Earlier this semester I was contacted by ACPA about a chance to interview, Dr. Gavin Henning, the current ACPA President, for my blog. I considered deleting the email and reporting it as spam before I realized that it wasn’t a joke.
Flash forward a few weeks later and I was on Google Hangout on a Monday morning, after spending the weekend trying to make my residence hall wall background look less like a basement and more like an office, having a thought-provoking and relevant conversation about this work called Student Affairs. I hope you all enjoy our, at times random due to my questions but, relevant conversation on the job search, changes in the field, activism, and why our work is important.
On Why You Do The Work
One of my favorite questions in interviews is asking someone why they do what they do. We can read a job description about what they do and most people can spout off their job responsibilities but getting to understand why someone does something is where you start to understand who they are and what they value.
Gavin is currently a faculty member and Director of the Doctorate of Education and Master’s of Education in Higher Education Administration at New England College. He said he not only enjoys that role but sees it as a way to give back.
“Well I enjoy it, that’s probably one of the biggest things, you want to do something that you love and I feel like I’m making a contribution. I feel like I’m able to give back from what I’ve learned and what I’ve learned from other folks and help educate the folks that will be educating students moving forward. I hope that some of the skills and knowledge that I’ve acquired over the last 20, 25 years in Higher Ed I’ll be able to help new professionals and grad students to be able to do that same kind of work.”
On The Job Search and His First Job
Admittedly, I was very grateful to have the chance to interview Gavin and share with you all the knowledge he imparted but I was really looking to ask the questions that I wanted to know the answer to as well! The “job search” is this big ominous thing that everyone has different advice for though no job search looks the same. In that same regard the transition from graduate student to full-time professional is different for everyone. So let’s jump into that part of the conversation!
I asked, “What was your transition from grad school to your first professional role like?” Gavin responded, “It was really difficult. I did my undergrad at Michigan State University which was only about an hour and a half from where I lived in Michigan. I stayed at Michigan State to do my grad work so it was not a huge transition to go from undergrad to grad school work. I was close to family and I was comfortable and had some of the same connections with folks that I made in undergrad. It did feel like two more years at undergrad.”
“So when I got the position at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) it was a big transition. So that was when I finally felt like I was on my own. I was driving halfway across the country on my own and not really sure what was going to happen. It was definitely outside my comfort zone, so I was scared but also excited. I wasn’t sure what the next step was going to be. I was fortunate to have a supportive staff, the other Hall Directors on campus were great at helping me transition. The overall transition wasn’t as difficult as I thought but it was a big jump to go from somewhere where I was familiar. Even though Michigan State is huge, I felt comfortable there, I worked in Orientation, I was an RA so I knew the Student Affairs side of things, even in Grad School I worked in the Student Services office. I was a Grad Hall Director so I was pretty connected to all of that. It wasn’t as bad as I thought but it was new. I had a lot more autonomy than I had before, the Hall Directors at UNH did all of their own assessment and programming model and had to really trust in what I knew and go on instinct.”
How have you seen the role of Student Affairs change?
“The two biggest changes I think between now and then is one, technology. I used a computer for the first time in grad school. Because personal computers weren’t big in the 80s and late 80s. Actually, I didn’t use internet until my second year as a Hall Director and even then it was dial-up service, it was very slow. There wasn’t anything. So the technology that’s available today in terms of accessing information, connecting with students and the ability to use the technology to track students to help support them is dramatically different from what we ever had. So there are a lot of possibility there but we are also seeing some challenges with social media. Where social media is great to connect with but there is also this…I’ve started noticing students sitting in the same room with each other texting one another! So in that way the technology has kept us more closely connected but has also separated us. We have students that are lacking interpersonal skills, that has caused some big changes.”
“I also think the change in student demographics has been pretty remarkable. Not just in race and ethnicity but even what we have seen in the last few years about Trans identified students. And what are some of the implications for our old systems. Also veteran students. When I was at Dartmouth we had a push to bring in veteran students because our President at the time had been in the Marines but what we hadn’t thought about were what are the implications of bringing first year students who are in their late twenties onto a residential campus. So we hadn’t thought this through. So we had these 27-28 year-old students saying that they don’t want to have an 18 year-old roommate. Then some of them wanted to get through the program as quickly as possible but summer classes weren’t offered. Dartmouth was a truly residential college. So our systems weren’t set up for those type of students. Same thing goes for Trans identified students our current systems are very gendered so we need to figure out how to adapt to that.”
As I have mentioned on my blog before, I sometimes struggle with what my role in social change and activism can be now that I am a professional and not a student. My activism used to be going to marches, writing editorials in the newspaper, and any other way my voice can be heard. Now I am looking at how I can continue being an agent of change while doing what I can so that I can support my students. Gavin here lends his thought on the role of activism in student affairs.
“Well I have a couple different perspectives, one is the perspective of activism in terms of change, changing society and I think all of us…I go back and forth! I think activism is important. If we look at any social movements and change in society, it’s been through activism. Things don’t change when people are quiet or happy with the status quo. But I’m also concerned about for some people, that form of activism and social change doesn’t really fit who they are. I think there are many ways to be active, I want to be cognizant of…in many ways I want to be inclusive of how people can be activists and make change. Some people want to go protest, some want to write letters to the editor of a paper. Some people blog about topics. Some talk about topics to people in person or bring them to class so I think there are multiple ways to be active. But I think our whole goal is to make society and the world better. So I think we all have to find what role fits us best. I want to make sure we aren’t judging folks that may not appear to be active and maybe they are in other ways.”
“So that’s the societal change piece. The other piece is our students and their activism. The reason I think about that is because one of my doctoral students did his dissertation on moral development of students that engage in protest. He calls it ‘non collaborative activism,’ particularly a lot of the students he talked with were involved in the Occupy movement. Particularly Occupy Boston and there was an Occupy Dartmouth movement. What he learned was that actually participating in those protests foster their moral development. And so, aside from the societal change impact there is also a personal development impact. I think both from our students but from us as individuals. That’s another important reason to be involved in it but some people participate in different ways so I would love to have the conversation begin to broaden to how are the many that we all can be active in making change.”
I had a great time with this interview and was so thankful the chance to interview Gavin. Though this seems like a lot I didn’t include everything that we covered! As you all know I like to write about what I feel and maybe some of the other topics we touched on will be more relevant later but until then I think this enough of a read for anyone.
Until next time,