Friday, July 1, 2016

Checking In: June

I haven't written here in a while, but I have been doing some writing. I'm working on a piece to be published in August in a new journal through University of North Carolina Charlotte. My paper will describe a new model to better understand the support systems student veterans have. It also gave me a wonderful opportunity to be surrounded by brilliant people during a writing retreat.

I really can't say enough about the retreat. I felt like I was the dumbest one there. Half of the brilliant conversations I couldn't contribute to. I just soaked it all in. I met some amazing people doing even more amazing work. I learned about new best practices, tools, theories, data, and other work being done for student veterans. I love learning and it was like being in grad school again. I also decided on my next degree and even had a few programs suggested.

The retreat was early June. Two days after I returned home, after spending one day at work, I had surgery on my left arm. Actually on my left ulnar nerve. I was out of work for four days, then took another day off. Worked for three more days, and took two off. This past week was my first full week of work since before Memorial Day. And I learned a few things, especially things about myself. I need to take more vacation days. I need to be firmer about boundaries. I need to talk about and face the problems I see at work. My job is to serve students, that is my "why". We should be evaluating everything we do against that why.

The past week I've been working on the semi-annual Veterans Knowledge Community's newsletter. That is also going to be packed (I can't fit anything else into it without adding more pages). It is going to contribute even more for those working with student veterans. I'm really proud of the things I'm able to do for the community.

Construction in my office suite to create a new office for me has started. It's also causing some confusion. I hope that we now have a timeline and a brief plan things will start to settle down.

One of the projects the Veterans Club had been working on has not received funding. Of all the things that happened in June, this one hit me in the gut. I called my husband at 7:30am, he was working nights that week, and was almost in tears talking to him about it. It was rough concentrating that day, or days after that.

June set a lot of things in motion for me. Things at work I can't talk about. Things in my personal life I'd rather not talk about. But it also brought me calmness. A focus I haven't had in a bit. A clarity and reminders of why I do what I do, why I chose this field, and why I'm not settling for the status quo.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

My Student Veteran

When I was an undergrad I was an RA (shocker, I know). Husband started taking classes at a private institution around the same time I realized I could do this whole higher ed administration thing. So, part of his program was to take a calculus series. He took one course at a time, and in order to attend them he had to show up to his shift 2 hours early in order to leave 2 hours early. This meant he needed to get up stupid early so he showered at night and wore a ball cap to work and class.

So this math class had a teacher, another shocker I know. And this teacher was an ass. He would make comments like "if you don't understand this, you had better practice saying 'do you want fries with that?'" He had a no-hats-in-class policy, and instead of treating husband like an adult, would knock on the brim and quip "no hats in class!" At some point, I don't remember what the final straw was I insisted that we needed to tell someone about the horrendous behavior of this faculty member. We did. We sent it to the Dean of the school. Apparently, it even made it to the Provost for discussion.

Husband continued taking classes one at a time. That takes a very, very long time in case you didn't know. He stopped working for the company that was helping to pay for it, so he stopped going to college. He worked, like most adults. Then he got hurt, and his company treated him and his injury like crap and we were running out of money. So, he looked into going to school at the local community college via the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Three semesters and a few part-time jobs later, he graduated! And then he found a job in his field! And now he's walking across the stage. And I'm very, very proud.

This will be the first time he walks across a stage (or a field).

TL;DR: Student veterans are awesome, have diverse paths, and rely on their education benefits. Don't screw it up.

Friday, March 18, 2016

My Authentic Frustration

I presented during #NASPA16. My presentation did not focus on what I do professionally or my research area. I didn't propose the session, my name wasn't listed with it. But there I was, in front of a room talking about what it means to be authentic and professional while using social media.

But here's the rub: I'm having a hard time personally curating my Twitter feed in the past several weeks.

My job isn't very difficult, it's basic support staff stuff. But it does become hectic and chaotic with a lot of moving parts. The past few weeks we had many visitors through my office, I worked on multiple projects with people from other offices, and I had meetings of my own to attend. And I got frustrated. There were days when I was angry. There were days that when I got home I wondered why I should go back the next day. Normally, I would tweet about these things as ambiguously as possible but I don't feel "normal" online at the moment

A few weeks ago I got a call from a campus colleague regarding a student, and I was getting the call because the student is a student veteran. My colleague had heard through the grapevine that student veterans were my thing, my skill set. So we talked a bit about my background and she said something along the lines of "and your Twitter feed is so resourceful". Regardless of the fact that I've been blindsided by this random call, that a student is in need, and that someone on my campus actually knows I work with student veterans my brain stopped at that: your Twitter feed.

So who else is looking? Who else is using it as a way to find out information on student veterans? Is it ok that I'm angry with my current situation? Will that lead to fewer phone calls?

