There are so many things I appreciate about working on a small college campus – and I’d better given that I’ve spent my entire professional career working at several of them! The list, while familiar, is also heartfelt. At small colleges and universities, we do “community” extremely well. We know our students personally. We embrace our responsibility for holistic student development, in and out of the classroom, on and off campus. We challenge and support students one at a time. We encourage the ideals of citizenship. We meet our students where they are at – individually! We’re used to wearing a lot of hats and thus tend to be strong resource people and problem solvers.
But small campuses have unique challenges as well. One of those is that we have a smaller number of staff responsible for getting all of the work done. For me, as a senior student affairs person, this means that I don’t have a lot of colleagues to consult with who really understand the work that I do. I deeply value my Gustavus deans and director colleagues but sometimes I just need to talk with someone outside of my institution that faces the same issues that I do. Most of my Masters and PhD cohort colleagues work at large research universities. While they are knowledgeable, they don’t always understand the unique challenges associated with a small campus.
Not long into my first SSAO position, I attended the NASPA Small Colleges and Universities Institute (SCUI) at the urging of a friend. It was there that I found the peer group that I needed. Not only did I appreciate the sessions and conversations from that first Institute I attended, I was also able to really connect with three other small college SSAOs in my area. After that Institute, the four of us began a tradition of traveling to each other’s campuses several times a year to continue the discussions that started at SCUI. I learned so much from those three vice presidents over the years that I worked near them – and it would not have happened without the connections made at SCUI.
I sincerely appreciate the opportunities for both formal and informal conversation about the challenges of being the SSAO at a small college presented at the Institute. Each time I attend, I come home with a list of ideas to introduce on my own campus and suggestions for managing some of the difficult topics with which I’ve been struggling. Moreover, I am grateful for the connections I’ve both established and continue to strengthen with other small college SSAOs who attend the institute. My SCUI colleagues are the first people I think of when I’m trying to work through a problem or need a second opinion. I have them on speed dial on my phone and I know that when I call or email, I’ll get great feedback from folks who really understand my work. It’s one of the reasons why I prioritize attending the institute. I’m looking forward to the 2016 NASPA Small Colleges and Universities Institute this summer in St. Paul, MN, and I’ll look forward to seeing you there as well!
For more information about the 2016 NASPA Small Colleges and Universities Institute, which will be held June 25-28, 2016 at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, or to register, click here.