Networking, a word we so often hear, but how often do we understand its importance and use it to the best of our abilities as professionals? By Webster’s definition, networking is to interact with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one's career. Read that again and let it sink in. Do we interact with people? Probably daily. Do we exchange information? Sure, we have to. Do we develop contacts? This is the tricky part. And even more difficult is to do all of these things and truly foster these relationships and cultivate them in order to achieve the final part of the definition, furthering our careers. How do we do this?
In reviewing websites that define networking in the business world and how to use it to your advantage, many say the same thing. Ask questions, set goals, follow up. That makes is sound incredibly simple! It isn’t always that easy. Many times, we as professionals only reach out when we need something, or to ask a favor of an acquaintance. I think the way to truly foster a relationship of this type is to be there for others frequently. Being there for someone else speaks far more positively of your character than if you are always the one doing the asking. You must first make yourself a resource. When people hear that you are very good at something and begin to turn to you it can make all the difference. You then have some “stock”, if you will, that allows you to be able to ask for favors without seeming to be a hindrance to your institution.
What does this have to do with Socioeconomic and Class Issues in Higher Education? Let me explain. To do so, I will tell you a story of when I was a Graduate Student. When I was a student first starting out in the field of Higher Education, I was not 100% certain how to navigate the waters. I quickly began offering to help with things that I could do. A quick portfolio for a supervisor, creating Excel sheets, benchmarking other organizations, the stuff that came naturally to me. What this did was create an atmosphere in which people turned to me to do these things because they knew I would do them and get the job done efficiently and thoroughly. As I further began to understand the organization, I was given larger, more important tasks. When people began to know who I was in a positive way, it made it very easy for me to begin to ask for favors. My first request was to attend the NASPA Annual Conference. My department could afford to send me to the Regional Conference, which I attended, but funds were not available to send me to more than one. My persistence paid off and another office on my campus that I had done some work for was able to see the need for me to attend and found the funds to make it happen. My first NASPA conference was GREAT! (Of course.) I was fortunate to attend, all because I had worked hard and networked with the right people who could (literally) get me where I wanted to be.
Now, as a professional in the field, I have not stopped doing that networking and letting people know what I am good at so that I may be able to make requests at a later time. I have created a program that never existed on our campus and have been fortunate enough to see it grow and expand, all from my networking ability. I have no personal budget, however, I am still able to attend conferences and get supplies and food and books and whatever my students may need because I can use my networking abilities to get resources without having any funds myself. So, the point here is, you can get wherever you want to be, regardless of your professional or personal economic status if you just contact the right people, work hard, and remember to always give before you take. This lesson has served me well and I hope it can serve you too!
Nicole Ferguson, M.Ed. is the Knowledge Community Regional Representative for Region IV-W. She is also a proud Arkansas Razorback. She has the opportunity at the University of Arkansas to serve as the Student Affairs Case Manager and Interim Title IX Coordinator. For more information about Region IV-W, visit their website at https://www.naspa.org/events/15R4WConf.