Why I joined Student Affairs

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This is me now.

I joined Student Affairs to help every student find their passion.

But I didn’t always expect this path.

In celebration of Careers in Student Affairs Month and #JoinSA for the University of Florida Student Personnel in Higher Education Program, I decided that I wanted to document my journey of how I was led (or stumbled) from an undergraduate freshman to #SAGrad.

Freshman Year 

I was that overly eager and excited first year student at Orientation (in June) that could not WAIT to get to college. I was an out of state student from Ohio at the University of South Florida, but I completely embraced the independency that came with moving 1,000 miles away from home, to a school where I know no one, with my closest family two hours away in Gainesville.

I was a USF Bull. I was home.

… Until I got homesick.

never expected to be the girl that got homesick. I had been counting down the days until I left for college and couldn’t wait to make new friends (I’ve always been a WOO, I suppose). But alas, it finally hit me, and I would be with my friends during the day and crying in my bed at night into my pillow, hoping that my roommate wouldn’t wake. It wasn’t anything unbearable or tragic… I just missed my life and friends back home.

My freshman year was pretty simple. I found a great group of friends in my Honors LLC in my residence hall, joined the Honors College Student Council (HCSC) with most of those friends, joined a Christian organization, and went to some awesome football games. I got involved, I explored, and I embraced my college classes and my pre-education track.

The highlight of my freshman year was going to London during spring break. It was a “sample” study abroad trip with the Honors College. Translation: we got an awesome week in London with no academic responsibilities, awesome photos, and almost all the trip paid for through scholarships. It may have been cold, but it was the best. One of the Honors College Academic Advisors, Amanda, chaperoned our trip. She also happened to be one of our advisors for HCSC, which was great, because I already knew her. Her husband, Josh, came on the trip too. Little did I know how much this #SAcouple would make an impact in my life.

 

Sophomore Year 

Sophomore year, I changed my major (mini identity crisis) and got more involved. At the end of freshman year I was elected onto HCSC’s E-Board and served as Vice President. I auditioned for Hairspray on campus and was casted, but turned it down because I wanted to do something else in college (back story: I did theatre growing up– over 40 shows in 10 years). I am thankful I did, because I later joined Gamma Phi Beta Sorority. They were colonizing on my campus, and I was always intrigued by Greek Life but too scared to try. But with a new sorority coming to campus, I was ecstatic by the thought of volunteering for leadership roles and being able to shape the sorority’s reputation and branding on campus. Long story short– I loved it, just “kept going on” to the next round, and had my bid before I knew it. I was quickly elected by my new sisters to be New Member Educator, and my entire life shifted.

Fraternity and Sorority life was probably one of two best things that ever happened to me in college (the other being the Honors College, but I’ll get there soon). I firmly believe it, but won’t get into my passion now. Perhaps another blog post? When I joined, I didn’t realize how large of a community I was joining, or the impact it would have on me as a student leader on campus.

At the end of the school year, I was hired for a part-time job in the Honors College. Since I had just given up my position on HCSC and didn’t continue due to my large and sudden involvement with Gamma Phi and slight increased involvement with the Christian organization, I feared leaving the Honors College and the warm environment I had quickly grown to love. I was hired as a student assistant, which was the beginning to my official path into student affairs.

 

Junior Year 

Junior year was a mess. It was probably the dirtiest year of my life. I had quite a few not-so-great things happen which quickly helped me develop some pretty unhealthy habits that led into fall of senior year. I can’t even imagine how many different development theories applied to me that year, or how many times my SA professionals had to use their counseling techniques on me. Plus, the day after Bid Day I had to go to the ER for an asthma attack where I was told I had mono. That knocked me out of school, work, and all activities for two weeks. That year was a mess. I was a mess.

Some great things happened, despite all the dirt. I finished my term as New Member Educator and was elected to Education Vice President for Gamma Phi. I kicked butt and loved working in the Honors College and became really close with all of the academic advisors and graduate assistants there (Tori was my HCSC grad and Christine was the Honors LLC grad) and got a few raises in the process. I worked two jobs the summer between sophomore and junior year, around 50 hours a week, so I could pay for dues and for my first Little Sister. I met some great new people (like my “adopted” Big, Caitlin), and honestly just focused on surviving. I changed my major (again), and committed my time and energy to completing the year, developing healthier habits, and getting good grades. Biggest lesson I learned that year: I hate living alone.

 

Senior Year 

Senior year was the game changer. It was “the last year,” so I knew I had to make it a good one. I moved into the sorority house, got another amazing Little Sister, and focused on taking control of my life. I found out that I would be graduating with a dual degree instead of a double major, and I felt good. Over the summer I accepted a position to work a Week of Welcome event for the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life (OFSL) and was put on the E-Board for Burgers and Beats. I absolutely loved working for OFSL and while I regretted never applying to be a Pi Chi or for Panhellenic Exec, I was thankful for the leadership time I got within my own organization instead. In this position I met Jeff, who was the OFSL GA. I will never forget the day we did the True Colors Activity and instead of it being boring and surface level, he did something different. He made it relate to us and how we functioned as a team. He Student Affairs-ed me and I didn’t even know it.

As most seniors would, I began panicking about what I wanted to do with my life. I quickly realized that I needed a plan for spring semester, since all my course work was done except one minor. Do I need two degrees AND two minors? Do I want an internship? Wait, does this mean I need to start figuring out what I actually wanted to do with my life?! OH NO.  

