Author Archives: Joe Sabado

Adversities as Catalysts to Growth and Opportunities

We can use adversities to open doors to opportunities, provided we have the right attitude when dealing with them. It’s easy to sulk and complain about how life is unfair when we’re going through hard times, but we can learn about ourselves, our resiliency, and capabilities if we just change our mindset and recognize these adversities may just be opportunities in disguise. As I look back at the major difficulties in my career, I realize these were the times when I experienced significant growth.

Some of my biggest professional growth and opportunities happened as a result of challenges I was presented with. These challenges became my catalysts to think hard about my future and what sacrifices I needed to make as well as skills I needed to develop to get to where I wanted to go. As I will share below, these three challenges gave me a “kick in the butt” to change direction and in turn led to opportunities I could not have even imagined.

My first significant adversity happened about a year into my first job, I had to deal with daily frustrations at work because of conflicts I had with a co-worker. For every web project I worked on, my co-worker took it upon himself to change my work before it went into production. We were peers so I did not understand why he seemed to have the authority to make the final decision and why he changed my work without asking my permission. I was inexperienced dealing with work conflict at that point in my career so I went home angry and frustrated. There was a couple of times when I was so frustrated I punched walls in my apartment and my work situation started to affect my relationship with my then girlfriend. After months of frustrations, I made the decision to leave my job as I didn’t think my relationship and health weren’t worth sacrificing. However, I knew I needed to build my web and database programming skills before I could leave. For about six months, I spent many hours almost every night, going until 3 am, learning how to develop and design web applications. I bought at least 50 books on Active Server Pages, Visual Basic, and Access database from a local Borders bookstore and went through almost every exercise in these books. This was a time when there was no remote access so I had to drive to work every night to use my computer. Interesting enough, when I was ready to start looking for work, my co-worker decided to leave and I remained with my job. The six months of intensive learning provided me with skills that led me to building more complex applications at work and led to consulting jobs as well.

My second major period of growth happened several years ago, our department had a major re-organization and my web development team was dismantled to fit the new structure. I was “asked” to switch position from a manager of the team to a new role of web architect. I had a close relationship with my team and considered them my family. This was one of the few times in my life when I felt depressed. It even came to  a point when I couldn’t concentrate and almost hit a pedestrian while driving to work. I did not enjoy my new position because I no longer met with customers and I had no interaction with my old teammates. I wasn’t also learning new technologies that were becoming popular at that time like ASP.Net and SQL Server. After long conversations with my wife and with her approval, I made the hard decision  to move to a new organization accepting a pay cut. I made the move because the new organization had the reputation of providing abundant training opportunities and I wanted to prepare myself for the future by getting formal trainings and experience working with ASP.Net and SQL Server. I went to several trainings and I was given opportunities to develop more sophisticated applications. However, after about nine months, my former department had another major re-organization and they had created a new unit that needed a manager. I was offered the manager position managing my previous teammates as well as new employees. The formal trainings and experience I gained in that short nine months proved to be beneficial in my new position.

The most significant challenge and growth I experienced started about three years ago. Our organization had a major project converting a legacy system. This project required most of my staff’s participation. It was a critical system so it had to succeed even if it meant stopping all other projects, which we did. It was the right thing to do. Unfortunately for me, I was not part of this major project and I did not have the resources to work on other projects. It was a frustrating few months because as much as I wanted to contribute to our organization, it became impossible. It was an order not to work on other projects and I was told not to meet with my staff. I looked for tasks to work on, but after a while, I even ran out of things to do. I started questioning my value and whether I had a future in the organization.With the prospect of an uncertain future, I began to spend my thinking and working towards my goal towards a senior management position in student affairs. My plan was to use my IT background and student affairs experience to work towards a senior student affairs administrator position like Dean of Student Affairs Technology. Typically, senior student affairs positions require advanced degrees, but as unconventional as my background may be, I was and still am convinced there’s a need for a technology strategist at the senior student affairs level. I hope my combined experience/interest in student affairs and IT knowledge will lead me to a senior management position somewhere in the future.

