Category Archives: Career

Personal Recap of Western Regional Career in Student Affairs Day (WRCSAD) 2015

I attended the Western Regional Career in Student Affairs Day at UCLA this last Saturday, Oct 17, with the UCSB’s NASPA Undergraduate Fellowship Program (NUFP) team. This was an opportunity for our undergraduate students to learn more about student affairs as a profession and to meet other students and professionals in the field. I also attended to be a panelist for a session on Social Media in Student Affairs. As it was with the previous years I have attended, I left the conference with a sense of renewal and commitment to my role as a student affairs professional. The event was well planned, the sessions were informative and the speakers were all knowledgeable. I sensed those involved in the planning and those who participated a deep commitment to serving students and to learning about student affairs. Beyond the learning was also the fun moments getting re-acquainted with friends and colleagues I interact with through social media as well as meeting new friends. Here are some of the personal highlights (I can remember) of the conference:

Dr. Sumun (Sumi) Pendakur‘s keynote speech (“The Personal, The Political, and The Professional”). Dr. Pendakur delivered a dynamic speech about the intersections of her personal upbringing and her profession. As she said, “we all come from somewhere” and so she spent some time introducing her parents, specifically her dad, and how their experiences informed and shaped her world views and her activism. She shared her personal story because as she said, “personal narrative informs our work we do.”  She spoke about our obligations as student affairs professionals in serving all students and to promote success for all students, not just for some. She asked the question “are they graduating and thriving or are they surviving”? Dr. Pendakur also shared some strategies to get the most out of this conference and they are applicable to our daily work as well. For one, she suggests doing some relationship building – purposeful networking. In addition, she suggested self care/renewal. Conferences this size can be a challenge for introverts (like me) and it’s okay to find a corner some place alone to re-energize ourselves on our own. Lastly, she suggested pushing the edge / practice taking risks. Ask questions and challenge. We need to practice asking questions and we don’t have to be SSAOs to be asking questions. We can ask questions wherever we sit in the institution.

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Reflections from Senior Affairs Officers. Four seasoned administrators (Dr. Jeff Klaus from CSU Long Beach, Dr. Sumun Pendakur from Harvey Mudd College, Dr. Suzanne Seplow from UCLA, and VP Henry Gee, Rio Hondo Community College) along with the facilitator Dr. Mink-Salas from Azusa Pacific University shared some really valuable insights on their experiences and they also shared important lessons.

Personally, watching two Asian American senior administrators on the panel was a welcome sight. As I wrote on this blog post, we need more Asian American mentors/advocates in higher education. The messages from all of the panelists were all valuable but the messages from VP Henry Gee and Dr. Pendakur spoke to me as an Asian American.

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This session really made me think of where I am in my career and where I would like to go in my career. It was during this session when I had this “Eureka” moment of what my purpose in student affairs has been though I never realized what it was. This was to shape my institution and higher ed in general to best serve the interest of students!

The other important insight I got from this session was the idea that I don’t want to be pigeonholed as an “IT guy” because I’ve primarily been in student affairs IT for most of my career. I have always seen myself as student affairs professional who works primarily with technologies to promote student success and also one who has played several roles as an organizational advisor, mentor, FYE discussion leader, multicultural programming facilitators, etc. The challenge and interest for me has been on how to bridge the gap between IT and student affairs and in general, how to use technology more effectively within the context of student affairs. It is still my goal to be in a senior administrator someday to be able to solve the challenge I posed through a position of Dean of Student Affairs Technology, a role that does not yet exist. This role needs to be at the highest level in student affairs organizations sitting along side other senior student affairs officers (SSAO) table. As this role still does not exist, I continue to advocate that an IT director or one who is in charge of enterprise technology initiatives within student affairs need to be at the SSAO table.

