Denise Mary Manning
Committee Member, NACADA Member Career Services
This article was originally published in Academic Advising Today, March 2011. Denise Manning is a student in the K-State Academic Advising Master’s Program.
Sometimes the act of writing out what we enjoy about our work can give a new sense of perspective and a new appreciation for working in higher education. Here is a personal description of why I love my job. I hope my story will remind others why, even during challenging times, we love the work we do.
I am just coming off the “high” I get after attending a Landmark College graduation ceremony. Landmark College is a small two year school that exclusively serves students with learning disabilities (LD). We still have two graduation ceremonies each year: one in December and one in May. Now this may seem extravagant for an enrollment of just under 500, but there’s something intimate and special about the Landmark College ceremonies that call for bi-annual celebrations. It is always heartwarming and satisfying as we watch a graduation class of scholars leave our institutions of higher learning, many who have earned academic awards for excellence in scholastic achievement. At my campus, these student awards are earned despite a student’s learning disability. I am reminded of the old remark about Ginger Rogers doing all the same steps that Fred Astaire did; however, she did them backward and in high heels. It’s an apt metaphor for the struggles students at my institution have.
While the life of a college student is demanding in itself, it is exponentially more demanding for students on the Landmark College campus. Some struggle with reading, others with writing; some with crippling procrastination and unwieldy distractibility, and some with all of these and more. Going through college with a learning disability is laborious and exhausting. These students arrive with levels of intelligence and cognitive ability equal to their non-LD peers, although their potential is locked inside brains that process language differently, making academic success a little like dancing backwards in heels. But they do it, many of them, and we, their faculty members and advisors, get to sit in the auditorium and share with them the day that most never expected would ever happen.
As academic advisors to LD students, we are the gatekeepers to a world of academic success. I love my job because I am honored to help navigate these young people as they complete their academic journey filled with twists and turns, many early failures and more recent successes, and a lot of perseverance and resiliency. As I work with these students to discover their learning profile, I collaborate with other campus faculty and staff to create strategies for success. Through this process, many find a path to a major and ultimately a career that will complement their enormous gifts and talents in satisfying and meaningful ways. It is no wonder that at their graduation, when they give their individual speeches, they always publicly and proudly point to our very small, though enormously devoted faculty and advisors as the reason for their success.
It is on graduation day, as I sit in my academic regalia along with my colleagues, that I feel especially fortunate to be an academic advisor at Landmark College. I see a young man walk across the stage and remember that when he first met with me for advising, he had considered taking another route because he was lacking confidence in his ability to do college-level work. Through the course of the term we talked about Nihilism and Nietzsche, and he discussed his final paper topic with me: Nihilism and the Jerry Seinfeld show. Two years earlier, he never believed he’d be able to keep up in a philosophy class. Another student who has severe Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Executive Functioning difficulties had just written an excellent piece on mirror neurons and psychological development. A young woman who had a math phobia in her first semester reached Calculus and became a tutor in the math lab. In an egotistical sort of way, I always have an opportunity to be part of a student’s first positive learning experiences, and it is very gratifying work.
Certainly this should be enough, but I also love my job as a faculty member and advisor because it offers me flexibility in terms of a daily schedule. I enjoy limited supervision and the satisfaction of being valued by colleagues and administrators. Furthermore, I have been offered much in professional development opportunities including some tuition reimbursement and loads of encouragement to present at professional conferences. I’ve also been able to travel abroad with students.
A very large portion of the faculty were the founding faculty of the college 25 years ago, and I have had the honor and privilege of working with these dedicated people who were pioneers in the field of learning to help LD students gain academic success. The fact that so many have remained, and have remained for so long, has created a very strong community, one in which all who enter can feel and often want to remain part. In addition, several of our administrators are also among the founding members, so this longevity has bred a well-constructed tradition of cooperation and collaboration.
At a Christmas party twenty five years ago, I met a man who worked at the college as the Athletic Director, and he encouraged me to apply for a position at the college. The description he gave about how much he loved his job seemed over the top and very unbelievable. I thought he was really laying it on thick and even considered that he might be delusionary. But, he wasn’t. He was telling the truth. I love my job and am sure I am equally as boring at parties when I tell people about it!