Student Affairs Storytelling

A little over a year ago, my colleague Larry McAllister II and I crafted a presentation called “Telling Your Story” designed to benefit our student organizations and to help them market themselves.  I was inspired by Tim St. John’s  Student Affairs feature post on Being a Steward in Student Affairs to dig up this conversation and contemplate how storytelling can affect our profession.  Tim asks the question: how we can increase the student affairs brand?  Storytelling should be part of the answer.

Our “Behind Every Volunteer is a Story” Campaign

 To me, storytelling doesn’t mean sitting around a campfire and using exaggerated voices, gestures, and sound effects.  It means finding a way to articulate your experience that connects to your audience.  Sharing student affairs stories with your friends might involve some exaggerations and dramatic “#saproblems”.  Sharing a student affairs story with a faculty member might involve showing data to support it.  Different audiences require different stories.

 One of my favorite parts of Tim’s post stated, “If you had no notion of what student affairs was and searched #sachat on Twitter, viewed job postings, visited our blogs, or read any student affairs division website, what would you find? The only consistent thing you would see is inconsistency.”  While I find much value in consistency, I also find the value in inconsistency (hear me out).  Each of us has our own student affairs experience which can contribute to the larger conversation about the student affairs brand. My experiences shared on Twitter about Rutgers Changemakers Week or displaying a training with my students are just two small pieces of the student affairs puzzle.  We’re all one brush stroke on the larger canvas.  We shouldn’t all have the same canned speech about the definition of student affairs, but we should all consider the importance of conveying the same message in our personal stories.

What I love most about storytelling is that stories can develop relationships with others based on shared interests and common ground. By sharing your story, you create a connection with your audience that facilitates familiarity and comfort.  When you share your story, you may find others who have similar experiences to you, and they feel automatically more invested because they can relate to what you have been through.  TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie shared his story about creating connections when he met a woman in an airport who was wearing TOMS.  When he asked her about the shoes, she volunteered the TOMS story and relayed it as if it were her own story, saying “When I bought this pair of shoes, they actually gave a pair of shoes to a child in Argentina.  And there’s this guy who lives in Los Angeles who went to Argentina on vacation who had this idea – I think he lives on a boat and he was once on the Amazing Race TV show – and the company is wonderful, and they’ve already given away thousands of shoes!”.  Obviously, Blake was able to create a connection with his audience to the point where she adopted the story as her own.  An extreme example, but stories provide a connection that a mission statement cannot.  As you tell your story, you will have multiple audiences: faculty, friends and family, complete strangers, blog readers, etc.  It is up to you to decide how you will inform your audience.

Tim’s post started the conversation and it is up to the rest of us to continue it.  While storytelling can be valuable to create connections, it is certainly not the only thing that will keep our profession going.  We also need to take a hard look at student affairs theory, research, data, and so many more pieces of the puzzle.  This is the conversation that needs to be on the radar for student affairs professionals today and in years to come.




Aw, Here It Goes

Welcome to the first official post in my newest endeavor, my official blog:  This is a big step for me in my journey towards sharing my story, both personally and professionally, with the world.  In honor of this exciting moment, and as a result of many conversations I’ve had in recent weeks, I’d like to share my why.  Why I decided to start this blog.

1.  I love to write.  All other endeavors aside, I am a writer, first and foremost.  From the Happy Birthday Mom book that I wrote in pre-school to my self-published novel MapsurneI have always been a writer.  Writing is a core part of my life that I have been missing greatly since I started college, and blogging is the perfect opportunity to return to my roots.

2.  Staying relevant.  As a higher education and student affairs professional, blogging and social media have become extremely important as I connect to both students and colleagues.  Maintaining an active online presence is key to staying relevant in this field and I have been thoroughly enjoying the experience of sharing my opinions and stories with others.

3.  Blending the personal and the professional.  I’ve said this before in this blog, but I truly believe that my personal and professional interests together make up who I am.  This blog will be primarily a place for me to explore professional development in higher education, but it will not be limited to that.  I intend to continue sharing my DIY projects and have a page dedicated just for that topic: Life, Love, & DIY.

4.  Staying connected.  One of the great things about having such a diverse group of friends is that we have spread ourselves out all over the world.  While social media is great, this blog will be an opportunity for me to share more about what I am up to beyond the brief pleasantries of Facebook and Twitter.

Looking forward to learning and sharing with all of you!  Bonus points if you identified this blog post’s reference to the theme song for the former Nickelodeon show Kenan & Kel.



