More Questions Than Answers: Navigating Not Knowing

After reading Beyond Meetings: Lessons and Successes in Advising Student Organizations I found myself feeling validated in my own experience as a Program Assistant in several ways. I didn’t expect to be able to relate as much due to the fact that I am still very new to this profession and less than a year ago, I was still a student leader.

One story that stood out to me in particular was that of Casey Mulcare, I Have No Idea What I’m Doing. I could really identify with everything she was saying. She starts by sharing that she was excited to come into a role post-graduate school that was in a functional area that she was familiar with which was in student activities and programming. She spoke about how comfortable and confident she anticipated feeling in this position and was extremely eager to prove how ready she was for the role. I was in a similar position seven months ago as I began my role working in First Year Immersion. As a student, I worked with first year students in several capacities. I was an Office Assistant for New Student Orientation for 3 years, an RA in an all first year Residence Hall my senior year, and I was a Student Academic Mentor. How perfect was it going to be that I would be able to continue supporting first year students in ways that I am already familiar with? I was ready and just like Casey, eager to prove myself worthy of this role.

But what I thought I knew about supporting first year students was being challenged in this new role. I had gone from attending and being a student leader at a PWI (Predominantly White Institution) to working as a student affair professional at an HSI (Hispanic Serving Institution). I had to acknowledge the barriers and hardships that exist for the students I work with in order to better support them. I had to become aware of the additional support needed in order to be inclusive of all students whether they were non-traditional, first generation, or students whose second language was English, or their families/ support systems only spoke Spanish. This was new to me. I assumed that this role would be easy and that I could just take what I learned as a student leader and just use it in my new role. But this was not the case, and even apart from supporting students in the ways that were the most beneficial for them, I truly had NO idea what I was doing (just like Casey). I struggled (and still do) to ask questions and for help. A large part of that is that I honestly didn’t know what questions I needed to ask. But the other part is that I didn’t was to seem like I didn’t know what I was doing. But I’ve learned from the people around me that it’s okay not to know, it’s okay to ask questions. In fact, this experience is not about knowing. It’s about learning. So in the words of Casey – I am reminded that “we don’t have too have the answers, and we don’t have to be afraid to ask for help.”

– Jane Kungu

Then to Now Advising Development

Through reading the book Beyond Meetings Lessons and Successes in Advising Student Organzations it caused me to reflect on my experience over this past semester in advising  AS&F.  I thought back to when I first came to Adams and how I was so ready to change students lives and shake things up within the organization. While as I tried to change things I realized that I was doing a disservice to not only my students but to myself.  I was trying to change an organization that I had no knowledge of the interworkings as well as the culture of the university.

From this, I had to take a step back and really understand a few things about where I was working. One was to understand the culture of the Unversity and the organization. The second was understanding where I fit in as an advisor and as a person. The third was to the development my advisor style and figure out which style worked for my students and myself.  Though I am still trying to figure things out my advisor style.

Looking back at the beginning of last semester I have grown within who I am as an advisor to my student organizations as well as build better relationships with my students. Though this growth I have been able to help my students challenge different norms of the organization and to try and think outside of the box for different goals which have caused for them to grow as well as our organization which makes me SUPER proud of them.

But the major take away is that when going into a new Student Affairs positions get to know the organization, the institution and the students before trying to make changes.

-Nzingha Wright

Tradition as an Excuse: Beyond Meetings

I must admit: this book was not what I expected it to be. For some reason I cannot explain, the title, Beyond Meetings, gave me the impression I would be learning how to navigate deep, intimate conversations with students outside of a formal meeting. While there are bits of this interspersed within the book, I was surprised to find the majority of it was related to advising for programmatic success (I suppose reading subtitles is important). Moreover on my mistakes: on page 8, before the book actually starts, there is a disclaimer that “reading this book from beginning to end is probably not going to be as valuable as looking at the Table of Contents and skipping ahead to the chapters that are most relevant to your current situation.” I did not read page 8 until I had done exactly what I was (supposed to be) warned about.

