I started at Rutgers in August 2008 and I thought I would be a small fish in a big pond. However, like I mentioned in my post yesterday, my boss Paul Fischbach did a great job of helping me network and meet co-workers outside of our department. Coincidentally, it also helped that Courtney started working in Student Life a month prior. I took every opportunity to grow my network and enhance my professional development by attending workshops and events to meet other student affairs colleagues.
A few months into my new job, I met Avani Rana who was in charge of the student leadership for Student Life. I had shared my leadership background and the initiatives I helped create at Centenary College and we quickly connected to see how I could help her out and represent our department. That spring semester Avani invited me to sit on the Rising Leaders committee and I was able to offer a module on communication during the 13-week program for first year students.
This was not only a great avenue to meet new students and represent the Recreation department, but this also fulfilled my desire to present and engage students in leadership. A year later, I remained on the Rising Leaders committee with other deans and student affairs colleagues and Avani recruited me to help out with their weekend retreat in January. Over the next few semesters I was given the opportunity to help with retreats, present workshops on group dynamics, communication, and public speaking.
Avani also planned a leadership conference every March and recruited me to present in 2009 and 2010. However, in 2010 I decided to invite one of our student leaders, Dana Wise, to co-present with me to give her practice speaking in front of her peers. We ran a workshop for other students leaders on group dynamics and being a leader even if you’re not in a leadership position.
Remember that post I wrote about attending my first NIRSA conference? Well, I stayed involved with NIRSA and became the State Director in 2011. As the representative for NIRSA I sat on various committees and helped plan the student lead-on for Region 1 at Syracuse University. Not only was this a “pay-it-forward” type of act, but I truly wanted to help students and connect them with the right professionals just like Jess Ward did for me. That’s how professional development works, you get involved as a new professional, start to carve out your niche, and then you help others find their niche.
Every year since I started at Rutgers, I had the pleasure of working with great students that were thriving in their roles with recreation, in student leadership, and NIRSA. There was something I started to observe. I started to notice that these great students were thriving in college and then after graduation, many of them struggled with being fulfilled and happy in their new post-graduation lives.
The conversations of “I think I chose the wrong major” and “I shouldn’t have decided to enroll in this masters program” or “I am bored with my job” was far too common. I would put the counselor/therapy hat back on and point them in the right direction.
Ultimately, it was these 3-4 years, that my calling to help students stand-out and give them “real-world” skills to succeed after graduation, started to become more and more important to my ‘why’ (why meaning, why I got up every morning). This was especially true when it came to pointing them in the direction to a more fulfilled life.
My initial conversations with Avani and ultimately that connection led to a realization that I could engage an audience of 50-100+ students. I was inching closer and closer to finding my niche.
What they taught me:
At the time I started at Rutgers, I was a bit nervous to be working at such a large institution. However, I learned how important outreach and exposure can be. Between the help of networking from my boss, Paul, and Avani continually inviting me to help out, I quickly established a name for myself based on my talents and skills.
How they inspire me:
The moments I have been able to run workshops, facilitate team buildings at retreats, and present to large groups has been invaluable to my work with the Niche Movement. Avani is one of many colleagues that valued the opportunity to give more people the chance to present and interact with other colleagues. This inspires me to ensure that I pay it forward and provide opportunities for young professionals to present to my students.
Early on in your career, take advantage of the committees or workgroups available for you to participate in, especially if you are passionate about it. At times it may feel like extra work, but in the long run it just may bring you closer to finding your niche.