Treading water

This is the third guest post in the #SAMid series. Thanks to Sara Ackerson for adding her voice to this important conversation.

Each year, as professional development opportunities come up, I see them: the “Mid-Level” institutes or seminars or conference presentations and I ask myself…”Do I fall into this category?” As Chelsea explained in her previous post, checking a box is just really not that simple. I go on to read the descriptions of these workshops and see the following text…

This curriculum is for those with at least five years of experience as a full-time professional and who are currently responsible for the direction and oversight of one or more functions and supervise one or more professional staff. (NASPA WRC Mid-Level Institute

Or this…

Your responsibilities include staff supervision, budget management experience, and designing and implementing programs. (NASPA Alice Manicur Symposium)

Well, I guess that answers my question. Each day I struggle with how to describe where I fall. I’ve been working, in a professional capacity, as a Higher Education Administrator for ten years; 5 years post-Masters. Ten years is clearly not a new professional. I’ve advanced in my positions as much as humanly possible, given the opportunities provided to me at my various institutions. What I lack is the supervision of full-time professional staff members. This really impacted my last job search as I hoped to move into an Assistant or Associate Director position but didn’t meet that one minimum qualification. How do you get past that? The basic logistics of it, but even deeper, the feeling that you’ve been treading water. I’ve supervised students, chaired committees consisting of professional staff members, and trained faculty. Still, I doubt myself because of sheer lack of opportunities.

Some of this is my own fault. I’ve worked at smaller institutions where the chance to move up just doesn’t exist. You can’t create a position out of thin air (and clicking your heels like Dorothy doesn’t work either). I managed a budget of quite a large amount as an undergraduate student running a student organization, yet I haven’t had that experience as a professional. How does that make sense? I chose to work in Academic Advising, where it is more difficult to move into a higher-level position, than say, in Residence Life.

So what do I do?

I’m constantly looking for opportunities to develop and grow my portfolio. I’m connecting with upper-level administrators at my current institution to network and simply learn from them. This has opened up opportunities to sit on task forces and our upcoming strategic planning committee. I keep my finger on the pulse of our department, our needs, (most important, our students’ needs), and ask about possibilities. This is really all I can do to keep from getting jaded. I’m asking “why?”, “how?”, “what can I do to help you make that happen?” Even more important to me, is that I’m helping other advisors and higher education professionals grow themselves. I’m chairing the Vancouver Advising Committee Professional Development committee which is giving me a unique opportunity to help shape our advisors, and then by default, our students’ experiences.

What opportunities are you grabbing ahold of to add to your own professional development? How are you filling the gaps in your portfolio? How do you get to supervise professionals if you’ve never supervised professionals?

Will I ever stop treading water?

This is me.

This is me.

Sara Ackerson spends her days as an Academic Coordinator in the Carson College of Business at Washington State University Vancouver. In her role, she creates new initiatives to best serve their unique student population and to craft meaningful experiences for all students on campus. In her free time, she is usually found snapping pictures of food, dogs, or other pretty things and hanging out with her two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Connect with her on Twitter: @sara_ackerson