After nearly a year of DIY projects posted here and on my WordPress site, I thought it fitting that my personal and professional worlds collided during a DIY project I shared with my students. I sometimes find it hard to explain the work I do, so that’s why I rely on stories to explain it for me. Here it is, a day in my life: also known as Sheetrock Saturday.
My friends think I work too much. My family isn’t quite sure what I do at work. Some of my colleagues may think I don’t work enough.
What I do know is this: my work matters. When I’m not DIYing (or spending time with some combination of my husband, cats, friends, and family), I work at an institution of higher education. More specifically, I work in a field called student affairs. In this part of the college environment, students engage in learning opportunities outside of the classroom and connect with fellow students, staff, faculty, and reflect on themselves. I am an educator who creates learning experiences for students, more specifically by engaging them with the community and immersing them in community service.
This past Saturday, I participated in a service day with a group of 16 students in Keansburg, New Jersey. We worked with the St. Bernard Project on a home that had been completely devastated during Hurricane Sandy, just steps from the beach. This particular home was now completely rebuilt, lifted off the ground on risers to prevent it from flooding again. We met with informative volunteers, who talked to us about the ongoing Sandy recovery process, even two years later. We silently listened to the stories of families who still don’t live in their own homes. Our guide, Koffi, was a construction worker who took time off from his job to volunteer for 10 months with the St. Bernard Project. He led us on a tour of the home, belonging to a man named Hilton, and described the impact that Sandy still has on this community every day. The inside of the home was small, but we were tasked with a big challenge: putting up drywall in several rooms of the house.
Koffi led a particularly good icebreaker and asked everyone to share their name, major, favorite superhero, and describe their construction experience. Judging by the looks on the students’ faces when he mentioned construction experience, I could tell we were in for an adventure. Let’s just say that the bulk of our exposure to putting up drywall came from my frequent HGTV viewings of Property Brothers.
To me, this is the best part of working in student affairs: the uncertainty of my work and the necessity to push myself, and my students, out of our comfort zones. I watched my students tentatively pick up drills, screws, and move ladders around. I saw the concern in one student’s eyes when Koffi suggested she get her hands on the sawzall, and I watched her expression turn to pride over a few hours of hard work. One student picked up a nail gun and squealed with excitement when she heard the loud “BANG!” of its release, watching her final product come to fruition.
Students scraped away at old sheetrock, supporting each other on ladders and passing pencils, goggles, masks – anything to get the project done more quickly. I particularly loved any time that a student said, “Here, do you want to give drilling a try?” and passed their tool on to someone looking less sure of themselves. I joined in the project as well, but for me, the best thing was watching the students bust out of their comfort zone and learn about disaster relief, poverty, and teamwork – all through the experience of building a home.
I was reminded again about how much my work matters. A student may not remember all of the facts learned in a semester-long class on contemporary sociological theory, but they’ll remember how it felt to hold a drill in their hands for the first time when they worked on the home of someone in need. That’s what student affairs is all about: teaching and learning through experience.
So, for everyone who wonders about my work schedule and questions what a career in student affairs might be like: That’s what I do when I go to work on a Saturday.