Black Lives Matter in the Ivory Tower: Trials and Triumph in Navigating Anti-Racist Work session. This was a session that had been planned to be facilitated by a UCLA senior student affairs official along with a panel, but due to the on-going investigation of the “Kanye Western” theme party which involved racial overtones, Dr. Dougherty, the facilitator was not able to attend. Apparently, the other panelists from other universities were able to attend as well. Two professionals, Diana Victa from Cal State Los Angeles, and Patricia Nguyen from UCLA (and UCSB alum) effectively facilitated the hard topics of how to promote anti-racism efforts on campus and the barriers facing these efforts. Participants spent time sharing their thoughts about anti-racism challenges and opportunities at their own campuses. Undergraduate students spoke about the challenges of being expected and devoting time towards fighting for social justice while already facing heavy academic work. Some professionals spoke about their personal challenges and how they found their voices in the process. When asked why we attended the session, I shared that I wanted to learn about the topics and more importantly, to listen to raw and unfiltered voices from those who are impacted by racism. I shared that we don’t have enough spaces to have honest conversations about racism on our campuses. It was a powerful session, indeed. One of the comments shared by a new pro and a former student activist was the myth of resource constraint in response to the idea that we need to be patient in our anti-racism fight. as we can’t solve the problem in one day. As the attendee stated, “how is is that money somehow magically appears after a crisis and when the university’s ranking is going down and donors stop donating as the result of a crisis when students have been talking with the administration for a long time before the crisis.”

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photo courtesy of Grace Bagunu

Social Media in Student Affairs session. I sat on a panel with  VP Henry Gee and Jennifer Rodil with Grace Bagunu as the moderator. We spoke about the role of social media at the personal, campus, and professional organization levels. As VP Gee shared, Grace was the first social media account manager for NASPA Region 6, and she was instrumental in getting VP Gee to use social media. Jennifer also credited Grace as her social media mentor. I personally met my co-presenters through social media first and have become friends since we met and so this session was a fun one to be a part of.

VP Gee spoke about why he joined Twitter at the urging of Grace and why he joined Facebook (to listen to feedback about his programs). He also provided important responses to questions from the audience on how to appropriately use social media as it relates to job searching and networking. Jennifer provided her insight on how she manages her department’s social media presence as well as strategies on promoting engagement with the NASPA Region 6 twitter account as well as the Instagram account. A question was asked by an audience member on how to effectively manage time spent on posting contents and managing social media accounts. Jennifer suggested having a schedule of postings and along with the schedule are the types of contents to post. I spoke about specific uses of social media at UCSB. I cited how I used facebook to share information about the status of our IT services during the power outage since our email server was out of service. Since we couldn’t send messages through our email server, facebook became the primary medium to communicate with our UCSB customers about the statuses of our services until we were able to have email service up and running again. The second example I provided was the significance of social media during a crisis. I specifically spoke about the tragic Isla Vista shooting on Mary 23rd, 2014. Social media became the medium for real-time communication (I learned about the shooting the minute shots were fired from students I advise through their facebook statuses), community building (show of support within the local UCSB community and across the globe on social media), and event coordination (series of events were held that following week along with a memorial at UCSB’s Harder Stadium attended by 20,000+).

I also spoke about the reasons why I blog including why I started (I was frustrated because I had a lot of ideas but I didn’t feel heard at my campus so my blog became a platform for me to express my ideas), what my purpose for blogging (promote student affairs technology and leadership), some strategies and tools I use, as well as how I address the common challenge of how to write authentically (I don’t share everything but what I do share are true to my heart).

Some audience members also shared their success stories including how they used social media on campus. One of the stories shared by the creator of the account was the use of twitter to inform students of food on the UCLA campus. The twitter account is called @hungry_bruin.

Several attendees spoke to the panel after the session for several minutes thanking us and to exchange other ideas.

Ethical and Legal Issues in Higher Education session. I was late to this session because of the last session but I am glad I attended as I learned some valuable insights from the panel which made me think about the value of understanding policies, making ethical decisions, and the increasing difficult choices to be made as one advances in the management hierarchy. The topics of institutional responsibility and ethics were discussed as it relates to things we probably don’t think about as ethical issues. As one of the panelists shared, staff don’t own the money used to run the university. Students are paying for the services and so when a staff comes into work late, they’re taking resources away from the students. A panelist shared his guiding principle when making tough decisions – “Did I follow the policy and did I practice fundamental fairness in the process?”

