Q & A with Olivia Stankey

Q: Tell us a little about the journey that led to your current role in higher education.

A: When I was in high school, I began researching colleges. My mother has a master’s degree and my father went to college but did not graduate. Both of my parents love English and are very intellectually minded, so college was always the path my sister and I were to take. However, we were lower middle class, so our options were affected by the cost associated with college. Through this process, I found a school that was a balance of lower cost and major options I was interested in. It also had a Party City in town where I could transfer stores from the one in my high school town. As an incoming student at North Dakota State University, I got involved with Hall Government in the residence halls. When I heard about the Resident Assistant position, I applied right away and was fortunate enough to get hired. Between being a first year Resident Assistant and Graduation, I held many positions on campus: Resident Assistant for two years, Conference Orientation and Recruitment Team Member for a summer, Conference Administrative Assistant for a summer, Complex Manager for two years.  In addition to this, I also worked as a camp counselor for a summer and was briefly a campus tour guide. I have had a job since I was 15-16, sometimes having two at a time.

At the same time I was doing all of this, I also was pursuing my undergraduate degree.  I started as an Anthropology major, a subject I really enjoy but realized that I did not want to do any of the jobs associated with it. After taking a career planning course, I switched into a dual degree program, where I attended two universities, earning a Bachelor’s Degree from each - Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Science, with Sociology and Women and Gender Studies minors from North Dakota State University and Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education with a Title 1 Mathematics Endorsement from Valley City State University. (At this point, it is highly likely that you have figured out that Futuristic and Achiever are in my top five strengths). Through this experience, I student taught at the same time I was a Complex Manager, running a ~300 student apartment building. I realized that I preferred to work one on one and in small groups with students over traditional classroom teaching and started to switch from actively pursuing both career plans to focusing mainly on Student Affairs. From here, I went to the Oshkosh Placement Exchange in search of graduate assistantships to get my master’s degree. I earned my master’s degree from Oklahoma State University and after a national job search, was hired by the University of Oregon.

Q: What was one of the key things you have learned in the past year?

A: How to use and be okay with using sick time. Growing up and beginning my career in Upper Midwest, working hard and never resting was a hallmark trait of the area. This, coupled with our fields’ tendency to glorify overworking, led to my philosophy around work. This was further exacerbated by my graduate experience working in a very unhealthy and toxic housing department where I felt that I could not use sick time and vacation as a graduate student was used to job search. When I arrived at the University of Oregon, I had never taken a sick day in my 26 years of life. Throughout my first year here, I had to ask my supervisor how to take a sick day logistically (I had no idea how!). She challenged me to use sick time many times and it took me until Spring Term of my first full time year of work to take a real sick day. I am still working through the emotions that come with taking a sick day, but am doing better each time. I think I am up to 3 days taken!

Q: What motivates you to keep working?

A: This is a tricky question for me as it depends on the lens that you look at the question from. In the work purpose and career passion lens, I am motivated by the opportunity to advise and supervise students. I love supervising and advising students. I am also motivated by my drive and ambition to go far in our field and affect positive change at a higher level.  In terms of the financial lens, I need the money. My husband and I have a collective $100,000+ in student loans because we each paid our own way through our education (I am from lower middle class and my husband grew up low income). Having a position that provides housing and pays a decent salary is slowly helping us get out of the debt our education and society has put us in. In terms of my identity as a woman, I take great pride in having a master’s degree and working full time. Around 100 years ago, I would not have had the right to vote, let alone be the main income earner in my family unit. This reality keeps me leaning in and moving forward.

Q: What would you like to ask a wise woman in the field of higher education?

A: What does being a woman mean to you? What does being a woman in higher education mean to you? What informed this meaning?

Q: What advice would you give to a new professional entering the field of higher education?

  • A:
    • Make additional payments on any debt you have as much as you can. Debt is suffocating and the longer I have it, the more I am aware that I am missing out on other opportunities, such as owning a house, traveling the world, etc. because I am just trying to stay afloat.
    • Not all departments are the same. I have worked for three housing departments and the first and current were great fits for me. The second was horrible and toxic and I learned exactly what I don’t want in a future employer. Do not write off a department type based on one bad experience.
    • Think outside the box with professional development and apply to every new professional scholarship you can find. Some departments, if you can provide a reason why it will help you professionally, may support your out of the box idea. Also, new professional scholarships seem to have lower applicant pools, so you have a decent chance of being selected and having your professional development funds stretch further than originally planned.

Q: What self-care strategies do you use?

A: I am a big fan of resource stacking. It originally comes out of a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy technique where someone suffering from mental illness, such as an Eating Disorder, would use instead of a symptom of their struggle. For example, on a scale of 1-10, using an Eating Disorder symptom may feel like a 9 and showering may feel like a 3, putting lotion on your legs a 2, and watching a movie with friends a 4. But when you add up all of those healthier options, you get a 9, which collectively feels as good as using the symptom. This same thing works even if you aren’t suffering from something like an Eating Disorder. When I have a bad day or something is causing me stress, I like to resource stack. My go-to’s for stacking are getting into a comfy sweatshirt, reading a book or listening to an audiobook, taking a bath, playing and snuggling with my two dogs, and going on a walk with my husband.


Olivia Stankey is the Community Director of the Global Scholars Hall at the University of Oregon. She can be reached via email at stankey@uoregon.edu.

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