What Tina Fey Taught Me

I’m three years late to the party, but on a long road trip to Baltimore this weekend, Dan (my husband) and I listened to Tina Fey’s Bossypants audiobook.  It was my first audiobook experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending six hours with Tina (especially because Dan was there with me) as she spoke about the challenges facing a professional woman in today’s society.  At times, I imagined that it was me reading my own stories out loud (Tina, I just love squirrels that eat food with their hands! I also have no idea how to decide when to have kids and when to focus on my career! I’ve been asked that exact same question while stuffing my face with cake!).  Other times, I just listened and soaked in what Tina Fey taught me.


“Do your thing and don’t care if they like it.”

Tina shared a story about how she casually joked in an informal dinner with a reporter friend that she would “leave Earth” if John McCain and Sarah Palin were elected to the White House.  It was interpreted seriously and blown out of proportion by the media, but Tina didn’t leave it out of her autobiography – she owned it.  Maybe she shouldn’t have said it out loud, maybe she shouldn’t have trusted her friend, but really: she did her thing, regardless of what anyone else thought.  It made me think instantly about times when I “humble bragged” on Facebook and some acquaintances rolled their eyes, or times when I tweeted something that was perceived as too emotional for my professional persona.  Maybe these behaviors were interpreted in a negative way, but that’s me: sometimes too proud, and sometimes too vulnerable for my own good.  I am owning it.

“This is what I tell young women who ask me for career advice. People are going to try to trick you. To make you feel that you are in competition with one another. “You’re up for a promotion. If they go for a woman, it’ll be between you and Barbara.” Don’t be fooled. You’re not in competition with other women. You’re in competition with everyone.”

I found Bossypants extremely valuable for the way that Tina addressed serious social issues through storytelling.  Rather than sharing statistics about gender equality, she used her life experiences to address the challenges that women face on a daily basis when it comes to being in a competitive career with men.  I particularly loved her perspective on body image and how women are constantly told to use what limited minutes they have in the day to look/act/be perfect.  In the spirit of dealing head on with societal pressures, I’m going to ‘fess up and admit that I actually Photoshopped my own Linked In profile picture (embarrassing, but true).  Thanks to Tina, now I’m questioning why I felt the need to do that in the first place.

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.”

This quote is perfect: visual, meaningful, and also pretty relevant to anyone who spent summers at a water park.  It brings me back to my one word resolution: do.  I can’t be waiting my turn on the slide any longer.  This goes for my personal life (DIY projects, blogging, health/fitness goals) and professional life (finding the next step in my career, developing supervisory skills, spearheading programs).  I’m going to go down the chute.  Something embarrassing could happen on the way down, I could get a few elbow burns, and the chute might take me down some dark and scary tunnels.  But if Tina can go down the slide, so can I.

That’s what Tina Fey taught me.

Changing the World in 28 Days

Time to start today’s blog post with something pretty jarring:  a recent study found that 52% of millenials in the United States believe they can make a global difference in their lifetime.  More than half of our well-intentioned, quick tweeting, and Kickstarter-backing college students believe that they will change the world.

Now, I’m an optimist.  I’ve worked with hundreds of college students in my short, five-year career, most of whom have dedicated a large portion of their lives to service.  But I just don’t agree with the statement that over half of them will make a global difference, not if they continue to act impulsively and in need of immediate results.  Through social media, I’ve seen instant supportive responses to countless natural disasters and national crises (Katrina, Sandy, Haiyan… even Newtown and Boston, to an extent) and I appreciate how quick young people are taking action.  However, our generation needs to understand that making a global difference is a process. It is time consuming, frustrating, and often displays little to no visible results.  It’s collaborative, not competitive.  It requires discussion and reflection as well as taking action.  No one creates social change by trying to be the first one to do so.

Digital Sign Templates

Instead of breaking the bad news by setting up thousands of one-on-one advising meetings, I decided last year to create a program based on reframing the idea of what social change means and how students can incorporate “changemaking” into their everyday lives.  It’s called Rutgers Changemakers Week.  Simply put, the week is designed to show college students how they can make change a part of their daily life through workshops with social entrepreneurs, informational fairs with community partners, service activities, and making connections with local changemakers.  It incorporates reflection and a longterm project called the Changemaker Challenge, where students and groups can put their ideas into action in an eight-week period.  This provides students with an outlet to channel their excitement but also putting into perspective that creating social change is hard, and that a global change won’t happen simply by signing an online petition or sharing a Facebook status.

In celebration of Rutgers Changemakers Week, I am going to do what does not happen often on Twitter: focus on the students.  In the month of February, I will be highlighting students who are making small, thoughtful changes in their local communities that can one day lead to a bigger difference.  You can follow along with the conversation with our program’s hashtag, #RUChangemakers.  I’ll be posting all month long to feature the great things Rutgers students are doing to start the conversation around social change.