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By Samara Reynolds
Education and Career Development Committee member

As part of a new initiative by its Education and Career Development Committee (ECDC), the Employee Forum hosted its first-annual “Careers in Higher Education Administration Panel” on March 18, 2015. Current staff, graduate students, and undergraduates were invited to attend and learn about the professional pathways, day-to-day responsibilities, and career insight of individuals working in a variety of roles on campus. This year’s panelists were:

• Rebecca Egbert, Senior Assistant Director for Undergraduate Admissions
• Ronda Manuel, Associate Director of Development for the Arts & Sciences Foundation
• Allison Reid, Assistant Dean for Communication for the School of Law
• Aaron Todd, Assistant Director of Student Affairs for the School of Pharmacy, and
• Ken Yow, Manager of On-Site Support Services for Information Technology Services.

Each panelist was asked to describe their current role at UNC, including the content of their average day or week, how they got started in the field of higher education, what steps they have taken to get to their current role, and for advice for students and staff thinking about similar career opportunities on our or other college campuses. It was great to have diversity of experience in our panel, including some that attended UNC as undergraduates and have been working here for many years, as well as others who have worked on different campuses over the years.

The theme that ran throughout their stories and advice was how much they love working in the field of higher education, and how they get to bring their passion to work each day. Each highlighted the value of networking and relationship building to get a foot in the door and progress into more advanced roles. As Ken Yow suggested, it is important to find or notice an office or campus need, and then volunteer to help meet it. This may involve assisting on committees or with project-based work, helping to fundraise for an office or initiative, or pursuing part-time or temporary employment as a way to display relevant interests and skills. Allison Reid mentioned that this may mean taking some risks to find the right fit and make smart career moves.

For students in the room, panelists highlighted the value of educational, experiential, and student leadership experiences in helping them explore and prepare for different campus functional areas and roles. Volunteering and interning were cited as great pathways into the field, and Rebecca Egbert suggested informational interviews (setting up short conversations with people in roles of interest to learn about their work and obtain career-related advice), which staff members across campus are often open to having with interested students and professionals.

Overall, the panelists emphasized the positive aspects of a college campus work environment, and taking steps to reflect upon and define your work values and interests as you hone in on the best match would for your priorities and personality. As Aaron Todd advised, it is important to “identify what gives you energy” and use that knowledge when searching for on-campus opportunities and reviewing position descriptions. Ronda Manuel reiterated this idea when she advised that attendees “find what [they] love and dig in deep.” Our hope for this panel was to show that no matter what one’s area of professional interest is – communications, technology, sales, advising, management, etc. – a related role likely exists on a college campus. At the end of the discussion, I suggested that those interested in learning more about careers in higher education administration, in general, should check out both the national professional organizations of ACPA and NASPA, as well as their regional and state affiliates, and take time to speak with individuals working in jobs or offices of interest to gain additional insight and direction.

The Education and Career Development Committee looks forward to expanding upon this program in the future, to continue helping staff and students understand the many roles and opportunities on a campus like UNC-Chapel Hill, and how a career in “higher ed” could be a great fit for their professional goals.

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