Presenting: 2018 Post Conference “Coffee Chats”!

I know the feeling well.

Your head buzzes the whole flight home, perhaps punctuated with quick jots in the margins of conference programs or inside padfolios. The last several days have been educational, entertaining, and energizing. But what do we do with that energy once we get home?

This year, I want it to really have an impact. And I want to help.

Set aside a half hour with me during the week of March 19th to talk about your conference season. Where’d you go? What did you learn? And what are you worried about when it comes to taking those lessons, conversations, and recommendations and transforming them into action? Half an hour won’t give you all the answers, but it’ll be a start…a start I’m happy to help you achieve.

This call is free, and gives you no obligation to buy or book anything. I just want to know what you learned, what you want to do with it, and (if possible) how I can help you get there!

Ready to sign up? Let’s go!

The Defectors, Series 2: A Different Look at “Defection”

(I’ve said much of what I want to say about the conclusion of this series in last year’s closings, which you can find here and here. But there’s a bit more…so read on!)

“Why the word ‘Defector?'”

About a week into this edition of The Defectors, I got this question from my agent Ken, who I appreciate for challenging me to think about what I think and say in new ways. In truth, I liked the confident charge the term implied. Defecting is a decision, a clear choice that someone makes to depart from what they’ve been doing or where they’ve been going. People defect from political parties, from countries of citizenship, from organizations that they call home.

But what Ken urged me to think about, is that defection often happens violently. It frequently comes into play where people are given no other choice but to leave.  It’s seen as less of a confident walk away, and more of a fraught tearing of bonds. Even after looking at it that way…I like that it’s provocative. What’s more, even though it’s provocative, I stand by my decision to use that exact word.

Why? Because I see so much of that assumption grafted upon those who choose to follow the defector path. There are a lot of hurt feelings, confusion, cries to stay, and even after the departure, tinges of disapproval from those who stayed on the well-worn path. There is a difference between the earnest “how are things?” and the one soaked in “do you regret it yet?” Yes, we can hear the difference- and for my part, even when it’s hard – especially when it’s hard – I don’t regret it for a second.

I was reminded of a post I wrote on this topic a few years back, well before my own defection and before I started talking to others pointedly about their own, called “Pull, Don’t Push.” An excerpt:

One of the elements of our profession that I struggle with most is our propensity to shame or look down upon those who elect to leave the field in favor of other pursuits. Being a field of personable people, we take offense at this decision, concerned that its our fault or that we have some duty to keep them “within our ranks.” But, as Chris Conzen illuminated in one of my favorite posts of his, this may have nothing to do with us. We’re typically offended, concerned, or hurt by what we’re seeing as a push. I want us, as a profession, to look at this another way.

The post used the “second act” comedy careers of Ken Jeong (former doctor), Retta (former chemist) and Bill Cosby (former teacher, and pre-scandal of course) to illuminate the idea of being pulled toward a new pursuit or way of working, rather than away from an existing one. I highlighted the element of choice here, acknowledging that this manner of making change is different from those who feel forced out (which, to make abundantly clear- the circumstances around that form of departure also need to change):

There are those who leave the field because the pressures of their role have caused them to seek other options, or because their belief in the field is inconsistent with their reality. I completely understand that this can happen. However, this post is not for or about those people.

I like the choice of “defection” as a means to describe this new world of work that many have chosen to enter, because so many look at it in that traditional way at first glance. The definition of “defect” as a verb is “to abandon a country or cause in favor of an opposing one” (emphasis added). It is my sincere and fervent hope that you’ve learned, over the course of this month – and through season one – that these causes are not in opposition with one another.

So how can we remove the oppositional orientation of these non-campus based roles, and make professionals more aware of their myriad options?

