Professional DevelopmentThoughts, Feelings

Restarting the University Experience: My #RoadFrom(to)Ryerson(SA)

It’s hard to summarize the remarkable learning and development that I’ve experienced in my six years of undergrad. 42 courses at Ryerson University, 16 courses at the University of British Columbia, 1 big move across the country, 13 student leadership/staff positions, and countless projects, assignments, and papers. And, of course, so many powerful life-changing connections made with friends and colleagues.

It feels like months have passed since I submitted the last paper of my undergraduate degree. The remnants of finals period stress have faded, celebration parties have come to pass, I’ve been practicing a lot of self-care (aka sleeping and eating). However, I’ve already started to feel a little antsy and unsettled by all my free time.

I guess this is a good time to note that as I am writing this, only 7 days have passed since that paper submission. I’m obviously a bit of a recovering overachiever.

Being alone with my thoughts has given me more than enough time to think about my next steps. Many of my graduating friends are preparing for their first professional jobs in the industry or are still deep in the job hunt. A few people I know are balancing job offers, freelance, and their own passion projects. Others are running for an escape route by taking a much needed travel adventure. A lot of people I know are returning back to their families homes to recuperate whether that is mentally or monetarily.

After four long years, it seems to me that everyone’s paths are leading away from Ryerson University.

Mine? Well, it’s more like a U-turn.

Yes, like many before me, I have “fallen” into Student Affairs. Me, a person who moved all the way to Toronto to get a Bachelor’s of Design in order to pursue a career in the fashion industry! I have fallen into the warm welcoming embrace of RyersonSA and to my surprise, I am really excited about it.

I say surprised not to discount how grateful I am for this opportunity, but rather for the people who have known me at all these past six years. My career trajectory probably looked like a funnel that led into a job at a university. I’ve only ever worked at a university since I started and I clearly loved what I was doing. In addition to that, and I’ve said it many times before, my work in Student Affairs ties really nicely to what I studied.

I clued into the fact that I might be able to stay at Ryerson when there was chatter about it earlier in the year, and I honestly didn’t know what to think of it. Of course, I hoped there would be a place for me, but knowing the lay of the land, I didn’t really believe that a job opening would come up.

In addition to that, there was lots of internal questioning. Did I really want to work in Student Affairs? Did I want to neglect my program of study? I mean, did I really want my work to revolve around students? Especially after six years of doing just that?

Like being asked if I want guacamole on my burrito, the resounding answer to that is: I do. Those were the easy questions.

The question that was really hard for me was: Is this the safe route?

Professionally, for me, it felt like it was. It’s what I had become most familiar with. I had become extremely comfortable working in Student Affairs and there was a whole world out there I had yet to explore. I’ve found that all the successes in my life were due to me not taking the safe route. Didn’t I want to explore my options?

In retrospect, this question was answered for me when I attended the American College Personnel Association International (ACPA) Conference in Montreal for 5 days in March.

ACPA16 Student Staff Delegates

RyersonSA’s student-staff delegates at ACPA16 in Montreal.

The first couple days was a pre-Conference called NextGen, which was for graduating undergrad students and graduate students. Specifically, people who were interested in pursuing a career in student affairs and wanted to get a jump start. Meeting with students from schools in the states was wildly interesting. Things like religion, Greek systems, and political differences stood out when comparing Canadian and American higher education systems.

The following 3 days was the actual conference and it was eye opening. This is a massive conference with thousands of people who are full of ideas and knowledge. There are even student affairs celebrities! A common joke among SA pros is that for many student, their interaction with student affairs is strictly the “jumping jelly beans”; the very energetic, upbeat volunteers during Orientation Week or similar highly active programming. This is especially true in residence. Obviously, I knew that there was more to student affairs than that, but the conference sort of solidified to me that student affairs isn’t just a department in a school, it is a full blown industry—and maybe even lifestyle.

Each session I attended I learned more about issues and solutions that student affairs professionals have chosen to focus on as their expertise. With the wide range of educational institutions, each type of university has their own specific challenges and best practices. It was an exchange of information. It showed me that there was a lot of passionate people trying to do better for their communities.

Getting back to my original point, working in student affairs isn’t a safe route. It’s certainly not your typical office job. It’s definitely not meaningless and it’s far from boring. Attending the ACPA conference proved to me that there was a lot of work to be done and if we really are trying to meet the need of Ryerson’s diverse body of students—well, we’re certainly going to have to be agile and innovative.

For me, the #RoadFromRyerson is my road to RyersonSA.

It may be true that I have been “funnelled” into student affairs. For me though, that funnel is more like an hourglass and now that I’ve navigated through that narrow “getting a job” part, I know I will have a lot of room to grow my skills and expand my knowledge. With that said, I will be starting this summer as the first ever Events and Partnerships Specialist at Ryerson University! As I step into this transition, from student to professional, I will continue to document my experience, so stay tuned for my next post in which I will reflect on my first 6 weeks in this role.

Are you a new SA professional recently transitioned into the workforce? What has been your experience entering the whirlwind profession of SA? Current SA professionals, do you remember what your internal questions were before entering SA? How have those perspectives changed or transformed since then?

Let me know in the comments!

  • Troy Murray

    Great post Cathy! We’re excited to have you on board and looking forward to helping you fill that hourglass with meaningful work & experiences. I also fell into Student Affairs, I guess it was more like diving head first. I had no idea what I was getting myself into or if I would fit in. After two years of attending many SA conferences (CACUSS x 2, ACPA, NASPA) and learning from our own staff here at #RyersonSA, I’m continually inspired by the amazing stories being told about the work SA professionals do to help change the lives of our students for the better. My perspectives keep changing and my love for student affairs keeps growing.

  • John Austin

    So good, Cathy! Thanks for sharing. I’m glad you’re on our team, and I can’t wait to watch what you do!!