Finding Your Breakfast Club

Yesterday’s blog post by Joe Ginese inspired me to think critically about my conference experience. You mean I can’t change all of my bad habits and take hundreds of risks in one day? I definitely have the conference hangover, with my head bursting at the seams fr0m excitement, but it’s not necessarily because of all the great sessions I attended. It’s because of the people I met.

That got me thinking: ACPA was my Breakfast Club this year. Sure, I love comparing my life to 80’s teen movies more than the average student affairs blogger, but hear me out. I was able to meet four amazing student affairs professionals from Twitter who I had never previously met, and they all had a huge impact on me. Just as the burnout, princess, jock, nerd, and basket case from Shermer High School built their connections during detention, I befriended a unique group of student affairs professionals in a short amount of time.  Relationships at a conference are created in an intense environment with few distractions; it’s up to you to maintain them (and not ignore them next year when you’re walking down the hall). Here are my shoutouts, and plans for reconnecting.

The Supporter: Chris Conzen has provided me with encouragement, asked me questions, and gone above and beyond to connect with me.  If I’m ever questioning my job trajectory or looking for advice about moving around in the field, Chris will be my go-to person.

The Jersey Girl: Valerie Heruska and I connected over completely random things like diners, Jimmy Eat World, and New Jersey pop culture. After dinner together, I know I can talk to her about anything and I’ll be cracking up in the process.

The Newbie: Francesca Catalano and I went into our ACPA adventures together as relatively new to the Twitter world, but we took risks together and bonded over that experience.  If I’m ever feeling unsure or anxious about a blog post (or anything really), I know Francesca will be there for me, judgment-free and understanding.

The Role Model: Josie Ahlquist showed me that I can do something different with my student affairs career, and I shouldn’t be afraid to take something and make it my own.  Her openness to sharing her experience while pursuing a doctorate put me completely at ease about taking that step in my career.

It can be beneficial to engage a variety of strategies to stay connected with my new Breakfast Club. It’s important for you to understand the best way to communicate with your new connections, so ask first. Here are some general tips to get you started:

Social media: Is Twitter their jam? Publicly tweeting back can help keep up the relationship, but it doesn’t get you quite as far as a direct message. I’ve found that Facebook friending takes you further as well, especially with the more personal details being shared beyond 140 characters.  If digging deeper personally isn’t the right move, then LinkedIn can be a great way to learn more about them professionally.

E-Mail: Did you meet your new contact at a session and exchange business cards? Don’t let them sit unused in your nametag pouch or at the bottom of your bag. E-mail them now! Reach out with a specific question or connection to keep the conversation going.

Google Hangout: I love Tim St. John’s idea to road trip via Google Hangout. It’s free and gets you face-to-face time with your new connections. Schedule a lunchtime chat or maybe set aside an evening to delve deeper. If face-to-face isn’t your thing, a phone call can do the trick as well.

In response to Simple Minds’ question, “As I walk on by, will you call my name?” I can safely say the answer is yes. It just takes some long term effort that follows the conference afterglow.  Now that you’ve learned about my connections at ACPA, I’d like to know: who have you met and connected with in your recent conference travels? Who would be in your Breakfast Club?

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The Styrofoam Cup: Reflections from Leaders Eat Last

Last week, I was at home while my students ran an event on campus.  I had spent a significant amount of time dedicated to my marketing committee, both in and outside of work hours, discussing with them how to promote this event through social media.  After the event ended, I noticed that social media was silent: they had forgotten to make their posts, a simple task that I had invested my time and energy into ensuring would happen.  I took matters into my own hands and made the posts myself, typing furiously on my bed at 10pm.  My frustration mounted, my chest tightened, and I spent the next day venting to anyone who would listen.  I became all-consumed with my work and my event.

Shortly after the Social Media Crisis of 2014, I was in the process of live-tweeting my current read, Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek.  I came across a story about a former Under Secretary of Defense who spoke at a large conference.  The former Under Secretary revealed that the previous year, when he was still in office, was flown to the conference in business class, escorted to his hotel room, and treated to a cup of coffee in a ceramic mug.  When he no longer held the position, he flew to the conference in coach, drove himself to the hotel, and poured himself coffee into a styrofoam cup.  Then came the part of the story that just jumped off the page and slapped me in the face.