Regardless of my titular misconceptions and eagerness to get into the bulk of the book, I found this collection of stories to be supportive and reassuring, yet of little practical help. I truthfully have difficulty recalling any specific story or experience any of the contributors describe in the book, but I do recall how reading the stories made me feel inspired to maintain resilience in challenging and trying times. It was comforting to read about the honest difficulties other professionals struggle with and to recognize how commonplace they must be in our field in order to be published in a book. However, the vast majority of this book felt inapplicable to me—challenges might be similar between institutions, but no two sets of student organizations, advisor dynamics, or institutional parameters are exactly like.

However, I did find one story to be eye-opening; it begins on page 112. Annalise Sinclair began her role as a Greek Life programs advisor, a role I feel is similar to mine. She talks about how her first team of students was small, had limited institutional knowledge, and was too familiar with the phrase “that is the way it has always been done” when it came to planning events.  Her experience was that tradition, while valuable, was being used as an excuse to “keep to doing what is safe and what is comfortable.” I relate strongly.

Annalise’s solution was to encourage her students to think about programs differently in all respects. She began to see the successes, products, and even failures of innovation and creativity on her campus unfold in regards to campus programs and activities. She acknowledges the fear of risk and failure associated with deviating from tradition, but ultimately reflects on her experiences with gratitude and confidence.

In my current role, I struggle a lot with breaking away from the familiar and comfortable. It could be a number of factors: my limited time here, a team stuck in its ways, the culture of our town/institution, or programmatic learned helplessness. However, I am encouraged by this section in the book to continue working towards programs and solutions that are innovative and carry the ability to leave an impact on this campus. While I doubt Annalise’s experience can be directly applied to my situation, I am nonetheless inspired and reassured by her victories.


Where Do I Go From Here? A Self Reflection

“Without self-reflection, you live reactively to the environment around you and not proactively from within for the best desired outcome. When you fail to self-reflect, it can cause you to be unsure of why you are doing what you do”

The Strategic Guide to Shaping Your Student Affairs Career by Sonja Ardoin has been an extremely eye-opening book to read as someone who does not have much of a critical understanding of student affairs from a professional (and in a lot of ways personal) point of view. What I have valued most about this book has been the personal stories and reflections from people who have had different experiences and taken various paths but share a connectedness to student affairs. These stories have been essential in terms of forcing me to reflect on my own path and where I hope to go, how I plan to get there, and most importantly – why.

If I am being honest, I am struggling with the why part and it scares me. It scares me so much that I have convinced myself that because I haven’t found my why yet (at least I don’t think I have), then I must not have one. But I am slowly learning that this is not necessarily true. Just because I don’t see it clearly, doesn’t mean it’s not there. I recently spoke to someone who really put my doubts about my path into perspective. It only took the word “exploring” for me to realize that this experience is about embarking on a journey towards that why without the expectation that it will or should be easy.

So, what do I mean when I say that I haven’t found my why yet? Hmm, answering that question has been its own process for me. But I have decided to stop searching for a why and instead focus on what matters to me, what I care most deeply about, and let that guide me to it.

“Strategy is not a straitjacket. It is not intended to be. We do not want to lock ourselves so firmly into a strategy that we leave no room for movement, adaptability, or growth”

After reading this section in chapter three, I quickly wrote the words strategy is not a straitjacket on an orange sticky note and placed it on my desk to serve as a reminder. I am the type of person that is always thinking ahead (whether or not I have a plan is another story!). But I’m noticing the flaws in my forward and futuristic thinking. I haven’t created a strategy for myself. The future can be overwhelming, and for me, not having a clear picture in my mind of where I am going to be seven months from now is daunting. So I have decided to challenge myself to be more active in strategizing a plan for myself beyond this experience. I have also promised myself that I will be more gentle and patient as I move towards my why. After all, I don’t just have seven months to figure it out, I have the rest of my life!

