Cara D. Arena
Current Position and Institution:
Graduate Assistant, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
First Position and Institution:
Coordinator of Student Activities, SUNY Sullivan
Yes, that is a picture of me from my first professional student affairs position at Hogwarts…just kidding. On Halloween, our small community college in the Catskills of New York would host “Safe Halloween,” an event where local children could trick-or-treat at the college; our student activities office organized the event, providing candy for the different offices that were participating, and showing Halloween-themed films for the kids who attended.
This picture reminds me of two important lessons:
- Always be prepared. Be especially prepared for something to go wrong. In this case, we ran out of candy, within the first hour of the event. It was a particularly cold and rainy Halloween that year, so more kids showed up than we had anticipated. As a result, my supervisor and I ran around (during the event) to various offices on campus and different stores in the area, buying as much candy as we could. The second year, however, we were much more prepared and had more than enough candy.
- As a new professional, particularly one who was relatively young (I had just graduated from college three months prior when I began this job), I had to balance being recognized as a professional, and also being approachable. Most days, I dressed very professionally and erred on the side of “business professional”: my hair was neat and pulled back; I wore natural make-up; many days I wore appropriate heels (and never sandals or sneakers). But, on Halloween, I was able to show a different side of me—a more approachable, fun side. And my students loved it. I soon found more students hanging out in my office and saying hi to me around campus. Finding that balance was an important lesson for me.
Three years later, as I begin my final year of my master’s program, I continue to reflect on and share my experiences with my classmates and coworkers; every experience is a learning experience.
The #SATBT series asks higher education and student affairs professionals to share a picture and reflect on a memory and/or one of the most important lessons the learned from their first job in the field.