Helping Future Professionals Find Their Way


I have often thought about where I would donate some of my money if I ever won the lottery.  I have thought about making small contributions to the institutions (specifically their Recreation Departments) that formed who I am today as it would be great to give back to programs that gave me so much.  But, here I am, not a lottery winner and still wanting to give back.  

A month or so ago, I was asked by previous supervisors if I would come and be a presenter at a conference they were hosting at my Undergraduate institution.  After working out some details I could not say no, they wanted me to talk about my journey from Student Employee to the Professional staff member and I couldn’t wait.  This was one of those giving back opportunities I had been waiting for.

Students trying to enter a career field of any kind often have questions and sometimes don’t have someone to ask.  I wanted to create a presentation that would answer some of those questions without them having to be asked.  I wanted to create a presentation that would give suggestions to students, their supervisors, or other professionals in the department on how to navigate this journey.  And all I wanted was for just one person in the room to take something away from it.  Here is what I shared:

Student Role

  1. Be Your Own Champion
    Ask for the opportunity to make yourself better.  Sometimes we believe in ourselves more than anyone else believes in us and we can use that to fuel our own development
  2. Get Outside Your Comfort Zone
    At my very first Annual Conference for NIRSA, a speaker said: “get out of comfort to move into change.”  I have been using that phrase in my fitness classes and mentoring sessions ever since.  In order to change and grow, you have to be willing to get a little bit uncomfortable.  It is just as true in your personal and professional lives.  The things that challenge you change you – and often for the better.
  3. Ask for What you Want
    Are you looking for an opportunity to lead your peers?  Are you wanting the change to develop teaching skills?  Do you want to hone your presentation skills?  A lot of the time these skills can be developed through your job – especially if you are working in a place that encourages student development.  Learn to be open with your supervisors and ask for a chance to practice those skills.  Wanting a supervisor role?  Ask your supervisor what skills you should work on to make you an ideal candidate. Ask, ask, ask!
  4. Seek out Opportunities
    This one ties in with asking for what you want.  Look for opportunities that interest you.  Things like conferences, mentorship, volunteering, new positions, changing a process in your workplace and be prepared to sell the idea to your supervisor so they give you the chance to make it happen.
  5. More No’s for better yes’s
    Another great speaker takes away – which our guest blogger Dr. Kimberly Sommers mentioned in her post.  Often times, we have a hard time saying no especially when we are trying to gain experience.  Then we hit a point where a great opportunity comes that is exactly what we are hoping for but we don’t have time to say yes.  Practice saying no to the things that don’t spark a passion, so that when those perfect opportunities come around you can say yes.


Supervisor Role

  1. Support
    Simple – acknowledge the work your students are doing, and support them in the endeavors they are pursuing.
  2. Guide
    Help your students to answer the hard questions and make the hard decisions.  Sometimes it is easier to just answer the questions for them, but you will be doing a better service for them by guiding them through the process.
  3. Answer Questions
    It is easy to fall into a pattern of “I’ve already answered that question 17265432 times.” Or “I told you that during training.”  Sometimes you spend more time being frustrated with your staff because they are repeating questions, or asking things they should know instead of just answering the question or guiding them to the answer.  By answering the question, you are opening lines of communication and creating a certain level of comfort within your staff, instead of causing the students to be afraid to come to you.
  4. Provide Feedback
    Take some time to evaluate how you provide feedback. Is it always negative?  Do you strive to only provide positive feedback?  Do you use a love sandwich approach (positive – constructive – positive)?  For the most part, students are human.  Humans want to know where they are excelling and where there is room to make improvements.  Take the time to provide feedback – and better yet ask for feedback on your management style.  
  5. When Opportunity Knocks, Open the Door
    Just like I would advise students to seek opportunities, I would advise the professional staff members to be open to opportunities presented to them.  One of your students might have a brilliant idea for a staff training or a new procedure.  When they come to you, if you have complete control over changes made to those areas, give them the chance to improve their place of work or make their own peers better.


Department Role

  1. Get Students Involved
    One of the best ways to make sure that we serve our students in the best way we can is to get students involved in our work.  In recreation, we are often one of the most desired student employment locations on campus.  We have the ability to help people reach their goals in so many different ways.  But a lot of times, we are removed enough in age or lifestyle that we don’t really know if what we are planning will draw in students.  We can easily change that by tying in students to the programs and events we plan.
  2. Know Your Players
    More often than not you have a handful of student employees who are all in.  They want to be involved in everything, they are champions for the department, and they help to promote the new ideas to their peers.  Know who these staff members are, especially if you are looking to implement new policies, new training structures, or some new staff bonding/community building practices.  
  3. Be Open to Change
    Just like we ask our students to accept change as it comes in the form of new supervisors, new co-workers, a new structure to how we do things etc.   We need to be open to change as well.  With the speed that new trends are adopted now, we have to be ready to embrace the changes as quickly as possible.
  4. Be A Resource
    Make yourself available as a resource to your students.  Primarily in their professional and academic lives, but sometimes they just need someone to talk and understand what they are going through. Someone to bounce an idea off of.  Someone to look over a resume or cover letter.  Be that someone.  We don’t have all the answers, but we often have enough to start them off on the right track.
  5. Invest in Your Students
    If you have some authority over your departmental budget, set aside some funds to help students attend professional development activities.  It shows your commitment to developing your students, and they get a great experience learning from the experts in their field.


Making it through college is hard enough.  Turning a passion into a career can be even harder.  We’ve been through it, the least we can do is share our experiences and help in whatever way we are able to.

Caitlin Sommers
Student Role_Be Your Own ChampionGet Outside Your Comfort ZoneAsk for What you WantSeek out OpportunitiesMore No_s for better yes_s


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s