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Working Full-Time, Attending Grad School Full Time, and a Pandemic: How I Survived the Journey

New Professionals and Graduate Students Graduate New Professional
November 10, 2020 Corinna Kraemer

January 2020 feels as if it was a decade ago - actually scratch that - a century ago. Since that January, my life has felt like it’s been turned upside down, and I’m sure yours has felt that way too.

With enough news after that fateful month to replace all of the anecdotes in Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire, 2020 also brought me to the end of my Master’s in Education from Springfield College and the beginning of a new career - at the same time.

In January 2020 I was offered my dream job with the caveat that I would have to work both full time and finish my remaining studies full time. I decided that being an Academic Advisor at Goodwin University was my dream opportunity I could not let pass by.

I have been a full time Academic Advisor for Health and Natural Sciences students at Goodwin University for seven months now. For three of those seven months I was a full time graduate student.

I was warned by supervisors, mentors, and colleagues that working full time and going to grad school full time would be a challenge. BOY were they right.

My typical day started at Goodwin at 8AM and finished at Springfield around 9:30PM, with an hour drive back home afterwards. It was exhausting. I will openly admit I over-frequented the Springfield Taco Bell for a quick bite between the transition from work to school to the point where the cashier likely knew my 3:30PM order by heart (black bean crunchwrap and nachos with cheese).

For anyone reading this thinking about working full time and attending graduate school full time my recommendation is this: plan ahead and get ahead. The only way my GPA survived was by working on projects ridiculously ahead of time - often 3-4 weeks ahead - and finding small chunks of downtime to work on the project bit by bit. This often made group projects a challenge with my strict schedule and necessity to plan ahead rather than my previous grad school strategy of waiting until the last minute to finish a powerpoint. Luckily, I shared the classroom experience with other working adults with families and other large time commitments on their plates.

One month after I started at Goodwin the pandemic hit and we needed to work completely remotely. I was devastated.

Barely through my initial training, I felt as if I would drown under the weight of suddenly transitioning all of my work with students to 100% online and all of my graduate courses to Zoom. I felt as if the portfolio binder I had worked so hard on had gone to waste and my capstone project would be a bust.

Nevertheless, higher education adapted.

In spite of the Zoom-bombings and Blackboard-resistant faculty, the way undergraduate and graduate education restructured itself reshaped my outlook on a career in higher education.

For starters, online learning is no longer reserved for for-profits or online-only institutions. Online education spread from small liberal arts campuses to large state universities to graduate institutions that did not have plans to transition online prior to the pandemic.

Visions of departments of Student Affairs have changed - for better or for worse - as declining enrollment numbers, lowering budgets, and eliminated opportunity to hold large in person events becomes the ‘new normal’. Working from home in a position that I never envisioned I would be able to work from home has also become reality.

The pandemic not only challenged my overlapping transition from graduate student to new professional, it changed the way all student affairs professionals perceive the work they do.

Only time will tell if these changes are permanent or fleeting, but our advocacy for our students must persist. Even if students are learning online or in socially-distant classrooms this fall, now more than ever do Student Affairs professionals need to continue to build community and relationships within their respective communities.

Author: Corinna Kraemer is an artist and creator living in a student affairs world. When she is not assisting students in academic advising at Goodwin University, she is either painting, running, or hanging out with her cat, Mr. K. She hopes her posts will finally help her dad understand what her career in student affairs is all about. Read more work by Corinna at presence.io/blog