  • For those who “tap” undergraduate students with potential to excel in this field: Speak not just of the on-campus opportunities to affect student development and well-being, but also of the off campus opportunities. How could professional associations be better for their contributions? Auxiliary service providers? Honor societies?
  • For those who advise students through supervision or faculty roles: Speak about these additional opportunities not as secondary or fallback options, but as legitimate parts of a fulfilling path for one’s career. In what ways has your work been impacted by the professionals serving the field in other ways? How have you collaborated with them, and how have they supported your work?
  • For graduate students evaluating their entry into the field: don’t sell non-campus-based positions short. They are not a substandard or “backup” form of engagement in higher education; they’re simply different. No better, no worse…only different. Do any of these different options look enticing? Use your status as a student to your advantage; ask questions, conduct informational interviews, meaningfully incorporate these options into your search if they pique your interest.
  • For professionals looking critically at their next steps: Get creative with how your skills, abilities, and perspective can impact the world of work. Who can benefit from the areas in which you shine? In what other areas of the field could you shine? Several of the Defectors in this year’s series have volunteered their contact information, who might be able to share their story and inform your next steps?
  • And for professionals who are friends, colleagues, or supporters of Defectors: it is, more often than not, not personal. Behave accordingly. Support these folx through their transition into a new form of work. They’re enduring a good bit of change, but it’s likely that the change is borne of a pull toward a new life. Encourage it.

I am immeasurably appreciative of the individuals who chose to share their stories through this series, and to the team at Presence for helping me create a series that could compensate these individuals for their work. If you’re looking for a taste of the Defector lifestyle, I urge you to get in touch with Presence– they are a tremendously supportive organization that has created a wonderful home for several former student affairs practitioners and student leaders, all in service of making the lives of campus-based professionals easier. Let’s please keep this conversation going year-round; it matters too much to leave to one month a year!

If you have defected, and are interested in participating in future iterations of this project (another blog series? A podcast? An limited-run series of on-camera interviews?) please let me know so I can reach out when the time comes!

The Defectors, Series 2: Kayley Robsham, Presence


Today’s Defectors contributor post, the last of series 2, comes from Presence’s Kayley Robsham. Not sure what we’re doing here yet? All is revealed here.

It’s been two years since I wrote my first post about defecting.

I learned so much from falling out of love with a career path in residence life I thought I wanted, I feel compelled to share my story about what I’ve learned.

To begin, this journey was very much unplanned. You don’t expect to fall out of love with a career—much like entering into serious partnership or marriage, I imagine. When I made the decision to accept the position with Check I’m Here (now Presence), I never thought this was where I was going to be.

As I shared two years ago, the doubts I identified were considerable, enough to make me want to test new waters:

I had seen women in leadership roles that seemed like they couldn’t move up the student affairs ladder (never mind queer women). How long would it take me to “climb the ladder” and prove I was worth it? Why did I feel like I had to? Things like work/life balance and lack of women in leadership positions in a field heavily populated by women made me think advancing was impossible (in addition to moving across the country if I wanted to take higher level positions in the future). Considering the quality of life and systematic deterrents I decided to consider entrepreneurship in higher education instead.

I was proud of myself for trusting my gut instinct and I was pretty damn excited. I stepped out of the light of I what I should be doing, and started to look forward to a space where I would feel more authentic and dedicated. Up until that point, I had worked myself to the bone and had not prioritized self-care. I was depressed and was hard on myself for oversleeping, drinking, eating unhealthy, and the list goes on. My new job made me see self-care in a different light, and that’s when it settled in that I made the right decision.

I think many people in the early stages of their working life feel this pressure that they have to figure out everything around their career at a young age. My observation is that most people go through many career changes and don’t find their calling until later in life.

Elle Luna’s book The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion validated my own feelings of not being sure of what I want to do. She embraces the message and highlights differences of being in a job, creating a career, or finding your calling. Luna explains there is a difference between going to work and becoming one with your work, which I believe takes patience and time to figure out.

Although I do feel much better about how I am spending my time and living my life, I don’t think I’ve found my calling just yet. There is so much to do and to explore, and I’m so excited to see where my strengths lead me and what new strengths I potentially develop.

Here is what I’ve learned overall: If you are in a job that is not making you happy, and you know there is another job, career, or calling you’d rather be doing, no matter what it is, it is up to you to facilitate change. For me, I didn’t want the ‘what if?’ to be in the back of my head forever.

Now, I feel like I’ve had the time to create more opportunities for myself since I’ve defected. I’ve taken the time to get to know who I am, and I’m still figuring out where I’m headed. Two years ago, I noted, “Pushing myself to apply to a position that aligned with my professional goals outside of my comfort zone has strengthened my inner voice immensely.” That notion remains true, and I encourage you to similarly empower your inner voice: who knows where it could take you?