With the available time I had and driven in part by concern of not having a place in my current organization, I committed to spending as much as I can to learn about student affairs and IT management. I began to learn about student affairs and higher education history, contemporary issues, and the skills/knowledge taught in grad schools,  by whatever means available to me. It was during this time when I dedicated myself to reading many student affairs textbooks and becoming involved with NASPA to network with other student affairs professionals. I also became more involved on campus as a NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program (NUFP) mentor and a planning member for a professional development program for new student affairs professionals. In addition to learning more about student affairs, I also spent a lot of time learning about IT leadership and management.

I also became more active on social media (twitter), specifically on #sachat and #satech which are virtual communities of student affairs professionals and graduate students. I began to write more on my blog about student affairs, technology, and leadership. Because of my active participation on twitter and my blog posts, I was contacted by a fellow student affairs IT director for a university in Texas to serve as an external review team leader to do a program evaluation of their IT department.

After the major project was successfully completed, fortunately, my worries about my future within my organization disappeared as my responsibilities increased, my leadership role in my organization became more significant, and the units I oversee also expanded with more staff reporting to me.

The last three years have been a period of significant growth for me. It has been a time of opportunities I could not have even imagined. As I look back at the career challenges I faced, I am now grateful for them. Without these adversities, I probably would not have had the motivations to make some hard choices and to commit my time towards preparing myself for the future.









Blogging as Part of Identity Development/Exploration

When I started my blog, my goal was to share my professional thoughts. After two hundred blog posts and almost four years later since I posted my first post, my blog has become a part of my identity development and exploration. In part, it’s a documentation of my personal and professional growth, but it’s within the the process of reflections and thinking when I write my posts that gave me the opportunity to examine my value systems that drive not only my professional aspirations but leads me to question how and why I think the way I do. In sharing my thoughts through my blog, my posts have led to conversations and exchange of ideas beyond social media.

Most of my posts were written between 10 pm to 3 am in the morning, and it’s because those are the times when I can have the focus to be able to think deeply about my life and my career. I wish I can write whenever I want to, but the reality is that I can only write about topics that really interest me and when events or people get emotions out of me. I’ve come to admit long time ago, my blog posts are not always grammatically correct and I rarely go back and review/edit them. I’ve come to accept this may be bad practice as a writer, but I find there’s authenticity when I write raw words just coming out of my head and driven by emotions. There have been times when I’ve written posts as tears flowed because I was so emotionally invested in what I was writing about. I get emotional when I think about the sacrifices my parents made and how blessed I am because of them. I get angry when I think about those times when I felt treated lower than others for whatever reasons. I am happy when I write about students who remind me of why I am in student affairs.

As I look back at my posts, I realize they have also become documentations and reflections of my past life. My family and I have come a long way since we immigrated from the Philippines in 1984. Through hard work and dedication, and mostly from my parent’s support, our family has done well. We have endured challenges that to this day still make me upset and have received blessings beyond my expectations.

My posts have also become a place for me to explore my future. In sharing my vision of student affairs like this post or this and this, I inevitably begin to think about the directions my wife and I would like to pursue. I begin to think about our hopes and aspirations and what it would take for us to get to where we want to go.

I’ve considered my blog as my place to express my thoughts without interruptions and where I’m free to think how I think. Some of my thoughts are stuck in draft mode and they may never be published as the tone and content of those posts may not be perceived as being appropriate, but I do look at them from time to time to remind myself of my thoughts and mindset when I wrote them. While I didn’t intend for my blog to be a reflection place and a documentation of my past and future lives, my blog has served a purpose greater than I had ever intended.


