Monthly Archives: August 2012

Great Expectations

There are certain things that come up in training that all Residence Life professionals hope to never face in their careers. I’ve previously mentioned my feelings towards fire in the residence halls. But you know what? Most of the time the fire alarm goes off in one of my buildings, it’s because somebody didn’t read the directions on their hot pocket. Many of you probably share my biggest fear – having a student die.

Earlier this week, 18 year old Martha Corey-Ochoa, a freshman at Columbia University, was found dead on the sidewalk next to her high rise residence hall. Her death has been ruled a suicide. Apparently, Martha had a history of depression and had even attempted suicide during high school.

While reading an article about this posted on The Frisky, I found something that really hit home for me. Dr. Kelly Posner, Columbia’s director of the Center for Suicide Risk Assessment, spoke about transition issues that incoming college students have. That’s nothing new. We all know about homesickness. But Dr. Posner isn’t just talking about students who are scared or nervous to be leaving home. She speaks about the students who are excited to be going to college and the expectations these students have. I feel that Dr. Posner could be speaking about two types of expectations – the students’ and the parents’.

Many people talk about how today’s kids are under too much stress. This might have been a contributing factor in Martha’s depression – her father was a Columbia alum. I don’t know the family personally, but he might have been pushing her to go there. Even outside that, there are PLENTY of families that won’t accept anything less than Ivy League for their children. You know what I don’t hear much about in the news? What happens to these overworked middle and high school students once they enter college. I’ve heard way too many students saying they are majoring in a subject because “their parents want them to”. For some students, the stress from trying to meet their parents lofty expectations might be too much.

Something I think that doesn’t get mentioned enough are the student’s expectations of what college is really like. There’s this message out there that college is supposed to be the best four years of your life. What happens when it’s not? What happens when a student gets to college and it’s not all it’s cracked up to me? I think this can lead to anxiety and depression in students as well. If a student goes off to school and doesn’t have a good time, he or she can be lead to believe that something is wrong with them.

I’m not even sure where to start with this, but I think an orientation session or two could be created from this. One could be able making sure in college “you do you” and not worry about pleasing your parents/anybody else. Your twenties are these wonderful few years that you can be just a bit selfish. Another session could compliment that session where they talk about all the fun things there are to do on campus. I know many orientations already have a session with somebody from the campus counseling center, but I think there could be a portion about your expectations not being met.

Martha’s death is a terrible tragedy. I can’t imagine how her parents, friends, and family feel. I also can’t imagine how her RA or Hall Director must feel because luckily I have not been in their shoes. Unfortunately, I know this won’t be the only student death on a college campus this year. One thing I want to do as a college administrator is try to learn something from each case and find a way to change and improve campus programs.

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What My Parents Think I Do

Awhile back, there were all these Facebook posts about what people in various professions did and how others thought of them.

Remember these bad boys?

I’m not exactly sure what’s going on in that last panel. For the most part, my job seems to consist of hitting my head against a wall and shaking my head while reading emails.

The majority of my friends understand what I do because they either are a student affairs professional or were in college recently enough to know what goes on. You know who has absolutely no idea what I do? My parents. They also have no idea while I get paid so little, but that’s a different entry. Below are some of the things my parents think I do (along with sarcastic things I either have said to them or wish I could say to them).

My parents think I work for admissions.

This is something my parents would probably understand. Also, admissions is what got me into this profession in the first place. However, my mom spent way too much of my graduate school career telling her friends that I was majoring in “admissions”.

My parents still think I’m a tour guide.

Every so often, my mom will ask if I had to give a tour recently. No mom, I haven’t given any tours in four years.

My parents think I’m an RA.

Or more correctly, the house mother at a 1950’s era boarding school. My mom also thought that is what RAs were when I was a freshman. She literally asked if they did bed checks. In front of like half my floor. I was mortified.

My parents think I’m a baby sitter.

They’ll ask me what I did with my residents while I was on call. “Well, first we went to the park, then watched Dora the Explorer, then had ice cream!” No.

My parents think I’m a cop.

This is more from my dad than my mom. He asks if I “bust parties” and “scare kiddies”. If only…

My parents think I’m a student.