“‘It occurs to me,’ he continued, ‘the ceramic cup they gave me last year…it was never meant for me at all. It was meant for the position I held. I deserve a styrofoam cup. This is the most important lesson I can impart to all of you,’ he offered. ‘All the perks, all the benefits and advantages you may get for the rank or position you hold, they aren’t meant for you. They are meant for the role you fill. And when you leave your role, which you eventually will, they will give the ceramic cup to the person who replaces you. Because you only ever deserved a styrofoam cup.”

At work, I’ve been called a “woman on a mission”, so mired in details that I’ve missed out on meaningful moments with students.  I’ve neglected doctor’s appointments, given myself anxiety (see above chest pains), and snapped at countless friends/family members over my job, and for what?  The former Under Secretary is right: whether we want to admit it or not, we are all replaceable.  We all deserve styrofoam cups.  I spend countless hours dwelling on the all-important community service event (granted, community service can have a great impact on students, as all of our work can have) without even regarding my own health or happiness.  Not only that, but I do my students a disservice as I toil away on tasks they could learn, generating a catering order or drafting a reflection workshop.

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As a student affairs professional, my goal is for my students to do amazing things for Community Service at Rutgers, not me.  It’s not my work and my event.  It’s their work, and they should celebrate their successes and analyze their failures (with my support).  My students are the ones who should be in the spotlight, giving amazing Ignite-style talks at conferences, being quoted in the campus newspaper, and drinking from their ceramic mugs.  It’s their precious and exploratory four years to pave their way into a career, not mine.

As one of my great friends put it, “If we’re doing our jobs right, no one will even know we are there.”  I tend to agree.  I’m shifting the spotlight over to them.  After all, I am only in the background watching them shine, drinking from a styrofoam cup.

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.

 

 

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.

If Office Walls Could Talk…

Authenticity.  It’s a student affairs buzzword.  We talk a lot about being our authentic selves on social media.  True, it’s important for us to accurately reflect ourselves through our professional profiles, interacting with colleagues and in job interviews.  However, I spend a lot more time concerned with being my authentic self in my own office, sharing my personal stories and experiences with students.  My advising style revolves around sharing my vulnerabilities and challenges with students as much as I share my successes.  Myself and three colleagues led a weekend-long training with a group of Rutgers students and each presented a talk on “What’s Your Space Jam?” (inspired by this Kid President pep talk).  They were five minute snippets about something that we were passionate about, and it ranged from DIY projects to violence against women, service, and a favorite among our students, “letting things go”.  Sharing our personal stories inspired tweets like these which helped us connect to our students on a different level.

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It got me thinking about other ways that I represent my authentic self in the workplace, namely: my office.

Does my office accurately represent all aspects of my life (and should it)?  This is where my students see me in my element, where I spend the majority of my waking hours, and where my best connections are made. If my office walls could talk, what would they say?

“We’re pretty happy she decorated us with awesome green polka dots.”

I put effort into my personal spaces.  Obviously I’m a little DIY crazy, but it means a lot to me to actually invest effort into the place where I spend most of my time.  I love being hands on and getting creative, and I want my students to see that.

 “There’s a lot of complaining that happens in here.”

I know that I spend way too much time expressing my frustrations to colleagues in my office, which in turn spreads negativity.  In fact, any amount of negativity is too much, in my opinion.  I needed to admit it here so that I can move past it.  My office walls should be focused more on the positive.

“She’s neglecting us, always running out of the office in a rush.”

Ah, this could be the problem for the complaining in the office.  Does anyone else feel like they live in their car, driving from meeting to meeting?  We have five campuses to travel to on a given day.  I once got a superlative from my students that said “Most likely to be in a meeting or in the bathroom”.  Funny, but what message are you sending to your students if you’re always out of the office?

“It’s weirdly awesome that she has so many bobbleheads and action figures.”

Let’s face it: my office walls love me and my quirky weirdness.  Putting myself (and my love for Game of Thrones) out there for my students to see is helpful in making connections and shows my authentic self as relatable.  Any geek that comes into my office is going to feel right at home, and that’s just the way I like it.

If your office walls could talk, what would they say?  And what does that say about you as a person?  Or as a professional?

