December Things to be Thankful For #SAGrad

As I wrapped up my first semester of grad school this year, I’ve been thinking about all the good things that have happened in my life over the past few months. In the midst of grad school stress it becomes easy to fixate on the negative or anxiety-inducing things in my life, rather than the positives. Despite this, I know that I need to focus on re-centering myself & finding some peace after a long semester. I also know that I need to reframe my self-care plan to work with my grad schedule, since it is completely different from my previous life as a new professional. In order to start to find some peace after a long semester, I thought it would be good to reflect on the things I am thankful for:

  1. I survived my first semester of grad school! Although this is probably obvious, I still know how much of an accomplishment it is to have made it through my first semester. As a first generation college student, I never thought of the possibility of grad school, which is why this accomplishment means so much to me.
  2. I have an amazing support system. Grad school wouldn’t be possible without the support of my boyfriend, my family, and my friends. It is important that you surround yourself with people who build you up and take pride in your journey. Find people who lift you up no matter what. I promise it makes a difference.
  3. I managed to get enough sleep. This sounds silly, but I am legitimately super proud of myself for prioritizing sleep this semester. I began to take my sleep habits seriously after reading Thrive, by Arianna Huffington. In the book, Huffington talks about the impact that a good night’s rest makes on your life. As a grad, I really didn’t think I would be able to continue with my healthy sleep habits, but I learned that if you develop healthy habits, they will continue despite new changes to your routine.
  4. I work in a profession that I love. Although I have been faced with a million challenges and frustrating situations as a SA Grad in Residence Life, I am sincerely thankful for the opportunity to gain experience in my field. Despite the frustrations, I know that I need to focus on finding the positives and taking a step back when I’m frustrated next semester. Also taking time to be thankful for the job I have will inevitably make a greater impact on my mental health.
  5. I had the opportunity to grow as a person. Although I still have to grow a lot personally, I feel that I’ve grown more as a person and professional through my first semester. I benefitted from the challenge of balancing school, my assistantship, my relationship, friends, family, and a million other things. Challenges make us stronger as people. We just need to make time to step back and reflect on those challenges after they happen. It is also really self-affirming to look back and see how much you’ve accomplished.

This semester has definitely been a whirlwind, but I know that I am where I need to be at this point in my life. I challenge everyone to take a minute to reflect on how you’ve grown from your last few months, what you are thankful for, and what you need to improve on going forward. I know that next semester I have to reflect better on my self-care practices, specifically with my health and physical wellbeing. Here’s to an even better second semester!

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Reflections of my #SAGrad Experience

Although I haven’t written a post in a while, I thought it was important to take some time after surviving half of my first semester of grad school to reflect back on some of the things I’ve learned. The journey hasn’t been easy so far (and I totally still have more presentations and papers in the next few weeks), but it’s been a good one. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned so far!

Take time for yourself.

A few weeks ago, I learned the importance of making time for myself despite my extremely busy schedule. I was doing some form of homework every day for some period of time and forgetting to take some time for myself. I ended up getting extremely stressed and frustrated with everything until I finally processed that I wasn’t making time for me. That week, I took an entire Saturday to sleep and do what I wanted without looking at homework. Taking a day (or most of a day) each week for self-care is crucial in grad school.

Stay ahead of your work at all times.

Some weeks it’s impossible to start projects more than a week in advance (because of other projects). Regardless, I try to take steps to begin work well in advance so that I don’t get behind. I always try to have things done at least one day before the class in case something comes up with my assistantship (i.e. a difficult night on call, emergency meetings). Never wait until last minute for assignments if you can help it.

Make time for friends and family.

Although it’s often a challenge with my schedule, I always try to make time for friends and family. My awesome boyfriend sits at Starbucks with me for hours while I do homework. We make time to spend with each other (even if I have to focus on academics while doing it). Fit in time for family and friends in whatever way you can. You can’t forget about your support system.

Take advantage of opportunities when they’re provided.

I make time to take advantage of professional and social opportunities when I can. Although I’m a commuter student (off-campus Assistantship site) I have decided it was important for me to connect with my cohort. I decided to join our Associates for Student Development organization as a member of the Social Event Committee and take advantage of their social and professional events. I also decided to sign up to attend MACUHO this year because I’ve never been to a housing conference before. Take advantage of as many opportunities (whether social or developmental) as you possibly can.