Whenever I talk about being lonely, my mom tells me that I’ll have so much fun once the “other” students arrive. I always have to remind my mom that I work here, I can’t go to socials and parties with the students.

My parents give up and don’t ask questions about work.

Yep. This happens.

How do you explain to others what you do? Is anybody else’s family as clueless as mine can be?

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Getting Out There? I Got Out There!

What I didn’t include in my whiny little entry about how I have no friends is that once upon a time, I was the social planner in my group of friends. It was during the time I lived at home before coming to grad school. Basically, I moved back to my childhood hometown after being away for years and years. I knew people, but I didn’t have friends. After moping around for a good six months, I eventually decided to contact the people I used to be friends with in middle school and try to arrange a get together. Most of them didn’t know each other. I barely knew some of them after all this time. But you know what? It worked! Many of their friends had moved away from town or with busy with new jobs or spouses, so we became a little group. They relied on me to make plans for all of us. Once when I was out of town, everybody texted me asking if there was anything going on that night. I told everybody to meet at the same place. It wasn’t until they all arrived that they realized I wouldn’t be coming.

So I decided to try that tactic again. There were two other people I knew outside of my department. On a whim, I emailed asking if they wanted to get dinner later that week. I told them to invite other “young professionals” that they knew at the college. There wound up being five of us at that first dinner. We decided to start emailing around a list of “cool” places to check out in the area. We also kept adding people to that list! Some more people have been hired and we want to make sure that they can make friends too.

Our little group has done a few things since then and I’ve even had to turn events down because I’ve been busy. The important thing is now I feel like I have friends and things to do around here. I’m sure it will eventually get to the point where I’m not traveling everywhere on my weekends off because I’ll have plans here.

I am still looking for more ways to get involved in the area. One reader suggested looking into the Junior League, but I’m worried that I’ll be the youngest person involved or the only one without a husband and children. Right now my “tell all your friends” approach seems to be working well, so maybe I’ll hold off on the Junior League and church choir until I’m more settled.

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So Call Me Maybe?

I like to consider myself ahead of the curve technologically-speaking. I was one of the first fifteen people in line for an iPhone at my local Apple store back on June 29, 2007. I willingly switched to timeline on Facebook. I have yet to embrace Google+, but my rationale for that is none of my friends use it either.

One of my friends was in my office earlier this summer when I got an email which caused seemingly three hundred different beeps around the office. She started laughing and asked how I kept up with everything. I’ll admit, the notifications can be annoying. Anybody remember the episode of The Office with WUPHF?

What devices did I have as a student?

Well, let’s see, when I started undergrad NOBODY my age had a smart phone. I went to school with a laptop and a cell phone that called people. That’s it. Also, there was no wireless in the residence halls and barely any in the classrooms. Those were some dark times. By the time I graduated, I had upgraded my laptop and had been through many, many phones. In grad school, I purchased an iPad that was to accompany me to conferences and on-campus interviews. I also wound up using it to take notes in class and staff meetings.

What devices do I use as a professional?

I personally own an iPhone, iPad, and desktop computer. My job provided a laptop with a docking station in my office and a cell phone for work-purposes. I use my iPad for work a lot…taking notes at staff meetings and training, emailing people when I’m on the go. I haven’t been undocking my laptop to haul it around too much.

One thing I worry about is my dependence on technology and how much I need to rely on it for work. Whenever I’m going to be somewhere for an extended amount of time that has iffy cell phone coverage, I worry about who might be trying to contact me. Usually nobody calls me, but I swear, whenever I am away from my phone for sometime, that’s when people call. We had two days with no internet here earlier this summer. Nothing got accomplished. So many of our systems are online that even a simple question from a phone call was difficult to answer.

For those of you iPad users out there, what are some apps you recommend? What are some devices you could not imagine life without?

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Something Old, Something New

I saw a post on Facebook recently that read “‘I went to Target and found nothing I liked,’ said nobody ever.”

Amen to whoever came up with that. It seems that every time I run in there “just real quick” I wind up spending forty five minutes and a hundred dollars. My most recent Target adventure was to pick up a copy of a magazine and pillow case and I wound up leaving with new dresses, sunglasses, and a big floppy hat.

