“Advice For New Student Affairs Professionals…and Refreshing Tips for Veterans” by Maggie Flynn

(I recently had the opportunity to meet an ACUHO-I intern at UF and she said she wanted to start blogging.  I am happy to host her first post.  It is full of fantastic insights-check it out!)


This summer, I had the privilege of being an ACUHO-I intern at the University of Florida.

A dear friend of mine encouraged me to apply for the internship, to get more experience in housing and residence life.  I was apprehensive at first; I would be interning AFTER I graduated (most graduate students intern the summer between their first and second year).  In the end, I decided to at least apply, and I am SO thankful I did!

During my internship, I was able to meet several remarkable professionals in the field of student affairs.  Through formal and informal meetings, I collected valuable advice for new student affairs professionals.

1) Begin your intentional, self-directed development plan.  This was strongly emphasized by the Associate VP of Student Affairs at the University of Florida, Norb Dunkel @norbdunkel, a former ACUHO-I president.  He encourages his staff to have daily, weekly, and long-term professional goals.  He says that people with a plan tend to advance quicker in the field of student affairs.

As a newbie, it is difficult to know exactly where I want to be in five years.  I have no idea what my self-directed development plan is…but I do know that I need to start thinking about what my passions are and where my interests lie.  It is important for me to set daily, weekly, and monthly goals, and for me to have a plan for how to accomplish those goals.  It is difficult to have a long-term plan without a long-term goal, but knowing that I need to start thinking about it will help me take baby-steps in the right direction.

2) Get involved and get connected.  As a new professional, it’s important to learn your position and understand the institutional culture.  What better way to do that than to get involved on campus?  You can start out by going to programs, helping with events, and/or joining a committee.  The more you get involved, the more people you’ll meet.  The more people you know, the better connected you’ll be.

In addition to getting involved on campus, try to get involved with a professional organization.  There are several to choose from.  Once you start to build your self-directed development plan, you’ll have a better idea of what organization you want to pick, but until then, you might want to talk to your supervisor or colleagues to decide which conference to attend or which group to join.  But don’t just go to the conference- be a presenter or join a committee…get involved!

3) Read.  Once you’ve graduated, you may not have someone MAKING you read, or giving you assignments.  However, in the constantly growing and evolving field of student affairs, it is important for you to stay up to date with current research and best practices.  You don’t have to read every journal or article, but skim through things and read what applies to you or interests you.  I even joined twitter and now I follow other student affairs professionals to see what they’re reading or posting about.

4) Ask GOOD questions.  Obviously you don’t want to ask questions that you should know.  But think about what your student leaders or staff might ask, or what parents and students may want to know when they move in, and make sure you have answers.  Keep an open mind and learn how things are done at your new institution.  Think about what you can learn from your colleagues, and how they might help you in your new position.  Remain curious and inquisitive, and accept the fact that you do NOT know everything.  Last, but not least, the Assistant VP of Student Affairs at UF, Jeanna Mastrodicasa @DrJtotheMastro, encouraged me to read “The Art of Powerful Questions” by Eric E. Vogt.  I encourage YOU to read it as well.

5) Find a sponsor, a mentor, and a good friend.  Find a mid or higher-level professional to sponsor you.  This person should be well connected, and help you connect with others in the field.  This person should encourage you, inspire you, and keep you motivated.

Also find a mentor; someone who has been in student affairs for a long time and can coach you to the next level.  This person may be a former supervisor, professor, or someone you look up to.  Your mentor should be someone whom you admire and respect.  This is someone you feel comfortable talking to and who will give you helpful advice.

Lastly, it is important to have a good friend who understands student affairs.  This is your go-to person when times are tough; the person you can vent to, laugh with, and maybe even share a good cry.  This person should be trustworthy, and you should have a mutual agreement to keep all conversations between the two of you.

For those of you who have been in the field for a while, what advice might you have for new student affairs professionals?  What might you suggest we read?

For newbies like me- what are your first year goals?  How do you plan to get involved?

Maggie Flynn, Area Coordinator, Elizabethtown College


About annmarieklotz

I write about all things education, personal & professional development and growth. Once is a question, twice is a discussion and three times is a blog post! Born and raised in Detroit Michigan but currently calling the Pacific Northwest home. I work at Oregon State University and belong to a fantastic community of higher ed professionals around the globe! Lover of theater and the arts. Live your best life!
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1 Response to “Advice For New Student Affairs Professionals…and Refreshing Tips for Veterans” by Maggie Flynn

  1. Mary C. Jordan says:

    Maggie, thanks for sharing! I feel encouraged to keep current with my pro devo plan. Good luck in your new job!

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