Enjoy the ride.

I’m learning that grad school flies by very quickly. Although the journey is difficult, I recognize the importance of stepping back and enjoying the journey. As a first-generation college student, I recognize that having the opportunity to pursue a graduate degree is an incredible gift that I can’t take for granted. Enjoy yourself during this incredible journey!

Overall, I’ve been having an awesome time in my SA grad program despite the ups and downs. The SAHE program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania is the perfect fit for me and I couldn’t ask for a more supportive group of faculty and cohort members. Here’s to finishing out the semester strong!

 

#Wednesday Thoughts: “I am Worthy”

“You’re Imperfect, & you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love & belonging.” ~Brene Brown 

Sometimes it’s easy to let the world bring us down. To let others make us feel less than. To struggle to find your place in the world.

I have to keep reminding myself that I am worthy, I am strong, & that others will not bring me down. I remember where I came from, how far I have come since then, & where I am going.

Don’t let the world bring you down. Keep going. Remember that you are awesome. The world is waiting for you to do awesome things.

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Blog Title Update!

I figured I would update the title of my blog to “A Year in the Life: Confessions of a Student Affairs Grad” (since that’s what I am now. Yay!). I hope to share a lot about my SA Grad journey, which is why I decided on the update. Thank God I chose an interchangeable blog title that I can update when I move to a new position. Enjoy! 🙂

My Friday #Self-Care Reminders

“You can’t pour from an empty cup” ~Anonymous

 

After a semi-busy week of chaperoning/staying overnight with a summer enrichment camp AND battling a bad cold, I thought it would be good to reflect on self-care (like I always do). As a Student Affairs professional & new grad student, it becomes a challenge to focus on myself in the midst of a chaotic week. After looking forward, I realize that August is going to be a million times busier AND I will be starting grad classes on the 28th. Since I have some time to myself today, I thought it would be good to reflect on self-care while re-centering my brain.

It is not selfish to focus on myself.

I have to tell myself this every time I want to take a break or spend time reading alone. It’s a challenge to remind myself that self-care is not selfish or lazy. In a chaotic profession, it is even more crucial that we try to find more self-care time in the midst of our busy lives. Since I was so sick this week, I decided to ask for 3 hours in the morning on Wednesday to recharge & rest during sessions that I wasn’t required to attend. Taking that time was so helpful to my physical & mental health, & I felt more recharged than I had in days.

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A photo from my recent beach trip. I found a lot of time to recenter myself that week.

It is not lazy to relax on my day off.

As someone who is constantly up and moving, I have to fight to tell myself that there is no harm in relaxing on my day off. This morning I slept in, made breakfast, & had numerous cups of coffee. I spent some time on social media & worked on organizing & updating my planner. I have so many things to do (i.e. oil change, returning a library book), yet I needed this time to myself this morning. Sometimes we need to allow ourselves to clear our schedules for an extended period of time when we don’t have time-sensitive obligations. The “adulting” can wait for later in the day or tomorrow.

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My planner helps me stay focused & on track!

 

Napping does not make me lazy.

I am a huge advocate for naps. A lot of people think that napping is a sign of laziness or depression, yet I find myself trying to make a few minutes of nap time in my routine schedule. Napping was crucial to my undergraduate college experience. As long as I’m showing up on-time & completing my tasks, I don’t see any harm in taking a 30 minute power nap to recharge my brain.

Schedule Self-Care Time.

Something that I’ve been doing is scheduling my self-care time. This is going to be especially crucial once classes start and the students return to campus. I find that scheduling yoga classes in advance forces me to practice self-care when I feel like I am too busy. I also make sure that I take walks every evening around the same time. When you put your self-care practices into your daily agenda, it becomes just as routine as work, class, & other tasks.

Eat Healthy & Stay Hydrated.

Something that I struggle with is staying healthy in the midst of a chaotic schedule. Working in Residence Life makes this even more challenging because there is free food everywhere. Sticking to a healthy diet & staying hydrated throughout the day not only helps me to feel better physically, but mentally as well. The more I take care of my body, the less depressed & anxious I am. I find that using a Fitbit & the Fitbit app help me to stay on track with these goals.

