by Beth Moriarty, Director of Residence Life and Housing
This past January, I had the opportunity to attend NASPA’s Alice Manicur Symposium for women who aspire to be Senior Student Affairs Officers (SSAO’s). Alice Manicur was the 1st female president of NASPA. You can find more information about the symposium here: http://www.naspa.org/divctr/women/manicur.cfm
I applied to attend the symposium not knowing if I desire to be an SSAO and I left still not knowing. However, despite the fact that my career goals are not well defined at this point, it was, by far the BEST professional development experience that I have ever participated in.
I arrived in Miami and upon checking in to the hotel, I received my conference materials. One of the first things I did was review the list of participants. I saw some familiar names, but what immediately struck me was the number of women with titles such as “Assistant Vice President”, “Assistant Dean of Students” and “Dean of Students”. I started to feel intimidated. The voice in my head started to question whether or not I belonged in the company of these accomplished women. My fears were quickly pushed aside as I got on the elevator and began to chat with a very friendly woman whom I initially thought was a participant. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that not only was I speaking to a member of the faculty for the symposium, but I was talking with the current NASPA President, Dr. Patricia Telles-Irvin. Patricia was an absolutely delightful women and she helped to calm my nerves. By the time I entered the opening session, I was reconnecting with friends and colleagues and being introduced to new friends as well.
By the time Dr. Charlotte Tullos welcomed us and officially opened the symposium, I knew that I had made a great decision to attend the symposium. Immediately, I was drawn in to an environment of strong women who were there to learn and to support one another. The opening session was a panel by the faculty where they offered insights into the Life of an SSAO. The faculty shared stories of their experiences and painted a very real picture of the rewards and challenges of the SSAO role. As an individual who has spent 25 years in Residence Life and Housing, I was struck by the fact that the vast majority of the faculty had spent part of their careers in residence life and housing. Several of them indicated that their work in residence life and housing gave them some of the most solid training and experience for the work that they currently do. One faculty member, Dr. Karen Whitney, is the President of Clarion University. When asked what best prepared her for her current role, Dr. Whitney, replied that it was her Resident Assistant position. She spoke about the role of an RA in building community and how those skills have helped her to build community among the students, staff and faculty at her institution.
As the three days progressed, it was affirming to see that residence life and housing has provided me with a strong foundation and skill set. The sessions included: Contemporary Issues in Higher Education, Campus Conflict and Politics, Strategic Planning, Change, Technology, Managing Resources, and Emotional Intelligence. Throughout my time in residence life and housing, I have been fortunate to have direct experience in each of these areas.
The symposium painted a very realistic picture of the life of a SSAO, with the obvious focus being on women in this role. As I stated at the beginning of this post, I am not sure that the SSAO role is for me . . . at least not today. However, I do know that as my career path winds, if that is the road that I decide to travel: then my work in residence life and housing will help me get there.
The Manicur Symposium is offered by NASPA every two years, if you are a woman and you think that someday you might want to be a SSAO, I highly recommend you attend. I enjoyed every minute. I learned a lot and I met some amazing women. My network expanded after those three days in a way that I believe will benefit me for the rest of my career.