I had applied for the Disney College Program once, and got denied. I applied again… and got denied. I started applying for positions on cruise ships. I started applying for Professional Internships at Disney. I started applying for positions working in hospitality at hotels. I started looking into study abroad. I had no idea what to do.

Then, right before Thanksgiving, I had a breakdown at work. I sat down in Amanda’s office (remember her?!) and cried as I said, “I just don’t know what to do.”

Then she mentioned Student Affairs.

Now don’t get me wrong, Amanda had mentioned Student Affairs to me before. However, I always quickly dismissed the idea with the reasoning “Oh, I have gone to school for 17 years. I’m done– I would never go get my Master’s.” Spoiler alert: I was wrong. I was in the car with my mom on our way to Virginia, and she brought it up. She recommended that I look into it, and “conveniently” already looked up the date and deadline for the University of Florida’s Program (partially because I always wanted to go there even though I was accepted and turned it down for undergrad, and partially because their higher education program application was still open). I realized that those awesome jobs that Tori, and Christine, and Jeff did? I could do that. And I wanted to be them. In the car I looked up the requirements, decided that I wanted to do this, booked my test date for the GRE, and emailed some individuals for letters of recommendation all before we made it to Virginia.

Throughout the panic of the “what the heck am I going to do with the rest of my life, much less next semester” stage, I was called into the Dean’s office at the Honors College. He sat me down. “Amanda…” he said, “I heard you’re looking for a job. Well, we don’t want you to leave. How about we offer you another part-time position, we up your pay, and you work here full time?”

I was speechless. And by speechless, I mean I’m pretty sure my mouth dropped down to my feet and I bounced in my chair for a solid minute before I said YES. (A large reason as to why the Honors College was one of the other best things to happen to me in college. Talk about an opportunity!)

I dropped the (second) minor and stayed at school to finish my Honors Thesis so I could formally graduate in May. My dad had retired from the United States Air Force and my parents had moved to Tampa, so I moved back home with them. I worked 40 hours a week in an academic advising office, and it was awesome. I was exposed to a whole new side of higher education that I never knew existed. I developed skills I never thought I would gain as an undergraduate student. That position is exactly what I needed.

I applied for UF’s Program. I went to Visitation Days. I waited. I waited. I waited.

Nothing.

It felt like everyone else from Vis Days (we made a Facebook group) had gotten an offer and accepted either at UF or another school. I was certain I rocked the interviews. I began doubting my plan and passion to attend UF, and began panicking again since I had heard nothing but denials from every other position I applied for in the fall.

I got an email about the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) at USF.  I looked into it, and loved it. I decided that after changing my degree from pre-education my freshman year, I wanted that again. I already had an American Sign Language Minor and a Communication Sciences and Disorders Bachelor of Arts, so I decided that I would get my Master’s Degree and Teacher’s Certificate in Special Education. I felt so happy and comforted knowing that I could be back where I started– back in education where I wanted to be all of my childhood. I got more letters of recommendation, and even worked out that I could keep working in the Honors College as a graduate assistant to help pay for school.

Then I got a Facebook message.

I got a Facebook message from Maggie, one of the current grads at UF for SPHE, asking if I had accepted another position yet. “A little birdie” sent her to reach out. Well that little birdie was my soon-to-be-supervisor offering me an assistantship at UF, which automatically accepted me into the SPHE program.

PLOT TWIST.

Once again, I found myself in Amanda’s office talking and talking about what to do. I really wanted this assistantship at UF and it sounded perfect, but I had just found comfort in settling on a plan at USF. After much talk and deliberation (or listening and advising from her end)… I realized that my gut was telling me to come to UF.

And I’m so thankful I listened.

 

Grad School

Although my path to get to grad school was an adventurous one, the real adventure has just begun. Each day I learn something new about this career and something new about myself. Now that I am in year two, it is shocking to see how much I have grown in just a year. At times, I feel like I am a new person from what I was five years ago as a freshman. However, nothing makes me feel better about myself than reflecting on how much I am growing and changing, for the better. I love being in school and learning about something I am truly and wholeheartedly passionate about. I love that I get upset when I have to leave work, because I just love my job and my students more than I could ever explain. I love knowing that I get to make a difference to so many students, all while having so much fun (perks of programming). I love what I do every day, and I could never imagine my life without it.

I am thankful for every step that got me here. I am thankful for every challenge I experienced as a leader and every involvement opportunity I embraced. I could never thank the big SA mentors in my life, even though they were often unaware of the impact they made on me (Amanda, Josh, Tori, Christine, Jeff, Mr. Mejias, Viannca, and practically everyone in the Honors College). I hope to make an impact in my students’ lives like they made in mine.

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Now

This was the short(ish) version of my story. I left out a lot– but that’s okay. Each day I reflect and realize something new, and I hope that never ends… Because it always reminds me of my special story and how much I love being able to do what I do.

That’s why I joined Student Affairs.

XOXOXO, amandarae

quote of the day: “attract what you expect. reflect what you desire. become what you respect. and mirror what you admire.”

Side note: Shoutout to my #SAGrad friend Joel for giving me this idea (/letting my steal it). Thank you for being such a supportive friend!

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