My College Summit
Prior to 2020, if you were having a hard day at home, at the very least you could walk into your office and shift your focus. You could put on your “professional mask” if you will and distract yourself. Something weighing on you? The person in the cubicle next to you could never tell. Crazy kids and chaotic home life? All is quiet here and you can at least focus on the task at hand.
But now, everything has come to light. Nursing a crying baby while conducting a meeting via Zoom. Internet connection is constantly dropping because there are 3 kids doing e-learning while you are trying your darndest to pay attention to a conference call. Or maybe you live alone, and the quiet and lack of human interaction has left you in a depressed & lonely state you cannot seem to get yourself out of. So you hang on to the very last minute of that Zoom call because these meetings and faces on screen are the only connection you have right now. We show up to our little screens on the computer worn & vulnerable for everyone to see.
No matter what side of the desk you reside or what working at home looked like for you these last few months, we can all agree it has been really hard.
Kristin Smigielski, the Dean of Enrollment Management at Parkland College says, “The most frustrating part of this for me is not having answers for my staff or the people I am leading. What has helped is talking through everything out loud, problem solving together, being flexible, honest and creative together as a team. It has all been really hard, but I also feel like our staff has really grown together.”
Offices everywhere are thinking on their feet, coming together to create virtual programs, to communicate in different ways and to make sure they can still service their students. That is the spirit of higher education right? We can do hard things! What is that saying? Building the plane as you fly it? Yeah, that. We are so used to that.
Then there is the emotional side of all this. The downfall of being in a giving profession is that we not only deal with our own emotions but that of our students. We have been experiencing a collective grief, the loss of the school year, of connection, of normalcy and maybe even of loved ones. Our deep empathy of the students we work with adds double the weight on our already burdened shoulders.
Lauren Yates, a School Counselor from Ottawa Township High School talks about her own struggles, “The unknown itself has been the hardest for me. When will this end? What is the future of my profession going to look like? I was so sad to not be with my Seniors during their last moments of high school, that really broke my heart.”
Scott Hillman, a Regional Admission Counselor for the University of Oklahoma, had years of experience working from home. So even though many of the virtual adjustments and Zoom meetings were not as hard to manage, the lack of connection was still a hit. As a regional rep, he was used to a spring calendar filled with nightly college fairs and connecting with colleagues and students in person. “It is a season you really start to look forward to after spending all winter reading applications and being at a desk. My anchor has been taking mornings to myself and not rushing to get on my laptop first thing after waking up. Taking my dog on a quiet morning walk before the city is awake and sticking to a consistent workout routine has really helped my mental health.”
Amy Thompson, College & Career Counselor at York Community High School, spoke on her fear of high risk loved ones getting sick and frustrations with leadership, “But I really am focusing on pouring into the students I am working with, it helps me have a purpose and forget about my own worries knowing they need me.” Then toward the end of our conversation, she exclaimed, “Oh my tomatoes! They are ripe! Is there anything better than a fresh tomato!?”
Literally in the middle of her talking about her frustrations and heartache, she found joy. And that is my call to you today friends, go find your joy. Even in the middle of your grief and stress, joy is there just waiting to be picked. Whatever giant you are up against, know that you are not alone in any of this. Nobody has this figured out and nobody has all the answers. But there are fellow IACAC members here who will be a listening ear and a virtual hug if you need it.