The NASPA M. Ben Hogan Small Colleges and Universities Institute (SCUI) was held in Tacoma Washington at the University of Puget Sound this summer, and the campus is fortunate to be under the watch of Mount Rainier, a tremendous mountain peak that sometimes hides behind the clouds in the oft-rainy Pacific Northwest. As I strolled around the campus, a stunning mix of beautiful architecture and horticulture in a sweet little neighborhood, I caught glimpses of this majestic wonder. Seeing it peek around corners of trees in the distance and take my breath away with surprise was a treat for the spirit. Turned out to be an apt metaphor for the experience as a whole. The folks in the Pacific Northwest use the above expression to illustrate that their beautiful scenery is always waiting behind a cloud to take their breath away and restore their spirit.
The Institute is held every other year on the campus of a small institution, and is four days of all-group deep dive campus issue examination for senior student affairs officers. In between the sessions, we talk and we share. We gather to share ideas and best practices. We lament over best practices gone awry. We tell war stories. We celebrate successes. As small college folk, we know that our professional experiences are unique in higher education, and SCUI provides us a forum to support one another and to learn from each other in unique and very powerful ways. This year, we enjoyed sessions that challenged our thinking about assessment, working with our academic partners, and campus activism, as well as exploring the power of positivity and the impact it can have on our campuses and staffs.
In that sharing and learning, we discovered that many of us are experiencing some of the same kinds of issues on our campuses, and that, for me, was restorative. Anyone who spends more than a few minutes with me knows how much I adore my job – my job, my campus, my students, my student affairs staff, all of it – but some days are less sunny than others. Some days, it is downright cloudy and even a thunderstorm can take me by surprise. When those days hit, it is invaluable to call upon the resources shared by colleagues at events like SCUI for ideas. Other days, I just need to commiserate and problem solve with a colleague I’ve met. By using the things I learn at these events, I find I’m able to rediscover the sense of positive momentum that powers my work on my small campus.
Dr. Carrie Petr serves as the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, as well as the Director in the Minor in Leadership Studies at Doan University in Crete, NE.