There once was a little girl raised in the small country town of St. Paul, Oregon (You are thinking to yourself: I’ve never heard of this place. You’re not alone). This little girl spent childhood with a book in her hand, in the saddle of a horse, being raised by her cowboy father. Those novels filled that girl’s head with a strong sense of right from wrong, the idea that good always conquers evil, and that having people who care for you will ensure that you are never a failure.
That girl was me; I’m Melissa Sumiko Van Drimmelen. I love exercise, reading, dancing, and food of almost any kind (except beets…I hate beets). I just started in the SDA program this summer and I’m already enamored with the people and the program. I went to Oregon State University for my undergrad where I majored in English and minored in Japanese. Honestly, I didn’t even know what Student Affairs was until I became a Resident Assistant at OSU. Ideas like social justice and privilege were not the topic of conversation in my hometown. It turned out I was really good at Res Life, and I really enjoyed helping others in their development and being there when they needed support. I’ve always been a fighter in life, I was born with a warrior’s fire in me (as my grandmother said) and I needed somewhere to fight my battles. When I learned what social justice actually meant, something ignited inside me and I knew this was my calling. Student Affairs became my battlefield even before I had decided to pursue it as a career.
My identity development is a huge part of who I am as is my Korean and Japanese ancestry. My father was adopted from Korea so it is not definitive what my heritage is on his side besides Korean. My grandmother was a Japanese war bride and is a woman I feel more respect for than I could ever articulate. She is why I am so ardently passionate about Japanese culture and my heritage. It is also why I believe so much in international education and learning from each other on a cultural level. I think the more we know where everyone is coming from the, more compassionate we can be in our interactions. For those of you who have done Strengths Finder: my Empathy strength means I am very good at reading people and, unfortunately, when paired with my Command strength, it means I like to say what is on my mind and can be hazardously honest.
I am very blessed to be married to continuing SDA student and SUSDA Vice Chair Chris Van Drimmelen, probably also known as the “kind of weird guy who always wears a suit.” Being partners in the program makes for an interesting dynamic, but we have very different strengths and personalities that end up complimenting one another. We are able to be sounding boards for each other and talk through issues because we understand each other in the same field. I think being in my marriage while in the SDA program contributes to my learning in the classroom and what I take away from the classroom only enriches our marriage. I did not go the route of the GAship, initially because someone needed to pay the bills for a while, but also because I really do love Residence Life and making a difference for the students who live in Housing. I am currently the Residence Life Coordinator for Art Institute of Seattle (ask me what it’s like working at a for-profit institute sometime).
Watching Chris start the program made me realize how much I really did want to stay in this field making a difference in the world of Student Affairs. I have felt so welcomed and embraced by the current group of continuing SDA students: how could I not want to be part of that family? Why would I not want to be surrounded by such dynamic and aware individuals like those in the SDA program? After meeting the amazing people from my cohort I am only more confident in my decision to be here. Being a full time professional in the field already will help contribute to conversations and give a unique perspective that not everyone gets the opportunity to have during their masters.
On the other side of things, I get the feeling that there is still plenty of room for improvement and growth in certain aspects of the program. I have already noticed there seems to be a divide over which faculty students identify with in the program. People seem to be either team A or B, which is a little distressing to me since I was never very good at team sports. I also think that the program is more designed for those who have a GAship. Those who do not have a GAship miss out on some of the camaraderie and professional development that is only readily available to the GAs. These are very minor things that I have noticed and I feel very lucky to be part of such an outstanding masters program. I look forward to adding what I can to further build the SDA program.
I started the program this summer with Best Practices and Higher Education Finance. Both classes were awesome; I especially recommend Finance. It is a fantastic class and Kurt makes it much more interesting and digestible than you think Finance could ever be. I personally think it should be required since almost everyone will be affected by budgets at some point when working in Higher Ed, and everything we learned was so relevant to so many areas of Student Affairs.
I’m really just anxious to start taking Fall classes. I thrive when I am in a learning environment and I feel like I learn the most about myself when I’m in discussion with others! I know I may not be on campus as much as those who have a GAship but I really enjoy meaningful conversations and I believe we all need camaraderie to thrive in life. I look forward to having you all as my peers, my mentors, and my friends!
– Melissa Van Drimmelen