My idea of “professional” is slightly eccentric. I thought I would be running my own farm by now. My degree in Environmental Studies from Brevard College, along with my numerous internships and jobs working in agriculture, prepared me for that. But did my experiences prepare me to sit in an office and try to make connections with students, parents, teachers, and other educational professionals?
I put on my “big girl pants” to make a phone call. *Cue excessive throat clearing, fast heart beat, and the nervous sweats. When I called Travis from Mars Hill University, I was prepared to give my professional spiel. My spiel is fast and concise. It includes who I work for, what I do, what my goals are, how you can help me, and how I can help you. However, I never got to my spiel. Travis hit me with something completely unexpected, something I wasn’t prepared to answer. “How is your day today?” I was well-prepared to get right to the point, or even to answer the generic “How are you?” What am I supposed to do with “How is your day today?” Am I supposed to be honest? How much information do I give? Do I really tell him that it’s a Monday and that I am feeling a little overwhelmed, but I went on a run with my sweet dog before work and that makes my day so awesome? Professionalism in my mind has always been generic. If we all dress the same, and talk the same, then we are all professional.
That made me assume that even my interactions needed to be generic as well. It made me assume that there was a certain way to answer a question, a certain way to talk, a certain way to be. Working for CAC has debunked that myth for me. The main thing I have learned after my almost three months on the job is that the best way to be professional and to make connections with other professionals is to just be yourself.
I sit in my office all day and try to convince students that colleges really want to get to know them, but so often their interactions with me and other educational professionals are stiff and awkward. It takes them so long to get comfortable and to realize that I am a person, too. I want my students to really feel like they can be themselves when they step into my office. I want them to know that they will be accepted in this postsecondary world that feels so out of their reach right now. As a first generation college student, I too felt very out of my element just stepping on a college campus. How can I push for inclusiveness in the postsecondary world and not be able to promote it in my office?
I started to take that approach when speaking to teachers, students, and parents. I noticed that it sometimes catches them off guard, too: the students especially. They walk into my office (obviously nervous), sit down in the stiff chair I have in front of my desk, and stare at the floor. First, I try to get them talking about how school is going; most of them are extremely overwhelmed. College is just another thing that is weighing them down at the moment. My goal at the end of the meeting is to have gotten a couple smiles and a good amount of eye contact. Starting out with an honest conversation about their lives at the moment seems to help that.
Redefining what my students believe to be professional, will hopefully allow them to see themselves in the post secondary world. It will also allow my students to feel more comfortable reaching out to other educational professionals as well. I know that their admissions counselors, for example, are intimidating for them, but they just need to be reminded that they deserve to be there.
I told Travis at Mars Hill University all about my run, my cute dog, and how I love that the weather is changing. Then I asked him how his day was. It was easy. It should be easy. I work in a profession that can be overwhelming. It’s overwhelming for me, for admission counselors, for guidance counselors, and especially for students. It’s important for the people around you to feel like they can find comfort in you. That was probably a normal conversation for Travis, but as someone who is new to this professional, blazer-wearing world, I appreciated the honesty in the conversation. Turns out, connections in the educational professional world and the garden aren't all that different after all. Everyone belongs here.
*Written by Adviser Molly Riddle