Graduate School Alumni Share Outcomes, Skills That Led To Success
Graduate school is a unique experience for many. This is a time when aspiring student union/student activities professionals can hone their skills, acquire new ones, and focus on learning outcomes that will help them be successful upon graduation and in their careers.
At Central Connecticut State University, the graduate internship program began in 1966. The two-year experience currently employs three graduate interns in the Student Center and three graduate interns in student activities/leadership development. A few alumni shared their graduate school experiences so that others interested in pursuing the field may learn from their outcomes and how they applied their skills and abilities to their careers after graduation.
“Throughout my time in my internship, I was constantly challenged to see how my actions would impact the students as whole before making a decision," said
Jim Greene, interim associate director for University Student Centers at the University of South Florida–St. Petersburg. "I would often use this lens when making personnel decisions, advising student groups, and even doing something as simple as rearranging furniture. It was always stressed to me that when I am working in this field, it is not about what I get out of it, but what is going to make the best impact for our students."
Learning Outcomes and Skills Acquired
How to best communicate and supervise personnel
Greene said he learned how to have tough conversations with students while in graduate school. He said he “worked toward a resolution that would best benefit the students’ development and the environment of those around them.
“My internship provided me ample opportunities to have difficult conversations with students as both a supervisor and advisor. Conversations varied from addressing small concerns like being late to work to discussions about termination. I also gained experience in providing guidance for students going through personal issues or giving them advice on how to excel in the classroom.”
Listening is one of the most important parts of communication.
Greene said he used “active listening when having conversations with students.”
Gail Sutton, director of programs and student life at Georgia State University, honed her listening skills.
“Graduate interns should be prepared to manage schedules, supervise part-time student personnel—including hiring, firing, evaluation, discipline—and communicate efficiently with other members of the student center staff." she said.
In addition, Sutton said she perfected her writing skills throughout her career. “Knowing when to have your words edited before you hit the send button on that email message, a message which lacks tone, inflection and non-verbals,” she said.
Erica Gardner, assistant director for student events at the University of New Haven, said she learned and applied cognitive skills and to have patience when supervising or advising.
“My supervisors encouraged me to think outside the box, and in return, I empowered students to do the same in their everyday activities, work and academically,” she said.
The power of networking, social responsibility and collaborating with other higher education professionals.
The graduate internship experience is all in what you make of it. The energy that you put into it will help you grow as a student union/student activities professional.
“Throughout my time in my internship, I was constantly challenged to see how my actions would impact the students as whole before making a decision," Greene said. "I would often use this lens when making personnel decisions, advising student groups, and even doing something as simple as rearranging furniture. It was always stressed to me that when I am working in this field, it is not about what I get out of it, but what is going to make the best impact for our students.”
For example, learning how to network and collaborate are two important outcomes that one can learn in graduate school and then apply throughout their journey in the higher education field.
“I learned how to network with people not like myself by attending club meetings and applying the knowledge that I learned in class to my supervisory role,” Gardner said.
Sutton said those participating in the graduate internship will have had the opportunity to connect with others and develop strategies that will help them be successful.
“(Interns) will have interacted with student staff, non-student staff, colleagues within student affairs and other units on the campus, and guests to the campus in a variety of settings that will prepare them to be ready to respond to a wide range of customer service/personnel management issues that may arise in their first professional position beyond graduate school,” Sutton said.
Networking is key to navigating politics on a college campus.
Sutton added that throughout her career, she learned “the power of networking and how people resources come in handy much later after the initial introduction. And the value and pitfalls of campus politics—how to dodge the bullets, keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”
Collaboration is also key to sharing ideas and implementing new initiatives.
Greene said he learned how to “collaborate with other professionals and develop strategic partnerships to accomplish common goals. Most of the projects I worked on either required me to work with a team in some capacity whether I was leading that group or was a valued member,” he said. “In my internship, I had to organize tenants to promote the facility to commuter students, participate and lead signature programs (holiday social), and advise groups like the Student Government Finance Committee. I also had the opportunity to work with IT to help pilot a Netbook rental system."
Management of service areas and advisement of clubs and organizations.
Greene said during his experience, he learned how to directly supervise and advise as well as foster growth within the Student Center and student activities/leadership development.
“I oversaw the Information Desk, Setup Crew, Student Government and Student Activities, and Leadership Development’s Web and Graphics. Not only did I have the opportunity to run the daily operations of these areas, I was encouraged to find ways to improve and help the area grow,” he said.
“If I were to add anything to the skills listed above, it would be to experience managing a manager and working ahead whenever possible. With regards to managing a manager, I had the opportunity to supervise two student operations managers in my internship," Greene added. "This gave me experience in supervising that next level of employee and gave me a sense of confidence when I stepped into the interim associate director role."
Personal and professional development
Sutton shared that “upon completion of the CCSU graduate internship program, interns will be able to demonstrate a basic working knowledge and understanding of both programmatic and operational areas within a student center, which will make them prepared to pursue a variety of student affairs entry level positions as they enter the market with a broader experience.”
Gardner said she learned much about the field from attending conferences and by participating in the Graduate Student Association. “Conference attendance allowed me to gain knowledge about the different service areas offered in our field,” she said. “I also got involved in the Graduate Student Association and held an e-board position that was not in my comfort zone initially, but I soon learned how to produce successful marketing strategies."
Additional skills acquired during graduate school helped these alums to advance their careers included learning how to:
Adapt — “No two days are the same and you have to be ready if and when change happens,” Gardner said. Greene said he adapted various theories and skills to his internship responsibilities.
Manage Time — Sutton said as a graduate intern, she learned how to manage her time “and coached others on how to manage time.” Greene agreed: “Working ahead is another skill that has be instrumental to my success."
Manage a Budget — Gardner and Sutton said they learned how to take responsibility for and manage a budget, both personally and professionally, during graduate school.
Manage Projects — Sutton said upon graduation, she fine-tuned her project management skills including supervising construction and other projects. “Databases and the best use of Excel and Access,” also helped Sutton to manage various projects successfully. Greene said he learned how to “collaborate with other professionals and develop strategic partnerships to accomplish common goals.”
Work with Difficult People — Sutton said dealing with difficult people can apply to both “known personnel and unknown customers.” Greene shared he has had his own challenges dealing with difficult people.
Landing a Job — Sutton said the experience she obtained as a graduate intern helped her to land her first professional job. “I will always tell people that what I learned in grad school was absolutely from the hands-on learning that was fostered in the Student Center,” she said. “That practical, real experience was what really made me marketable in the job market as I looked for my first job. I felt prepared to apply the ideas in the workplace.”