A topic also discussed was the issue of individual right and freedom of expression. As one of the panelist shared, one has the freedom of expression but they don’t have the freedom of consequences. As senior administrators, they must help frame the consequences of students’ actions in this term “I’m not saying you’re right or wrong but how is that being perceived? Is that the message you want to send out?”

The three sessions I attended were informative and they led me to reflect on my role as a student affairs professional and how I view my role at my university as well as my career path. In addition to the value provided by the sessions, the most valuable experiences I got out of the conferences came during the breaks and lunch. These were the times when I had the chance to connect with our NUFP fellows and mentors but also to re-connect with friends I have not seen in a while as well as to meet new ones. Attending this conference with my fellow and our NUFP team was a wonderful experience we could build upon to further develop our relationships and to learn more about each other.

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UCSB NUFP Team (photo courtesy of Klint Jaramillo).

The conference was also an opportunity to connect with other Filipin@-Americans in student affairs. We started this tradition of taking a group photo at conferences starting last year and this photo below is a part of that tradition. It was nice finally meeting other Fil-Am professionals I met via social media face to face for the first time.

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Pin@ys in Student Affairs (photo courtesy of Grace Bagunu)

 

Organizational Health

org_healthConsider organizations as organisms consisting of living beings whose level of effectiveness and productivity rely on the health of those beings that are part of them. That organizations, specifically higher education, are referred to as “institutions” project the idea that they are machines, consisting of process and structures, and forgetting the idea that higher education is made up of human beings working together. The reality is that for “institutions” to be effective and efficient, the members of its workforce must be individually healthy so the organization in itself can be healthy as a whole.

One of the topics often discussed in the world of student affairs is the concept of work/life balance. The issue revolves around the idea that because staff are overworked, emotional, mental, and physical stresses take their tolls and these lead to individual and organizational problems. Oftentimes, the discussion is framed as workers right vs management issue. But, if framed in the way I had suggested above, this should not be the case. For the organization to effectively function as a whole, it needs to take into account the health of its individual workers and it should strive to create an environment where the staff are engaged meaning they both feel like they’re contributing to the organization and they personally feel satisfied in doing so. As a leader of an organization, I don’t claim to know the answers on how to create this environment but I do seek ways towards this effort. What I do know is that the demands and pressures from mandates, customer expectations, taking care of the staff, and keeping the organization running are often too much for the level of staffing we currently have. I scoff at the idea of administrative bloat, especially when it comes to the idea that there are way too many technical and administrative staff at universities. However, consider the ending of the Perkins Loan program and the new Prior-Prior Year change in the financial aid application process. The are just two changes in the financial aid system which requires universities to immediately respond to accommodate them. In an ideal world, there would be sufficient time and staffing to meet these demands but unfortunately, that is not the case. These changes require staff to work above and beyond the regular working hours including evenings and sometimes weekends. By no means are these complaints but rather a statement of the reality of the pressures experienced by staff which potentially do impact their health.

The challenge and responsibility in keeping the organization healthy must be shared by both the management and the staff themselves. For management, efforts must be made to provide an environment where staff feel like they’re thriving and not merely surviving or even worse. Different folks have different motivations and it’s up to the management to determine how each employee feels valued. For some, they like a job that allows them to make enough money and they don’t have to work beyond 8-5 to enjoy their lives away from work and with their families. Some are motivated by intellectual challenges and the sense of accomplishments. There are also who see their work as beyond work - they’re driven by their passions to make a significant difference in this world. Then there are those who are motivated by all of the reasons mentioned. The challenge and responsibility then is for management to meet those motivations to the best of their ability while meeting the demands required of the organization.

The staff themselves need to be responsible for their health as well. They need to be their biggest advocate when it comes to making sure their needs are met. This means communicating with their supervisors about their boundaries and recognizing their own limits. Sometimes, staff may feel the need to be heroes/martyrs sacrificing themselves for the sake of the organization. In the long run, this is not the most effective way to contribute to the organization. For one, heroes who do take on more responsibilities than they should, sometimes prevent others in the organization from growing. Also, they become the only individuals who the organization must rely on. While this may be a good feeling to have, the reality is that heroes may not be able to enjoy their lives outside work because they are always on demand, even during their vacations. As for martyrs who feel the need to suffer to show their value to the organization, it really is not sustainable as working long hours and spending emotional energy can just lead to burnouts. They are also just hurting themselves by setting expectations that are not sensible. For example, a person who constantly works 70+ hours a week may just set themselves up for scrutiny when they start to lessen their work to a manageable 40 or so hours a week as their productivity level will decrease in the process.

