The summer between my sophomore and junior year in college I pushed my comfort zone to work as an orientation leader at FDU. I had no idea what I was getting into and the critical point that was about to shift my college career from good to great.
I remember when I was a first-year student and my orientation leader, Mark Bullock, said “The more you put into college, the more you’ll get out of it.” During my first two years in college, I didn’t quite grasp what Mark meant by that statement. However, by putting myself out there and later becoming an orientation leader it slowly started to make sense. Immediately, I had 15 new friends that summer and we all lived in a string of suites in Park Ave (real-world style).
Our group was inseparable: we worked 8am-5pm together, played volleyball after work, went to concerts together, and sure enough behaved like college students that had a campus to themselves at night (swimming in the fountains and such).
Growing up as a shy kid, I finally felt like I was coming out of my shell, putting myself out there, and suddenly had several groups of friends where I could be myself.
Unconsciously, I was becoming a leader.
Waking up early, setting up tables in the student center without being asked - check.
Running corney ice breakers by myself - check. Ability to work with several different personalities - check.
Get on stage in front of hundreds of first year students twice a week - check!
However, halfway through the summer, there was a moment that I started to realize I may have had a special skill set. Orientation was led by Sarah Azavedo (Director of Student Life) with Ray Flook and Nathalie Waite (both Assistant Directors). One morning, Sarah wanted to meet with me early before that day’s sessions. I, of course, thought I was headed to the boss’ office because I had done something wrong.
That was not the case - she told me there was a student attending today’s sessions that had a disability. She personally wanted me to be at her side for the next 48 hours to make her feel welcomed, help her get around campus, and connect her with other peers. Part of me was terrified and the other half was shouting “yes, I’ll do it!” in my head.
Well the adrenaline kicked in, I said yes and I met Anna at 8:30am that morning. Anna was an incoming first-year and only two year’s younger than me. Her energy and personality was exhilarating and contagious. She was so excited to be at college and meet new people - she couldn’t get enough of it. Later that day, I remember Courtney had a 30 minute break, joined Anna and I, and we gave her a private tour of campus. That is when we really got to know Anna.
It turns out, she was in a car accident when she was younger and she had relied on getting around in a wheelchair for most of her life and she had a slight speech impediment. I didn’t see that - I saw a young girl with a lot of ambition and excitement. I really feel like she came out of her shell because we treated her like a human being. It was one of the most rewarding days that summer, and Courtney and I still reminisce about this story.
What happened next was the real tipping point for me, and it had a major influence on why I got into student affairs.
The first week of September, Sarah, Ray, and Nat held one-on-one’s to provide feedback and get suggestions for next year from each orientation leader. I didn’t know what to expect and I definitely went into the meeting very timid. That changed quickly - I sat there and just a few minutes in, they said “Kevin, do you know you are a leader?” I was shocked at what they said and I answered the question “No, I never saw myself as a leader.” No one ever told me that before. When they said that, something clicked for me. Things haven’t been the same since that moment.
Nathalie demonstrated her belief in my potential yet again a few years later. This past semester, she hired me to present my slide design and presentation workshop to international graduate students at Steven’s Institute of Technology.
How they inspired me:
Ray, Nat and Sarah saw my potential. They saw something in me, but even better they shared what they saw. My outlook on life as I became more involved during my junior and senior year, turned into something completely different than my perspective as a timid new student on campus. The next few posts in my “How I Found My Niche” series will dive into how I became a leader.
What they taught me:
If you are an educator, leader or supervisor don’t let an opportunity to tell someone that they are a leader pass you by. My life would have been vastly different if they never told me about their perception of me in that one meeting. Even if they were thinking it, I would never have known unless they said something. Always take the moment to ‘say something.’
We are often our toughest critics, and will put ourselves in boxes. For instance, I put myself in the ‘shy kid’ box, I’ve seen students put themselves in the ‘not good at school’ box, and so on. Look outward for help on finding your niche. Ask others what they see in you. You may be surprised to hear what your supervisor, mentor, or friends think of you.