I go back to Brene Brown and only being able to control my behavior and other people's expectations are on them. I know this. I practice it. I ground myself and others with those words. But I can't get over the fact that someone looked me up on Twitter before calling me.

So who am I? Am I ok with being angry? Ok with being frustrated? Ok with putting those weird non-unicorn emotions into the universe?

I don't know. And so I might be quieter than usual until I figure out who am I and if I'm ok with being that person.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

We Have Bad Days

I really like the people I work with. My entire department is friendly, respectful, collegial, and amazing. The faculty members I work with are brilliant. They balance research and teaching. The advisors I work with work hard to keep up to date with their students, providing exceptional customer service.

I am really good at my job. I support 15 faculty members, 2 professional academic advisors, 2 other staff members, about 500 undergraduate students, and 60 graduate students. I build class schedules, support faculty, create and support events, process all graduate student paperwork, admissions documents, and graduation documents, and I do most of it with a smile.

This week has been filled with planning multiple faculty interviews along with getting ready for orientation and planning guest speakers. Yep! It's all going on at once. And today, shit hit the fan. Actually, it's been most of the week (yes, it's only Wednesday).

I also have a lot going on personally. In one and a half weeks my house needs to be ready to sell. I need to be on my way to NASPA. Work needs to be set for me to be out for three days (now four).

I don't have balance. It doesn't matter how much I run, or how much of the wallpaper I remove, or how much I pre-plan for all of these events, it feels never ending. And you know what? I've been trying very, very hard to keep it off Twitter. Until today, you may have realized that a few statements about being nice to support staff, but I've been mostly quiet. Why?

Because frustration isn't professional. It's not who I am most of the time. Because I've been outright angry on Twitter before, and have been called out on it. Because "it's a small field". But sometimes we have bad days. Sometimes we have bad weeks. Sometimes we're stuck in a crappy situation and we get frustrated and angry and we want to share those feelings. But those feelings aren't professional. They aren't puppies or unicorns or baby otters.

So I go home with all of those feelings. I cook and clean and get my house ready to sell. I go back to work in the morning, get stuck in a similar situation and write another tweet I'll delete. I listen to TED talks and podcasts. I escape at lunch with my podcasts and home cooked food. I write another tweet and delete it.

So how do we break this pattern? How do we encourage truth telling? How do we accept that sometimes we all have bad days?

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Setting Student Veterans Up for Success, Part II

Part II - Experiences on Campus

While there is current research being done on support services for student veterans, “there is little or no information to assess whether the efforts by institutions to provide targeted programs and services are helpful to the veterans and service members enrolled in colleges and universities.” (Kim, Young, & Coles, 2013, p. 1). Also, there may be a problem with student veterans accessing those services, because some student veterans may not self-identify (Vacchi, 2012). Student veterans, even if they do identify, may not ask for help or want to feel like a burden (Vacchi, 2012).

College campuses come with their own red tape, much of which can be difficult to navigate for student veterans (Vacchi, 2012). Some of this red tape can come from VA benefits, such as tuition payment that may come after the end of a billing cycle which can have consequences on campus (Vacchi, 2012). Another is health insurance, since most campuses require students to have proof of health insurance but VA benefits is total health care, not just insurance (Vacchi, 2012). Other problems can come when applying for in-state benefits or while attending public institutions. Some student veterans are denied residency benefits after military service (Breed, 2013), which means these veterans are left without a home state.

Student veterans may not want to disclose their military identity while in classes (Thomas, 2010). Faculty may make comments regarding wars or conflicts (Vacchi, 2012). There may be instances of classmates or professors calling American servicemembers terrorists or traitors (Ackerman et al., 2009). Other classroom challenges can come from mandatory seating charts, which may not consider the needs of veterans, such as sitting with their back to a wall or near an exit (Vacchi, 2012). It’s important to create spaces where veterans are free to disclose, or not, while still offering support services.

There are horrible stories of student veterans on campuses. The article Arizona Sudent Vets Face Debt Collector Over Errors (2013) Pima Community College in Tucson received at least $67,000 from the VA erroneously. The error occurred when the school did not notify the VA when students stopped attending, and as such those students then had to work with VA debt collectors. “The college’s review showed nearly 27 percent of veterans’ files contained mistakes, such as incorrect tuition or failure to notify the VA when students left” (Ariz. Student Vets, 2013). Having administrators and certifying officials understand the ins and outs of VA benefits is crucial.

Some of the issues student veterans may face may come from ignorance of the problems student veterans face. Rumann and Hamrick (2009) found that “contemporary administrators and faculty members are less likely than earlier generations to have personally experienced military or wartime service.” (p. 25). Properly trained staff and support services can help make the transition easier with fewer horror stories.