Lack of Asian American Mentors/Advocates in Student Affairs

I’ve been fortunate to have mentors and advocates throughout my career in student affairs at UCSB. This post, by no means, diminishes my appreciation of those who have helped me along my career. There is one aspect of my career that I can’t help but wonder from time to time, especially when I find myself needing to talk about issues related to my identity as Asian American. I have never had an Asian-American mentor, one who I can speak with about personal, career, and Asian-American community issues. There are certain topics I would like to explore and discuss with others who understand me. They may not necessarily agree with me, but they may just be able to relate with me because of our shared experience as Asian Americans.

The degree to which one values having a mentor/advocate with similar background/identity probably varies from one person to the other. Personally, that the folks I consider my mentors are not Asian-Americans has never been generally a big issue for me. But, when I worked with a student last year who expressed desire to have another mentor with a similar background (South Asian female), I began to think about the value of having an Asian American mentor for myself.  I also began to notice the lack of Asian Americans at the senior management level on my campus other than our Chancellor. Even in student affairs, there’s only one Asian-American director other than myself. I also remembered how we once had a Chancellor’s Asian American Task Force when I was a student in the mid-1990. I am not sure why that group ceased to exist. In all honesty, I haven’t spent much time thinking as to why there is such a lack of senior Asian-American leaders at UCSB. I have some questions but I don’t even know where to start looking for answers. I did start to think about the presence (or lack of) of Asian American Senior Student Affairs Officers (SSAO) across the country. Admittedly, my perspective of student affairs at the national level is very limited because I have only been involved with NASPA for a couple of years. I don’t have the data on how many Asian Americans are at the SSAO level. What I can tell you is that meeting Henry Gee, Vice President for Student Services at Rio Hondo College, at last year’s Western Regional Career in Student Affairs Day was one of the most memorable moments of my career. VP Gee was the person often mentioned by other Asian-Americans in student affairs who I should meet. I had the chance to speak with VP Gee again at the NASPA National Conference in Baltimore. In the short period of time I spoke with him, he left an impression on me as he shared with me perspectives I really found valuable. He probably doesn’t remember me, but in those short period of time we spoke, I felt a sense of camaraderie and pride that I’m speaking with a high-ranking and well-respected Asian-American in student affairs.

I made a personal commitment when I became a staff at UCSB years ago to make myself available to Asian American students and to build relationships with them personally. I have been fortunate to have developed mentor/mentee relationships with some of them. In the last few years, I have also found myself helping other Asian American staff with their work and personal issues. As I think about what they shared with me, I think there is a value to having someone who can relate with because of shared experience. A colleague and I recently had a conversation about the fact that there are times when we don’t have to explain what we’re thinking to others who share our experiences because we simply just get it. There are also other times when as much as we can explain ourselves, other people will never understand where we are coming from.

Who are your mentors/advocates? Do you find shared experience/background as one of the attributes that make a good mentor/mentee relationship? Am I wrong in my perspective that the number of Asian American SSAOs are limited?


The Power of Empathy In Student Affairs – My Personal Experience

The ability to understand and share the perspective of our students plays a very important role in how effective we are as student affairs professionals and educators in building relationships and helping our students.  Personally, while I fully acknowledge the fact that I can never fully understand today’s students perspectives due to our differences in age and experience, some of my experiences and background help me in not only understanding what their needs and opportunities may be, but in building relationships as well.