– Jane Kungu

Shaping MY Student Affairs Career

Reflecting on The Strategic Guide to Shaping Your Student Affairs Career, it made me think about my journey so far into Student Affairs. Why I became interested in the field of Student Affairs, How my networking skills are okay but still developing and where I see myself in the future.  For me, before taking this position I had many conversations with my mentors and other student affairs professional at my alma mater about the topics that this book talked about. At that time I felt that I knew all I could about what I wanted to do as a career and how to get there. But after reading the book the chapters brought new meaning to my prior knowledge about Student Affairs as well as myself. This book caused me to take a step back and really reflect on what I have been doing for both my professional and personal development and ways that I can improve that process.

Throughout the book, the question that I kept asking myself was why do I want to be in Student Affairs? I kept coming back to the answers of one being a representative of my community since there is not a large population of people of color in Student Affairs. I feel that for students of colors it’s good to see someone that looks like them in an administrative position and knowing that they have someone there that will understand somewhat they are going through and someone that will support them and help develop them. Something else that comes up for me is to be the voice of under representative populations on a college campus. I feel that because as the next generation of students goes into their undergraduate careers they are going to be coming with a lot of diversity. As Student Affairs professional I feel that you need to be able to stand up for them and be a resource for them throughout their collegiate years.  Another question that came up for me is what I do bring to the table as a new professional. This is a question that I feel is going to take me some more time to answer because I feel that I am still trying to figure that out. But I feel that at the end of this gap year internship I will better know how to answer that question.


-Nzingha Wright


Lifelong Learning

Sonja Ardoin’s The Strategic Guide to Shaping Your Student Affairs Career

Chapter four is all about lifelong learning, which one of the contributors, Mat, describes as “capitalizing on opportunities and responding to the unexpected, even when it is extremely harsh, to create something positive.”

I reflect on this section of the book, specifically Mat’s anecdote, as I consider what committing to the process of lifelong learning looks like in my personal life and field. This season has been educationally atypical for me; though I worked full-time while in school, I temporarily have lost out on an 18-year-long routine of formal learning. It’s uncomfortable. Moreover, it can be tempting to convince myself I am not actually learning. But this section of the book helped reframe my perspective on what it means to be a learner.

Mat goes over three essential aspects of lifelong learning: risk, failure, and accepting help from others.

I have never been known to take risks; I am actually notorious for quite the opposite. My aversion to failure (more on that later) is plenty enough to scare me off from an opportunity associated with even minimal degrees of risk. But one note I highlighted in the book was that accepting risk does not equate to taking unnecessary risks—rather, accepting risk is doing everything reasonable one can do to ensure success. I was grateful to read this section because it encouraged me to acknowledge the ways I accepted the risk of coming to Adams and how it continues to pay off. I have had a longstanding love/hate relationship with my calculated approach to decision-making, but I think recognizing the acceptance of risk requires thorough preparation makes me love both my leadership and self just a bit more.

“Failure is an acceptable outcome.” It’s easy to say, especially to someone else, but not so easy to believe when it comes to my own performance. I’ve been conditioned to be averse to failure– I don’t fear failure as much as I hate the feeling of it. I grew up the youngest of four children in a Chinese-American home. My Dad was a pastor before eventually earning his third advanced degree and becoming an associate dean at a university. My Mom was my grade school’s foundation and PTA president. I recognize I was born and raised in omnipresent social pressure; if I did not feel enough pressure from my Church, teachers, and principals, my parents and siblings were there to finish the job. However, this section of Mat’s anecdote once again reframed my perspective. As an outdoor programs specialist, he writes there is a significant difference between someone being too lazy to make it to the summit of a hike and someone not making it to the top because he/she has been severely injured. While the outcomes are the same, they are caused by two very different factors. The point is to acknowledge that I might miss the success mark sometimes, but I have to evaluate whether I did everything I could to achieve it. We can’t control it all; failure exists within the process– not the outcome.

