During the fall, my position as transfer admissions representative keeps me out of the office two to three days a week. This keeps me pretty out of the loop when it comes to things happening on campus. I do my best to stay as connected as possible, but when you are out of the office more days than you are in, that can get tricky.
One Thursday last fall, I had been out of the office all day when I heard through the grapevine that rumors were flying about the all-campus faculty/staff meeting scheduled for Friday. I was not even planning on being at the Friday meeting because I was presenting at a conference. I was not worried.
A few hours later, an e-mail came announcing that the Friday meeting had been moved to 8 p.m. Thursday for those who were available. That was when I started to pay attention and, admittedly, worry a bit. Why would they hold a meeting so late in the evening if it were not important? My partner and I drove my hour commute to campus, and I joined about 100 of my colleagues in the gymnasium, where we listened to our president deliver some surprising news.
I was almost through my first 90 days as a new professional and I was just beginning to feel a little less like the new girl and a little more like I was a part of this place. The campus that I was just beginning to feel a part of, the place that I had spent miles on the road advocating and recruiting for, announced that evening that it would be terminating all of its traditional undergraduate degree programs effective May 2015. All of the students will be expected to transfer elsewhere and we, faculty and staff, will need to find other jobs. We would be receiving a sealed envelope the following day, the president said, that announced our last day employed by an institution that many called home. It was no secret that the admissions office would be the first to go.
There were reactions of all sorts that night and in the days that followed: tears, shock, confusion, anger, helplessness, sarcasm and joke making. Being so new to my position and the institution left me very unsure of where I fit in amid all of the emotions.
I did not have much time to sit around and wonder how to handle this situation. It was the end of October and I did not want to wait until January to begin job searching. Staying forward thinking and positive was very important for me. The situation was not one that I had any control over preventing, but I did have control over how I handled it and what would happen next. I was confident in myself and my skills, and I knew I just had to get back out there.
I spent time updating my résumé and reflecting on the skills I gained during my first few months as a new professional. (I strongly recommend always keeping your résumé updated. Revisit it often and add new presentations, projects and accomplishments as you go.) In addition to reflecting on and updating my résumé, I also reached out to connections I had in the area. My partner and I are both in student affairs, which makes our network within the field larger when we put it together. I informed my references that I would be searching again and was open with my mentors about my situation.
I was extremely fortunate. After the meeting that Thursday evening, I arrived home pretty shaken, but I knew I needed to see what (if any) positions were open in our area. I made a list of all of the schools close to home and went on all their Web sites.
A position caught my eye immediately: transfer admissions counselor at Lincoln College-Normal. The campus is only seven minutes away from where we live and the position was very comparable to the one that I was leaving. The application deadline had passed (by one day) but I reached out anyway. I told the institution that I would have my materials to them by Monday and would appreciate being considered if they would still accept them. Only days went by before my phone interview, and my on-campus interview was scheduled for the following week. This was a good thing about job searching at such an inopportune time: the process moved very quickly because the college to which I was applying wanted to get someone in the position just as quickly as I was hoping to get hired.
I learned a lot from the roller-coaster ride of those few weeks. I hope that these takeaways from my experience can help others when the sky falls down so unexpectedly.
Do not forget about the students. It was so amazing to see the staff and faculty at the institution where I lost my job stand up for the students and remember to keep the students a part of the conversation during this huge transition. The effect that this change is having on the students is huge, and I can't say enough how thankful I am to be at a place that never forgets to advocate for them.
Never underestimate the students. The questions that the students have been asking, the fears they have been vulnerable enough to share, the school spirit, the way they are supporting one another have been amazing. The students are what make up this community, and they have not been afraid to show us that, especially in the last few weeks.
Ask for help. Someone started a Facebook group for all of the employees to share job information. It is an interesting thing to have a lot of people at the same institution going through the job search alongside you (actually it feels a little bit like graduate school) but it is beneficial for when you need support. Lean on one another and ask for help when you need it.
Remember that change is hard. Be patient with yourself. It is O.K. to be sad, angry, confused -- change is hard and transition is not easy. Remember that you aren’t alone in any of the things that you are feeling.
Support the community. Seeing how the local community and the colleges around us have been willing to support our students has been a great reminder for me to always remember to give back. Waived application fees, scholarship opportunities, daily table visits at our campus -- representatives from campuses all over Illinois and Missouri have been so willing to help our students with their upcoming transitions.
It gets better. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and things will get better. I was very fortunate to find a position close to home that I am very excited about at Lincoln College-Normal. In December, I started as a transfer admissions counselor.
Yes, I only worked on my former campus for about three months but I do believe that everything happens for a reason. I met some amazing people, and although our time together was short, I am so thankful. Thank you, Bulldogs, for the opportunity to be a part of your family, even if only for a little while.
Mandi Stewart, formerly transfer admissions representative at Benedictine University at Springfield, is now a transfer admissions counselor at Lincoln College-Normal.
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