It was a hard decision for me to defect, but I knew I wanted to be happy in my job, whether I was working in student affairs or adjacent to it.

Kayley Robsham (she/her/hers) is a life coach, inclusive data advocate, and teacher of social media marketing to fellow solopreneurs in St. Petersburg, Florida. In 2015, she found herself as a new student affairs professional and decided to make the jump to educational technology (“edtech”) to impact the lives of thousands of SA pros and students. She’s currently the Community Engagement Manager at Presence.

The Defectors (series 2) is sponsored by Presence. At Presence, we’re working to solve all of the higher ed problems you’ve always heard couldn’t be fixed. If you love asking questions, finding solutions to intricate problems, and learning about new people and places, we want you to join our team. Check out our open positions and apply today!


The Defectors, Series 2: Corey Bates, Tribridge


Today’s Defectors contributor post comes from Corey Bates, Campus Recruiter at Tribridge. Not sure what we’re doing here yet? All is revealed here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016…that day is one which will always stick out in my mind. It was my last day that I chose to be a student affairs professional. For six years of my life (at that point), I dedicated my time professionally to becoming a dynamic leader in this space. To think, I spent ten years on some form of a college campus learning, growing and being challenged for the better. However, I knew that on this day, I was ready to use the same advice that I would share with students for years; it was time to move forward and apply all of the learning I attained within the four walls of the college environment and apply it to the real world.

Getting to a place of self-assurance with this change did not come easy. At the start of the Fall 2015 semester, I was lost. I somehow went through the motions of all the responsibilities that I needed to complete. It brought about a significant period where was depressed. Externally, people would have never known (what smiles can hide), but I knew what was going on internally. I was not happy, knowing that there was a moral, value and purpose based disconnect to the work that I was responsible to complete. However, I knew that something needed to change.  

Moving forward into the Spring 2016 semester, various ups and downs took place in my life, and I felt like I could not grasp for air. However, the moment that I decided to choose me and my happiness was the moment where light started to illuminate the dark hole. I submitted my resignation from the role I had at the time and started job searching in the midst of wrapping up another semester. It took a while to figure out my new professional game plan. At that time, I thought I would be an influential figure in higher education nationally as my career grew. Thus, I took time to think about what made me happy professionally.

I recognized quickly that I thoroughly enjoyed work I did in training and development for students and professional staff. With all of the positions that I had throughout the years, I was tied that work in some way. Sometimes, I wished I was able to do more of it, but other responsibilities took precedent. Coming to that realization helped me to strategize how I would market those skills as I apply to corporate training and development jobs.

Once I left my time working in higher education, I went into full job search mode. I spent six weeks dedicated to the search, essentially applying to jobs like a 9 to 5 job every day. It was in August 2016, however, where breakthrough started to come, picking up two jobs. I was thankful that I somewhere to go and something to do at that point. Though these jobs were two temporary positions, they gave me industry experience that I was lacking. Many companies that I would apply to denied me because of this one component. It also allowed for me to build a new network of professionals in the HR space, particularly in Talent Development. While working these two temp jobs, I still job searched every free moment that I had to spare as I put forth great effort in the work that I was doing at that time.

Three days before Thanksgiving 2016, I landed my current role, eventually starting in January of this year. I could not have been more thankful. I work as a campus recruiter for Tribridge. The company, in a nutshell, solves problems with technology, utilizing software solutions to ensure companies are able to do their work efficiently. I go to various campuses within the state of Florida to find top talent to work for our company. The position has given me opportunities to coach job seekers with resume writing, networking and interviewing skills. Also, as my role was hybridized within two months of starting, I complete various projects that are focused on talent development, which was my initial job seeking goal when this journey began. The company has given me the platform to learn and apply all that I can to be an effective Talent Development professional.

Besides experiencing in corporate that bonuses do exist, lay-offs do happen and telecommuting to work is the best concept ever, I have learned that transferrable skills have significant weight when leveraged correctly in the job search. If it was not for my experiences in training, development, recruitment and event planning within higher education, my job search could have went much longer. Another lesson that I took in during this time is taking more care of me in ALL areas of my life. Physically, spiritually and emotionally, I was fulfilled. However professionally, I was neglecting those thorns on my side that started to affect various areas of my life. It was great to come full circle in that area and be ok with finding that place of fulfillment.