And lastly, accepting help from others is essential. I have a lot of room to grow in this one. While deep and intimate relationships are core to my being, I admit asking for help often feels impossible. My parents taught me to always serve others and to never be served. In ending this section, I rediscovered gratitude for the relationships I have, in which people break past the walls I setup to (try to) protect myself. I don’t think accepting help requires becoming a desperate case– but I think I can stop making it so difficult for others and myself when it comes to working together.

Note to self: learn to embrace risks, reconcile failure, & accept help.


Salsa, Soul and Spirit?



Salsa, Soul and Spirit

Does not do the trick


Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a multicultural age. I have to say, I was very excited and had high expectations of this book. The title and the cover were both catchy and at the same time promised a broader understanding of leadership from different perspectives and how to really tackle leadership when you are working with diverse populations (or so I thought). I expected this book to serve as a guide, or at least starting ground in knowing how to work with and motivate leaders who come from different backgrounds. To my understanding the book offers a different purpose and focuses instead on what diverse communities (specifically latino, black and American Indian) have to contribute to the conversation of leadership. It focuses more on what they can do for the “majority” (by contributing new insights of leadership) rather than what the “majority” can do for them. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is important to provide a platform to those voices, and this book does a good job in showcasing that leadership should be more inclusive as it has different takes on different cultures. It just is not what I was expecting from the book, although I probably should have paid more attention to the subtitle “New approaches to leadership from Latino, Black, and American Indian communities”.


Keeping that approach in mind, the book becomes more likeable. We can all learn from each of the principles described and use them to inform our own leadership, how we talk about it and even how we carry out our daily lives. I appreciated the principle that talked about the future generations. The importance of building connections with those leaders of the future, and helping them be ready for their own time to take on the world. It is essentially what we do in this field, and reading about it from a different culture’s approach was intriguing.


There was one concept I had a little bit of a problem with (if you can call it that). The second principle I to We. On first glance it seemed like a good concept, especially when it comes to talking about leadership. At its very core leadership should be more like collectivistic cultures, taking everyone into consideration, embracing everyone. Leadership should be more about others and less about oneself. While I was reading this section however, a thought popped into my mind. It sounds awesome, lets focus more on the we and less on the I. The problem comes when we begin to think of who the we is. The we should be everyone, we should be including and advocating for everyone to be part of our collective we. While I have no problem believing society at large could embrace the “we” dialogue and want to move to that, I find it difficult to believe the we would truly include everyone. Society tends to be selective in this and it would be the first hurdle to overcome before fully taking on a collectivistic approach.


Leadership & Self-Deception

We are in boxes

All of us really, but

We can all get out.



My experience reading the book can be separated into 3 parts. The first impressions before reading it, the actual process of reading it, and the post (and stunned) reflection. When I first got the book and the title I thought it would be about how we deceive ourselves into thinking we are not capable of certain things, or of being leaders and how this is not true. I thought it would be a motivational book all about happy feelings. One could even say that in a way, I was in the box towards this book and the experience I would get out of it. I was looking at this title and the book and immediately assumed something from it that would fit my own needs. I truly had judged a book by its cover.


My experiences with this book had not gotten off to a good start (although I did not know that at the moment), and when it came to the process of reading it, things did not get any easier. While the way the book was written made it a little hard for me to follow and get the main ideas out, that was not my biggest struggle. As I was reading the book and going along with Tom’s (the main character in the story) process of self discovery, I found myself aligning and recalling examples of my own that fit self deception. Choices I had made that had made me be in the box towards someone, and in some cases I could recognize myself as being in the box towards someone, but could not trace it back. I had spent too much time in the box. While Tom was quick to defend himself, I began feeling panic and anxiety over past behaviors (not something that I’m unfamiliar with). As the book progressed, my experience changed with it as it looked more hopeful. Getting out of the box did not seem like it was something impossible, but rather something that I could work towards.


