Northwest Association of College & University Housing Officers

Weathering Change

By Kate Gannon-Cullinan

I began thinking “I need to write a blog post, but have no content for our membership to enjoy.” In searching for a topic, I kept coming back to the idea of change and how I’ve coped and developed my career through it. For some of us, we’re in our 5th week of the semester already, others have just completed the joyous moving in of their residents. In either case, here in the Pacific Northwest the weather is turning toward the beautiful fall colors, cooler temperatures, and the time to implement our summer hopes has arrived; it’s the start of another academic year.

People, priorities, student culture, trending topics, and effective practices – all evolve as human nature does. I often tell my team that we deal with humans, and humans are messy and complicated and beautiful, and that’s our business in Student Affairs. So whether you’re experiencing change at the micro level: new student staff, maybe a new building placement; or at the macro level: a new Senior Administration team, changes in budget allocations, etc. – perhaps my external processing via this blog may help push your thoughts in different ways as you navigate your own changes as an #SAPro. My focus here is twofold: (1) how to deal with change as it affects you, and (2) how to handle the changes in your own role as you progress in your career.

It’s taken me several years in life to figure this tip out: I am not the center of everything. I know, I know… I can feel readers rolling their eyes at the screen – but I don’t mean this in a “generational stereotyping” way. It is natural for our first instinct with decisions and changes to be “how does this impact me?” and that’s a fine place to start. Don’t get stuck here. What I’ve tried to do is process how one might make that decision (that macro level scope), push past my own department even, “what would the impact of this have on this other department?” and how can our teams support each other (back into the micro vision)? Sure there can be frustration and even annoyance, but eventually get towards a place where you’re not at the center of it and are able to move back and see the connecting dots. Are there times when those macro decisions are made that impact you significantly without that having been considered – heck yes. Try to allow grace and come forward with feedback, but also solutions or alterations

What kind of supervisee am I being? As I am now firmly (re: fourth year) in the mid-level manager section of my career, I have been asking myself this a lot recently. With my boss being our Senior Housing Officer, and understanding the time commitments that they have, this puzzling reflection is often on my mind. When we discuss mid-level preparation it is focused on the supervision of professional staff. This of course is incredibly important, and a large piece of the job. A gap I’m starting to feel in my own changes and growth in my role is how to be supervised at this level. How do I shift my focus and continue my own preparation for the director level? What things are best saved for a 1:1 conversation? Does this decision affect other supervisors, and if yes, then maybe that’s better for our central team meetings. The supervisee I am as a mid-level manager cannot be the same one I was as an entry-level professional – I have different needs and wants from my career and much more perspective. The time I have with my boss each week – or sometimes every other week as schedules need to adapt – is limited, so I have to make it count. The questions I had at the micro level I maybe don’t have now, but more so because the scope of my role has grown to expound on the macro level decisions. The autonomy of my everyday decisions doesn’t only impact an RA staff and hall, but the assumed answer for everyone in the hall director position – another unforeseen change as I grow through the mid-level. This too has changed even from my first year as an Assistant Director to now my third year. I am of course more confident in my ability to answer questions and instead give updates on my staff. Spend a moment or two reflecting on how you approach those 1:1s with your supervisors. They are your time to get direct and individualized feedback and advice, so be sure to take (and ask for) what you are needing, and it is okay if that changes from week to week.

And now for a little Strengths Finder infusion…and a quick plug to find out your full 34 – my central team did that this summer and it has proven extremely enlightening and helpful for our weekly meetings. My view on sustaining through changing priorities within my department, division, and even university has certainly grown throughout my career. So too have the order of my top 5strengths in the assessment. In my early, entry-level hall director days, my Activator was somewhat impatient with the ‘exploring every option’ or awaiting trickle-down directions. Don’t get me wrong – I still struggle with the inaction that can happen within decision making. However, my view has widened to allow context and input (though still in my bottom strengths) as my administrative scope has expanded. Who we are in our first few years helps to shape our career for sure, but it doesn’t have to define it, nor should it prevent us from maturing and broadening our knowledge to be inclusive of the varying perspectives and experiences of our stakeholders. Again, where we start as professionals isn’t where we end up, as long as we learn from all the experiences, and change and grow from them.

I recently read a quote that has really stuck with me the past couple of weeks, and I thought it summed up my feelings about being too emotionally erupting for every decision within my institutions: “YOU CAN DO ANYTHING, BUT NOT EVERYTHING.” Now I don’t know who said that, or in what context it was taken from, but the message resonates with my – a sometimes-over-controlling-professional. I won’t limit myself, but I must understand my limits. This mindset has truly helped me to better adapt to changes and even within the unknown limbo that we all do so well with [insert winking emoji here]. So I hope that this rambling of a mid-level professional has helped in any small way as we all continue to work through and with changing environments and directives. Keep focused on your WHY and start broadening your HOW.

Take care and best of luck in your opening semesters/quarters!

Kate currently serves as the NWACUHO Communications Director and works as an Assistant Director for Residence Life at Washington State University. She can be reached at kgannon@wsu.edu

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