OWHE and Me

I first joined OWHE by accident. I’m sure this sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. At the time, I was a graduate student at Oregon State University and I heard about this conference for women. I thought about it for a second, realized, well, I’m a woman, maybe I could do this conference thing. Plus, there was an OSU scholarship that would pay for my full registration as a graduate student. I figured – sure! Why not? So, I went to the conference on my home campus that winter day in 2014. It was a nice conference, but I have to admit, I was distracted throughout the day and had to leave to attend my most challenging course mid-morning. But, each time I went back to the conference, I was flabbergasted by the positivity, energy, and empowerment in the room. At the time, I was still learning where I fit into the grander scheme of higher education. I hadn’t necessarily discovered my niche functional area nor had I established my voice as a woman in higher education. But the conference intrigued me and I filed it away as something to try out again. 

A few years later, I did. It was at that second conference that I found myself falling in love with OWHE, the organization. A friend of mine was a volunteer for OWHE and she shared information about conference proposals on Facebook. A friend and I submitted a proposal and after the review process, we were able to go to Bend for our first presentation together. While there was a good chunk of the conference that made me nervous, thinking about my presentation and who would attend, there was a lot I took away from it. My very favorite session was one by Becky Tuttle. Her session was about creativity and incorporating your creative brain into your work. One of the specific tasks we completed in the session was to make a bucket list. I’d done this before, of course, but after Becky’s session, this became my favorite activity to do for each new year, new job, or new outlook on life. The bucket list motivated me to be open to the possibilities rather than closed to the unknown. 

Through OWHE, I found ways to create, challenge, grow, and learn from amazing women around the state and beyond. One of the ways I was able to grow was by presenting on Whiteness with my friend, Yuliya Dennis. It was a theme relatively new to the OWHE educational offerings, but it came at a time when folks were embracing the topic. I appreciate how my presentation allowed me to grow with OWHE in this new area of discussion and pushed me to continue my pursuit of social justice and equity for all.  

At some point in my OWHE journey, I was encouraged to apply for the board. I did. And I lost. I was sad, but I understood. At the time, I think the other folks who applied to the board were more well-known to OWHE folks, plus, they’d spent more time volunteering. But because I’m stubborn, hungry for professional development, and always ready for a challenge, I applied a second year and was lucky enough to get the position. 

For the past two years, I had the honor and privilege of serving as OWHE’s Director of Education. I kept up with the webinars, took over the blog, and started a few fun initiatives for the OWHE membership that have really impacted my professional growth and engagement. My favorite part of serving on the OWHE Board was the people. Not only was I able to serve with amazing members of the board, but I was able to have the unique experience of creating a community of professionals through the OWHE Education Committee. It was leading this committee that provided me some of the greatest professional development of my experience. I was able to learn better how to support volunteers and solicit innovative ideas from a variety of brainstorming sessions. What I realized during my time as the Director of Education was that leading the OWHE Education Committee was “my jam!” I was able to brainstorm, collaborate, create, and adapt projects and initiatives in a truly meaningful way. And, I started to try to incorporate the energy, innovation, and excitement from OWHE Education into my daily work activities. And slowly, but surely, I began to notice some changes. I started to relish my creativity and ability to build community. I think that OWHE helped me see and reach for my full potential. And it is something I will forever be grateful for. 

As I leave the Board of Directors, I find myself at an interesting crossroads with OWHE. In the next month, I’ll be moving to Wisconsin to begin the next phase of my career as the Assistant Director of International Student Engagement at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It’s a big jump – exciting for sure – but as moving day gets closer, I look at the trees, the hills, the mountains, and the rainclouds a little differently. You see, Oregon has been and will always feel like home to me. And OWHE has been the anchor that has helped me grow and develop as a professional in higher education these past five years. I sometimes wonder if I’ll find the community I’ve found with OWHE as I move to Wisconsin. I wonder if I’ll be able to have the same amazing, authentic conversations I’ve had with other OWHE members and colleagues when I network at state conferences. But each time I start to worry about whether I’ll be able to recreate my Oregon experience out in Madison, Wisconsin, I remind myself that it’s not about recreating my current experience, but building something new, something fresh. I get to use all my creative juices to start over and do something amazing. I mean, I could establish new hobbies. I’ve always wanted to try ice fishing… and I’m interested in attempting to make beer cheese soup. Plus, I’ve never really gotten the knitting thing down and cold, Wisconsin winters just might help motivate me to put a little more effort in. 

When I think about the last few years and the idea of me moving away from my home state to move to Wisconsin, I realize I never would have had the guts to do it if it weren’t for OWHE. Through OWHE, I found mentorship, friendship, camaraderie, and support that helped me understand that taking risks is a good thing, pursuing one’s career can be an awesome experience, and that there are many ways to structure your life and happiness. I may have decided to leave my beloved Oregon in pursuit of a new job and new life adventure, but had I decided to stay home to live my regular Oregon life would have been ok too. That’s what OWHE has taught me: there is no one path for any of us in higher education to follow. In fact, the paths of higher education are twisted, full of obstacles, and often exhausting, but they all take us on a journey, one we can choose to love, change, or adapt as we do our thing. 


Sharece M. Bunn is currently serving as an International Student Advisor at the University of Oregon. She will be taking a new position as the Assistant Director of International Student Engagement at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in June 2019. She can be reached easily through her LinkedIn account


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