2016 Professional Development Scholarship Recipient – Tara Stevenson, Flagler College

Five months post NACE-MLI and I still think, “Wow, how did my head not explode in front of all those people??”  Cause that’s exactly how I felt while sitting in the back row, looking out at 60+ Career Professionals as we got ready to embark on a five-day journey of professional soul searching and reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of myself and my own department at Flagler College.

To give you a bit of background, I am in my eighth year with the Career Development Center at Flagler College in Saint Augustine, Florida.   This year marks my fourth year as the Director.  I quickly became involved in SoACE after I began my current role, serving as a chair for the Career Advising Knowledge Group, becoming a SoACE Mentor, and presenting at annual conferences.

On a whim, I saw the SoACE Scholarship email around the same time I looked through various associations for professional development opportunities.  When I came upon NACE-MLI, I thought, “Why not?  Let me put my scholarship application in on the deadline day and see what happens!”  Lo and behold, I was honored to be selected to not only represent Flagler College, but SoACE as the scholarship recipient and become a member of the 2016 MLI class in St. Louis, Missouri.  In a whirlwind, I completed my applications and pre-requisite work for MLI and set my travel plans in motion for the summer.

Shortly after the school year ended for the summer, I took some time to completely revamp our office with our Assistant Director.  We went through a name change, overhauled our campus programming and developed a new rebranding strategy.  Our office finally received the approval to hire a new coordinator, putting our office at a staff of three instead of the two we always operated under.  Talk about a couple new changes happening quickly and all at once!  Little did I know, the timing could not have been proven more perfect as I set out to travel into the deep space nine of leadership versus management, strategic planning, ethics and finance and marketing all within the sphere of career development at a college campus.

I won’t go through every single thing we covered, nor will I bore you with my inner monologue of the week, but here are a few of my takeaways, milestones, or profound impacts:

  • “You can be in a management position where no one wants to follow you.” – Matthew Brink, NACE
  • I’m a Squiggle…or maybe a squiggly triangle…and that’s ok! I stood up for my group on the first day of MLI when I felt we were looked at as the “crazy” ones.  Being spontaneous, thinking outside of the box and keeping up high energy is a great thing.  My control freak, challenging the process, literal self is also a great thing.  Taking pieces of both of them helped me hone my leadership style.
  • Feedback is essential to my success as a leader. Given the opportunity to see what my direct reports, co-workers and supervisors see in me through the Leadership Practices Inventory provided the perfect boost to understand what I need to continue and also work on as I continue to develop myself professionally.  Erin DeStefanis, NACE, even took the time to further dive into my areas for growth.
  • “Ask for what you need; people can’t assume what you need.” – Kathleen Powell, William and Mary. Strategic planning is hard, especially when you are constantly proving to your campus and colleagues the value you bring to the students and community.  This was where I struggled during the week.  Instead of feeling the boost of excitement, I feared if I could accomplish what MLI was encouraging me to tackle.  Taking a look at stakeholders, processes, mission statements and outlining goals is vital to the success of a department.  This wasn’t something I could focus on that week, but plan to keep revisiting.
  • “If you can’t change the people, change the people.” – Trudy Steinfeld, New York University. It takes a minute to wrap your head around that one, but the direct approach Trudy takes will always win me over.  Sometimes we can’t change the people and understanding that simple point, will save you energy.
  • I still do not know specifically what I would do if given $1,000,000 for my department, but Ray Angle, you better believe I am allocating our funds in a more direct approach. Only you could make a four-hour budgeting seminar intriguing and engaging, even if my department’s budget per student was the lowest of the group.
  • Add ethics on top of budgeting and finance, plus my birthday all in one day? If my brain hadn’t already exploded, it was on the verge.  But Norma Guerra Gaier, Texas State University, found a way to get us all talking about it, helping us find more similarities across campuses than we originally thought.
  • “You can have the best of everything, but if your brand is non-existent, you mean nothing.” – Christian Garcia, University of Miami. So fetch.  Which also pushed me to create my own Twitter account.
  • When you select the picture of a thinking gorilla to represent something you’ve overcome, stand by it and run with it. Because when I looked at that picture, I saw how much I grew over the past few years and what MLI taught me challenged me to undertake over these next few years.

I believe I can comfortably say, 2016 took it out on all of us.  Whether it be professionally or personally, this year tested us all, myself included.  My week at NACE-MLI overloaded my brain, but ultimately I know I’ve used many of the points we discussed and deliberated each day since.  I might not see direct results, or even know I am doing it, but bits and pieces come back.  If it was not for the SoACE Scholarship, I don’t think I would have been given this opportunity to attend MLI.  I am already thinking about the next class and who will attend.  What will their takeaways be?  Can I one day encourage someone else to attend?  Dig down deep into themselves, get a little touchy feely (one of the low points for me!  Haha), but eventually see how it shifted and molded their leadership style.  I can only dream…And hope someone is listening.





2 thoughts on “2016 Professional Development Scholarship Recipient – Tara Stevenson, Flagler College”

  1. Great blog post, Tara! Congrats on earning the SoACE scholarship, which can be very competitive. Your contributions to our profession are impressive and I look forward to learning more about your successes!

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