Archive for January 2012

That Wonderful Time of the Year – Staff Selection!

January 23, 2012

I love the spring semester in Student Affairs.  Some of you are probably looking at me with eyes about ready to pop out of your head thinking “Is he crazy?” or “My God, he’s finally lost it” but let me explain why.  Despite how chaotic spring semester is in SA, it is also a time where our organizations get some new life.  New SGA officers are assuming their new responsibilities and are bringing new issues to the table for debate and discussion.  New programming board officers are (hopefully) saying “Why CAN’T we try this new program?”  And, in my office, we are gearing up for RA and (possibly) RD Selection.

There is something reinvigorating about starting to plan for the next academic year.  Seeing so many new candidates exploring ways to become involved on campus and further develop their leadership opportunities is extremely reaffirming to me, especially as an ever-growing part of my role is dealing with student conduct issues and a small group of students who continuously fail to recognize the impacts that their actions have on themselves and their fellow students.

This year is a year of significant student staff turnover for us, as we are losing more than 30 of our 61 RAs.  The Class of 2012 saw some phenomenal student leaders serving as RAs and the leadership void they will leave will be significant, but NOT insurmountable.  Having the conversations with rising juniors and seniors has helped to identify those staff members who are ready for the next step and can become next year’s RA leaders.  I’m curious to hear some responses to some general questions regarding students stepping up to new leadership opportunities.

How do you coach rising juniors and seniors to fill the leadership “gap” left by graduating and non-returning students?

What are creative ways to reach out to untapped populations of students who are still looking to make their mark at the college/university?

What programs/trainings do you offer to ensure that applicants are well-versed in the expectations of your leadership positions?

Despite my level of enthusiasm for the spring semester, there is one area that always makes me cringe: e-mail etiquette.  Despite all of our best efforts in my office to identify potential RA candidates (RA and RD nominations of candidates, soliciting faculty and staff for names of outstanding students, attending student club and organization meetings, and word of mouth), we still rely heavily on self-nominations from students who see a campus-wide e-mail from me or their RD and decide to apply.

Given that our entire process is done electronically through BlackBoard (application, submission of resume/cover letter, reference forms, etc), candidates need to be enrolled in our Selection course, which means an e-mail to me asking to be enrolled.  Now, I want to put a disclaimer that I do not expect to receive a multiple paragraph e-mail for a simple request to be enrolled in our online selection course.  However, I do believe that there are some simple rules that can and should be followed by students who are drafting professional correspondence that is their first formal introduction to a hiring manager.  Receiving more than 10 e-mails with some variation of “hey, i saw ur e-mail about being an RA and want to apply.  how do i do it?” is, in my opinion, an open invitation for a “teachable” moment with my students about e-mail etiquette.  Fortunately, my saving grace for all things etiquette, Emily Post online features some simple and straightforward tips for e-mail etiquette:

1.) Your subject line is your first impression.

Be sure to include an informative and poignant subject line. Never send an e-mail with “no subject” in the subject line.

2.) Salutations, closing, and signature blocks.

While there is no doubt that e-mail is more informal than a typed letter, salutations and closings are still important. When composing e-mail to senior management always use a more formal greeting. When in doubt, defer to the formal. For example, use Mr. or Ms., hello versus hi, or Elizabeth versus Liz. When communicating with senior management you should also end the e-mail with a formal sign-off as well.

3.) Grammar and word choice matter.

While spell-check is a great tool, always read your e-mails over once or twice for grammar, spelling and word choice. E-mail is not an excuse for misspellings, grammatical errors, or punctual mistakes.

4.) Be conscious of your voice.

Be aware of usage of all caps, emoticons, and text message abbreviation. Using all capital letters tends to convey to the reader that you are shouting at them and tends to be harder to read. Also be aware that in the absence of facial expressions or tone of voice, interpretation defaults to the negative.

** http://www.emilypost.com/communication-and-technology/computers-and-communication/796-five-tips-for-e-mail-communication

How are we teaching our students to be effective communicators through their written correspondence with faculty, staff, and administrators?

