February: Meet Erin Jensen

Erin has been guiding prospective students and their families through the admissions process for more than seven years. As an admissions counselor at Portland State University, she works with both domestic and international students and specializes in high achieving students, immigrants/refugees, Americans abroad, Third Culture Kids, and gap year students. Erin came to PSU in 2011 from Western Washington University, where she also worked as an admissions counselor after earning an interdisciplinary BA in Visual & Material Culture. She is currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration from the Hatfield School of Government at PSU.

Originally from Boise, Idaho and Reno, Nevada, Erin is proud to call the Pacific Northwest home. She and her fiancee enjoy riding bikes, gardening, and stargazing (when the weather cooperates). She is especially passionate about increasing access to local, sustainable food in a region where it is so bountiful yet so out of reach for many adults and children.

Professional Journey

Like many Student Affairs professionals, working in higher education wasn’t something I planned...it just happened. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of time exploring other professional paths because I felt like I should be doing something more intentional, only to find myself back on the road of higher education!

I built my interdisciplinary undergraduate degree specifically to prepare for a career in museum studies. I thought that being a curator would perfectly meld my interests in art, culture, and education. However, right before graduation, I was faced with a tough decision. I had been offered an entry-level job at the local art museum where I interned. I had also been offered a one-year temporary advising position in the Admissions Office that had been my home-away-from-home the previous four years. I chose to continue working with prospective students in a professional capacity. Why? I realized that helping students and families navigate the twists and turns of college admissions was more fulfilling--and felt more direct and personal--than trying to educate from behind the scenes.

I also knew what it was like to be in their shoes. I too had been a confused and frustrated high school senior trying to fit together the puzzle pieces of applications, scholarships, financial aid, and academic choices. The admissions professionals I met along the way, especially those at WWU, made me feel excited instead of discouraged about the college decision process. These same people became my mentors and it was a privilege to learn from them as a student employee. It only seemed fair to pay forward their caring guidance as an Admissions Advisor. Besides, it would only be one year, right? I could save up some money for graduate school and then continue trying to figure out what I was truly supposed to do career-wise.

But that’s not quite what happened! I ended up interviewing for a permanent counselor position before my advisor year had ended. Despite the challenges that came with being thrown into travel planning, switching hotels every few days, and reading an unending stack of applications, I loved my job. In my three professional years at WWU, I covered recruitment territories in five states; planned campus events for high-achieving students, middle schoolers, and high school counselors; helped the Honors Program expand its recruitment; re-designed brochures and applications; and made countless admissions and scholarship decisions.

Eventually, my personal and professional life converged when I started planning a move to the Portland area. I had my sights set on working at Portland State, and amazingly, a counselor position opened up. I was even more surprised when I was offered the job! Even though it was a public university like WWU, PSU was an adjustment for me. It was larger, more urban, more diverse, and more up-and-coming than I had realized. After spending about nine weeks of fall recruitment in Southern California, Idaho, and Oregon, I was exhausted and overwhelmed. I also returned to a changed office; two senior staff had left and there was a good amount of uncertainty in the air. However, an opportunity presented itself that would allow me to decrease my time on the road and expand my skill set. I accepted a new position that included working with both domestic and international students. Shortly thereafter, we hired an assistant director who infused our office with positive energy, openness to change, and newfound motivation. These two shifts in my work life made a huge difference in my trajectory to stay in higher education.

I’ve been at PSU for almost four years now, and it’s been quite a learning experience! I can’t say there haven’t been bumps in the road...for both myself and our office. But I can say that I have grown more as an individual and professional during this time than I ever would have expected. I can now say with confidence that I know how to work with any population of student under the sun: freshman, transfer, graduate, international, veteran, undocumented, special needs, immigrant/refugee, returning adult, third culture, etc. I can analyze a funnel report, explain the student visa process, and train staff to use complicated CRM software. When I’m not at work, I’m often in school, slowly but surely completing my master’s degree. The information I learn in class is usually applied in real life the next day, which makes the stress of balancing work and school worthwhile. Aside from the skills and knowledge I’ve gained in this role, I’m most thankful for the network of other professionals I now count as friends and colleagues. Without their savvy and support, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I know there’s a long road ahead of me in my career, but I’m excited to see where the next turn takes me!

Advice

1. Question everything. So many institutions continue to do things for silly reasons: because “it’s always been done that way,” or because technology isn’t up to date, or because of political decisions made by staff who are long gone (and sometimes all three). If you think there’s a better way to do something--even if you don’t know what that is yet--say something. Find others who agree with you and can brainstorm with you. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself until someone hears you. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what’s best for students. Be a change agent.
2. Always, always, continue to learn. Just because you know how to do your work blindfolded doesn’t mean you should! Keep your eyes open for new skills to learn, new ways to collaborate, and new opportunities for professional development. Careers aren’t built overnight, but you can make significant progress by expanding your portfolio of knowledge and abilities. This rule goes for those of you in your first year of employment, those close to retirement, and everyone in between.
3. Practice imperfection. As a self-diagnosed perfectionist, I can tell you that trying to do everything right and trying to make everyone happy will just make you miserable. I have to remind myself of this daily. Making mistakes is the best way to grow. Welcome them, sit with them, and learn from them.

Connect with Leaders

Networking with women, non-binary, and trans leaders in the state of Oregon will enhance your professional experience. We look forward to creating opportunities to meet, connect and develop together.

Engage in Professional Development

Participate in opportunities for professional growth through educational programs that are provided by our campus contact network right on your campus, in your region or at a state wide gathering. The focus is on providing you with the leadership skills and mentoring necessary to lead.

Lead Change in Higher Education

Higher education in the state of Oregon provides a dynamic environment where women, non-binary, and trans people can impact change. Whether in the community college, 4-year institution, public, or private, we want you to be a part of shaping the future of higher education by empowering and affirming your leadership abilities.