In the end, the experience taught me what it meant to simply “couch in the uncomfortable”. It is the space where you learn a great deal about your capabilities and strengths when plans seemed to be flipped upside down. Working in this new space has propelled a significant amount growth which has given me the confidence to truly live fearlessly.

The Defectors (series 2) is sponsored by Presence. At Presence, we’re working to solve all of the higher ed problems you’ve always heard couldn’t be fixed. If you love asking questions, finding solutions to intricate problems, and learning about new people and places, we want you to join our team. Check out our open positions and apply today!


The Defectors, Series 2: Brian LeDuc, Education Design Lab

Today’s Defectors contributor post comes from Brian LeDuc, Education Designer at the Education Design Lab. Not sure what we’re doing here yet? All is revealed here.

Education Designer. Campus Director. Higher Education Consultant, Performance Technologies. Manager for Leadership Programs. Graduate Hall Director. This is what I’ve been up to for the last seven years– for the most part, not your “traditional” set of job titles for a guy with a Master’s in Educational Administration. What I’ve found no matter where I’ve worked, is about stories, signals, and skills. Entering a new industry or role is partly about explaining your story, or foundation and interest in a new role, partly about translating your skills and abilities (and the gaps), and partly about putting in the time and effort to learn how to close that distance through signals of your investment of time, energy, and learning.

When I graduated from A&M, I was compelled by an opportunity to work not only in leadership education, but focused on systemic social issues, and in partnership with a dozen other Universities. It was the combination of student contact and engagement beyond the walls of campus that drew me in.  But it wasn’t long before I felt the limitations of working at an institution of 27,000 students but only impacting only a few hundred.  I felt like the information and insight I gained through my experience at NACA meant I had a responsibility to begin to take action beyond plugging into (what felt like) the “status quo.”  So I looked to my SAAHE network, exploring what other paths my work might take, and understanding the various roles that might allow me to view the field from a new perspective.

One of the things I overlooked at the time was that many of the graduates of the program weren’t working on a college campus at all. They were working at foundations and technology companies, non-profits and consulting firms. They were working in the ecosystem of higher education, but not directly with students.

Further, what I didn’t realize was that the conversations that were most interesting to me would actually be about the trends in higher ed at the intersection of student development, student success relevance of higher education, preparedness for life after college, and building a sustainable future for the association and higher education as a whole.

I wanted to impact more than just the students who I was able to connect with one on one, recognizing that even at my best, the systems I was working in weren’t prepared for the changes ahead in higher education.  

And while I was concerned that I wouldn’t be working with students everyday, I was excited by the idea of supporting thousands of campuses across the US at a place I saw making a difference. Watching the growing role that technology was playing in higher ed, and the focus and attention on advising and student success, I leapt to where I thought the puck might be headed, joining the EAB after a core of early Universities started implementing their advising technology. And that itch about losing connection with students altogether didn’t go away.  

Thankfully, the Kiwanis Key Leader program welcomed me on as a Lead Facilitator to their program, so 3-4 weekends a year I hang out with 60 high school students and chat with them about servant leadership, community engagement, and the leadership skills that are critical for success. And my time at EAB was pretty awesome. And in the process, I learned about project management, client relationship management, data analysis, improved my presentation skills, and learned about content management and cohort services (by building a few case studies), and used my background as a higher ed administrator and time on campus to inform our strategy for change management on campus while being immersed in work at a tech company building a new product. Oh, and I learned a bit about improv from The Second City along the way also.

Through EAB’s dual role in technology and research, I kept a pulse on the industry trends as a whole, and started to see several college alternatives and code schools focused on building specific skill sets emerge. I next joined The Iron Yard (a 12-week, intensive, coding bootcamp  startup for career changers looking to become software engineers) to see what life was like on the inside, alongside all of the excitement, speed, uncertainty, and frustration that comes with startup life. I fused my work as a higher ed administrator combined with an understanding of the tech world and married them with leadership education and skill development.

