I have been in college since 1992. For 25 years I have spent my life on a college campus either as a student or staff member. These days, I drive to Chapel Hill, North Carolina and traverse one of the nation’s oldest public institutions in the United States. I count myself lucky each day.
When I left the friendly confines of Otisville, Michigan for Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, I really had no idea what I was doing. I just assumed you went to college after high school. So I went.
I struggled with many things that first semester. I never learned how to take notes, study, manage my time and self, or how to not take a 4-hour nap in the middle of the day. In December of 1992, I slid across an icy Dodge Road in Otisville to snare my grade report (an actual paper report!) only to find out that my first semester GPA was a whopping 1.6. Academic probation. Another letter was received shortly thereafter defining what academic probation meant. It basically meant if my Spring 1993 grade point average is below a 2.0, I will be dismissed from Central Michigan University.
So, rather than be dismissed, I figured it out. I got involved in extra-curricular activities (Thank you, Joan Schmidt and many more), I learned how to learn. Most importantly, I found my voice and identity at Central Michigan University. That voice was developed by working as an academic advising assistant, finding student leadership roles, serving as a resident assistant, and being one of those shiny, happy orientation mentors. The key was that I had to make a big place smaller.
I made, what are they called?…friends. I found my niche as a CMU superfan, goofy student leader, and part-time CMU President impersonator.
As my senior year in college approached, I processed a few things:
- Being a physical education major isn’t exactly the most marketable background.
- I don’t really like middle and high schoolers, so why would I enjoy teaching them?
- My college mentors were all higher education administrators. How do I get that job???
I started to research higher education programs and ways to pay for graduate school. I didn’t apply to many programs because 1) My GRE scores weren’t exactly off the charts and 2) Application fees are expensive.
My first application went to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Shortly, thereafter I received an invite to interview. I went. I interviewed. They took me into the Neyland Stadium press box. They offered. I accepted. Game over.
I didn’t apply anywhere else. UT was going to provide me room, board, tuition waiver, “big time” athletics, and a pathway to a Masters Degree in College Student Personnel.
Classes and work experience there affirmed that I had chosen the right career path. This is where I dialed in my leadership skills and ethical compass. I was being taught by a former Chancellor and other well-published academicians. As I type this I can hear Dr. Grady Bogue challenging me in some “what would you do?” scenario.
Fast forward and I have had the opportunity to work at both of my alma maters (Central Michigan University and Tennessee), Duke University, Peace College, and now UNC-Chapel Hill. All unique places, but with a common feeling about them. Maybe it is their beautiful green spaces? Maybe it is their affinity for progressive thought to make the world a better place? Maybe it is their traditions that they claim to be their own? Whatever the case may be, college campuses are special.
I have the opportunity to make a difference in the life of someone each and every day. And while I jest about being a Phys. Ed major, that background has made me a better advisor, teacher, and mentor. Who knew Teaching of Social, Square, and Folk Dance could be so transferable?
College campuses bring an energy like no other and it gets renewed each fall with new faces, new challenges, and new opportunities. I have a quote that I read in a graduate school textbook that I typed up and framed at the time. This framed quote has resided in my office ever since:
“There are few earthly things more beautiful than a university. It is a place where those who hate ignorance may strive to know, where those who perceive truth may strive to make others see, where seekers and learners alike, banded together in the search for knowledge, will honor thought in all its finer ways.” – John Masefield
Being on academic probation was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It motivated me to get back up and do better. Frankly, having that experience has made me a better professional as I work with students struggling to navigate college life.
So, here I sit 25 years in and I can’t imagine working in a different environment. I mean, it is not officiating a game of dodgeball, but I think I made the right call.