In my first term in the CSSA program, AHE 551, Programs and Functions in College Student Services, provided a broad understanding of the various functional areas, their roles on our campus, what they could look like on other campuses, and the possible careers for a student services professional within those various functional areas. Since my experience with higher education previous to the program was as an instructor of composition and creative writing, understanding the functional area possibilities within student services was new and eye opening for me. As an assignment for the course, we investigated a particular functional area across three different campuses in teams. Raphelle Rhoads and I looked at Women Student Programs and Services and produced a brochure you can access here. The teams presented their findings to the class, and I was able to gain a sense of the variety, goals, and roles of programs and functional areas across many campuses and institution types, from TRiO and Educational Opportunity Programs that support low income students, 1st Generation college students, and students with disabilities to Study Abroad offices that support students as they travel, work, or volunteer abroad. I have saved all of these brochures, as they provide an incredible resource and give me a quick sense of various functional areas. Meeting and speaking with representatives from functional areas across campus and reflecting on that experience also provided valuable information about the roles that different departments play on campus, the students they serve or teach, and the types of employees they hire. Programs and Functions in College Student Services offered an entry point to understanding how student services, student affairs, and academic affairs interact in order to provide a quality learning environment for all students.
In addition to this broad understanding, I participated in coursework that investigated several specific functional areas. In First Year Students: Programs and Philosophies, I was able to look closely at the transition issues associated with traditional first year students and the orientation and support programming that eases those complications for students. Disability Issues gave me a sense of the barriers, legal issues, and accommodation challenges associated with working in a disability access department. Academic Advising allowed me to delve into the dual roles of academic advising offices, straddling student affairs and academic affairs, as both an office that supports students outside of the classroom yet is directly connected to classroom learning. Student Leadership and Organization Development will give me the tools to explore functional areas that support student run organizations, as advisors or mentors, and various kinds of leadership programming departments.
I am fortunate to have gathered first-hand knowledge in several functional areas during and prior to the CSSA program in internships, my assistantship, and my previous graduate degree. As a Career Services Graduate Assistant for two years, I have in-depth knowledge of the “range, scope, and roles” that a Career related office plays on a campus like Oregon State University, including services that career functional areas provide or can provide, positions that employees may hold within a career office on both the employer side and the student side, and collaborative efforts that career offices may undertake as they work to encourage career development across campus. As an intern in academic advising for the General Engineering program, I gained an understanding of the advisor’s responsibilities within the academic affairs structure of the College of Engineering at OSU. Interning for the University Exploratory Studies Program, provided a wide understanding on campus policies, procedures, and courses so that I could help interpret those with undecided students entering for their first year. Teaching ALS 114, Career Decision Making, offered a glimpse into the academic affairs and instruction side of the university, yet with subject matter that was developmental and personal in nature for each individual student, so that the course became a kind of graded group advising. Finally, in my previous graduate degree at Colorado State University, I taught both composition and creative writing, and I worked as a writing center consultant. These experiences also shape my understanding of various functional areas within institutions. I have learned, through these hands-on experiences, that each functional area is quite permeable and fluid, even as it takes on specific responsibilities, because of the necessity for collaboration across departments and areas if students are going to have a cohesive learning experience.
Of course, I was not able to sample all of the functional areas first-hand, and this is learning that I will continue to do. It is imperative that I have an understanding of the resources available for students, no matter what functional area I find myself working in, so that I can be a referral agent to those resources. This fact is not something I was aware of when I was teaching at Colorado State. Our training there was quite focused on content knowledge and activities to engage students in learning, but I did not know about the wider resources available to students at CSU. It is clear to me now that this was a huge oversight, and that each employee of the institution needs to have at least a basic understanding of the resources that students can access if and when they need them. Wherever I land when I finish this program, it will be one of my first orders of business to gather information about the various functional areas on my campus so that I can be referral agent to those students with whom I come into contact.