Serving in a role that placed me at the center of admissions, enrollment, student support, and career preparation and placement drastically changed my view about what college could look like, and the truths that we hold about what education is today.  While it wasn’t perfect, the deliberate focus on developing practical skills with career outcomes in mind and oversight across the entire student lifecycle and experience made me confident that traditional universities could benefit from exploring new approaches and models for their work.

Now armed with that knowledge and perspective, I’ve committed to combining the insight from bootcamps, startups, and tech companies in my work at the Education Design Lab, where we partner with education institutions using design thinking and other tools to consider how they might design education toward the future of work. Bringing in the threads of human-centered design used in tech, and skills like qualitative research, counseling, relationship and project management, and facilitation, I’m deepening my engagement of design thinking to build new models and pathways for education…that apply what I learned at The Iron Yard into traditional higher education, and new contexts.

I’ve shared quite a bit about how I feel about Education Administrators and their role in the future, and the ways that it’s likely to change.

Higher Education is experiencing massive disruptions; technologies that enable new approaches to engaging students and enhancing their learning, emerging educational pathways that didn’t exist before, and the constant evolution of the world of work and the knowledge, skills, and abilities that employers expect from new graduates. The emerging trends of “traditional” students is non-traditional: an older, part-time, student of color.

I see my work always landing somewhere between education, technology, education, and workforce informed from experiences across each of those areas– and it will be the result of exploring new opportunities to use and develop skills and knowledge that can translate across industries and organizational contexts. It will be the result of continuing to keep a pulse on trends in higher education, and thinking critically about “where the puck is going” and how to stay prepared and relevant to contribute in new, meaningful, ways.

I want to help to shape higher education to adapt to the changing worlds of work, technology, and culture, which means being close enough to help, but far enough not to be distracted by “business as usual” besides the frame to consider adapting from.

Brian serves as an Education Designer at the Education Design Lab. Since earning his Master’s degree in Education administration, Brian’s been serving across higher education as a leadership educator, helping universities improve retention and graduation rates using technology, and running a coding bootcamp in DC.  Brian likes running other things too, like Meetups and marathons. When he’s not on the Potomac in a kayak, camping in the woods, or in the audience at a concert, he’s probably watching The Office or Arrested Development on Netflix. Give him a shout at

The Defectors (series 2) is sponsored by Presence. At Presence, we’re working to solve all of the higher ed problems you’ve always heard couldn’t be fixed. If you love asking questions, finding solutions to intricate problems, and learning about new people and places, we want you to join our team. Check out our open positions and apply today!


The Defectors, Series 2: Paul Brown, Roompact

Today’s Defectors contributor post comes from Paul Brown, Director of Curriculum, Training, and Research at Roompact. Not sure what we’re doing here yet? All is revealed here.


Those that know me, know that I’ve always tended to follow my own lead. My career path— especially recently— has been no different. When I graduated with my undergraduate degree from SUNY Geneseo, I took a safe route. Not quite ready to enter the “world of work,” I went straight on to get my Master’s Degree in College Student Personnel from Western Illinois University. In saying it was a “safe route,” that is not to say I wasn’t interested and passionate about the field—it was quite the opposite—but staying within the known world of academia was relatively easy.

After Western, I worked at Miami University and American University in residence life and academic affairs roles. That finally brought me to Boston College where I was a full-time PhD student in Higher Education. My initial goal in seeking a PhD was to become a faculty member. I loved teaching. I loved research. It was a good fit. As I progressed through my PhD, however, a side gig developed. I began going to colleges, universities, and conferences to speak about my research into the influence of digital and social technology on the college student experience. I began traveling more as a result of it and became hooked. I also started blogging and participating in knowledge communities online.

Having this kind of academic and creative freedom felt amazing. There was almost a point where I considered pursuing it full time. The realities of working for yourself, however, including funding your own health care, paycheck instability, and an itinerant lifestyle- which wasn’t for me. I wanted something “in between.” I wanted something with the stability of having an employer, but with the creativity of being your own employer.

I was open to making a career switch, and since I studied technology’s impact on college students, this opened up the opportunity for me to work for higher education-related technology companies. Out of sheer luck, I found Roompact, my current employer. Roompact makes residential education and curriculum software for college and university housing departments. It has been a perfect fit—combining my residence life and higher education background with my passion for and research on technology.

