“Regardless of WHAT we do in our lives, our WHY—our driving purpose, cause or belief—never changes.” – Simon Sinek
It is a bit crazy to think that it has been over two months since I have began my time in graduate school. So far, the people at Central Michigan University, the Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration, and my work at The Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center have been nothing short of phenomenal. It has been a time of both chaos and reward and so far I have maintained a hunger for more. For some, the WHAT of this career path is a mystery (No, I’m not going to be a professional college student!). That is why, I think it may be better to begin with my WHY…
Education has always been important to me. Academics were often where I found identity during my K-12 days when sports did not come naturally and my voice change left me vocally inept to hold a place in our ensemble. I also became a bookworm at times when the curriculum used to teach the Bible I was learning in school was at odds with what I was learning in our family’s church. There was an internal compulsion to formulate an accurate belief system and an external desperation to prove that I was right.
What I had not realized then was how education made me a better person. No, it was not until I entered the trenches of my undergraduate studies that I realized how black and white I had made the world around me when it was actually very gray. I have a fervor for the humanities, but while studying political science and environmental studies I realized how little I knew about my the human condition. While I made a connection to a lifestyle often left in the past, the outdoors, and the church, growing up in the culture and location that I did, I lacked an understanding of and a compassion for the world around me. I became confused and angsty, but mostly grateful for the opportunity to author my own “Allegory of the Cave.”
Despite the natural draw to academics, I did not fare well by the measures used to determine my success. I quickly learned the value of learning beyond the classroom and got involved in Sigma Pi Fraternity, student government, and environmental advocacy; where I learned lessons in leadership, grassroots mobilization, and collaboration. It was by far the most meaningful set of experiences that I had in college as a person and eventually as a professional (especially since I have never fallen back on using my degree). The problem, however, was when I began to realize that my ability to prioritize had yet to mature and my idea of my time management skills was severely inflated.
I quickly encountered the reality that I was not bulletproof and that I needed to fight a little harder to maintain this opportunity I had been given. In fact, there were often times I did not feel like I belonged in college. My parents had not gone, I was not prepared in the same way my peers were, and the list went on. Luckily, Grand Valley State University had some outstanding staff members who invested in me. They provided me with opportunities to exercise my passions, resources to be successful in the classroom, encouragement, and the wild notion that I could do what they did as a career.
My senior year, I returned to Allendale after a summer internship in Washington, D.C and was becoming aware of just how little enthusiasm I had for the career path I had set down and how little planning I really had done for life after graduation. After a few conversations with some mentors, I decided that I wanted to give students all the opportunities, experiences, and encouragement they had given me and set out to do so.
I determined to gain professional experience before returning to school and went to work for my fraternity at their Executive Office near Nashville, Tennessee. I learned a lot about students and about myself and it shook my notion of what I wanted to do. So I found myself at a crossroads yet again until I landed at SpringHill Camps and eventually assisted in managing and developing our summer staff. It was then that I remembered how much I enjoyed students who wanted to be change-makers. I reconsidered the area of student affairs that I previously set my mind on and decided to explore the different options that I had. I found a great opportunity at CMU and am quickly venturing toward my reshaped vision of working with students who are interested in service learning and first-generation students who felt the doubt I did. Again, it has already been challenging, enriching, and fulfilling. And for now…FIRE UP CHIPS!