Author Eric Ries writes, “A pivot is a change in strategy without a change in vision.” I connect deeply to this idea as I finish out my first year in my current VPSA role. A hallmark of my 20+ year career has been a desire to work at institutions where my values directly align, and where my skills will have the most impact. Within those roles, I have been less focused on defining myself within a specific institutional type. I spent the first decade of my career at a private liberal arts college and an R1/Big 10 institution. I spent the next decade in the Florida community college system. Last summer, I brought my skills to a new institution as the VPSA at AGM University. This private, non-profit, bilingual institution was founded over 70 years ago in Puerto Rico by educational icon Ana G Mendez and serves a population of 95% Latino-identifying students, many of whom are Spanish-speaking.
When first approached about this role, my initial instinct was to decline the interview, owing to my limited Spanish skills. Without the ability to communicate directly with students, I feared I could not successfully advocate for or champion student needs. I did accept the call, and I am deeply thankful that I did. This institution’s mission was groundbreaking, and I wanted to be part of it. So here I am, one thrilling-and exhausting-year later, and I find myself regularly interspersing Spanish into my everyday speech, loving Puerto Rican food, and finding it hard to remember ever working in just one language.
I have relied deeply on my humility over the past year as I intensified my efforts to immerse myself in the literal language and culture of my new university. I’ve worked with a tutor and am immersing myself in Spanish language shows, music, news, and podcasts to try and bridge that concerning communication gap. Google translate – although not perfect – is my constant work companion. And most importantly, I ask for help from my colleagues and students, who are generous with their time and feedback.
Although I’m not able to communicate as fluidly with students as I would like to, I’m focusing on the “connection, not the perfection." It is amazing how quickly I form bonds with my students as we are both learning a new language. They see a fellow learner doing their best, and we are immediately connected.
It's hard to learn a language, navigate a new culture, and figure out the unique norms and expectations of a new academic community. I keep reminding myself that our students do it many times over, each day on our campuses and in our communities. I’m thankful that I’m still learning in this season of my career, still exploring new aspects of this rewarding field, and still finding authentic ways to connect with students.
About the Author,
Claire Brady, EdD is the vice chancellor of student affairs at AGM University and a member of the James E. Scott Board. You are most welcome to engage with Claire on Twitter: @clairelbrady and IG: @drclairebrady.