In my career counseling course, I have learned a number of different theories regarding how career and life decisions are made. Though this course is intended to give us the tools to counsel others during their career journey, I often feel that I am using my newfound knowledge from this course explore my own career path, both past and future. I find it fitting that just as I have developed a strong understanding of the career theories that resonate most with me, we started discussing different functional areas and specialties within higher education. Though I am only in my first semester of grad school, I want to have a better understanding of and more direct experience in more functional areas, so as to make a more informed decision about my career both and to be a competitive applicant for positions in my desired area once I graduate. To this end, I have been thinking about the different areas and populations served within higher education. I was initially attracted towards student affairs because of work that I have done with the freshman population, and since then, I have always been drawn to this area. However, the more we have discussed different social justice issues and the more I continue to work with Student Support Services, I have begun to wonder, is this truly the population that I want to work with, and is it the population that I am best suited to serve?
Hansen’s Integrative Life Planning theory focuses on “career professionals as change agents…becoming advocates and agents for positive societal change through the choices they have and the decisions they make” (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, 2013, p. 109). This theory has resonated with me because I have always wanted a career that felt meaningful and was connected to the greater world around me. Part of this comes from the idea of “paying it forward”: I have been privileged to have so many opportunities open to me, and I want to use those experiences to help others. My thoughts lately have shifted towards the question, how can I best do this? There are 44 different functional areas within higher education, and each one serves students in a different way. One is not inherently better than another, because taken together, they develop a holistic student. However, knowing that there are that many different areas and ways to serve students from all backgrounds only increases my desire to find my niche that much more. One of my mentors once told me, “Your calling is where your greatest strengths meet the world’s greatest needs.” There’s no doubt that there are a number of different needs within the student populations we seek to serve and likewise, there are a number of different types of student populations. Though I recognize that my calling may change over time, I want to figure out what I would like the stretch of road beyond graduate school to look like for me.
Breaking down something as broad as figuring out my desired career trajectory into action steps takes more thought and is a bit harder. Since I do not have an assistantship and I do not work in a student affairs related functional area on a daily basis, I think it is especially important for me to explore the different areas and types of populations as much as possible and develop a working knowledge of specific ones that interest me, such as the community college system. I will be visiting Wake Tech next week and meeting with one of the chief student affairs officers there, as well as individuals in other functional areas. As my team and I developed questions for these meetings, I was intentional to include questions that both enhance the goal of the project and also address questions that I have personally wondered, such as the students served, issues unique to community colleges, and more. I recently learned that one of my classmates in my career counseling course is current a transfer advisor at a community college, and I plan to ask her if we can have a conversation about her work and her position. I will reflect on these data that I gather to determine if this is indeed an area in which I would like to get direct experience.
I am fortunate to have connections with two institutions that have a number of functional areas in which I am interested. I have already identified two populations that interest me, first year students and students at the community college, but I also plan to expand on this. One of my goals for this semester is to research the different departments and programs at both State and UNC and find a few that intrigue me most. I am aware of the formal internship experience in this program, but I would like to supplement this through other informal internships, experiences, and interviews. By doing so, I can have a better foundation when I choose what type of internship I would like to do next fall and thus continue to grow in areas that most align with my passions.
Niles, S. G. & Harris-Bowlsbey, J. (2013). Career development interventions in the 21st century. (4th ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.