Staying Connected As You Climb the Ladder
Dr. Richard McKaig, Indiana University
Pursuing a lifelong career as a fraternity/sorority advisor sounds like a good idea, but as they say, “life happens,” and it is not always possible or desirable to stay in one job or one functional area for one’s entire career. Career advancement often means accepting broader responsibilities, and if that is not enough motivation to “move up the ladder,” better compensation is usually associated with higher positions. Choosing to leave a role where your responsibilities are focused almost entirely on fraternities and sororities does not mean you need to abandon your involvement with the organizations that first brought you into the field of student affairs.
Career changes can give you the opportunity to focus more selectively on those areas of fraternity/sorority life that meant the most to you. First, part of staying involved is staying informed. While your primary network of colleagues and daily responsibilities might shift, professional publications, sessions at national meetings and conferences, and online information from inter/national fraternities and sororities all inform you about the ongoing issues related to advising fraternal organizations. Continued membership in the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors (AFA) will ensure that you stay up-to-date on the discussions at the front line. National and regional conferences for other functional areas within student affairs frequently have sessions related to fraternity and sorority issues. By selectively continuing your education on these issues, you will be in more of a position to contribute to the fraternal movement.
Individuals who are members of a fraternity or sorority can find continued involvement as volunteers through their inter/national organizations. While maintaining active involvement in a local chapter may be somewhat difficult given your campus responsibilities, participating in regional and national fraternity or sorority events, running for office as a volunteer in your fraternal organization, volunteering to be on the faculty at leadership schools, and writing articles for your fraternity or sorority magazine can be productive ways to stay involved and fulfill your commitment to lifetime involvement. The options are many and the time commitment required is equally varied. At different points in your career, you may have limited time. Look for opportunities where you can more easily control the time invested, such as being a presenter at a leadership school or the author of a magazine article. Frequently, those not directly involved in the day-to-day operation of fraternities and sororities are able to offer a perspective, bring a skill set, or insight learned in their new role that can be a valuable addition to the organization.
The campus where you work might provide an opportunity for continued involvement in the form of a campus committee looking at issues related to fraternity and sorority life. This is more likely to be practical if you have moved to a different campus from where you served as the fraternity/sorority advisor. Your previous experience could be helpful to the committee, and you would also demonstrate you are concerned with issues outside your current assignment. Occasionally opportunities might be available in regional interfraternal associations, through alumnae Panhellenic groups, alumni associations, or task forces created by inter/national interfraternal associations. Maintaining contact with your network of fraternity and sorority affairs colleagues can keep you in the communication loop as these opportunities are announced. Groups like the Center for the Study of the College Fraternity or the North American Interfraternal Foundation are examples of organizations beyond the traditional groups that benefit from volunteer involvement. Regional associations provide another avenue for service as either a presenter or one who might assist with sustaining the association.
As a starting point, when first exploring ways to stay involved:
Consider what first attracted you to working with fraternal organizations.
Consider what you believe to be the most pressing needs for fraternities and sororities, either on the campus at which you work, or more broadly, in fraternity and sorority affairs.
Look at the skill sets you possess; these skills enabled you to be successful in fraternity and sorority affairs and probably led to your promotion to broader responsibilities.
See what opportunities as a local volunteer, a volunteer for an interfraternal association, or a volunteer with a fraternal organization can best match those interests, concerns, and skill sets.
Finally, look for opportunities to help either with campus-based committees, chapter-focused opportunities, or regional or national assignments.
Involvement creates other opportunities, so it is also important to determine how you can balance your continued involvement with the fraternal movement when career responsibilities take you on a different track. Like any volunteer opportunity, engagement and responsibilities beyond your immediate career can be refreshing, energizing, and enriching, or draining, distracting, and disruptive. Balancing the professional obligations of your career and the volunteer opportunities you select is a learned skill, most often learned through trial and error. The advantages of continued involvement in fraternity/sorority life make learning that skill worthwhile.
Dr. Richard McKaig retired in July 2009 from his position as Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Dean of Students at Indiana University. He had been with the University for 38 years and served as Dean of Students since 1991.