#SATBT Student Affairs Throwback Thursday: Beth John

credit: Edgewood College Photo

Beth John

Current Position and Institution:
Director of First Year Experience & Adjunct Faculty in the Higher Education Leadership Graduate Program, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

First Position and Institution:
Director of Student Activities, Edgewood College

My first professional position was serving as the Director of Student Activities at Edgewood College in Madison, WI. Beginning in a director level position immediately following graduate school was very rewarding, yet also very challenging. Over the course of my first position, I learned many important lessons.

Take initiative and put yourself out there. It is very important for a new professional to take initiative and put yourself out there to learn the campus culture, meet colleagues, and get involved on campus committees, etc. I recommend setting up 30 minute ‘quick chats’ with campus partners. Begin to make connections, learn the stories from others, and learn more about the campus and the city (I love Madison!).

Collaboration is key. Break down the silos and work within and outside of your department on projects, etc. My most successful projects included collaboration and partnership within cross-departmental teams. With strong collaboration efforts, successful professional relationships will follow. In this field, it is all about relationships.

Be a promoter of people. Inspire and develop others. Be caring and considerate of others. How you care for others speaks volumes to your character. A compassionate person takes into consideration how one’s decisions, words, and actions impact other people. It means talking the talk, and walking the walk. It means continuing to explore your own identities. It means recognizing when you have power and privilege and acting on social justice matters. It means learning how to pick your battles. It means owning your mistakes and resisting the blame game. Be reliable, lift people up, be genuine, and follow through on your word.

Stay current. Stay fresh and current in the field. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks, therefore intentionally make time for reflection of your work. Yes, you will apply student development theory in your work. Be aware of what is happening in your community (on and off campus). Get involved in professional associations. I have found a ‘home’ within my involvement with the American College Personnel Association (ACPA), especially with the entities: MultiRacial Network (MRN), Coalition for Multicultural Affairs (CMA), and Mid-level Community of Practice (ML-COP).

Embrace the two ‘F-words.’ In my first position, I thrived on perfection; however, quickly learned that it was not reality. I tell my staff all the time now that we need to embrace the two ‘F-words.’ The first is the one you are thinking – f@%# and the other f-word is flexibility! It is inevitable, mistakes will happen and there will be variables that are simply out of your control. Once you get over the initial shock (the first f-word), then you must move into the mode of the second f-word – flexibility to problem solve and create solutions (and often quickly in the moment). I recommend developing a code word for the first ‘F-word.’ In the meantime, you may borrow the one we use in my office now, which is ‘water bottle.’ The story of how that came to be is for another time.

Be messy. Not chocolate frosting on your face messy from advising a ‘cupcake wars’ event (well, maybe that too!), but inquiry-based learning messy, thinking outside of the box messy, being vulnerable and authentic messy, advocating for change messy, and engaging in the deep questions messy. Education has taught us the value of inquiry. In essence, knowledge is predicated on the question. And it’s messy and that is ok, so ‘trust the process.’

I encourage you to take initiative and put yourself out there, collaborate, be a promoter of people, stay current, embrace the two ‘F-words’, and be messy! I have been in the field of student affairs for 15 years. Those 15 years include so many memories, amazing people, lessons learned, surprises, and deep gratitude. In closing, Michael Nolan stated, “There are many things in life that will catch your eye, but only a few will catch your heart…pursue those.” I certainly pursued the field that ‘caught my heart.’

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…

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