Three years ago, I was a discussion leader for a First Year Experience course for international students. Most of them were Chinese with one student from Brazil. For most of them, they had only been in the United States for about two months. In addition to adjusting to the academic lives, they also had to adjust to the cultural norms, language, and navigating their environments as well. Their discomforts with their new environments were very apparent during the first few weeks of the course. In my one-on-one discussions and in class, they shared their issues in trying to understand how the university works, the habits of their American roommates, and difficulties with activities as Americans we take for granted. Language was one of the main barriers during their times of transition. Even going to the grocery stores or taking the bus proved to be difficult for some of them. I would not have been able to appreciate their difficulties to the extent  I did if it was not for my experience traveling to Italy with my wife, only a month before this course. Through my experience preparing for the trip and during our time in Rome and Florence, I was able to feel some of the issues these students were facing.The fact that this was our first time traveling to Europe became a source of stress for me for a couple of months before our trip. I did not know how to speak Italian and while I researched as much as I could through the web, perusing through travel sites, and reading stories from travelers, I could only speculate how our experience would be. I had some difficulty learning Italian even with the multiple translation and language apps I downloaded on my iphone. This difficulty added to my concerns about the trip. I was also worried about being pick-pocketed in Rome. Stories about different tactics used and the prevalence of thieves out in the streets became my focus during our preparation. During our trip, the local Italians we interacted with were very accommodating with our limited Italian, but nevertheless, even ordering food or asking for directions proved to be a challenge. When I met with the students, I shared some of my experience and my issues with our Italy vacation as a way to connect with them. I was able to have genuine discussions with them and offer them reassurance that they were not the only ones who have had to experience the difficulties of adjusting to a new culture and location.

Just last week, I facilitated a transitional course for a one-week summer bridge program for first generation and low income first year students. Having gone to the program myself and as a UCSB alum, I was able to relate to what they may be experiencing and anticipate/address some of their concerns. As a first year generation student and from a low/middle income family myself, I was also able to relate to some of their family values and views on education. While each student certainly brought their unique and individual experience, there were also common topics including financial concerns, first-time away from home, and the lack of directions with their intended majors I was able to share because of my personal experience.

As I had my orientation class for my online MBA last week, I found myself experiencing/feeling the same concerns the students shared during the summer bridge program. One of the students expressed doubt on whether she belonged at UCSB. As she mentioned in class, she realized she was surrounded with high achieving students and she wondered if she could compete with them. I also wonder if I have the aptitude and intelligence to be successful in completing my MBA. What was interesting as well was that one of the lectures was on critical thinking and research, both of which are topics in my orientation class. I have seen the same lectures a few times but I found myself being more interested this time around. During our class discussion, I was able to share some of my perspectives and provide additional information with the topics.

From personal experience, I do find it easier for me to relate and build relationships with others who share similar background and experience. In my interactions with students, especially Filipino-American students, our shared cultural background have proven to be an important piece towards building relationships.



UCSB STEP Program – Nourishment for My Soul

There’s not a week I look forward to in my job more than STEP Program, a summer bridge program for incoming first year, first generation, and under-represented students at UCSB. I have served as a transitional facilitator for  the last four years and it’s one of the most fulfilling personal/professional experience I have ever done in my career. STEP Program has a special place in my life. I was a student of the program in 1991 and I was also a Resident Assistant in 1994. I met some of my life-long friends through this program and I became friends with some of the students who have considered me as their mentor as well.

A few years ago, this program was two weeks and unfortunately, due to budget cuts, the program was reduced to one week. Even so, it is remarkable how much transformation happens with the students. I have the pleasure of watching their confidence grow and develop connections with other students within this short one week. It’s a testament to how well the program is designed as well as the dedication of the staff and volunteers.

STEP Program facilitation is not one of my responsibilities as an IT Director. Nowhere in my job description does it mention anything about working with students in a classroom setting, and neither is working with first generation students. But it’s through my interaction with the students through my role as a facilitator that drives my purpose. It is a reminder of why my job matters and who I am working for. I don’t work for my supervisors, I work for students. In the end, while the systems I help develop with my technical teams enable our business staff and departments to be able to serve the personal development and learning of  the thousands of students at a mass scale, I would like to believe  the personal interactions our faculty, staff, and the relationships our students develop with their peers matter as much towards a fulfilling college career.

When I read the students’ reflections of their STEP experience at the end of the program, I get the sense of how much they value the program and I also get the sense of how much more confident and more comfortable they are with their transition into UCSB. Personally, STEP program provides me with the opportunity to build connections with the students and even if most of them will never contact me again, I consider it such a privilege and honor to be a part of their introduction to their new lives at UCSB. My one week STEP experience is enough to provide nourishment for my soul to provide me with the motivation and sense of purpose for the rest of the year.