The first of our Defectors contributor posts comes from Emily Yates, currently working as a scholarship advisor for the Institute of International Education, based out of DC. Her defection was somewhat accidental, the result of exploring “adjacent options.” But now, she’s realizing she wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks so much for sharing your story, Emily- hope you all enjoy it!
Not sure what we’re doing here yet? All is revealed here.
Hello, my name is Emily, and I’m a student affairs defector.
Leaving the world of student affairs can feel like you have joined this rag-tag bunch of renegades. And as someone that works in a ‘higher ed’ space, I find that when I attend conferences we have a knack for finding one another and connecting over shared experiences even if the day to day work is different. I didn’t start out my career with the intent of moving away from campus. I loved the energy you get from being on a campus – and still do. But now that I’m no longer working at an institution, I have no intentions of going back.
In 2014, I was searching for my next position and my primary goal was moving back to the East Coast to be closer to family in DC. I was at Texas A&M University as an International Student Advisor at the time, and while A&M was great for a season, it was not the right long term home for me. I applied to positions working with graduate students, international students, and sometimes both, but the focus was always on being within a day’s drive of home.
On a whim, I applied for a job with the Institute of International Education (IIE). As I already worked in the field of international education, I was familiar with IIE based on the organization’s work with the State Department on administering the Fulbright scholarship. At the time, that was about the extent of my knowledge. They had an advising role open up in the DC office working on a scholarship program for Middle Eastern students, which was right up my alley. I decided to apply, and after three rounds of interviews, I was offered the position in July 2014.
So I didn’t stray too far from the path I was already on, but sometimes it can feel like everything has changed. The change of pace, as well as the mission statement are two things that can be felt on a daily basis. When I was on campus, things seemed to always happen at a glacial pace. Working for a non-profit however, changes happen quickly. If we want to implement the use of a new online management system for example, the span from introduction to utilization can be a matter of six months. Since the program I work on is coordinated on behalf of a sponsoring agency, the contract agreement has also been a new experience for me as it underlines the scope of work and everything we do.
One of my favorite aspects of the work I do now is that I am still part of the student experience – just in a different way. I’m essentially a long-distance scholarship advisor, but I have a caseload of just 20-30 students. I get to connect with them in different ways than I did when I was advising on immigration topics, and I get to hear back about the ways that my encouragement, challenge, or questions have changed the way one of my students handled a particular issue. I get to see things from start to finish, not just a few pieces of the process.
On a professional level, I also have a lot more flexibility and oversight in the use of my time each day. We have a general office hour schedule, but it’s left up to me to get my job done. I can work from home if needed, which has been great when I need to take my car into the shop or don’t want to take sick leave when I have a minor cold. Non-profits also tend to offer similar benefits as corporate peers, whether that is student loan reimbursements or equitable salaries.
Of course, it isn’t all rainbows and sunshine – the only way I could probably achieve that is as an official panda hugger. While I work with a small group of students, I also still deal with unresponsiveness from a few – it just presents a bigger challenge now because I’m at a distance. In addition, I came into the role from a position where I had the full weight of US immigration law behind me, and the sponsor-student dynamic is more nuanced and case-by- case basis which has taken some adjustment.
All in all, I’m really satisfied that I decided to “defect” from campus and ended up here. I’m part of an organization that is doing meaningful work around the world in international education, I still work with students, and I have the ability to contribute to changes within the organization. I can see the direct impact I have on my program and students. Working at a non-profit, I have found the right combination of work, benefits, and challenges for me.
Though if someone could get me that panda hugging job, I would take it.