Current Position and Institution:
Experiential Learning Projects Coordinator, Career Services, Queen’s University
First Position and Institution:
Student Experience Advisor, Student Experience Centre, University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT)
I can still vividly remember waiting to cross the stage at my Master’s graduation, having traveled back across the country (from Toronto to British Columbia) with my Mom to celebrate what was truly an incredible accomplishment for me, both academically and personally. As I stood in line, I caught up with classmates who I hadn’t seen in over a year while we were all sequestered in our various writing caves putting the finishing touches on our final projects. One of them turned to me and asked that dreaded question, “What are you up to now?” At the time, I was terrified to not have an answer that didn’t at the very least involve a job title and institution, and, at the very most, involve being a published author and seasoned educational conference presenter. Looking back, what I should have said was “Graduating. Right now I’m graduating, and that’s pretty awesome.”
Six months after that day, I began my first job as Student Experience Advisor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT). This was my crash course in “new.” The university was new, the department was very new, and I was new to the world of jobs that didn’t have “student” in their title. Suddenly, I was making decisions about my pension (my what?!), and I was the first and last line of defense in major decisions about events and workshops. Yes, I had a supervisor, but I was in charge, and it was terrifying. What if I made a mistake? What if the event was horrible? What if I just couldn’t do it?
To keep you off the edge of your seat, I did, in fact, make a lot of mistakes. I still do. But what I loved about UOIT was the incredible sense of community that treated mistakes as learning moments and helped me celebrate my strengths in amongst my whirling cloud of insecurities. My first job taught me that if we allow and expect our students to make mistakes, we must extend that same grace and patience to ourselves.
My time at UOIT also taught me just how valuable, precious, and inspiring stories are. I met with over 100 students in my two years at UOIT, working one on one to discuss resumes, cover letters, interviews, and the job search. Each student had a story, and I began to see what a true privilege it was to be even a small part of it. I worked with student staff on major events who also had unique stories to tell, some of whom I can still follow to this day through the power of social media. In each and every case, “I don’t know” slowly turned from a scary statement to an almost empowering phrase. Saying “I don’t know” was a powerful connector – both in bonding a team making its way through new policies, procedures, and events and in connecting myself back to the solid foundation I now realize I have built for myself. Even as I’ve become a more “seasoned” professional, there will always be many more firsts. UOIT taught me not to fear the first. “I don’t know” opens doors to connections and conversations that make us better, both as professionals and people. For our students, let’s remember the fear behind the phrase and show compassion. For our colleagues and friends, let’s remember the shared path we’re on, and make room to walk together.
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.
Consider contributing your story for potential inclusion in the book version…