Staff must also take care of their physical and mental health. These include taking on activities to promote wellness such as exercising, hobbies, and interests that take their minds of work.

Organizational health is a shared responsibility between management and staff. For organizations to be effective, they must view themselves more than institutions consisting of tasks and processes but rather, a living organism consisting of human beings who have emotional, mental, and physical needs.

How are you promoting a healthy organization?

Six Ways to Build Confidence In the Workplace

I believe that as a manager/leader, one of our most important responsibilities is to build leaders and to build productive colleagues by providing them the environment to think for themselves and grow. The confidence to pursue ideas and actions beyond their comfort zones is a big part of this process towards leadership and towards our co-workers’ ability to do their job as well. I also believe having an environment where a person can confidently do their jobs is part of having an engaged staff. Engagement to me means a staff feels maximum personal satisfaction with the work they do and secondly, they are also contributing to organization to the best of their willingness and ability. From experience, here are some ways we can build the confidence of others:

  1. Communicate goals clearly but leave room for staff to find ways to accomplish them. Basically, do not micro-manage, especially when working with talented and creative folks. Unless we work in an environment where it doesn’t require much thinking, providing our co-workers room to explore ideas and come up with their own ways to accomplishing goals you’ve given them is the way to go. However, those goals and expectations must be clearly communicated to save those assigned with the tasks from having to spend emotional energy and wasted time and effort.
  2. Allow room for “failure” as it’s part of the learning/growth process. The world is changing rapidly and we encounter new experiences/ideas everyday and we may not necessarily know how to always respond to them in the right ways. Personally, the biggest moments of growth I’ve experienced have been through my mistakes. These mistakes encouraged me to re-evaluate my approach and certainly, these mistakes helped me improve the quality of my work. Luckily, I had bosses in the past who understood that making mistakes is all part of the learning process and so while they helped me understand how to eliminate those mistakes, they also did not admonish me to a point I stopped trying new ideas. Don’t rob your co-workers with these opportunities to grow by not allowing them to make mistakes.
  3. Set higher expectations and standards beyond their comfort zones and abilities. This requires that you are intimately familiar with your co-workers’ skills, knowledge, and interests. Understand their areas of strengths and weaknesses and challenge them to further utilize their strengths and improve their weaknesses. You may encounter some resistance as this will require more work from them and they may not understand why you are challenging them, but growth isn’t always comfortable.
  4. Praise in public and criticize in private. How demoralizing is it to have your ideas interrupted by your boss in public settings because he/she just happens to believe their ways are better and do it in a way you look incompetent. There are situations when a manager does need to intervene because the information is incorrect. But even then, there’s a diplomatic method to pointing out the error and/or to suggest different ideas. This point relates to point 1 above in that as leaders.managers, we need to be clear about our expectations and goals. If our colleagues don’t understand what they are, they may share their own ideas that are contrary to what we have in mind. In these cases of confusion, it’s best to speak with your colleagues behind closed doors and clarify your expectations as well as to understand their perspectives so you are both on the same page. As I wrote on this blog post, as a manager, your words matter. You can use them to “praise or curse” your colleagues.
  5. Lead via influence, not command and control. Treat your colleagues as human beings and not machines or resources. Build relationships with them so they feel they matter. While ordering your colleagues to perform tasks may yield short-term results, the command and control approach can result in a work force that will not go above and beyond what is expected of them. This type of approach could also lead to unhappy employees and worse, lead to emotional and physical ailments. However, by leading through influence, you can build a work environment that is more positive and more sustainable in the long run. You have a workforce that will go above and beyond what is asked from them because they feel a sense of autonomy, growth, and a sense that they are respected.
  6. Model confidence. As a leader/manager, your co-workers watch your actions and your words. You play the role of the victim/complainer and soon, they will adapt your attitudes and behaviors. Work is not always ideal and we are all presented with challenges from time to time. While I’m not suggesting that we always look and feel invincible, it is important that we display the attitude of solution seekers and optimism, even in the lowest moments.

