Welcome to MCEEA’s Faces on Campus campaign!
Over the next year – we will be highlighting the career educators and employers who make up our great organization. Each week we will pay tribute to the individuals who devote their lives to helping students take that key first step into their professional career and the employers who welcome and develop them into the professionals they will become.
We hope you enjoy the insights, stories, and laughs of the people of MCEEA.
This week brings us to Grand Valley State University – GVSU (https://www.gvsu.edu/) a public university in Allendale, Michigan, approximately 12 miles west of Grand Rapids. GVSU is a comprehensive coeducational university.
Our interviewee is Megan Packer - Graduate Assistant and Graduate Student. Megan is currently a year out from graduating with a Masters of Higher Education with a concentration in CSAL which stands for College Student Affairs Leadership.
Joe Bamberger - Tell us about what you're studying.
Megan Packer - I am a Masters of Higher Education Student at GVSU focusing on how to assist college students when they're within the college environment. Which includes, getting them connected with Student Affairs, supporting them from both a personal standpoint and also preparing them for post-graduation and of those next steps in their professional career. I'm specifically concentrating on Career Services, which is where I currently work at Grand Valley. I focus on career preparation, job and internship search, resumes, cover letters, all those basic professional development milestones before jumping into that first internship or full-time job.
JB - What led you down that educational pathway?
MP - I graduated with my undergrad from Grand Valley State in 2018. I spent a couple of years working in the corporate world within human resources really concentrating on succession planning, career development, talent acquisition, as well as many other aspects of HR. I really discovered my passion for working with college-age students. I found a blend of these passions and interest areas within Career Services at Grand Valley. That's ultimately kind of what drew me back was just the passion for working with college students, helping prepare them for the professional world, and also just loving the education industry as a culture, Grand Valley as an institution, and just loving being here.
JB - Is the plan to continue with Grand Valley, or do you have a different dream job in mind?
MP - Honestly, I'm a little bit mixed right now, I could go either way. Part of me would love to stay within higher education and work within career services or something similar to that. The other side could be working to incorporate my two passions within a University Relations position that would blend my HR background along with the university and education background. Those are the two areas I'm leaning towards right now.
JB - Walk me through what the curriculum is for that degree. What sort of things are you studying? What helps it stand out?
MP – I think what's unique about Grand Valley's higher education program, in particular, is we're required to work within a student affairs position while attending school. Not only do we get the classroom discussions and classroom experience, but we get hands-on experience working with students, and really being able to relate those two concepts or experiences to really make them make sense to us. In classes, we're focusing on anything from theories of higher education, theories of student development, and how to work with college students. Right now, especially a big topic with a world, but definitely in higher ed is diversity inclusion. We really focus on student identity and social justice, concentrating on how to understand and work with students of different backgrounds, how to create a safe setting for them within Student Affairs, and how to push change within higher education. That's definitely a huge focus right now. Outside of that, we're focusing on leadership concepts, basics of student affairs, how higher education has come to be, as well as understanding other aspects of education such as early childhood education and things along those lines, really understanding the whole student, as a concept. Being able to relate that to our work as we're going through the program really makes that special and it kind of sits with us more memorably, but really allows us to apply that knowledge hands-on.
JB - Do you have a favorite part of the job you're doing right now?
MP - What made me come back here was working with college students. Being able to work one on one in advising with students has been what I love every single day. Being able to get to know students one personally, but then really helping them kind of carve out what they want to do, and digging into the things that they enjoy, their experiences, the skills that they don't even know that they have and how to utilize them have been doing really special.
JB - When you look at the current generation of students, specifically at Grand Valley, do you feel they struggle with something most when it comes to career readiness or job searching?
MP - Honestly, I would say - and I think this has been ongoing outside of this generation - is truly just the confidence in being prepared for those interviews for those opportunities is something that all students really struggle with. Especially students who may be first-generation students who haven't had maybe a formal internship experience, for example, and then not knowing how to talk about their personal experiences, or maybe the jobs that they held in high school or while they're attending school, that may not be directly related to what they want to do, but have skills or experiences that do relate. Really helping them become confident in their experiences, how to talk about them and overall, just being confident in an interview, I feel like is the thing a lot of students come in not knowing how to do and then we talk through, and they didn't even realize how good they were at this one thing, or that how something could relate to an experience they're going into.
JB - Let me take you back to your undergrad. Did you utilize career services while you were an undergrad at Grand Valley?
MP - I worked as a student worker when I was an undergrad at Grand Valley within Career Services. I did a lot of presentations for services for student organizations, and things like that, really teaching just the basics of how to write a resume or cover letter. Long story short, I used services, and then also got connected with their career center as a worker, but it allowed me to really build early relationships that later on led me to get internship experiences as well as my first full-time job. It's become a little family to me. It was great to build that network in school and now to come back as a professional and be a little bit older and be able to do that same thing for students.
JB - Do you work within a particular school at the university or with a particular major, or do you help across the board?
MP - Any students within the business realm is what I primarily focus on. Outside of that, I work with undecided students who are trying to figure out what they want to do, as well as assisting other advisors if there's a higher need than what they can handle at that time.
JB - Do you find working with those students there's a particular major you struggle with helping connect to career opportunities the most?
MP - For me, it's students who fall in MIS or management information system, which is kind of this weird blend between business and IT. It is an area where I have no idea what they're learning or what they do, or how to prepare them. So I and another advisor partner on those, but that's definitely an area where I struggle with what the students are discussing in terms of programming, software, etc. It’s an area that I’ve definitely been putting effort into learning more about by talking to students, our advisor who focuses on technology-based students, and reading up as much as I can to better assist them.
JB - Do you have a favorite event on campus as it relates to career services?
MP - We developed a virtual conference during COVID that is all about preparing students for the professional world that leads up to our semi-annual career fair. It is called the Work Like a Laker Conference, there are professional development sessions on topics anywhere from how to build a resume to diversity inclusion, to negotiating and interview preparation. It’s an awesome series of events that really prepares our students for that career fair and those next steps whether that is an internship or a professional job.
JB - Let's talk a little bit about the future. We're talking here today because of MCEEA and I know that Grand Valley's Career Service offices are very involved with the organization. As you look to enter your professional career post master's degree, what are some things you would hope an industry-based organization like MCEEA might offer to its members?
MP - I really think that organizations like MCEEA do an excellent job of covering current topics or things that are going on in the world. Continuing to do that and really assisting professionals with connecting our professional world to what may be going on in education, but more importantly, outside of it. In addition, for me personally as I step more so into a professional career, connecting education to other industries – kinda like I just talked about but really how to connect those two worlds. Finally, more conversations around how to better engage the non-traditional students and how to work with students as they progress when it comes to generation identity.
JB - If someone's considering a career path like you, what piece of advice would you give them?
MP - Anyone who goes into student affairs has a love for working with students. That's the first step if you realize this is something you love doing and you love working with people, specifically helping young professionals and individuals develop, student affairs is an awesome profession. When it comes to the career side, it's a field that with the base knowledge, you can really learn as you go. Someone who may be thinking about this career shouldn't stop themselves if they don't know anything about career services or student affairs. That's okay, if you know how to work with people, and you have a passion for helping them, the other skills come as you go. That would be my general advice is don't be scared if you don't know anything about that job, as long as you have the passion.
Faces on Campus is a weekly interview series highlighting members of MCEEA conducted by Joe Bamberger of Emerge Consulting. Be sure to follow MCEEA on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and MCEEA.org
Connect with Megan on LinkedIn