Tuesday, September 26, 2017

In the shadow of Kearsarge

Go. Go somewhere new. Exciting. Different. Get out of your comfort zone. Go somewhere you’ve never been before. Just … go.

You’ve heard those words before. Whether you’re reading this as a grad student or an undergrad student, or not even a student at all, I’m sure you’ve been told this before. You may have even given this advice to someone—If you have, I say to you: Thank you!

For the first time, this summer, I took that advice with regard to my higher ed career by accepting an internship for Bloomsburg University's College Student Affairs program at a tiny private college in the middle of nowhere New Hampshire, working in institutional research and strategic planning with the president there, areas with which I was geographically and professionally unfamiliar.

As it turned out, this proved to be one of the most powerful professional development experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve taken to calling it my “North Star Experience” because, while I learned a great deal from the people that I met there and the work that I did, my time there confirmed many things about my career path.

It affirmed my desire to work at small, private, liberal arts institutions, especially if they are located in somewhat rural areas with ample outdoor recreation opportunities (more on that later), and also my goal to eventually shift my professional trajectory from purely student affairs to the broader world of higher education administration.

A little bit about the place: Colby-Sawyer is a small (~1,100 students), private college in a very small, idyllic, quintessential New England town in the middle of vacationland New Hampshire, overlooked by the prominent Mt. Kearsarge. The College has captured what they call their “sense of place,” which is their identity as an institution, evident in their commitment to sustainability and respect for nature and to providing a multidisciplinary, experiential education to their students.

What really sold me on the place, however, was the people. From the president and senior leadership team to the students, everyone I met and spoke to was welcoming and possessed an inherent happiness, an excitement about they’re doing, and above all, hope for the institution. This is a place that has fallen on hard financial times in recent years and has responded with confidence, hope, and innovation.

If you have the opportunity to take the advice as stated in the beginning, do it. If you don’t have the opportunity, ask. My experience in New Hampshire happened because I had met the president when she worked in a different role at my undergraduate institution. I reached out to her last winter and asked if she would provide me with an internship opportunity. We all have a professional network, large or small, and it can be uncomfortable to utilize it and ask things of people. My advice: Get over that; ask anyway. As a grad student, you have the time and the ability, so take the opportunity.

Take a risk. Get a little bit uncomfortable. It’s worth it.

— Jonathan Gowin, college student affairs #EducationalLeadership #ProfessionalU

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