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 Melanie Guentzel, representing the Commission for Graduate and Professional Student Affairs. For more information on the Commission's work, please visit their webpage.
Why did you choose a career in student affairs?
I was a very involved undergraduate. I loved the campus environment and helping people grow and develop as students and individuals. I enjoyed organizing events, meeting new people, and learning everyday. I also knew that I wanted to be in an academic environment and that my skill set was administrative, so student affairs was a perfect fit.
Why did you choose your particular functional area?
My first position out of my master's was as Coordinator of Student Services for a graduate program. I discovered that I enjoyed working with adult learners in an academic setting. I found the diversity and complexity of working with graduate students energizing and I knew that I had found my place in higher education.
What does a typical work week look like in your particular functional area?
There are a wide variety of roles in graduate and professional student affairs. At my institution I am responsible for directing graduate student services from orientation through graduation so I never have a typical week. I work in academic affairs so I meet with faculty on student issues, curriculum, and student support initiatives. I work with a variety of student life offices on orientation, student programming and campus events. I represent the School of Graduate Studies on a variety of campus committees from academic policy to assessment to student success. I also meet with students, serve as a student advocate, supervise graduate assistants and advise the Graduate Student Organization. Every week is different and no week is ever boring.
What is the most rewarding part of your job, and what is the most challenging part?
Seeing students succeed in meeting their goals is the most rewarding part of my job. I enjoy working with students and faculty to solve difficult problems and assisting students in completing their degrees. It feels amazing to work with campus partners to pull together programs that have positive effects on the graduate student experience.
The most challenging part of my job is managing the breadth of my role. I have a lot of balls in the air that all have consequences for students if I don't keep them moving. Over the years, I have realized I cannot wear all the hats and provide all the services. I spend a lot of time developing and maintaining relationships that engage the campus to include and engage graduate students.
What is your top piece of advice for individuals considering a career in your functional area?
My advice for anyone entering student affairs is to know yourself, to be aware of your strengths and your weaknesses and to be able to honestly assess where you need to continue to do work. Anyone considering the area of graduate and professional student affairs should find energy in working with adult learners and faculty members.
In your opinion, what are the top three attributes needed to be successful in your field?
Patience, patience, and patience. It also helps to have good listening skills, an open mind, a willingness to collaborate, and a good understanding of campus politics.
What do you believe will be the key trends, issues, and challenges in your functional area in 10 years?
In the big picture of graduate education, demographics are shifting which means we need to make sure we are still enrolling and graduating a diverse body of students and that we are providing supports for the fully array of graduate and professional students. Financing of graduate and professional education is a big concern, as state dollars continue to shrink and federal grant dollars shrink, more cost is shifted to students already burdened by debt from undergraduate degrees. The need to prepare doctoral students for work beyond the academy is also a big issue. Online education is a huge trend in graduate and professional education and I am not sure we know where that is going to go. Graduate and professional student services providers are thinking about who our students are now, who our students will be in the future, what the societal needs for graduate education will be in the future and how we can support students and faculty members moving forward.
What additional resources would you recommend to a new professional in your functional area?
The Commission for Graduate and Professional Student Affairs, the Council of Graduate Schools, National Association of Graduate and Professional Students, National Association of Graduate Admissions Professionals, New Directions for Student Services Monograph on Supporting Graduate and Professional Students, and research/writing from Chris Golde, Susan Gardner, Barbara Lovitts, Mary Ann Mason, etc.