Shannon Finney—Personal Statement
My experience working in student affairs and higher education has been incredibly impactful on my time as an undergraduate student. When I first started as a student at the University of Mary Washington I had no intent on staying for longer than a year. I was intent on transferring to another university, but after my first week on campus I had completely changed my mind. I attribute that change of heart to my involvement in on campus activities, something I believe is crucial to a successful college experience. Within the first week I became involved in an organization called the Young Women’s Leadership Program where I trained for a semester and became a mentor for 7th grade girls in high risk situations. That organization was the jumping off point where I found my love for student affairs. I loved having something additional to do each week on campus and by getting involved I found my place in our campus community, and I know I will find that same place at Elon University.
Halfway through my first year at school I applied to be an Orientation Leader and was introduced to the office of Student Activities and Engagement. By becoming an Orientation Leader, I was able to meet all of the professional staff who worked in both that office and the Office of Student Involvement. I have been an Orientation Leader for the past three years and have gained a tremendous amount useful experience. Each year was so different with a new group of Orientation Leaders and new groups of students, and I was able to learn from the many different challenges and successes. Meeting and working so closely with the staff of those offices opened my eyes to the world of student affairs and how beneficial it can be to a student’s overall college experience. Around that time, I was also elected by my class to be the Class of 2018 Vice President. Being on Class Council has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my college career. Since my freshman year I have moved from Vice President to President of my class as well as the President of the entire Class Council, where I continue today. This experience has been so meaningful as it has so many different facets. Class Council is the traditional programming board on campus and produces events that have been happening for over 100 years. I have worked very closely with the professional staff of the Office of Student Activities and Engagement, Graduate Assistants, off-campus vendors, and other programing boards on campus. It has been a challenging experience at times—gathering contracts and quotes, being a leader to my peers, and producing large-scale events came with difficulties and at time stressful environments. However, in all of those moments I loved learning from the challenges and have used the experiences to make things better for the next events. I have spent a considerable amount of time working with our advisor and Executive Board to restructure the council as well as our events to run more smoothly.
All of the time I have spent in the student affairs sphere at Mary Washington has made me realize how much I want to pursue it as a career. Since deciding this in my junior year I have bene putting more than 20 hours a week of my time in the Office of Student Activities and Engagement. I work as the Senior Student Coordinator for our OrgSync portal and that is also where the Class Council office is located. I know that the positions on campus and the dedication I had to them has strengthened me as a leader and as a member of the student affairs world. I have learned to be comfortable with a large workload that includes managing multiple projects simultaneously. Through my time on Class Council I have learned how to see other’s strengths and weaknesses and delegate based on those, not just randomly. Working with all of the professional staff has showed me what a rewarding experience working in student affairs can be and I want to be a part of that.
In the Spring of 2018 I will be receiving a BA in English. I have learned a lot about how to critically think about different things as well as push myself to explore ideas I might not have thought about myself. Taking classes in different cultural literature as well as a sociolinguistic class has opened my eyes to comprehend better where different people come from. My experience at a liberal arts college has meant that I have been put out of my comfort zone and had to take classes that I might not have taken otherwise. Before deciding to pursue student affairs I took many classes in the Secondary Education program. Through those classes I learned how to interact with students, foster a successful and positive environment for learning, and how to support students who are on different levels. All of these things would be useful in a student affairs setting. I believe that all of the work I have done during my time at the University of Mary Washington has prepared me to enter the outstanding Higher Education program at Elon University.
My biggest career goal in student affairs is to have a job that always has a hand in student development. In all of my time as an Orientation Leader my favorite parts have been growing as a leader while also having a hand in helping students succeed in their transition to college. I love working with students and I want to keep doing that directly for the rest of my career. I am open to working in many different offices across higher education. I have spent the majority of my undergraduate career working in student engagement or programing and I would like to gain experience in other aspects of the field. I have worked in different environments across campus and have had numerous learning opportunities. These experiences and opportunities have given me the passion and drive to continue on the path towards a career in student affairs. If I were to study higher education at Elon University I know I would gain even more experience and the tools needed to be a great student affairs professional.
One of the biggest challenges that I hope to address as a professional is institutional disengagement. Coming from a university where this feels incredibly high at times I can see how detrimental this can be on a campus community. It is no secret that when students are more engaged in campus they have higher grades, more classroom success, and there are higher retention rates. I experienced first-hand how becoming involved on campus can completely change someone’s experience as a student. Without my involvement on campus I would not have stayed at Mary Washington long enough to realize how much I loved it. I want to use my time in higher education to try and find ways to increase student engagement on campus because it is such an important aspect of student life.
I am a firm believer that learning happens through doing. In order to become better at something you have to work hard and learn from the successes and mistakes that may be made. The assistantships and internships that Elon University offers would provide exactly that experience. I would also really enjoy learning at a campus and in offices that are different from the ones where I have spent my undergraduate career. I look forward to help build student leaders who learn to love the college or university they attend as much as I loved mine. I want to go into student affairs and help students realize their potential and all of the opportunities available to them. Being a graduate student at Elon University would give me the opportunity to begin the rest of my student affairs career and become an even better leader and a member of the student affairs community.