I consider myself to be an introverted kind of guy, so naturally, there are all sorts of ideas floating around my mind each and every day. As other introverts will attest, those ideas always seem to make much more sense in my head than when I try and articulate them out loud, so this blog will be an exercise in how to get things out more clearly. That should be interesting enough in itself, right?
As I’m also tasked with contributing something relevant to the work we do in the arena of higher education, I figured the best place to start would be to just think about my own experiences in college admission, and see where that takes me. And in the last couple of years, the experience that has challenged me the most is making the transition from an Assistant Director of Admission to an Associate Director of Admission.
Where I was once in the role of being managed, I am now responsible for managing others. To make things more interesting, my first opportunity as an Associate took place at a different university than where I started, so I was learning how to function in a completely different role while simultaneously learning the nuances of a new institution and a new office culture.
Today’s story is a snapshot of how I arrived to the position in which I find myself. As this web log moves forward, I plan to focus on the mistakes I made (and, most likely, will continue to make), what I have learned, and how I have grown to be more comfortable along the way.
In the past, I’ve attended conference sessions with panels of Deans and Directors of Admission from different institutions talking about how they fell into their roles. No question, these sessions were helpful, but most of the time, I felt like they glossed over a few steps. In particular, there wasn’t much information given on making the jump to the role of a middle manager: someone who isn’t running the entire show, but rather, focusing on one aspect. That’s where I find myself now, as I am responsible for overseeing the recruitment process carried out by our very large staff of Assistant and Senior Assistant Directors here at the University of Southern California.
It was around my fourth year at USC that I started to get the itch for a different kind of responsibility in college admission. I would not necessarily say it was a desire for “more” responsibility, because as an Assistant Director, I certainly felt like I was in charge of a lot: serving as a territory manager, an application reader, and the liaison between Admission and the Department of Athletics. Instead, I felt the urge to participate in the discussions on how we design our process, and then serve as a leader for my colleagues throughout that process.
The first challenge I encountered was one to which I’m sure many can relate: simply gaining the opportunity. I requested a meeting with our Dean to let him know my goals and to get his advice, and his forthright response meant the world to me. He told me that he thought I was ready to take that next step, but unfortunately, had nothing for me at the time, and couldn’t guarantee that something would become available in the future. So, as is often the rule in the world of higher education, if I wanted to move up, I would have to be willing to move around.
While it would have been ideal to remain in southern California, an opportunity came along to become an Associate Director at American University in Washington, DC. At AU, I would have the chance to supervise a staff through the recruitment and file review seasons, and participate in the enrollment management discussions that had always fascinated me. Because my wife is awesome, she was behind me all the way; packing up two cars, saying what turned out to be only temporary goodbyes, and driving a few thousand miles east.
If there’s anything I want to emphasize about this part of the story, it’s the importance of making your intentions very clear as to why you want to move up. Earlier, I wrote that I had “the itch” to move up, but where did that come from? I think it came from the belief that I could offer a perspective that could be meaningful, and somehow contribute to both the institution where I worked, as well as to the larger higher education network. I would imagine that others in similar positions would share intentions like this, but if not, I think we could at least agree on the importance of understanding your motivations in full.
Beyond that, those intentions should be more than just “cosmetic” intentions. In other words, if the motivation for moving up is simply to make more money, or have your own office, or be given a fancier title, I feel you will find yourself unhappy quickly. As an Associate at both AU and USC, I’ve been given some important tasks that carry significant weight. More than anything, it’s my job to model a level of professionalism that will trickle down to the staff I supervise, putting each of them in the best position possible to do successful work, and hopefully, gain something from the work in return. It wouldn’t take long for them see right through me if my intentions were flimsy.
So while I used this month’s entry to focus on how I got to the moment where I chose to leap into a new role, I’ll devote next month to the mistakes I made in those initial months. Because while good intentions are great, they didn’t prevent me from tripping over my own feet every now and then. And my, oh my, did I trip…
Looking back, though, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.