Lessons I’ve Learned From Being a New #SAPRO: My #SAPRO Anniversary, Part 1

The Presence team is made up of student affairs professionals and former student government leaders with a passion for student engagement. Many of us have underwent the transition from being a student to becoming a professional. We came across an article written by Kimberly A. White about her experiences in her first year as a student affairs professional. We thought the article was insightful and worth a share. We hope this can aid people experiencing that very process!

As many of our #SAgrads transition into emerging #SAPros this summer, I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned as an emerging professional. The transition from graduate student to new professional tends to consist of subtle and drastic changes that occur over the course of the summer and fall terms. I don’t have all of the answers.

There is no magic solution for a seamless transition into the world of the #SAPro. I do believe, however, that by being strategic, open to new opportunities and challenges, and accepting the fact that mistakes will happen, the first year out of graduate school can be a positive one filled with learning. Again, I would like to note that these thoughts come from my personal experience; your mileage may vary.

Know Your Institution

New professionals should learn as much as they can about the college or university where they plan to begin their journeys as #SAPros. I started working at Birmingham-Southern College in the early summer, which gave me a chance to meet individually with faculty, staff, and senior leadership to learn more about the inner workings of the college, as well as get a general idea of the vision that leadership has for the future of our institution.

These meetings also gave me a chance to connect with other offices, such as international programs, admissions, and development, to seek possible routes for collaboration. For example, my office will be collaborating with the Alumni Association to provide mentoring opportunities for students engaged in summer internships outside of the Birmingham area; a direct result of these discussions. Learn a few fun facts about your institution, as well. I’ve had friends and members of my cohort visit me in Birmingham, and being able to tell the story of Birmingham-Southern College has been a fun experience for all of us!

It’s Ok to Make Mistakes

While newly-minted #SAPros may take time to get a handle on institutional culture, major stakeholders, and how the college or university “works,” mistakes are inevitable. #SAPros make mistakes all the time – even seasoned veterans may miscalculate when getting involved in new projects or processes. Embrace those opportunities as teaching moments and learn from them. After all, student affairs is a community of lifelong learners!

When I first took on my role as a Campus Advisor, I misunderstood what it would entail and needed to backpedal slightly in order to gain a better understanding of where I fit into the organization before I could move forward on strengthening the chapter. I was invigorated and excited about the potential impact of my work, but my mistakes were a signal that more learning was necessary. The learning process has been positive for me, and has allowed me to better utilize my skill set and functional area to make change. I’ve made some great connections in the process!

Network Outside Your Institution

Once #SAPros have a good handle on institutional structures and policies and have made the effort to connect with other professionals within the college or university, it’s only natural to expand networks and learn from others. It’s a small world in student affairs, and taking the initiative to meet with professionals, and graduate students, from other colleges and universities has a number of positive implications.

I’ve been able to learn about best practices from #SAPros in similar positions to my own, have deeper discussions about different aspects of the profession, and learn more about functional areas where I may have less expertise. Plus, conferences become much more fun when you can reunite with friends and colleagues from other parts of the country!

Make Friends and Enjoy Your New Role as #SAPRO

While networking is great, take some time to get to know professionals inside and outside of student affairs on a more personal level. It’s been amazing to see the relationships that I’ve built over the course of a year blossom into strong friendships. Catching up regularly with my girlfriends, whether it’s over lunch in downtown Birmingham or on FaceTime, provides me with the work-life balance that I crave.

Best of luck to those #SAGrads who will be starting the transition into being professionals in student affairs! Take the time to learn, and enjoy it.


This post is part of a two-part series to celebrate Kimberly’s one-year anniversary as a student affairs professional. The second post will go live next week! 

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