Ackerman, R., DiRamio, D., & Mitchell, R. G. (2009). Transitions: Combat veterans as college students. In R. Ackerman, & D. DiRamio, Creating a veteran-friendly campus: Strategies for transition and success (New Directions for Student Services No.126 , pp. 45-54). San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Ariz. Student Vets Face Debt Collector Over Errors. (2013, September). Community College Week, 26(3), 3. Retrieved from

Breed, 2013, A. G. (2013). Residency Rules Trip Up Veterans at State Schools. Community College Week, 25(12), 10-11. Retrieved from

Kim, Young M., & Coles, James S., 2013 (2013). Student Veterans/Service Members’ Engagement in College and University Life and Education. Retrieved from American Council on Education website:

Rumann, C. B., & Hamrick, F. A. (2009). Supporting student veterans in transition. New Directions For Student Services. In R. Ackerman, & D. DiRamio, Creating a veteran-friendly campus: Strategies for transition and success (New Directions for Student Services No.126 , pp. 25-34). San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Vacchi, 2012, D. T. (2012). Considering Student Veterans on the Twenty-First-Century College Campus. About Campus, 17(2), 15-21. doi: 10.1002/abc.21075

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Honest Higher Ed Truths Part III

Job Searching

Job searching is such a pain. It’s a long, lengthy process with very little transparency. You apply, spend at least an hour on an application, and the worst that can happen isn’t a “no”, it’s nothing. It’s never hearing from a person again.

My biggest advice is to not compromise. Apply for jobs you want, not just ones that will build your resume, not just ones you qualify for, not just ones you could do for a few years. Apply for jobs you want to do.

I repeat: do not compromise. Don’t take a job to get your foot in the door (hint: it probably won’t work). Don’t take a support staff position so you can “gain skills” (hint: no one cares about your support skills). Just don’t. My story is real, it’s frustrating, it’s not linear, it doesn’t have a happy ending (yet).

Trailing and Leading Spouse

On top of just job searching for myself, I also need to consider my spouse. Most of my searches were regionally bound due to my husband’s stable job. He carried the benefits and most of the bills for a while, so we needed to make sure my work complemented that.

During my last search I opened it up nationally, but before every application was submitted I checked job boards for my husband, checked real estate listings, and checked cost of living. Only after all of these were considered acceptable, did I apply. We had acceptable regions, where we knew people in the community and had agreed jobs that paid a certain amount would be financially sustainable.
Now that his degree program will be completed in December we’re in this weird place of not knowing what will happen. I’m learning to be ok with the unknown.

All Other Duties As Assigned

There are things I do that are nowhere near my job description, like clean the stinky fridge. Or, track construction projects. Or support three searches, while training a new staff member, new student workers, and a new chair of the department. No one said “hey, we’re going to make you do ALL THE THINGS in your job description at one time.” Probably because no one can see the future. But, I did it, because that’s my job. Because there will be unforeseen circumstances, changes, and duties that fall to no one else.

There are things that aren’t my job. I am not responsible for making faculty members happy or to cheer anyone up. It is not my job to clean other people’s offices, to baby sit, or to do… things. It’s hard to describe, but there are things that aren’t my job. I currently have the power to, very politely and constructively, say it’s not my job. There are things that aren’t your job. I hope you have a supervisor that allows you to say “no, that’s not my job”.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Honest Higher Ed Truths Part II

Career Sustainability

I currently work in a position that is not part of a career ladder. I am considered support staff, so there is no clear path for me to make it to a “professional” position. Even if I were to be hired as an advisor, there is no path from there. You can be promoted to Senior Advisor, but (from what I can tell) there isn’t much difference.

Even if you work in a position that is part of a career ladder, that ladder gets considerably thinner (and harder to attain) as you move up. There is only one SSAO (maybe) at each institution, we all can’t be SSAOs, it just isn’t possible. When we make the choice to stay in higher ed, when we choose to take part in ladder climbing, we need to be very realistic about what that means.

We also need to understand that some people are going to leave student affairs, and that’s totally okay. Again, not all of us can be SSAOs.

The big problem is, when is our profession not sustainable? When are we educating too many professionals for too few positions? If we continue to grow as a profession, or increase the number of positions on campus, we need to carefully think about career ladders and sustainability. If we constantly have to defend our value (a very different topic), shouldn’t we value the positions and people enough to make sure there are ways to climb the ladder?


Oh silos. I currently work in an office that is silo-ed. What do I mean by that? The two support staff in my office are paid by the department. There are full-time permanent, full-time temporary, and part-time faculty in my department, which are separated further if we discuss tenure/tenure-track vs lecturer. There are two advisors who work within my office but are supervised by a person in the Dean’s Office, and paid by our central advising office. Not confusing at all.

All of these positions have different expectations, supervisor, professional development support, and plans of work. We work together, but separately. We work toward common goals (student success), but framed differently. We develop different plans of work, expectations, and professional development plans. We share resources, but have to pay for supplies out of different budget numbers.