I attended my first National Orientation Director’s Association (NODA) conference in 1995 as a new professional. In addition to making life-long friends and colleagues, learning and growing with colleagues about transition and retention was grounding for me professionally. When I worked directly with orientation programs, I talked about the transitions to the university environment with its challenges, opportunities, and growth. As professionals, we know about the transition, understand the various theories, and can talk about resources and support all day long to students and their families.
Here we are in 2023, and I find myself in a full circle moment. In the Fall of 2021, our oldest child started at an in-state school several hours away, and this fall our youngest starts their college journey where I currently work. When our oldest went through orientation and began at their university, I was flooded with so many thoughts of students and families I had worked with over the years. The discussions were about classes, meal plans, needing campus resources, family emergencies, job offers, and commencement celebrations. While I have spent nearly 30 years in student affairs work, it was humbling to think about student affairs professionals giving my child the same attention and investment. As we prepare to move our youngest into a residence hall in a few days, I am equally flooded with gratitude and respect for the work we do as professionals.
The work we do matters; the work you do matters. No matter where you are on your journey, what you do makes a difference and is important. In this time of polarization, increased pressure on the “value” of an education and expectations for heightened responsiveness, we must stay grounded in our profession. One of my mentors, Pat Geiger, who served as the long-time vice chancellor for student affairs at UNC-Wilmington, once said to me, “Student affairs defines the culture of a campus.” I believe that staying focused on students and the initiatives that help them thrive will define that culture she references. With the many challenges our students bring with them to our campuses, our profession continually evolves to meet these needs, and to drive better retention and graduation rates. In turn, these efforts help create social mobility and resilience for our students. When we are successful, our students are successful, and that impact is felt long after commencement.
So, as a long-time student affairs professional–and now-double parent–thank you. Thank you for the investment of time, mentorship, guidance, and encouragement in students. It matters to family members and the university community—but more importantly to each and every student. As we embark on a new academic year, keep focused on your “why” and working for the betterment of student experiences so they may thrive. It matters!
J.J. Brown serves as the vice president for student affairs at Appalachian State University and is a member of the NASPA James E. Scott Academy Board.