Blog Post by Caitlin Cairncross
I spent my four undergraduate years in a large public school in Canada. I was an international student lost in a sea of 25,000 other students. I went to class every day in a lecture room full of 200+ people, taught by world class professors who, for the most part, never saw a single one of my papers. Most of my professors, and even most of my TAs, did not know my name. My assigned advisor to this day doesn’t know what I look like (I had to beg a professor to sign off on my program audit before graduation because my actual advisor couldn’t make time to meet with me).
As a result, I left my undergraduate institution feeling lost. While I made wonderful, life-long friends, and really got to enjoy and love the city I was in, I never really felt connected to the university community, and throughout my four years I sensed that my undergraduate experience was somehow lacking. College is supposed to be a transformative time—and in many ways, it was for me—yet I graduated with a loss of confidence, and unsure about what direction I wanted to go in. There is no doubt that I gained a lot of knowledge, and became incredibly independent and self-reliant. However, I felt overall confusion about my experience and how to build off of it.
In many ways, it was this experience that led me to the student affairs profession, and the SDA program. I knew that my lack of connection to the school, and the absence of meaningful extra-classroom support, had a direct effect not only on my enjoyment of my undergraduate years, but also in my overall development during those years. I decided that I wanted to be able to contribute to the growth of students. I wanted to be the person that takes the time to advise, to assist, to guide, and to listen.
When I entered the SDA program, and began to better understand the mission of Jesuit education, I realized that I had made the right decision. Not only was I studying how to become a student affairs professional, and how to ensure that students have a holistic, well-rounded education, but I was now receiving such an education myself. Professionals at Seattle U recognize that success goes beyond the classroom, and ensure that every student feels supported and connected not only to their classmates, but to the school as a whole. I sensed these qualities even before I became an official SDA student.
According to the Student Personnel Point of View, a study that SDA students become familiar with pretty much immediately, one of the main goals of student affairs is that “the student progressively understands himself.” (Yes I know it’s nerdy to use class materials for a blog post, but in this case I had to do it!) This immediately rang true for me. It’s not just about choosing what classes to take, or what internships to apply for—student affairs is aimed at the holistic development of the individual, and ensuring that education is multi-dimensional. The overall goal is to help students know themselves better, and reflect on what their goals are and where they see themselves in relation to the community. This mission can help students both professionally as well as personally. Now, having been in the program for a little over a month, I have come to realize how closely the tenets of Jesuit education and the tenets of student affairs go hand in hand. In my mind, this creates the ideal environment to learn about student affairs.
Already I’ve noticed progress in my own development—I speak up in class (something I never did in my large lectures in college). I contribute. I evaluate. I spend a lot of time contemplating materials and forming my own ideas, integrating aspects of concepts that I’m studying from each of my classes. And most importantly, I reflect.
Looking back, these were the things that I didn’t do during my undergraduate studies, and this is what left me feeling lost. Looking forward, this is what I want to change about myself, and this is what I want to help others achieve. For that reason, I’m very excited to be a part of the SDA program.