Extra Credit

Extra Credit

Two maternity leaves in the space of six years gave Associate Dean for Student Development Carole Hughes a lot of food for thought about career and family - so much, in fact, that she wanted to hear what her colleagues had to say on the subject.

Carole Hughes (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
"Being at home with my second child for a couple of months really prompted me to think more broadly about issues surrounding family and career," said Hughes, whose daughters are 6 and 1 years old. "You start asking yourself all kinds of questions, especially 'Should I continue my career? Should I work full-time, part-time?' These are things many working parents ask themselves.

"But I knew I needed a broader perspective, because I felt that women in the student affairs field are contemplating a number of issues - professional and otherwise - especially as they move into mid-career. More women are entering administrative positions in student affairs, and at an earlier age, than in the past and many of these women have young families.

"I was also interested in the challenges professional women face as they reach mid-career, usually around the time they have families."
So Hughes coordinated a panel discussion, "Great Women Don't Always Think Alike: Women in Student Affairs," at last month's annual conference for the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators in Boston. The two-hour session featured presentations by eight women on what they considered turning points in their careers as student affairs professionals.

"One of the things that we discussed during the panel was redefining what it means to be successful as a student affairs professional," said Hughes. "Early on, many of us agreed, success was measured by the amount of time spent on campus, or at student-sponsored events, or helping a student deal with a problem or crisis. Student affairs work can be emotionally and physically taxing.

"Of course, the investment of time and energy in one's job is a universal issue. But as a student affairs professional, you are concerned with the formation of students, even as you are seeking to define yourself. So as you move through other stages of your life, how else can you measure success other than being present for a significant number of hours beyond the conventional work week? How do you be a good model for younger staff and students?

"Maybe it means being healthy, in mind and body, or trying to find a balance between work and one's family or personal life.

"These were things that struck a chord with audience members - one woman in particular was very emotional when she talked about her experience trying to maintain a family and a career. What stood out to me was that resolving these issues may be a life-long journey. It also was pointed out that institutions need to part of the discussion about the challenges of work and family."

Hughes hopes to inspire further conversation by contributing material from the panel discussion to a book on which she envisions collaborating with other women professionals. Although the book would not focus specifically on student affairs, Hughes says any opportunity to offer insights on developments in her field is a valuable one.

-Sean Smith


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