Jumping In with Both Feet

Working with and for students, many of us are constantly encouraging them to get involved, build connections, and to embrace learning both inside and outside of the classroom. This is great advice. It is also important for us as professionals and learners to take this advice as well. If we are looking to grow and get the most out of our experiences, we know this advice to be true, but similarly to many of our students, sometimes we just don’t know how to start or are too shy to reach out.

As a student advisor, I see myself as a connector. Someone who may not be an expert; but can connect people with the next step, right people, or suggest different methods along the way.

This blog post is no different. I am not a professional networker, tech guru, or expert in this field. What I am is someone who may be able to give you a push, a suggestion, or hopefully, a new idea or two. I want to challenge you to practice what you preach. I will share why you need to get engaged, give you a few tools to begin that process, and leave you with a call to action: engage.

According to Saks and Gruman (2014), engagement is:

“...characterized by energy, involvement, and efficacy—the direct opposites of the burnout dimensions of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy”.

Being engaged in your field and professional community makes you better in your role, just as students who are engaged in their community tend to be better students. Engagement provides us with ongoing idea generation, support from people who are in similar roles, and the knowledge needed to move from one role to the next.

In speaking with a new #SAPro, they had asked about the best way to get involved or be engaged in the larger field of student affairs. I am going to share with you the 3 suggestions I gave them, but would love to hear your suggestions as well!

ONE: Join local, national, and international associations!

While this may be actually getting a membership to an association, there are lots of other ways to engage with these associations without a membership. Many of these associations have articles, blogs, professional development opportunities, and list-servs that you can join - all without having a membership.
PRO TIP: If you join a lot of list-servs, consider creating a rule so they all go to one folder and don’t clog up your inbox.

Personally, I have found great value in being a reviewer for conferences that I am interested in, but cannot attend. It allows me to gain new ideas, read about what others are doing, and almost always gets me excited about our field. While not a comprehensive list, this will give you a good idea of some associations you could start with.

TWO: Engage with your Peers Online

I’m starting easy for you, this is the low hanging fruit. Online engagement is relatively low risk, and easy to do.

Twitter: Find a few #'s (hashtags!) that you want to follow, and then make an effort to follow what is going on. Not sure where to start? Look to leaders in the field, and see what #'s they are using. Some associations also have bi-weekly or monthly twitter chats for you to read, or even better, engage with! Here are some # suggestions: #SAPro #SAChat #SAGrad #edtech #HigherEd #SATech #SACdn

Twitter

Linked in: There are many ways you could engage with LinkedIn - articles to read, communities to join, and people to learn from. When thinking about your professional development, if you are unsure what skills to focus on, experiences to gather, or training to explore, you could reflect and look inwards or you could look to others. Linked in allows you to look at people who are in the roles you want to move into and see what they highlight. It gives you insight into their current role, and also the path they took to get there. Take the next step though, and actually reach out with those people you are looking at, don’t just look from a distance.

Pro tip: People can see if you have looked at their profile on the default settings, so check your settings!

E-mail others: When I started in student affairs, I had a role that involved a lot of cold calling and e-mail to learn about programs at other institutions. This process can be very awkward.

That experience gave great insight into the supportive and helping nature of our field. People are genuinely proud and excited of the work they do and they want to talk about it.

If they don’t, they won’t e-mail you back. Have the courage to e-mail others. Ask questions, and if you see a school doing something interesting, or encountering a similar problem to you, don’t wait until they present at a conference about it –look them up on the school website and e-mail them.

Pro tip: if you have connections in the field, e-introductions can be invaluable. Beware though, there is email introduction etiquette that needs to be followed.

THREE: Make time for it!

Being in a helping profession, it can be easy to put others before yourself. Similar to self-care, it is important that if you want to engage with your professional community, you need to make time for it. I tell my students, if something is a priority, schedule it in and commit to it like an appointment. The same goes for your engagement. If your employers encourage and value this type of engagement you may be able to do this while at work, if not set aside a regular time to devote to your engagement.

Employees who are engaged have high energy levels and are enthusiastic about their work (Bakker & Demerouti, 2008).

Doesn`t that sound like something worth investing in?

Pro tip: Lunches are often unused or misused time, book time over your lunch to engage with others, don’t let that time disappear.

tea with a colleague Rich et al. (2010) highlighted that when individuals are engaged they are investing their hands, head, and heart into their performance. Engagement will help you refresh, grow, enjoy your job, feel connected, and so much more. So, as I said at the beginning. I will leave you with this call to action: engage.