After reading the book, I had to had some reflection time in order to be able to truly digest what I had experienced. While it might seem cheesy, reading this truly gave me a new outlook in life and I was excited to work on myself so I could improve my relationships with other people. It may sound like a simple thing, to consider others as people but the way this book put it with the concrete examples shed a different light on that. I have begun to have conversations with my parents using this philosophy and we have managed to get to a deeper level and more common ground of understanding of little things so far, but I am excited to see how else this may grow in this relationship and in relationships with students that I work with. Something I liked about the book was that it makes it clear that it is not necessary to know someone or have a relationship with them in order to be in the box towards them. We can be in the box towards people we come into direct or indirect contact with everyday and recognizing those moments is something that will help us be generally more out of the box people (although no one really is ever completely out of the box permanently).


Salsa, Soul, and Spirit

Intergenerational is defined as relating to, involving, or affecting several generations. This part of the book really caught my attention because it is so relevant in life right now. We have many generations that are currently working together and sometimes it feels as if we are working against each other. As a millennial (I’m not a normal millennial, I’m a cool millennial), I enjoyed that they discussed this idea that generations were living in such a “me, I” life but millennials are working towards a “we” culture. Being on a college campus, I can see this desire to change our world and make it better. Don’t get me wrong there are always people who work against that goal. The book really blew me away when it focused on this want to help our world but pointed out the weight that we also carry on top of that desire. When people hear millennials, they think of this negative view that has been placed with the generation. I am not trying to say that our generation is perfect and is always trying to progress forward because we definitely have had some set backs the past few years. On top of this push to help get our world back in shape, we carry burdens like student loans and cleaning up the mess from other generations whether they see it as a mess or not.


The students I have the pleasure to work with everyday show this drive by being positive leaders on campus. They have this craving to grow as individuals but this craving also transfers over to helping the students. Working with student government has shown this push to make changes on campus because they believe that students voice is important to hear. The student government works to make sure they hear what the students are saying and stand up for them. It is so amazing to watch them work together and make a difference on campus. I know that this inspiring push to make change


Peace and Love,

Kayli Marie

Leadership and Self-Deception

I really enjoyed this book because it is not only something that I can apply at work but also in my daily life.  Leadership is not always about what you do. Leadership is about who you are and how you do what you do. The strategies and techniques are less important than the person you as a leader bring to the task of leadership.  Reflecting back on my leadership experience, I can remember moments where I was in the box. As a leader, I know there have been times where I was frustrated in certain situations and it was easier to point fingers and blame others. Instead of trying to look for the problem, the book talks about viewing the struggles we face as an opportunity to observe our lives and how we live everyday. Failure in leadership is a result of self-deception. If we genuinely feel respect for people they will more open to me as a person.

The book spoke volumes to me when self-deception was discussed. We are all human so this idea of self-deception is just natural. As I was reading this book I was trying to identify a time when I was in the box. I realized that I did inflate the other person faults as well as inflate my own virtue. This led me to inflate the value of things that justify my self-betrayal and then blaming the other person. It is so easy to be in the moment and focus on yourself. We can easily justify why we didn’t pick up the trash because that is someone’s job to do that. In that moment, we are viewing that person merely as an object and not as a person. To get out of the box, we should do our best to help others achieve and be successful. In the book they write, “We can’t really achieve results like we otherwise could if we’re in the box. The question is how often we are “in the box” and how can we work to live “outside of the box”?

Each book that we read and reflect on is also discussed during our book club so that we can understand the take away from each other. I found myself pointing out “so that person would be in the box!” when in reality I was in the box based off of merely just that comment. As mentioned, we are all human and it is natural to have a biased view of problems but the challenge is working towards being outside of the box and remembering to view people as people and not as objects.

Peace and Love,

Kayli Marie