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I try to make healthy meals & meal prep when I have the time! This ground turkey & rice noodle dinner was absolutely delicious!

Overall, self-care is a challenge for all of us. If you have the free time in your schedule, focus on you. Remember that your self-care practices (i.e. what works, what doesn’t work) is completely up to each individual person. Although it’s a challenge, it is also important to try not to allow others to hinder your self-care practices. We all have to build each other up in order to make the world a better place, so please support those around you in taking care of themselves. And of course, PLEASE take care of yourself first before taking care of others. 

 

#ThursdayAdventure

Today I took some time to take a solo walk on the Johnstown Flood Trail (located near my new home). Sometimes taking time to appreciate nature & silence is all it takes when you’re having a rough week. Remember to appreciate the little things in life, find peace when you can, & focus on your self-care! And as always, keep in mind that spending time with yourself is not selfish. The world can wait while you take time to center yourself & find your peace.

Reflection: What I learned as a First-Generation College Student

As I start to approach the beginning of my graduate academic career, I thought I would take a few moments to reflect on my undergraduate experience. For a lot of students, an undergraduate education is the automatic decision immediately following high school. For those of us who are first-generation students, our college experience wasn’t a “given.” Growing up in a single-parent household, I knew what it meant to work hard for things I didn’t have, one of those being my college education.

 

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(left) My mum, me (center), & my grandma (right) during my senior week at Saint Vincent College.

Being a first-generation student is a huge challenge. As a scholarship/grant student at Saint Vincent College, I got into the habit of writing tons of essays in hope of the opportunity of attending college. I had over 8 work study jobs throughout my 4 years of school in order to pay off the additional fees. I also went in with no understanding of proper study skills and had to navigate my way through trial and error a lot of times (that usually began with a lot of procrastination).

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Me accepting the Ragan Poetry Award from Saint Vincent College President Br. Norman Hipps in 2012.

Regardless, I learned a lot as a first-generation student that I take into my daily work in Residence Life. Many of our students are either first-generation or come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. A lot of them have multiple jobs and scholarships. I’ve learned not to scold students for not sleeping enough, but to encourage healthier habits when they have the time. Unfortunately, with multiple jobs and excessive amounts of homework, students often don’t have the ability to go to bed as early as we would expect them to. I’ve learned to take a step back when a student is being combative or unresponsive in a conversation or situation. Everyone is going through a different struggle and some of those struggles are worse than others. I’ve also learned to “fight” for my “kids.” When I was a hall director in my previous job, I had a student who couldn’t afford to attend the institution. I tried to the best of my ability to see what other jobs we could offer and what other financial aid may be available. I even gave her food money for taking care of my cat when I was away. Fight for them when you can.

We need to look out for our students. Although it’s challenging to deal with students who are combative or student leaders who may be slacking on their responsibilities, we need to keep in mind that they are all going through struggles that may be comparable to our own. Some may be dealing with issues at home. Some may not have homes to go back to. Some may be struggling with identifying their sexual orientation or keeping up with academics or working 3 different jobs just to become the engineer they have always wanted to be. Take a step back to reflect on what your students may be going through. And overall, never forget where you came from and what you needed to do to get where you are today. Being vulnerable and empathetic will make you a stronger guide and model for your students at the end of the day.

Choose Your Own Path: Why I decided to work before my #SAGrad Experience

Deciding where to begin a career in Student Affairs is often a challenge for a lot of professionals. Typically aspiring SA Pros will begin their journey by attending a post-graduate program and receiving a Master’s Degree before pursuing employment. A number of professionals, however, decide to take the road less traveled by gaining a few years of professional employment experience before pursuing a Master’s degree. This is the path I took to begin my SA Pro experience.

Beginning with employment in Student Affairs, rather than starting off with a Master’s program, is a huge challenge. Although it was a difficult road, I am so thankful that I worked before pursuing my degree. The greatest challenge was finding a position that was entry level & didn’t require my Master’s. After a lot of job searching & flying around to on-campus interviews, I finally found my first job as a Hall Director at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN.

