Katie's Capstone

 
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Culmination Paper

Thinking about my decision to start the College Student Affairs (CSA) program at Azusa Pacific University two and a half years ago brings back a lot of memories. I had just graduated from APU as an undergraduate, and was very interested in working with college students. Though I was not entirely sure that I wanted to start graduate school immediately, it seemed that the doors opened, and I could not pass up the opportunity. Dave and I had just gotten married, and we were trying to figure out what we wanted to do. Although all of our immediate family was in Illinois, and we had no secure jobs or housing, we both felt the desire and call to stay in Southern California. So, shortly after we got married, we made the decision to go to California, stay with friends, and pursue whatever doors God would open for us. Two days after coming to California, I was offered a Resident Director position at Cal Poly Pomona, Foundation Housing Service (CPP, FHS). This position provided housing for Dave and I, and we were able to move in the following day. This ultimately secured my decision to start the CSA program at APU while working at CPP, FHS. Watching God open doors and answer prayers was very exciting and encouraging.

As an undergraduate, I worked for two years as a Resident Advisor (RA). I loved the relationships that I formed. I also loved the opportunity to challenge my residents to learn about themselves and how God had created them. Working as an RA was what first got me interested in the field of Student Affairs. I have always known that I wanted to work with people; I just was not sure in what capacity. My senior year, as I was talking with mentors and others in my life, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career that would enable me to daily be in people's lives. What specifically drew me to Student Affairs was that college was a life changing time for me, and I wanted to help others during this time of life. During college, I started to understand myself on a different level - creating my own values, asking questions about life, and challenging the beliefs that I was raised with. By working with students, I can challenge their ways of thinking, helping them to see outside of their personal worldview, as well as walk alongside of students as they laugh, struggle, learn, and experience many new things.
 

What have I learned about myself?

When thinking about what I have learned about myself as I have journeyed through the last two and a half years, there are several key things that come to mind. First, I have learned that I like working in a personal, one-on-one or small group setting more than I like working in a large group or upfront position. Though I do not mind giving presentations at times or being in the front, I really enjoy and believe my gifts function better in more intimate settings. Working in Residence Life at two different schools has given me a variety of experiences with students. At Cal Poly Pomona, Foundation Housing Service, I worked with a staff of 13 Community Advisors, three Resident Directors, and an Assistant Director of Residence Life. We had staff meetings with all 17 of us. This experience challenged my leadership abilities and helped me grow in my understanding of my gifts and abilities. I found that I do not enjoy trying to get a group of 17 people to function effectively together, listen to one another, and share ideas. At Azusa Pacific University (APU), I work with a student staff of nine. Though this is still a fairly large group, I work much better in this setting. It has been easier for me to create community within my staff and in our meetings. I like having time for people to share how they are doing and how the staff can support one another. On the whole, the smaller environment and one on one relationships give me the opportunity to truly develop people. I like to challenge how people treat one another, ask questions, take time to listen, and make personal lives and experiences part of the overall Residence Life job experience. Because I value relationships so much, it makes sense to me why I work better in more intimate settings - I love honest and vulnerable relationships and believe that sharing experience (personal and work related) helps people grow. I also love asking questions that make people challenge their personal worldviews and see the viewpoints of others.

A second thing that I have learned about myself is that I try to see the best in people no matter the situation. I tend to be a person who will find good in people and encourage positive aspects about them. In my Counseling II class, I had the chance to take the Strengths Finder test, which identifies strengths about my personality. One of my strengths is called "Maximizer". This means that as a part of who I am, I try hard to pull the best out of people and help them see the good in how they are created. During my time as an RD and in the CSA program, I have seen this be true in how I approach those I supervise. Though I hold people accountable when needed, I almost always work to find ways to encourage them. I have discovered that people work better and do a better job when they think that I have trust in them and their abilities. They are more receptive to feedback when I can give constructive criticism alongside of encouragement about what they are doing well. Though seeing the best in people is usually a good thing, it also has its downsides. It can be a challenge for me to be assertive and direct in confrontation because I do not want to offend people. This is something that I have grown in as I have been in the CSA program and working with students. I have had many opportunities to confront a situation or evaluate someone's performance. Although it has been a challenge at times, I have truly come to value constructive criticism. It provides instances for growth and adds accountability.

Another way that my perspective on student life has developed during the past few years has been in my understanding of what it means to really listen and walk alongside of people. I know that my influence in students' lives ultimately flows out of my relationship with God. I have learned that as I seek God and ask for Him to direct my daily interactions, it becomes easier to love and serve my students. It also helps me keep a realistic perspective about why I want to work in Student Affairs. There are so many times when this field can get overwhelming because of working with so many people as well as having paperwork and administrative tasks to do. I have been challenged to continually place people over paperwork, even when I am behind. I never want to reach a point where I am working in Student Affairs simply to do paperwork and the task pieces of my job. Rather, it needs to stay about people, listening to them, and placing value in how they have been created. The past two and a half years have stretched my understanding of what really matters. I am a very responsible person, and it is hard for me to give up the task parts of my job at times. But, ultimately, I hope to continue growing in my abilities to truly value people enough to listen to both the joys and challenges of life, even if it means being interrupted at times.

What have I learned about life?

One thing that has been affirmed over and over the past few years is that there are often no easy answers - life is not black and white. There have been many times in working with students that I have asked God why something happened or what He is trying to do through a certain situation. My understanding of people has been stretched because I have seen that there are many ways to interpret situations. My way is definitely not always right, though it does have value. But, I have also learned to place significant value on how others think and feel. Others' worldviews, perspectives, and opinions are just as real as my own. It has been a journey that I know will continue for the rest of my life - to learn how to work in the midst of many opinions and answers for why and how things happen. Overall, I have seen that in life answers do not come easily. The world is full of many answers to the same question. For me, I have learned and am continuing to see that I am a piece of the picture, with my own views and opinions and answers, but that others also have their own interpretations of the same questions. I love the diversity education that comes as a result of working and studying in the field of Student Affairs.