As I watch new students unloading their cars with matching dorm room essentials and nifty color-coordinated containers to organize their belongings, I’m always a little envious. I want my apartment and office to be filled with colorful, matching, adorable things! I want new stuff! Clearly, the right way to go about solving this is to drive off to Target and load my cart up with new accessories in this year’s hot color. Oh? It’s not?

One aspect of college that high-school-me was excited for was the ability to start fresh. To move somewhere where nobody knew your name, where people didn’t know your embarrassing moments from years past. To be able to meet new people and start new classes. And to buy new stuff.

Even though as professionals we’re not moving into new dorm rooms each year, the start of a new school year does give us a chance to shake things up. You will meet new students in your organizations and they might come in with fresh ideas. You have the chance to improve on programs from the previous year. As the year starts, take some time to get your office back into shape. You don’t necessarily need to run off to a big box store to buy new storage bins and binders. Take a look around not only your own office, but look around the department. There might be some things tucked away in a closet that you can re-purpose to suit your needs.

What are some start of school rituals you have in place?

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Crafting (Part 2)

Towards the end of July, I realized it was almost “Birthday Season” – the month that the majority of my close friends and I are born in. It was also at this point that I realized I hadn’t even TOUCHED the plastic carts that held my crafting supplies since my last apartment. I went to see what I had lying around only to find the drawers a mess. Everything had shifted during the move. Also, my crafting supplies were split between three different carts.

I decided to go through everything and organize it so it could fit into two stackable carts. I wound up throwing away several paint brushes, old glitter glues that had separated, and a broken picture frame. I also discovered that I had three bottles of the exact same red paint and a TON of coloring books from when I used to baby sit. I sorted things into piles and then began loading the drawers.

There was more than this, my piles didn’t fit in one frame!

One thing I was sure to do was to create a project drawer for things that were in progress, that way (once they were dry) they weren’t laying all over my apartment and I knew that I couldn’t start anything else if it was full.

After a few days of painting EVERYTHING, I realized that trying to use my desk as a computer space/eating area/craft studio was a terrible, terrible idea. Ideally, I needed a crafting room where I could have a table and shelves and drawers and plenty of light. Clearly, that’s not an option in my current living situation.

You know what was an option? Going to Goodwill and buying a table to fit in an empty corner of my living room. Luckily, I had a friend that lived near Goodwill to help me do some heavy lifting. I now have a space to craft happily.

Other things I plan to do in my free time besides crafting: practicing guitar, going to the gym, and re-watching every episode of Arrested Development. What are some other hobbies people have?

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Crafting (Part One)

Crafting was a foreign concept to me until I joined my sorority. Even then, when I first saw girls’ rooms filled with crafts, my first thought was “what is all this crap?” Once I got handmade gifts from my big, my attitude changed. When I got a little, I was so excited to make things, but I had no clue what I was doing and I didn’t spend a summer preparing. As a result, I’m not the most proud of the gifts I gave her, but she still has them on display for all the world to see so I guess she likes them.

Crafting isn’t something that has to stay in the sorority house and you don’t have to be the most talented person in the world to craft something. As long as you know your limits when planning a project, you can make wonderful gifts for all sorts of people. Custom picture frames are great for someone going off to college. Refinishing furniture is perfect for a nursery. Custom coolers are quickly becoming a staple of fraternity and sorority life at many colleges. In the student affairs world (trying to stay relevant here) you can make door decs for your RAs or residents if you’re a nice person. You can help an organization you advise make posters or large Greek letters. You can make office decorations or create an organization system that looks pretty.

Some of the things I mentioned above are things I’ve done. Custom picture frames are one of my signature gifts. They are so easy and everybody loves them! My mom always complained about the blank walls in our hallway, but never took the time to organize our family photos or print any since the invention of the digital camera. I bought all sorts of different frames as well as a wooden monogram, painted everything the same color, put pictures in all the frames, and hung them on the wall while she was out shopping on Christmas Eve Day. She was so happy to see all of it! Another gift I recently made was a mirror with the thick border painted and with a quote written on it. An upcoming project is to adventure into scrapbooking for the first time…

What are some of your go-to crafts? What are some other great crafts for student affairs?