Many may be wondering why I decided not to begin my journey with my Master’s program. Although this was a difficult decision, I knew that reaffirming my passion for Student Affairs & Residence Life was crucial for me. As a college undergrad, I thought that I was going to be a secondary English teacher until I was in the middle of my student teaching experience. Not only did I realize that I no longer had a passion for secondary education, but that I was completely miserable in the classroom. I decided then to quit my student teaching to focus on my mental health and my desire to pursue Student Affairs. This was the most difficult, yet beneficial decision I’ve ever made. By stepping away from the English classroom, I learned that although I felt called to be an educator, it was no longer inside of a classroom. I also learned that I much rather preferred working with college level students.

It was this decision that caused me to work as a Hall Director these past few years. I have not only reaffirmed my passion, but have given myself the practical experience that will help me to relate to theories and to learn new things in my Master’s classes. I am so thankful that I took that time to myself. If you are still on the fence about a career path but are considering Student Affairs, I seriously recommend that you do the following:

1. Consider working in Higher Ed before pursuing your Master’s Degree. This will give you time to make sure you are in the field you want to be in while also reaffirming the specific content area/office that you want to work with. I always knew that Residence Life was my calling, since I was an RA and an Assistant Hall Director for my undergrad institution. This will also allow you to “dabble” in other content areas and potentially work with advising, which is crucial experience to have.

2. Consider moving away to a new state/area if you do decide to work before your degree. I’ve gained so much independence from my move to Indiana these past 3 years. This has also reaffirmed that I wanted to return to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where my family/support system is. The most growth comes from finding yourself in a strange place alone & with developing a new life/support in that strange new place.

3. Talk to other professionals in the field. I know that I had the help of a number of Student Affairs friends to push me and guide me toward making the right decision for myself. Talk to people in different offices and ask what they do on a regular basis. Ask to do some job shadowing. It’s nice to have some background on some of the job options within our field.

Overall, make the decision that is best for you. If you are one of those people who needs to pursue a Master’s Degree immediately post undergrad, then go for it! If you want to test the waters first, know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing so and you will NOT be behind when it comes to pursuing your degree. Know that there are other professionals in the field who have been where you are and are right there with you in your journey.

Discovering my Place in the Universe: What I Learned from my First Professional Job

“We promise you discovery: the discovery of yourselves, the discovery of the universe, and your place in it.”

— Sister Madeleva Wolff, CSC;  Former President of Saint Mary’s College

I can’t believe it’s been 3 months since I wrote a blog post! Where has time gone? I find it harder to believe that I’m in my final month of employment at my first professional job. I don’t think I’ve fully grasped the fact that this is the last week I will see many of my students after they leave for finals. Or that I only have next week to spend with my RA staff. Regardless, I have gained so much from the past 3 years at Saint Mary’s College, and I thought it would be great to reflect on the things I’ve learned from my first Student Affairs job.

Sometimes you need to move away to find yourself.

Moving to a new state was one of the most difficult, yet positive experiences of my life. I have grown more in independence & confidence throughout the past 3 years both professionally & personally. I also learned how to create my support system & build new connections, which was challenging at times. I recommend that everyone moves away from home for a period of time at least once in their lives.

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Create traditions that you can carry on to other institutions.

I have created so many traditions that I want to carry over into my future GA Area Coordinator position. Reflect on some of the traditions that your college HD or other SA professional has done for you when you were a student & use that to develop your own traditions. I personally give my RA staff a pen, notebook, & welcome letter in their rooms as they arrive to campus for the year. I also do a “Treasure Chest” affirmation activity during staff meetings & make baked goods for my RAs once in a while. Reflect on what you love & bring that to your student staff.

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My lovely RA staff from this year! 

Accept your mistakes.

It is important to own up to mistakes that you make on the job. I’ve learned that people value you more when you’re willing to accept your mistakes and own up to it. Being real goes a long way.

Wear ALL the hats.

As a new professional, it is important to reflect on some things that you may be interested and ask to help when you can. Sometimes it’s not always easy to find your niche/passion areas in Student Affairs, which is why it’s awesome to have an institution that allows you to step in and get experience in other offices. I would have never realized that I was passionate about doing Violence Prevention Work on the side if I didn’t agree to get Green Dot Certified. Chaperoning events & showing up to student programs are also great ways to get involved in the community.

Find your ways of practicing Self-Care EARLY.