Hands On

For me, personal is the new professional.  Since participating in the fantastic Big Ideas in Higher Education conference almost two years ago, my outlook on professional development has completely changed.  I rarely benchmark my programs (moreso on Twitter than anywhere else!), I yawn through “best practices” workshops at conferences, and to be honest, I often don’t find professional development articles to be that interesting either.  Not to devalue any of these examples, but I truly learn the most from the personal: blogs, stories, TED talks, and most recently, looking inward and creating personal challenges for myself.  In the past month, I’ve embarked on multiple personal challenges that may or may not be considered professional, including #52in52 (reading 52 books in one year) and #100happydays (posting 100 pictures of things that bring me happiness for 100 days in a row).

That brings me to the title of this post, Hands On.  Of all the things that have brought me joy in the past six months since my wedding, the one that has benefited me the most, personally AND professionally, is my very first hobby: DIY.

DIY

I know what you’re thinking. Really?  You found your first hobby at age 27?  Sad, but true.  I’ve always been so focused on tasks, goal-setting, and my career, that I’ve actually never embarked on a hobby that was purely for my own enjoyment.  When the wedding dust settled and reality came crashing down around me, I knew it was time to get creative.

Embarking on my first DIY project helped me keep my hands (and mind!) busy while also creating a final, tangible product.  It’s enabled me to stretch my comfort zone by utilizing new tools and developing new skills.  In the past six months, I’ve changed door hardware, wallpapered a bookshelf, and arranged frame walls.  I’ve also become familiar with a screwdriver, learned painting techniques, and repurposed a windowframe from an old house into a piece of art.  That’s just scraping the surface.

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What does this have to do with my personal or professional development?  Finding inspiration from others, creating visions for projects, and seeing them through from start to finish is relevant to any profession – whether it’s an event layout, social media strategy, or training program.  In addition, I’ve found that I am more skilled in balancing multiple projects, more confident in my creative abilities, and just generally happier when engaging in hands-on work in my spare time.

I can’t say enough about how much joy I have discovered through this hobby, especially in the spirit of “do” it yourself (there’s my pesky one word resolution again).  Even the simplest project has helped change my perspective.  I’m looking forward to sharing more of what I create on this blog, but I am already sharing through Twitter and Instagram, so you can see it for yourself in real time!

Taking the Twitter Leap

Just a month ago, I was doing the “Krista”: lazing on the couch in my Rutgers snuggie, mindlessly scrolling through Twitter posts, and most likely watching Property Brothers.  I thought about how much I love writing and connecting with people, and how frustrated I was that I was sitting on the sidelines of Twitter conversations happening all around me.  For someone who hadn’t been engaged in Twitter much over the past three years that I’ve had an account, it all seemed intimidating.  I had never participated in #sachat or watched Higher Ed Live.  I tried blogging and only made it to three posts last year.  I attended conferences, tweeted feverishly in a session or two, and then my posts came to a screeching halt when I fell back into my office routine.

As you probably know from reading this blog, my one word resolution is “do”.  This means pushing myself to do things that cause me discomfort, things that don’t come naturally.  I don’t think I’ve ever started a debate in my life.  I do the awkward turtle when things get heated.  I’ve read some passionate, intense, and critical conversations on Twitter, which were all great – but, to be honest, they scared me.

With a new resolution in mind, I decided that this would be the year to  get off the Twitter sidelines and into the game (I love cheesy sports metaphors).  I decided to be myself without being afraid of someone judging me or thinking of me as soft or not challenging enough.  So here I am.

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No matter what anyone tells you, using Twitter is not easy.  It takes work.  I received a supportive message from Chris Conzen who told me tweeting is like a marathon.  We need to pace ourselves and make the intervals count.  Now, I’m not a runner, but I can understand the importance of prioritizing and really identifying times to tweet active content, respond to others’ posts, and work in this blog to create content of my own.  It takes practice.  It requires thinking critically, which is hard when my brain can barely think beyond the next advising appointment.  It means sometimes making the switch from 30 minutes of House Hunters  and dedicating it to professional development time on Twitter (okay, I’m also a little HGTV obsessed).

I’ve only just begun scratching the surface of what Twitter is all about for me as a student affairs professional, but I am proud to say that I’ve jumped right in.  I’m determined that when my students come back to campus, I’ll keep up with this newly activated part of me.  I feel engaged, refreshed, and I honestly feel smarter after getting into the conversation.

Thanks to the support of the student affairs Twitter community, I’m doing the “Krista” in a different way:  I’m finding the balance of being my authentic self while also contributing to the conversation in an engaging and informative way.  And don’t worry, I’m still wearing my Rutgers snuggie.