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My First Few Months

Small Colleges and Universities Division
October 9, 2015 Mary Olk Doane College

It’s mid-September. The Midwest weather cannot decide if it wants to be summer or fall. And I have officially survived my first move-in, orientation, programming events, and student-leader retreats. I have officially survived my first August as a new professional. (Cue the balloons, confetti, glitter, cupcakes and fireworks, but don’t forget to receive approval from the Safety Office for the fire.)

Hello, friends. I am Mary Olk, the Coordinator of Campus Engagement and Leadership at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska. This means I serve as the advisor to the Student Programming Board, I co-advise the student-led advisory board for the campus’ leadership program, I oversee the campus’ low-ropes Challenge Course, and I am the Residence Director for Hansen Leadership Hall. Doane is a smaller campus of 1,000 students, but it is constantly bustling with activities and enthusiasm.

I began my position on June 1 with absolutely no context for being a residence hall director (I attended a commuter college for my undergraduate degree), I had stacks of contracts on my desk for musicians, comedians, hypnotists, casino nights, and paint parties, I had a budget to sort out, and I had inherited the most magical group of students. I was overwhelmed with everything I didn’t know and everything I was trying to remember. I was anxious for my crisis response training to prepare for the ever-so-popular duty rotation (hashtag NeverLivedInAResidenceHall). And I was blissfully ignorant about the amount of work I truly needed to accomplish to successfully open a building, supervise my Resident Assistants, advise the programming board, and take on those other duties as assigned.

As I hopped along my “Mary” way into August, I came to a screeching halt when the time came for RD and RA training. I crawled through the quicksand to first-year move-in and orientation, and then I experienced this wave of blubbering emotions. I happy-cried throughout most of orientation, because of those “this is why I do what I do. I LOVE MY JOB,” moments. So, I grabbed my lifejacket and sailed away into the foggy abyss that is September with a mile-long to-do list in hand, homecoming activities invading my brain, and I attempted to jedi-mind trick myself that I knew how to do all of my job all of the time. (Note: Attempt failed due to being unrealistic. New attempt to accept that nothing is perfect, I will mess up sometimes, but I have the tools and skills to be great in my job is so far successful.)

Okay. Here’s the deal.

My job is a gem. I wear so many hats, which truly means every day is different. One minute I’m conquering leaks from toilets, air conditioners not working, and room moves, and the next minute, I’m approving purchases for burlap tablecloths, mini foam fingers, crowns and sashes for homecoming royalty, and popcorn machines. My office is swirled with orange Room Condition Reports from the residence life aspect and ribbons and mason jars that will serve as decorations for the programming board’s coffeehouse series.

And, here’s the other deal. I wear so many hats. (I know, I already said that.) Many people who work at small colleges and universities can relate. It is the greatest benefit and sometimes the greatest challenge. I will gain experience in student activities, residence life, and leadership programming, but to the nature of our work, that means I am maxed out for a good majority of each semester.  

Work-work balance becomes difficult, because I have to make sure I am giving the necessary attention to all aspects of my job, and work-life balance becomes even more difficult, because I’m going home and catching up on the 100 unread emails flooding my inbox that were pushed to the side because I have meetings and events galore.

Although I struggle finding the necessary balance (and time to sleep), I am never bored. There is always a new project to complete, new processes to implement, and new ideas to run with. Who doesn’t love the sound of that?

I am not siloed in my job or my functional area; I am empowered to collaborate and serve all of the students in the best way. I am not bored from only being a residence director or only being the “student activities person”; I am constantly exploring new opportunities and conquering new challenges.

At the end of each day, even when I want to collapse from exhaustion and often throw the Internet, laptop, and cell phone machines out of the nearest window, I am humbled, thankful, and excited to have the opportunity to be where I am. Small colleges and universities are where I belong. The fact that I have seen or spoken to a large majority of the first-year students makes my heart smile. The fact that I have easily built solid relationships with the IT department, some faculty, and facilities is always reassuring.

The small college and university may be overlooked for all of the things it is not, but I am so proud to call one home for every single thing that it is and that it does.