Friday, November 7, 2014

I "HEART" Student Affairs

As I was going through chemo, heading into the Halloween weekend, I thought about my large family of student affairs colleagues.  A Friday Halloween followed by a daylight savings time change is just handing college students an invitation to be creative - in good and not so good ways.  I reflected on security plans, on-call protocols, plans, e-mails, texts, and so many conversations that at their core were about keeping students safe and helping them make good decisions.  While at BU, “Make Good Choices!” was often the Friday send-off to our student employees and on Halloween Friday, I had that moment of missing students, missing colleagues, wanting to be part of those conversations.  

I recently re-joined NASPA after a one-year hiatus and joined as an Emeritus/Retired member because it was what closest matched my current situation.  How funny, I’m retired!  Yes, I’ve been looking into a little beach shack.  Around the same time I joined, I also received an e-mail about the ACPA/NASPA committee on professional competencies.  I reviewed the current competencies and thought about how I’ve applied my skills; I feel like such a competent cancer patient!

  1. Advising and Helping -- Changing roles from advisor/helper to advisee/helpee has been rough - I’m pretty sure my control issues got a wee-bit worse!  How many times did I tell a student not to hesitate to ask for help?  I got better asking for advice, but I think my wake-up call was watching us struggle as a family and knowing I can’t be my own kids' counselor.
  2. Assessment, Evaluation, and Research - Having a foundation in this area has been empowering because I can talk to my doctors and ask the important, research-driven questions...and help Steve get his scientific head wrapped around each step of the process.
  3. Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion - To me, what is key here is openness.  When I was first diagnosed, I was scared and felt guilty, like I caused my cancer.  That made it harder for me to reach out for support, to learn from others who had walked this path before me.  Being closed- off like that was such a waste of time.  I expanded my reach to let others in, and the people I’ve met, stories I’ve heard, and places I’ve gone this past 6 months has taught me so much about cancer, research and fundraising, and our healthcare system, including our military’s health care.
  4. Ethical Professional Practice -  I loved working with college students for many reasons and especially enjoyed it when they challenged us to think about policies, procedures, etc.  These experiences made me a better consumer-patient; I had to quickly assess the Boston medical team and the Fredericksburg medical team and ensure I was confident in their practices.
  5. History, Philosophy, and Values - Having a passion for the student affairs profession has helped me greatly.  Channeling my desire to best understand the who, what, where, and why of my cancer has led to learning more about oncology as a profession as well as discovering interesting history related to HER2 positive breast cancer like Hollywood money is basically saving my life with Herceptin.
  6. Human and Organizational Resources - Making a connection to this competency is a stretch.  Except that my career path definitely helped me to resolve conflict with students and employees. Being a mom is tough work, being a mom with cancer has its extra challenges.  So, resolving conflict and de-escalating crisis is handled on a case-by-case basis and we know when to bring in HR (aka Granny).
  7. Law, Policy, and Governance - For me, this connects to assessment, research, and practice and I’m trying to use my investigative spirit (I believe student affairs professionals were detectives in their previous lives) to learn more about how our state and federal functions impact cancer diagnoses, research, and treatment.
  8. Leadership - I have been using a lot of cheerleading techniques to get my kids to rally around mommy’s booby problem.  Participating in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk was a really great way for the kids to feel like they are a part of something, that they aren’t alone.
  9. Personal Foundations - This has been key to facing cancer head-on.  Maintaining a balance as best I can and staying positive gives me the strength to fight.  Communicating each step of the process with the kids and modeling positivity will hopefully help them now and in the long term.
  10. Student Learning and Development - I miss the opportunities to employ theories and practices with college students, however, I love staying connected and hearing about what my colleagues are doing.  I continue to read journals and such because a) I never stop learning and b) I have plenty of time during chemo treatments!

What I came to realize is that so much of what being a student affairs professional is about, prepared me for walking this path with cancer.  Even better, I recognize that these are ever-evolving competencies that I can continue to develop.  I bet if you have anything going on in your life right now, you just might feel the same way too.