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TBT – That Night at The Cheesecake Factory

The great moments of your life won’t necessarily be the things you do. They’ll also be the things that happen to you. Now, I’m not saying you can’t take action to affect the outcome of your life. You have to take action. And you will! But never forget, that on any day, you could step out the front door, and your whole life could change forever.

The above quote is from only one of the greatest shows on television, How I Met Your Mother. I kept trying out ways to start this entry, but it turns out that Ted Moseby makes more sense than I do. Well, except for the fact it’s taking seven years for him to tell his children the story of how he met their mother…but that’s probably an entry for a different type of blog.

Both of the times I was invited to go on trips during my time as a student employee at my undergrad’s admissions office, I did not stop and consider what it meant for future-me. I was more concerned about the chance to go somewhere awesome with some of my friends and talk to prospective students. So, after a long day of travel and speaking with students, when we picked what restaurant to go to, it didn’t seem like a life changing decision.

So I’m sitting in the Cheesecake Factory eating a burrito that’s literally the size of my forearm (there’s a picture floating around on Facebook to prove this) and all of the sudden it hits me that these two admissions officers that are with me are real, live, paid professionals. They do what I love doing except for more than minimum wage. It was on that lovely night however many years ago that I realized the student affairs profession exists.

This is kind of how that moment felt.

All of this relates to the above quote so well. I hadn’t purposely sought out the admissions job because I wanted to help people or anything. I needed a job and once they found out I could walk backwards pretty well, the office liked me. It wasn’t until I had been there awhile that I realized that I liked what I was doing. I took the opportunities that came to me and did something with them. I could have just enjoyed my free trip and large burrito, but after that moment, I began investigating how I could one day have a job in student affairs. I read things online, I asked all of the admissions officers how they got their start.

Do any of you have a defining moment that put you on track for where you are today? Tell me about it in the comments! One of the things I loved about grad school was hearing how all my classmates (and professors) tripped, fell, and landed in student affairs. Everybody’s story is so different!

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Bout that time? Right-o.

Posts the next few weeks are going to be a bit spotty because…do I really need to explain why? It’s August and this is a student affairs blog.

In the meantime, I leave you with these dancing animals to entertain you on days I can’t post.


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A Case of Mistaken Identity

It happened the first time during the first week of classes at my grad school. I went to an event my friend was putting on in her residence hall. I was there to keep her company and enjoy the free pizza. While I was standing in the pizza line, an eager-beaver-type came up to me and said, “I don’t think I’ve met you yet, are you from North?” referring to the hall next to the one we were currently in. I said no and told him which hall I was from. He looked surprised and said, “Oh wow, you don’t look like a sophomore at all!” He thought I was a freshman. Sigh. I was older than most first year grad students and I was being mistaken for a freshman. I let that incident slide, mainly because it was the first, but also because it was an evening event and I was wearing more casual clothes.

But the not-so-funny thing is that it kept happening. My friends would jokingly introduce me as their seventeen year old cousin on a college visit and people believed them. When going into an “age restricted venue”, I would be asked to show additional forms of ID. I had some friends of friends that were only a year younger than me tell me that I “looked good” for twenty four. What is that even supposed to mean??

Now I am at my first professional job. I’m not the intern. I’m not the student/Hall Director. I have an office with my name on the door and I wear nice clothes every day. It’s summer so there aren’t even that many students here. I’ve been introduced to tons and tons of people as the new BIG GIRL POSITION since I’ve started. And it’s still happening. It started off slow. One receptionist asked another who I would need to contact to arrange for student employment direct deposit. The next week, one of the cashiers at lunch asked if I was so dressed up because I had a presentation. And finally, there was the night I was asked if I was part of the student group that had just arrived on campus. They were a group of high schoolers. SOMEBODY THOUGHT I WAS A HIGH SCHOOLER.

I’ve reached the point where I’ve given up and usually laugh the incidents off. Usually. I’ve have a few instances where people are pushy and insist that I’m a student unable to do whatever it is I’m attempting to do. But those are few and far between.

I’m wondering at what age I will finally stop being mistaken for a student (and if I’ll miss it).

I guess it’s kind of like this.

Anybody else out there still being mistaken for a student?

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