September: Meet Jenn Crowder

Jenn Crowder is the Assistant Director of Residence Life for Conduct, Community Standards and Outreach at the University of Oregon. She holds a bachelors in Psychology from Pacific University and a Masters in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga University. She has been working as a professional in higher education for 10 years covering ground in residence life, student activities, Greek life, multicultural affairs, and retention. She is an Oregonian tried and true. She has served the communities at Lewis & Clark College, Pacific University, UC Davis, and the University of Oregon. When relaxing you can find her hiking with her partner, Gabe and their pup, Lucy, or cheering on the Ducks and Seahawks. She has a wicked sense of humor that she hopes you appreciate.

I guess you could say my career in higher education began as a student at Pacific University. I am a first-generation and so the entire “college” thing and everything that came along with it was brand new and shiny. I was eager to jump in and sponge as much of the experience as I could. However, I can recall the day that I knew things were going to steer off the path I had intended to follow (physical therapy). That was the day that then dean of students, Eva Krebs, called me and asked me to apply to be a resident assistant.

Let me paint a picture: A first year student, on a Saturday morning, receives a call from the dean of students. You can bet that I was confused and wracking my brain to think of what I might have done to be in trouble. Needless to say, I became an RA and under Eva’s guidance later became an Orientation Coordinator, and even wrote, and presented, my undergraduate thesis on the Senior Year Experience. By the time my senior year rolled around, I was pretty sure I had drank the kool-aid, but I wasn’t fully feeling the effects.

I had asked for letters of recommendation and was prepared to spend some time in Ohio, following in the footsteps of Julie Murray-Jensen at Bowling Green in their master’s program. However, I paused and decided to use my Psychology degree in the mental health field. After one too many hours spent on the floor holding someone’s child to the ground (yes, I have great stories) I decided to reconsider my path in higher education. I reached back out to Eva and she suggested I look at a position at Lewis & Clark College.

I was incredibly fortunate to land my first higher ed professional gig with just a bachelor’s degree. I became a hall director for a 300 student, mostly first-years and a lot of student athletes. I inherited a building with a reputation, didn’t we all? For three years I build relationships with campus partners. Once again I soaked up opportunities like a sponge. I attended conferences, took webinar courses, served on committees at the school and state-wide levels. I once again was wearing the red lip stain from kool-aid.

Then I hit a road bump. In 2007 leadership had changed and decisions were being made that really challenged me as a professional. I was conflicted about whether or not higher ed, and the politics that came with it, was really for me. Could I really sustain in this profession? I was good at what I did. I cared for students. I advocated on their behalf. I sought ways to challenge the status quo and bring a better experience. I was, however, not very politic in a defiant, “I won’t play the game!” kind of way. Sadly, it wasn’t getting me anywhere. In my silent defeat I began pursuing other options, nursing school.
In the spring of 2008, I lost two family members—a cousin and my grandfather. It was at this time, I realized, despite all the hard work in post-bacc, nursing was not the answer to my stubbornness. Then another mentor came along and with him, opportunity.

I had already resigned my position as a hall director, thinking I’d be off to nursing school. Now, here I was, jobless and confused. I was fortunate that a colleague transferred offices and opened up a position in the office of Campus Living. Given my skillset, lack of direction at the time (and job for that matter!) I was able to step in and take the job. Then the new dean of students, Celestino Limas, asked the question he likes to ask, “When are you going to get your master’s degree?” Ha! I thought. Deep down, I knew I had to if I was going to stay in the field. So I got serious about it.
I knew that I didn’t want to get my degree in student affairs/higher ed/college student personnel. It felt restrictive and I, being stubborn, needed flexibility. What if the doubt came back down the road? The second thing I knew was that I did not want to take the GRE. I am terrible at standardized exams and didn’t need the added pressure or disappointment. And then like magic, Gonzaga’s Organizational Leadership Master’s program found me. ::insert ta-da and magical music here::

I quickly became friends with my admissions counselor, struggled through my personal statement, checked out every library prep book for the Miller’s Analogy exam, and requested letters of recommendation. I got into the program a few weeks later and started in October 2008. Working full-time and going to school was brutal. Those of you with children, please imagine that I am standing in awe giving an ovation to each of you (no, really, how do you do it?!).

The bonus to working and going to school was that the papers essentially wrote themselves. I had case study after case study to draw from. I was able to reach out to the division and offer free consultation work, which resulted in a nice little document on communications for PE/Athletics. I was also able to instill my newfound wisdom in conversations with students. Despite the lack of a social life, long weekends fueled by diet coke, and paper after paper, it was so worth it. In addition to it being worth it, the door of opportunity was opened even before I finished my program, because I was simply demonstrating the preferred qualification to a job description for a job that I definitely had the experience for.

The summer before my program was done, I received a phone call from Pacific University. An unexpected position opened up and they wanted to know if I was interested. I had always said that any chance I got to return and serve the Pacific community, I would. So I did…even through the tears of leaving my awesome colleagues, moving in with my parents while I adjusted and found a place closer to “the Grove”, and knowing that my social life was going to be even more strapped, because I was joining the ranks of others in student activities. Bye bye nights and weekends!
Returning to my alma mater and working as a professional under my mentor was a wonderful learning opportunity. My eyes were opened (mostly because of a lack of sleep!) to a university I no longer recognized. New faces, new buildings, a new design that truly matched a “university” rather than a liberal arts college. My learning curve was steep. I was in tears after being yelled at by a faculty member in front of students for trying to do the right thing at an event. I learned how to read my homework with a headlamp at concerts and dances I was chaperoning. I learned, after a ruptured Achilles and having to work from home for almost two months, that the work goes on. This was the second pivotal moment in my career. I found balance in an unexpected place.

After a year at Pacific, I was asked back to Lewis & Clark in a role that I had coveted since its inception. While it was a career gamble, I took it and the lessons that came with the decision. I have since also been to UC Davis and am now back home in Oregon at the UO applying the professional lessons learned along the way. This is a wonderful field that challenges the best of us and frankly, my dear, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Pieces of Advice:

Keep students at the forefront of the work you do and you can’t go wrong. At the end of the day our legacy isn’t what matters. It’s the experiences we provide students that allow them to make meaning of their time with us. If you keep them first, no one can argue with you and if they do, chances are they are in the wrong field.

B A L A N C E. You’re not in graduate school anymore. You were hired because people believe in you. Stop the crispy burnt toast insanity and go home at 5pm (ok, 6 pm but no later). Better yet, get a puppy. Then you HAVE to go home. No one is impressed by the 16 hour days you pull. The work is never-ending and your lifespan is not. Go home. Enjoy life. Work to live. Take care of you so you can take care of others. Be a role model in balance, not in workaholicsm.

Stop apologizing. I’m putting this here as a reminder to myself. Be strong. Be confident. You’re late because the meeting you were in went long? That’s not your fault. You were working with a student in crisis and missed a board meeting? Awesome job! Why are you apologizing for saving a life over a meeting? You missed a deadline because it’s been the week from hell? Give yourself some grace. Everyone else is.

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