2010 Gretchen Laatsch Scholarship Award Winner
Krista Harrell-Blair, Old Dominion University, won this scholarship in 2010 with the following essay.
I am currently in the doctorate program in Higher Education Administration at my alma mater, Old Dominion University. My education and experiences as an undergraduate student leader and as a graduate assistant in student activities and leadership established my authentic passion in the field. In pursuit of my lifelong goal to attain a doctorate degree, I stepped down from my position as the assistant director for programs in the campus life department at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) this past August after six years. As I prepared to move on from this wild ride and experience at UNCW, I reflected on how it impacted me personally and professionally. In my last weeks at UNCW, a colleague made her farewell remarks in the form of a letter to her successor and it made me think - it is the moments in this profession we remember, those we take with us. These moments are snapshots in our minds that stand out amongst all the memories. They link our experiences and help us reflect on the impressions we made in our students' lives and those around us. My moments at UNCW made me realize the enormous impact working in student activities and the student center had on my development as a professional and as a person.
Upon reflecting on my moments at UNCW, the journey seemed to last much longer than it did because of the extraordinary experiences I had each and every day. The moments are crystal clear in my mind, as if not a day has passed. The impact UNCW and working in student activities in a college union had on me can be summed up in two examples, both of challenge and of accomplishment. My first year at UNCW was difficult to say the least. I was straight out of graduate school and while I had gained tremendous experience during my Master's education, nothing quite prepared me for everything I would encounter in my first job in student activities. I inherited a position which had been vacant for almost a year and students who were no longer used to having an advisor guide them through the programming process. I had to earn the trust and respect of the students and the staff, and I worked tirelessly over the years to ensure this happened with each new group of students or with a new colleague. Students whom I never thought I would find common ground with became those who I learned the most from. During debates with colleagues when my perspective was challenged, I discovered what I valued and revered as a professional.
After time, I understood all of this made me a stronger and better professional. Little did I know the sweat and tears that would go into the job over the next six years or the satisfaction I would feel when I knew relationships and traditions would continue much past my time at UNCW. The lifelong connection I have with many of my former students is a testament to our shared experiences. The student center was our home away from home where we would spend many long days and endless nights working and laughing. Over the years, the students became my extended family. I am most happy when I am able to share in their lives or they in mine and boast of their accomplishments. They continue to astonish me -travelling the world, following their dreams, living life on their own terms. I am fortunate to call them my friends and even some I am able to call colleagues, as they have entered the field of higher education. There is no greater reward as a professional. My students were the reason I came to work every day. They are the best of what UNCW gave me; our friendships are what made this all worth it.
My supervisors were my conductors on this trip, and although we didn't always see eye to eye, I took so much from our conversations and appreciated all the challenge and support. Once I supervised professionals, I quickly knew that it is no cake walk. The senior student affairs administrators inspired me with their accomplishments, and their words of wisdom never fell on deaf ears. My mentors in the division of student affairs gave me guidance and support without hesitation, and for that, I am truly appreciative. The colleagues in the division – my friends - welcomed me with open arms and helped me become a better professional and enjoy my time at UNCW. It was a privilege to work with them, and I can only hope to work with people like them in the future.
Besides my students through the years, the Campus Life staff is the unique group of people I spent most of time with and gained the most from. They are an amazing group of individuals who over the years have grown into a family, into my family, and represent all the best a college union and student activities staff should. I thank them for sharing the ride all those years. I thank them for always being a smiling face and for always making me smile. I worked with the most gifted, talented, and accomplished group of people with the UNCW Presents team that I may ever work with as a professional. My time at UNCW would not have been the same without a special few colleagues who I shared these moments with over the years, who were there with me through it all. They reminded me to laugh, always told me the blunt, honest truth, even if it wasn't what I wanted to hear, and helped me remember who I was no matter what, something we all need as professionals. I am blessed and privileged to call them my friends.
It is these moments, with these people, and all those in between that shaped my experience at UNCW. Not all of them were perfect, but all of them were ones I learned from about myself and about life. For that, I am most grateful. From the outside, these moments by themselves might appear as rather insignificant. Yet, to me, each holds an immeasurable place in my heart, and I am immediately brought back to that time and to whom I shared them. It is during my experience at UNCW that I grew up as a professional, through the challenges and successes; the tears and the laughter. I am thankful for the opportunities given to me. UNCW was an incredible journey, a gift I take with me wherever I go.
Updated Oct. 3, 2011