During crazy times such as these, it is refreshing and necessary to remember why we do what we do.
I chose a career in higher education because it was the first place I felt a sense of urgency and direction. At the University of Oklahoma, I found myself translating information into Spanish for the institution, specifically for recruitment pieces. I was the student helping to recruit students like me from South Oklahoma City and San Antonio, helping to increase Latinx student numbers and colleagues see the beauty in having entire families come to our offices rather than being annoyed by it… I wanted my people seen and appreciated.
I was a highly engaged undergraduate. I had a front row seat to the division of Student Affairs and the work done there. I. was. in. love. What do you mean you get to have all this fun at a college? Homecoming? Commencement? Leadership development? Sign me up! The truth was, I felt most comfortable being myself in the Student Life office, out of any place on the university campus. It is the place where I developed as a student employee and student leader. My voice was wanted and needed there. That, coupled with the leadership development I received, helped me gain greater focus on what I wanted – to recreate those experiences for more students like me.
Last but not least…The fact there were only 900 Latinx students at OU at that time knowing we were the majority in my hometown (and many other places) made for an interesting juxtaposition. Why, with so many Latinx in the country, were there only 900 of us in this 20k+ student university? Why were there so few of us at the university? I wanted to fix that, it just didn’t seem right… and here I am, #vpmami, still at it, almost 15 years later.
If you’re a student in a leadership/administration doctoral program at an R-1 university, chances are you’ve been asked if you want to go the faculty route or administrative route. While I was a student, it was sort of implied that pursuing tenure-track faculty positions was expected. When I was in my program, I even heard of faculty at other universities who stopped collaborating with their advisees when the student admitted they did not want to pursue a tenure-track faculty role after graduation. It’s sad, but true.
To be honest, I was initially unsure of my future career goals. As a former student affairs professional, I missed regular interactions with my undergraduate students! I enjoyed seeing them grow and develop, then graduate and pursue their dreams. It was an exciting place to be! On the other hand, the more I learned about teaching and conducting research, the more I loved it. Qualitative research, in particular, really made my heart sing!
Still, faculty life made me nervous.
I didn’t know much about being a faculty member. No one in my family had ever been a professor. And I could count the total number of Latinx faculty I’d ever had in undergrad and grad school (combined) on one hand (N=2). But, with graduation on the horizon, I decided I would apply to positions of interest and trust what God had in store for me.
It turns out a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Texas at Arlington was the perfect induction into academia. The postdoc was a one-year position for me to learn and grow. It also provided a mentor to guide and support. Fortunately, a new faculty line in my department opened the following year, and I was blessed with the opportunity to begin my tenure-track life.
I chose to become a faculty member because I love to teach, research, and serve in higher education. It is not without its challenges, especially being one of the few women of color in academia, but I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a #scholarmami. I get to serve as a mentor and role model to graduate students and show them that having a family and excelling in academia is possible.