Tama Bolton is our featured alumni blogger for this week. Tama, 2007 CSSA Graduate, is the Director of Enrollment Services which includes the offices of Admissions, Records and Financial Aid at Cabrillo College, a community college in Aptos, California, student population 12,500. You may also reach her on Twitter: @TamaMBolton
I recently paused from the hecticness of numerous projects in motion at work to reflect upon when I have experienced a similar level of heightened activity and concluded that “this feels very much like how I felt during my final term in the CSSA program.” Yes, this definitely feels like Spring 2007 when I had a myriad of projects in motion at one time and as many emotions swirling while scrambling to get everything done. The combination of anxiety about pending deadlines mixed with the uncertainty of what lies ahead felt massive. I was happy that I was nearly finished with a significant goal, yet sad that it also meant that many other things were coming to an end and I would soon be embarking on another journey but had no idea what it would look like.
It isn’t like this all the time, but several things have happened in the past six months which have forced me to dig down deep and tap into many skills I learned while in the CSSA program, some from specific course assignments, my graduate assistant experience and others from simply having been a student developing my own organization and coping skills.
Here are some examples–
Human Development–The offices of Admissions, Records and Financial Aid ended the fall term with the usual end of term busy activities while also packing up our offices to prepare to move to a temporary location as our building, one of the oldest on campus, would be undergoing revitalization for at least four months (of course it turned out to be six months). Each office is set up in a former classroom which is not an ideal situation but we have adjusted and repeat our new motto of “it’s just temporary.” Not everyone handles change in the same manner and I have seen evidence of Maslow’s Theory of Hierarchical Needs while staff adjust to the new environment and my leadership team and I work to address their diverse needs so they can function in their jobs.
Removing Silos–During my time at OSU (2005-2007) the University was experiencing a budget crisis and Larry Roper and his Student Services leadership team had numerous conversations about restructuring. He shared with us plans for breaking down silos within Student Services and the need for working more collaboratively. I remember wondering what exactly that would mean, how would Student Services at OSU stay the same or be different, would the student notice the difference, what did it mean for the future of OSU?
We are now having the same conversations at Cabrillo due to budget reductions last year. Two years ago, our Vice President of Student Services announced a restructure of campus services and blended the offices Admissions, Records and Financial Aid and created the Enrollment Services Division. We are gradually adjusting to this new structure, not all staff grasped the concept or saw the need, but now many state and federal regulations are impacting how we conduct business forcing these key areas to have in-depth conversations, modify our practices so that we are in compliance with the regulations so we may offer financial aid to students and monitor their progress together.
It is very apparent now why restructure was necessary. We are realizing the benefits of a deeper level of collaboration and more transparent operations, I can see the concept taking on as we begin to work closer with other areas such as our Institutional Technology division and Business Services. As a result, we have better informed staff and therefore are providing better services for our students.
In our temporary office/classroom space I have seen how the absence of cubicle walls have nurtured better collaboration between staff and has helped to break down long held differences between personnel. In addition to breaking down the figurative silos, we will be remodeling the office workstations and removing the physical walls when we return to our newly revitalized building the end of this month.
Order out of chaos–In our Leadership course, Bruce Clemetsen and Tim McMahon taught us about chaos theory and shared evidence that good things can come out of chaotic events. After having experienced much chaos lately, I can say that certainly is possible.
In preparation for the move to our temporary location and instead of moving all of the archival records, the Records office implemented a schedule of digitizing them to make them accessible electronically, something we had talked of doing but seized the opportunity to move them into the 21st century instead of to a temporary location. Although it was another major project, the timing was right and as a result, our processes are streamlined, records are easily accessible and we will now have more office space when we return.
I am currently at a conference for directors of California community college Admissions & Records offices and last month I attended a similar conference but on a national level. In California we are all recovering from a few challenging budget years which have sparked many changes on our campuses–changes in organizational structure and office functionality, as well as statewide regulations focusing on methods to ensuring student success. We are not alone in making huge changes in how we operate and are funded, as it was a resounding theme among my colleagues at the national level. It is an exciting yet chaotic time in higher education as there are so many changes in affect and more to come. It is comforting to know we are not alone in the process. I am glad to be involved in a time of so much change and eager to see how things look once there is calm after this storm. There is certain to be a new chapter in the History of Higher Education in the United States textbook as a result of what we are experiencing now.
Assessment, assessment, assessment–It’s the time of year when staff evaluations are due so I am in the mode of assessing the work of my staff, while also being evaluated by my boss who also requires that I do a self assessment prior to our meeting to discuss my progress and goals. Ironically, it is also time for our program review when we assess the effectiveness of the student learning outcomes and the services we provide to our colleagues and students in each office. Always assessing.
When I decided to go back to college and earn my master’s degree, I pursued the CSSA program because I was not only looking for a degree, but I wanted the holistic experience the program promised in order to be fully prepared for my career in Student Services and that is exactly what I received. After graduation, I was better prepared than I gave myself credit that final term and my experiences in the program certainly prepared me for the pace of my current role and the elements of my daily work.
To the first year CSSA students, I wish you well as you prepare for the end of what I am certain has been another whirlwind term as you progress to the next phase of the program. I wish the graduating students the best as they prepare to defend their thesis, wrap up projects and prepare to move on to their next journey.