Working in Student Affairs/Higher Ed is super stressful at times, which is why it’s important to figure out what works for you early on. Remember that it is NOT selfish to take care of yourself first. Once you take care of yourself, you’ll be able to take care of others. I like to take walks, go to yoga classes, & cook breakfast for myself. Also remember that the things that work for others may not work for you.

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Be open to new things, especially during your job search.

When I was looking at institutions for my first job, I had never imagined that I would end up at an all-female institution. When I arrived on campus, I just had a feeling that this was meant to be. Focus on whether or not it is a good fit for you during interviews & don’t be afraid to trust your gut at times. Things will work out in the end & you will always grow from the experience no matter what.

Learn how to say no.

As a new professional, it’s hard to say no to people who ask for help. Remember, that it is ok to say no to things because it’s easy to experience burnout in our field. At the beginning, I struggled to say no to anything. I slowly but surely learned that I wasn’t able to take on everything. Keep this in mind early if you can.

Delegate tasks appropriately when you can.

During my first year, I felt the need to take on everything in my building or with departmental projects. I quickly learned that I could delegate to my RA staff when it was appropriate & also ask coworkers to tag team events with me. Don’t be afraid to delegate. Inevitably by delegating, you are helping others to grow by providing some ownership & leadership for important tasks. By providing this leadership, you are helping them to grow just as much as they are helping you.

Be vulnerable.

I learned that being vulnerable and real with my students is the key component to building genuine relationships. It’s ok to share stories about yourself with your students. Let them know who you are & most importantly, that you are also a real person. This will help with building understanding with them, especially when you need some flexibility on their end.

Learn time management skills if you don’t have them already.

I learned more time management skills more during my first year of employment than I ever did as an undergraduate student. Learn what works for you in your office. How much time do you need to delegate for each task? What organization skills do you need to develop to get done with your work? Learn what works for you & your productivity.

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I’ve grown so much from my first professional job & I hope that everyone else can say the same. No matter where you end up professionally, remember to take time to reflect on the lessons you learn along the way. I can’t wait to move forward into Graduate school & my GA Position next year with the experiences & lessons I’ve learned here at SMC. Remember to focus on how you want to grow from your employer & what steps you can take along the way to get where you want to go.

#Saturday Inspiration: Recognizing Your Importance to Those Around You

It’s easy to fall into a mindset where you struggle with self-worth, whether it’s in the workplace or your personal life. As humans, we have a tendency to get into our normal routines, we go through our daily challenges, get frustrated with mundane tasks like sitting in traffic or running to the grocery store. Often I fail to recognize the impact that I’m making in the lives of others, whether I personally know them or not. My Anxiety sometimes causes me to feel like a burden to others, like I’m almost bothering the people who love me because I’m texting them about my day. I’m sure that I am not the only one who feels this way.

This year, I have also committed to completing “The 52 Lists Project” journal, by Moorea Seal, which offers a new prompt for a list every single week of the year with a follow-up reflection. This week’s prompt was simply the following: “List Your Favorite Quotes.”

After listing out a few, I finally remembered my favorite quote of all time:

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” -Fred Rogers

If you know me, you know that I’m the biggest Mr. Rogers fangirl ever. I absolutely love the work he has done with education & children. I love the simplicity of his inspirational quotes because in the end, he is always reminding us to love one other and be good people. 

This quote is important to me personally because of my mental health struggle. By recognizing the small, relevant impacts we share with people every single day, we find value and worth in our everyday lives. This is especially relevant in my job as a Hall Director, when I often find myself confronting challenging situations and sharing challenging (and sometimes negative) conversations with students. I have to remind myself that by giving my students a space to share their concerns and have a voice, I am making a huge impact. Unfortunately, we live in a world where a lot of people find themselves silenced.

As an Empathizer (#1 Strengthsquest result), I have a tendency to connect with my students on a personal level and get emotionally invested in their stories at times. I think that honestly this is a positive, rather than a negative, because my students recognize that I am genuine in my expression of concern, I genuinely listen to them, and I genuinely care about their feelings. 

At the end of the day, we need to remember how valuable we are to those around us, even if we don’t always see it. I wanted to write this post to remind everyone that you are a valuable, loved human being who has so much to contribute to this world, even though you may not see it right now. I challenge you to smile at a random stranger, initiate a conversation with a coworker you may rarely talk to, or do some other random act of kindness. You may never know how great of an impact you have on that person’s life.

 

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