What other methods have you used to build the confidence of your colleagues?

What Defines Student Affairs Professionals?

This question of “what defines student affairs professionals?”  probably has an obvious answer and maybe I’m over-thinking it? This is what happens in the middle of late night when my mind wanders and think about random ideas. As a reader of this post, how would you answer this question? My personal answer is anyone who is working in the field of student affairs in  paid capacity and not just a pastime. This is probably an inadequate, perhaps even a wrong definition. But, that’s how I interpret what student affairs professionals are.

This question came to mind after following the ACPA national conference via twitter last week where several thousands of student affairs professionals convene to network and share their research, case studies, and work-related topics. This is an assumption, but a large number of the participants probably hold an advanced degree in education and specifically in student affairs and higher education. I ask this question because when I think about the folks who work in my student affairs division, a large number of them, including me, probably don’t fit the demographics of those who attend conferences by ACPA and NASPA, the two major student affairs organizations. Based on my general knowledge of the folks who work in my division, most of us probably don’t have masters degree in higher education and student affairs and we’re probably not familiar with student affairs and student development theories. A large number of us hold administrative, support, and other roles. In our division, two of the largest departments are the central student affairs IT group and student health services. The folks who work in these departments are specialized in the technology and medical fields.

Why am I asking this seemingly obvious question? Regardless of we belong in the camp of those who attend NASPA/ACPA conferences or the other folks I mentioned above, we all have common goal which is to provide services towards student development and learning. Collectively, through our roles, we contribute to helping students succeed. We interact with students through different ways and at different degrees of interactions from direct contact to behind-the-scenes.I have read/heard this concept that our practice should be driven/informed by theories. But, how many of us who work in student affairs even know the theories and concepts that drive our practice? If we don’t know theories, does that mean that we can’t effectively do our jobs? As administrative and support folks, do we need to know what student engagement means and how it relates to student success?

For those who have formal educational experience in student affairs and who are familiar with student affairs theories and models and how they apply to their jobs, how are you sharing these knowledge to your colleagues?

Don’t Forget the Big Picture

How we view our work may just make a difference in how engaged and motivated we are. There are portions of our jobs that we don’t particularly enjoy. Some are mundane and not very exciting at all. There are personalities conflict, politics to be navigated, and too much to do with not enough resources. If we forget the reasons why we joined student affairs in the first place, what motivated us to go to graduate school and/or spend countless hours to hone our skills/experience to get into our positions, our jobs may just become something we need to do to pay our bills. For some, we may just get to a point where we dread coming to work. There’s a story about The three stone cutters and it goes something like this:

One day a traveller, walking along a lane, came across 3 stonecutters working in a quarry. Each was busy cutting a block of stone. Interested to find out what they were working on, he asked the first stonecutter what he was doing. “I am cutting a stone!” Still no wiser the traveller turned to the second stonecutter and asked him what he was doing. “I am cutting this block of stone to make sure that it’s square, and its dimensions are uniform, so that it will fit exactly in its place in a wall.” A bit closer to finding out what the stonecutters were working on but still unclear, the traveller turned to the third stonecutter. He seemed to be the happiest of the three and when asked what he was doing replied: “I am building a cathedral.” (Leadership Quality)

The story resonates with me and it’s a story I try to remember during some trying times because it reminds me of why I’m in student affairs. My goal is to help students, especially the ones who may have extra challenges similar to me when I was a student – first generation, low-middle income family, and one who may not feel like they belong. For me, thinking about the big picture and why I joined student affairs gives me a sense of direction and a sense of purpose. It’s too easy to get down and get frustrated with the day-to-day challenges of our jobs. But, if we are to think that the paper pushing we do, the crucial conversations we have to do, and the meetings we dread attending are all part of a bigger purpose, it may just change how we view our work.

Reference:

http://www.the-happy-manager.com/articles/leadership-quality/