You’ll notice that the location of this post is a campus, which I know we said was not what this is about! Today’s second post actually speaks to a pair of defections; Mason Reuter, today’s author, has defected twice! He left the field of higher education in 2003, only to return several years later. Now solidly in his second “tour of duty,” as it were, he has great insight to share about what the grass looks like on each side of the fence. I’ll let him take it from here. Thanks so much, Mason!
Not sure what we’re doing here yet? All is revealed here.
In the fall of 2003 I was beginning my second year as the Coordinator of Greek Life at the University of South Carolina, where I was responsible for managing on-campus Fraternity and Sorority housing. My wife, who worked at the time for the Carolina Admissions Office, and I lived in an apartment located in the basement of an 18 story residence hall that housed more than 500 sorority women.
I was very happy in my job- a Fraternity/Sorority Life-Housing hybrid where, in addition to my housing responsibilities, I was privileged to work closely with NPHC Organizations and served as the primary advisor for USC’s Dance Marathon. My wife, on the other hand, was miserable in her position. While we were visiting our undergraduate institution she was approached by her former RA and told about an outside sales position in Greensboro, NC that she would be “perfect” for. Fast forward several months and we are planning a move to Greensboro, where Georgia would become a sales representative for the local newspaper.
Georgia would move to Greensboro in January of 2004; I stayed in Columbia through April to get through Dance Marathon and the majority of the spring semester. As previously mentioned, I really enjoyed my job and Student Affairs as a whole, so while biding my time until April I did a search for jobs in the Greensboro-Winston Salem area where we would be living. Georgia, who had worked in housing prior to her stint in Admissions, was loving her job outside of Higher Ed. So I started to think about exploring opportunities in the corporate world as well. I was in my late 20’s and had limited personal responsibility so I figured that if there was any time to explore a professional life outside of higher education, it would be then! The decision had been made: I cancelled on-campus interviews and began to look for other opportunities.
Leaving Columbia in April was, at the time, the hardest thing I’d ever done professionally. I was leaving a great job with excellent colleagues, moving to a place where I didn’t know what I’d be doing. I’d been on a couple of interviews and when I got to Greensboro landed my first job in the corporate world…selling Nissans! Not feeling like the work I did mattered, and a desire to reclaim my Saturdays, led me to leave the car business soon afterwards. I quickly found a new job, working as a recruiter and outside sales representative for a local branch of a staffing agency. I felt like I was making a difference again, recruiting and putting people (many of them college students or recent grads) to work.
A little over two years later, I was laid off due to a struggling local economy and a lack of incoming job orders. It was then that I begin to think about getting back into higher education. I missed working with students and serving others at the college level. However, during my time as a recruiter, Georgia and I had welcomed our first child into the world. Therefore I was very motivated to find a new job quickly- and became a Call Center Manager instead.
Long story, short: after a year on the job my company merged with another and I was laid off.
This layoff was different though; I was given a pretty nice severance package that allowed me to take time to do refocus on getting back into higher education. I still missed feeling I was working with a purpose, which is something I never missed being in the field. That, along with some of the benefits and flexibility associated with working at a university, forced me to really focus on returning to the field this time around.
Within two months I found a job at a local university working in their Residence Life office- and the rest, as they say, is history! I have been back in the field now for almost 10 years and serve as an Assistant Director for Residence Life at a large state institution in North Carolina. I have felt over the past ten years that my work has purpose again, and I am constantly reminding myself how fortunate I am to get to do the work I do. That said, I really enjoyed my experiences working outside of the field and feel like the lessons I learned in the areas of management, expediency and accountability have been invaluable during my return.
I believe that if the speed at which critical decisions within Higher Ed were made equaled the speed in which they are in the corporate world, our students and staff would be better served. I also believe that we in Student Affairs allow too many of our emotions to guide our decision making, especially as it relates to elimination of programs and personnel. My experience outside of the field, specifically the two layoffs, has taught me that there are times when feelings need to be taken out of the situation for the good of everyone involved. Finally, when talking with friends and colleagues about my experience I often am asked, “Well is the grass really greener on the other side?” My response, “I wouldn’t say that the grass is greener on the other side, just a different shade!”
Interested in exploring careers outside the field? Mason welcomes you to get in touch with him, he’s more than happy to talk about his experiences!