As part of Careers in Student Affairs Month, we have invited individuals from different ACPA entities to share their unique perspectives on the field through Career Spotlight Q&A pages. We hope these will be a valuable resource for individuals considering work or graduate school in student affairs and higher education. This submission is from Kate Smanik, representing the Commission for Spirituality, Faith, Religion & Meaning (CSFRM). For more information on the Commission's work, please visit their webpage.
Why did you choose a career in student affairs?
I didn't know I was choosing a career in student affairs, actually. My master's degree is in theology and I entered graduate school to pursue ordained ministry. From the moment I realized that I might want to be a minister I knew I wanted to work with college students, not in campus ministry but instead in Chaplaincy. My passion was never for ministry in a single faith context, I wanted to ask questions of meaning, belief and purpose in a religiously diverse space. As many chaplains now report to the VP of Student Life or Dean of Students instead of the President we have become Student Affairs professionals by default. This accidental choice has been a wonderful fit for me. The intellectual questions of student affairs have become a part of my daily life as I'm now pursing an EdD in Higher Education and Student Affairs at Indiana University. Ultimately, I would like to research the continuing role of Chaplaincy in higher education.
Why did you choose your particular functional area?
I am fascinated by the interactions between faith communities, and across faith lines. My work in Chaplaincy has allowed me to explore religious diversity alongside students. Together we ask questions about how diversity is defined, what it means to respect religious pluralism and how religious conviction can be used to better society. These are questions that were compelling to me as a college student and I now feel privileged to continue to ask them every day.
What does a typical work week look like in your particular functional area?
This is a tricky question. I was recently promoted and now have oversight of our Center for Spiritual Life, Center for Peace and Justice, Bonner Scholars Program and Community Service programs. These areas mesh extremely well, but have dramatically changed my working week! My days are a mix of one on one conversations with students, a range of meetings to attend - I am a member of our Diversity and Equity Committee and the Advisory Committee for our Undergraduate Ethics Institute for example - supervision of staff, and day to day support for our student religious organizations. I am responsible for everything from planning our Baccalaureate service, to supporting students when major events are scheduled on the Jewish High Holy days. I am sure it is true for many Student Affairs Professionals, but what I love most about this job is that no two days are the same.
What is the most rewarding part of your job, and what is the most challenging part?
The most rewarding part of my work is the joy that comes with helping students explore and share their faith. For example, over the last few years we have worked to expand our campus celebration of Diwali. We now have a lovely puja at the beginning of the event, and the only fireworks allowed on campus during the end of the event. Watching our small Hindu population share a piece of their faith with their classmates, faculty and staff is incredible. Last year's attendance at this event was close to 100 people - on a campus of 2300 students that is impressive.
The most challenging part of my work is balancing the needs of small religious minority communities with the needs of the institution. Some of the changes we've made on campus - installing a washing station near our prayer room - have been easy, but other changes are a struggle. This fall we have had some difficult and important conversations about how we navigate scheduling during religious holidays. For students, faculty and staff from religious traditions that have a work prohibition on holidays these conversations are critical.
What is your top piece of advice for individuals considering a career in your functional area?
This one is likely to be a surprise - take the time to get a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). This training is offered at many hospitals around the country and is designed to help students become competent pastoral care providers in a clinical setting. It is open to people of all faiths and no faith (atheists welcome!). While it may seem to be unrelated to the work of a Student Affairs professional it is invaluable training for learning how to connect with people during their darkest moments and asses your own place in those conversations. A unit of CPE should be something you can complete over the course of a year, or a summer. If your background is in Student Affairs this training will also expose you to some of the language used in theological circles. To work in spirituality it is helpful to be competent in the language of theological study (not necessarily religious studies) as well as student affairs.
In your opinion, what are the top three attributes needed to be successful in your field?
Creativity - This field is changing rapidly. To adapt we need to be creative and open to new ideas.
Humility - At some point you will likely say something offensive. It is just too hard to know everything about every faith. Humility will allow you to forgive yourself and be open to the teachings of others so you do not make the same mistake twice.
Hospitality - Creating space for religious diversity on campus is about welcoming the stranger. Professionals in this field must cultivate a spirit of welcome in their offices and in their person.
What do you believe will be the key trends, issues, and challenges in your functional area in 10 years?
In the next 10 years Chaplaincy will continue to diversify. A college Chaplain or Director of Spiritual Life (my previous title) will not necessarily need to be ordained, but instead will need experience with a variety of religious traditions. The question of who is best qualified to do this work will continue to be of significance, as will questions of how we assess this work. ACPA would benefit from collaborations with the National Association of College and University Chaplains and the Association of College and University Religious Affairs. While these people are not trained Student Affairs professionals, and may not see themselves in this field, it is important that we continue to talk to one another.
What additional resources would you recommend to a new professional in your functional area?
Look broadly at professional organizations. The Commission for Religion, Spirituality, Faith and Meaning in ACPA will have a lot to offer, but this can and should be supplemented by connecting with ACURA and NACUC - the professional organizations mentioned previously. This work is changing tremendously, finding a good mentor with broad experiences is an excellent way to learn more about the field and become the best possible professional.