Does anyone have any useful tools or tips that they have had success with in teaching students about appropriate e-communications?

Please send me your thoughts/ideas either through the comments section or through twitter @adamcasler.  Thanks for reading!

#OneWord2012 – Focus

January 3, 2012

Over the past few days, I’ve seen a lot of people from the #sachat community posting their #oneword2012 choices. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to participate, because I didn’t know what my word would be, as so many of the words that were coming across my feed that I didn’t feel I could make a decision that would encompass everything.

Words like progress, share, intentional, cultivate, congruency, connect, confidence, and so many other great choices all made me think about what I could do that could someone combine all of these factors. For me, the word that met this criterion was focus. A fitting word, given that it is one of my five Strengths and something that I recognize I need to improve in 2012. Several areas of “focus” will be important for this upcoming year.

Focus on Friendships: I have let my work be a never-ending excuse for failing to keep in touch with people. I realize that this must end soon, as I know that this excuse has been wearing thin with many people, including my oldest friends. In truth, there is no excuse for failing to focus on friendships other than I have been a bad friend. I’ve always prided myself on having friends that I know would do anything for me (and vice versa), and I do not want to risk losing or further damaging these friendships because of an excuse. Everyone works, we all have outside lives, and the time to reengage with these people is paramount.

Focus on Students: This is an area where I feel I have consistently done well, although, recently I’ve been forced to question whether or not the saying “The higher you rise in student affairs, the less direct contact you have with students” is true or not. Given that my position is still live-on, I’m fortunate that I do get to have some great connections with students, however, these are more frequently occurring on nights and weekends, as during the day, I’m finding myself being pulled into more administrative and planning meetings. That’s not to say I’m not enjoying these new aspects of my role at Siena, I’m actually loving it, I just need to remember to continue to focus on the students that I serve, even if that means “scheduling” time in my calendar to be present and visible for them.

Focus on Social Media: The #sachat community has opened up many new doors for sharing information, ideas, and forging new friendships that I probably would never had the opportunity to cultivate otherwise. At times, my engagement in this group has been lackluster, and a renewed commitment to engaging with professional colleagues and others through these venues is an essential part of my evolving “best practices” as a professional in student affairs.

Focus on Education: Now that the reality of being more than ½ way done with my Ph.D. coursework has hit me, it’s really time to buckle down and plan for the final stages of my final (thank God) degree. The comprehensive examination, and dissertation proposal are the two big obstacles at the moment. Fortunately, I have a very good advisor, so am looking forward to this semester being a time for us to plot out the next three years to ensure everything is completed and I can apply for candidacy in May 2014.

Focus on Health: After almost 5 years of living in Albany, I finally bit the bullet and set up a physical and established a primary care physician. I must admit, I didn’t do this because it was the normal thing to do, I had hurt my knee and wanted to make sure I didn’t do something really wrong to it. Fortunately, I found a great doctor through my friend Jen who didn’t pull any punches with me. My doctor said that while I was in pretty good health in terms of eyesight, hearing, cholesterol, and most other factors, she was very concerned about my weight. This wasn’t a shock, as I’ve been overweight for a number of years. What was shocking was to hear her flat out tell me “You’re going to lose at least 20 pounds by March 22.” I was a bit taken aback by how forceful she was, but I also know myself well enough to know that maybe this was the kick in the butt I needed to get moving. Fingers crossed!

Focus on Family: This one has never been a problem, but it warrants mentioning. Spending the holidays with my parents, while stressful at times, always re-centers me and helps me remember that there are things more important than my career. Seeing my parents still in love after 30 years is reaffirming that anything is possible with the love, devotion, and loyalty that I see them exhibit daily and has made me realize that this is what I hope to have someday when I “settle down” and start my own family.

Overall, I’m confident that 2012 will be a great year. I hope that a year of “focus” will allow me to be happy, healthy, and committed to all that I do.

What is YOUR #oneword2012? Tweet it to me (@adamcasler) or share in the comments below!