Strategically Saying Yes

Navigating Success as a Higher Education Professional

By Kelsi Nagle-Rowe

A career in higher education was not my original plan. Eleven years ago, as a young, enthusiastic college student, I embarked on a path to become a politician. I, like so many others at that age, thought I had figured out my life at 18 and that my career path was laid out before me in a straight line from my chosen major to a life in the White House. However, as we all know, life never goes quite as planned. Little did I know that four short years later I would graduate with a B.S. in Public Relations and Political Science and a completely different life passion; higher education.

This passion was the result of working as a student employee in a variety of roles at the University of Idaho. Each of the positions I had worked contributed to my love of the college campus environment and serving students. After graduation, I took this affinity for higher education and embarked on finding my next step within the industry. Working as the Recruitment Coordinator for University Housing at the University of Idaho was that next step. It was a position that allowed me to use my skills in public relations, marketing, communications and event planning to engage with students and families. It involved a variety of tasks and exposed me to multiple facets of higher education that helped me to understand that I wasn’t just a marketing professional, or a student affairs professional, or a recruiter, or an admissions specialist; I was all of the above. I developed relationships with colleagues from every part of the university, and I interacted with a wide spectrum of individuals daily. I learned that every connection and every conversation was an opportunity to learn more and better understand the institution and the students I served.

After four years I was ready to expand my knowledge and seek out new opportunities in higher education. I wanted a new position that would allow me to pair the career skills I had gained, with my desire to change the field of higher education recruitment. This brings me to the past three years of my career, where I have been working as the Marketing, Outreach and Recruitment Coordinator for the Division of Management at Oregon Health & Science University. This role has provided me opportunities to engage in tasks related to graduate admissions and recruitment, enrollment management, and corporate outreach. Every day I interact with faculty and staff who provide me with an exceptionally supportive environment in which I am encouraged to explore and experiment with new strategies.

In addition to my daily work, I also facilitate my professional development through involvement in professional organizations, namely the Northwest Association of Student Affairs Professionals (NWASAP). This local organization has offered me the opportunity to connect with, learn from, and build relationships with higher education professionals from across the region. The professional relationships I have built through NWASAP continue to foster my love for higher education and serving students at the highest level. NWASAP has helped me to develop both my professional skills and my leadership skills.

After serving two years on the board as the Marketing & Promotions Coordinator, I was elected to serve a three-year leadership term, in which I am currently serving as the 2017 President. I am deeply enjoying the role of President and have been thrilled to give back to an organization that has embraced me and taught me so much. Furthermore, I strongly value the role that formal education can play in developing a higher education professional and with this in mind I recently embarked on earning my master’s degree at the University of Portland in their Master of Arts in Higher Education and Student Affairs program. Deciding to go back for my master’s was a life altering decision that has positively contributed to both my professional and personal success, and I am truly looking forward to graduating next spring!

In reflecting on my professional and educational experiences since leaving my undergrad, I attribute my continued love and personal success within the higher education field to two main strategies; learning how to strategically say yes to opportunities and learning how to build professional relationships. It is these strategies that I would like to share with you all as advice for the future.

Strategically Saying Yes

One of the best things I have learned is how to strategically say yes to new opportunities. When presented with a new opportunity (ex: joining a new organization, presenting at a conference, taking on a new task, etc.) I run through a checklist to determine if this is a good opportunity for me. I ask the following questions:

• Do I have the time to commit to this opportunity and give it my very best?

• How will this impact my current professional and personal life?

• Where will I find the additional time, energy, money, etc.?

• What will I have to give up to be a part of this new opportunity?

• Is this an opportunity where I will have the chance to learn or engage in something different?

• Will it be mutually beneficial to me and the opportunity to be involved?

By answering these questions, I alleviate the immediate pressure to say yes to everything and avoid becoming overwhelmed. It is much easier to say no if you have solid reasons for why an opportunity may not be right for you. Additionally, these questions can help you to feel more confident and excited about the opportunities to which you say yes!

Building Professional Relationships

Building professional relationships is about more than networking or meeting new people, it is about building a network of professionals to whom you can turn to for advice, feedback, and new opportunities. While it is important to become a content expert in your specific area (ex: advising, recruitment, housing, etc.), it is equally important to know the surface level details of what is going on in every other part of your institution. Start now by creating time in your schedule to meet with colleagues from your organization and other individuals whose roles interest you professionally. The purpose of these meetings is not to just “network” and have people know your name, but to truly invest in learning about the person, their role in the institution, and the key facts about the work they are doing. These meetings will help you to be more knowledgeable about what’s going on in your institution and higher education, as well as help you to build a network of professionals to depend on and hopefully, develop deeper relationships with over time.

Kelsi Nagle-Rowe is the Marketing, Outreach & Recruitment Coordinator at Oregon Health & Science University-Division of Management. Connect with Kelsi at

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