This is a story of how I came to be in my current position in student affairs. It’s a story of how a “failed” plan towards a career in student affairs via graduate school led me to an alternate path to a career I truly enjoy and one even better than I could have ever imagined. I share my story with the message that sometimes, life has an interesting way of getting you to a place where you should be. How you get to where you should be may not always be the route you intend to take.
A campus architect presented the history of UCSB architecture to the Transfer Success class in which I am a Discussion Leader two weeks ago. He gave a short introduction of himself including his professional path. He shared that he had entered college with a major different than he graduated with. Unfortunately, he had to transfer to another school as he had failed academically. Ultimately, he found the right major for him which led to a career he has enjoyed the last few decades. Based on his experience, he said “failure leads you to where you should be”. From my personal experience, I somewhat agree with his statement, though I would modify it to “failure may led you to where you should be.” Going further, maybe “failure” is not the right word when one can use that experience to adjust or build from it. The right phrase may just be “setbacks may led you to where you should be.” It’s how one reacts to the situation, how resilient one is that will determine their future course.
I love my job as it combines my interests of technology and working with/for students in student affairs. I work for the central student affairs computing department at UC Santa Barbara. My career path took some detours which gave me some invaluable experience and appreciation towards my job at UCSB. Looking back, I am grateful of how my career has turned out to this point, though it was not the path I had planned .
During my senior year in at UCSB, a friend convinced me to continue my education and earn a Masters in Student Affairs and maybe even get a PhD. We planned on moving forward together. We were both active student leaders. Working closely with student affairs professionals, including our Dean of Students and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs inspired us to go into the field. As part of our plan, we were to gain some experience as Assistant Resident Directors at UCSB for a couple of years. We both applied for the positions and we went through the interview and selection process sometime during the Winter Quarter of our senior year. This is where our paths diverged. He was accepted and I was rejected. I felt dejected and lost. I felt like a failure. A career in student affairs was no longer a possibility, so it seemed at that time.
I spent my last quarter trying to figure out what to do after graduation. I had to figure out a career quickly and prepared myself for it. This was around 1996 when the web became more common. Because graduate school was no longer an option, I decided to pursue web development as my first job, though I didn’t know any professional web developers at that time. I figured I had to learn HTML and graphic design skills. There were no full-time web developers at UCSB I knew of. I had started to help create web pages for a couple of departments within the Division of Student Affairs but I did not have any idea at that time how significant the web would become.
I was fortunate to have a mentor, the director for a multicultural program, who allowed me to stay in our office all night so I could learn web development, multimedia, and graphic design. I worked with her as a group facilitator and an intern starting my junior year. One of the projects she assigned to me was to build multimedia presentations using Director (multimedia application software) and Adobe Premiere (video software). I dedicated almost every night until 3 am in that office from January to June of 1996 learning how to code and design. I still had to study and write my papers at that time, but they became secondary.
During the same time, I did not realize UCSB Division of Student Affairs was also making plans towards using the web. As I had mentioned, I worked closely with our Dean of Students, Dr. Yonie Harris, and she became my mentor. She knew I was interested in technology and she had seen my multimedia presentations. She asked me to create a portfolio so she could show my work to other people in the division.
To this day, I still remember how Dr. Harris gave me a hug and whispered some words to my ears on my way to the stage on my graduation day in June 1996. She said “Come see me in my office next week. I’d like to talk to you about a possible position for you” . It was a web developer position in the newly created technology department for the Student Affairs Division. A few months later, I produced the first homepage for the division. The rest, as they say, is history.
I would have never guessed that 17 years later, I would still be working in student affairs. While I did not attend graduate school and missed out on learning student development theory and other research required to be a student affairs practitioner, I think my experience as a technologist working at the divisional level and with all 22+ departments have provided me practical knowledge about our profession and students. In the last few years, I came to realize that while I may never get my Masters in Student Affairs, nothing is stopping me from learning some of the same research and theory I would have learned in graduate school. Through my learning network of student affairs professionals across the country, social media, books, and volunteering myself at UCSB for opportunities where I could learn, I have developed my own path towards becoming a more knowledgeable student affairs professional and a scholar. That I only have an undergraduate degree limits my career opportunities as a functional manager or a Senior Student Affairs Officer (SSAO), for now, anyways. I am hoping however that in due time, formal requirements to become a senior manager in student affairs change so that relevant experience, in lieu of PhD or Masters Degree, be considered. Who knows, a few years from now, I would like to see myself in a position like a Dean of Student Affairs Technology.
I would have never guessed how significant technology would become in student affairs. Given the convergence of student affairs and technology and the direction our profession is moving, I think my “failure” or setback may have led me to exactly where I should be.