Relating to the above paragraph, another thought I have in terms of life can be seen in the statement, "life is not fair". I have always known this, but it has been emphasized through the stories of my students. I do not have answers for why someone dies, why people get terminally sick, why people are discriminated against because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, or something else. There have been times over the past few years that my heart has broken over the stories of my students. I am learning how to walk alongside of students and encourage them through difficult situations that simply do not seem fair. Working with people so closely can be a challenge because I am often faced with situations that break my heart. It is hard to see people hurt so deeply and not be able to do anything to fix it; I am simply able to listen and provide support. Life is not fair. Yet, my hope rests in God. Though I do not have answers to all of these questions, my job is to help students see that they can overcome difficulties and that God will help them through. I also know that God does not always like the unfairness of this world. Working in student life gives me the opportunity to help students find hope in the midst of trials. I can also be an advocate for all students, working hard to help people see that they have value.

Challenges/Frustrations:

One of the biggest challenges working in student life has been the issue of boundaries. I work where I live, which creates unique challenges in itself. At all hours of the day, I may have people knocking on my door, wanting to talk to me about a specific problem, or just wanting to hang out. Because of this, I have been challenged the past few years to define what is truly important in my life. I have needed to be intentional about my priorities, making sure that I give time to what I value. Though I know I need to give time to my priorities, it has been a challenge for me to learn how to give time appropriately to my job, school, my family, my friends, and myself. I have struggled a lot with knowing that I can easily give a lot of time to my job, which circulates mostly around relationships, and get burned out. Because I love people, it can be hard for me to say no to conversations or events. It has been a learning process for me - learning what to say "yes" and "no" to, what to give my time to, when to not answer my door or phone, and how to keep myself healthy. Mostly, I have come to learn that I must take care of myself to be effective in any of my relationships. If I spread myself too thin, I get stressed out and ultimately end up not really giving myself to anything. I have truly come to value the thought that I want to make a significant difference in the lives of a few students rather than simply scratch the surface with many. I know that boundaries will be a continual struggle for me working in student life. There are so many great opportunities and people that I can give my time to, but it is crucial for my sanity that I hold strong to my priorities and take seriously the need to take care of myself.

A second challenge that I have experienced over the past few years has been the environment in which I have worked. One of the questions that I am still trying to figure out for myself is the type of environment in which I want to work more long term - Christian or secular. During the past few years, I have had the opportunity to work in both environments, each having positive and negative aspects. In both environments, I feel that I have been able to encourage students and help them see their worth as individuals. In both settings, I absolutely loved my students; they help give me so much energy and drive to work. In the secular environment, I struggled knowing when it was appropriate for me to openly talk about my faith in God. It was also difficult to know how to best challenge students without imposing my own values and beliefs on them. In the Christian environment, I struggle when working with students who are apathetic and simply do not integrate their faith into their daily lives. Yet, in the Christian environment, I can openly talk about my faith. There is also a greater understanding of grace in the Christian environment; when working with students, the desire of the institution truly is to create learning opportunities that will prompt growth. The frustration and challenge for me have come in learning about my own passion for students. There are days that I love the Christian environment and the support I receive from both my professional and student staff. Yet, I cannot help but wonder about the impact that I could have in a secular environment. My days at Cal Poly Pomona brought a lot of joy. I loved being able to speak encouragement and truth into the lives of the students I worked with. By simply caring about them, I became an example of Christ's love. In an environment that sometimes seemed hopeless, my energy and passion for life was enough to make people ask questions about the God I love. So, this challenge and frustration continues for me. I want to be where I am called by God to be - whether this is in a Christian or secular environment. I do not feel that I know the answer to this question yet. But, I know that I want to be sensitive to God's leading in my life to go where He wants. The journey is going to be tough no matter what; it will have ups and downs. I simply want to be available to go where the doors open and God leads.

The past two and a half years have been so full of learning for me - both professionally and personally. The CSA program and my jobs have challenged me to define what is important in my life. I have also grown in my understanding of people and diversity. Because of my classes and the people I have worked with, my worldview has been stretched and defined. Real learning is a continuous journey - it will never end; though I am further along than I was two and a half years ago, I believe that I still have so much to learn and will continue to define and re-define my worldview. I am not sure what the future holds for me in terms of structured schooling, but I know that I will be intentional to learn and educate myself for the rest of my life.

Personal Growth Plan:  

      Invest in my relationship with Dave - support, encourage, and challenge him in both his personal and professional life

      Take time to read more about politics

      Buy a House

      Travel

      Get actively involved in church through small groups, working with high school ministry, etc.

      Create time in my days to do things I enjoy - running, going to Starbucks, hanging out with friends, etc.

      Complete a mini-triathlon or run a marathon

      Develop my relationship with Jesus by being consistent in my learning about God's character and love for me

      Travel - Europe, a cruise, Australia, or somewhere else fun!

      Maybe look into Doctoral programs (closer to 5 years)

Professional Growth Plan:  

      Obtain an Associate Director or Director level position in Student Affairs

      Become more involved in professional associations such as ACPA and NASPA

      Attend at least one national conference every year

      Find ways to connect the Student Life, academic, and administrative aspects of the college/university experience

      Publish an article in a professional journal (Journal of College Student Development, NASPA journal, Journal of Higher Education, etc.)

      Present at a national conference such as ACPA or NASPA

      Research Doctoral programs in Higher Education across the country

      Serve on various committees within the campus where I work

      Maintain positive relationships with various offices on campus; find ways to partner with others on campus in supporting student development

 

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