself. Seattle will be where I build myself up from there.
And who knows what the rest of my life will bring?
All I know is I'm not going to tie myself down anywhere. The world is far to large to stay in one place and study one thing. I want to know it all, I want to bring my kids everywhere and teach them everything. I want to experience multiple cultures, I want to befriend people I never thought I'd get along with. I'm so damn young, which makes this whole thing so damn exciting! As I've said to Zach and would now like to remind myself: WE ARE MADE OF STARS. 

In other news, I woke up yesterday with my next tattoo design all figured out in my head. If I find time today, I think I shall try and sketch it.

And with that, I'll end this post.
Here is some love: take it with you and spread it around today :)