My current job has the creativity and flexibility that I craved. Working for a relatively young company means we are often figuring out new processes and solving new problems that none of us have ever encountered before. There’s no one to ask about how to do something. You rely on each other, use your network, and be willing to try, fail, and learn. This happens nearly every day.

Working at Roompact has also given me personal flexibility. Flexible vacation means I can continue to do speaking engagements on the side. Having a role that is more project based means I can break out of the traditional 9-5 weekly schedule. And finally, being able to work electronically means that I can do my work from almost anywhere in the world.

The transition was (and is) not without its challenges. It has challenged me to re-think and examine my identity which had been wrapped up in colleges and universities for so long. This hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing, just different. It has also challenged me to maintain and grow my network with friends and colleagues to stay in “the conversation” within the field. I remain passionate about the work we do to help students.

Making a jump to a higher education adjacent field has been an amazing experience for me and one that I don’t see ending anytime in the near future. The truth is, work should be something you’re passionate about and that challenges you. My current job has that and it doesn’t seem likely to stop anytime in the near future.

A career is a journey and not a destination. Right now, I’m very happy with where that journey is taking me. As I evolve, so does my career.

Paul Gordon Brown is currently the Director of Curriculum, Training, and Research at the residential life and education software company, Roompact. While he was a PhD student in Higher Education at Boston College, Paul started a successful speaking and consulting business coaching colleges and university on the impact of social media and technology on college student learning and development. For fun, Paul travels the world and delights in finding weird and offbeat roadside attractions. Reach out to him at, or via Twitter @paulgordonbrown.

The Defectors (series 2) is sponsored by Presence. At Presence, we’re working to solve all of the higher ed problems you’ve always heard couldn’t be fixed. If you love asking questions, finding solutions to intricate problems, and learning about new people and places, we want you to join our team. Check out our open positions and apply today!


The Defectors, Series 2: Tara Singer, Omicron Delta Kappa


Today’s Defectors contributor post is a cartoon (the first for this series) created by Tara Singer of Omicron Delta Kappa . Not sure what we’re doing here yet? All is revealed here.

When I was a university administrator, I would throw a Happy Fiscal New Year’s party for my staff.  As of July 1 each year, we felt rich because the budget distributions had been made, and we could go shopping for those types of office supplies and equipment that we had put off purchasing until there was money available again.  We could update and print revised versions of publications.  In some years, we could even book travel.  The money from tuition and state funding allowed us to begin the academic year with the hopes that we would have enough funds to get us through to the following summer.  

As a non-profit administrator, I don’t have access to resources that “miraculously” appear on July 1st.  Whatever money that our nonprofit has in the checking account from the previous fiscal year is carried over, but there won’t be new funds until we (a) secure new members and (b) raise more money from donors.  Both of those activities don’t begin in earnest until about the first of September making the summer months budgetarily lean.  I’m sure my colleagues who have gone into business for themselves experience a similar, if not more significant, challenge.  It may be the price to pay for not having a budget based on the whims of a state legislature, but it is definitely worth it.

Tara Singer is the executive director of Omicron Delta Kappa, the National Leadership Honor Society.  Prior to working at O∆K, she spent nearly 30 years working on campuses in a variety of student affairs and university advancement roles.  She is often amused by her colleagues, her three sons, the cat which came with the farmhouse she bought, and the cows across the street.  She is less amused by the occasional bear which comes to visit and knock over the garbage can. She may best be reached at

The Defectors (series 2) is sponsored by Presence. At Presence, we’re working to solve all of the higher ed problems you’ve always heard couldn’t be fixed. If you love asking questions, finding solutions to intricate problems, and learning about new people and places, we want you to join our team. Check out our open positions and apply today!


The Defectors, Series 2: Dustin Ramsdell, 2U


Today’s Defectors contributor post comes from Dustin Ramsdell, Student Support Advisor at 2U . Not sure what we’re doing here yet? All is revealed here.

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

My story boils down to knowing what I wanted, but not where to find it.

I was working in Maine as a Resident Director, wrapping up my second year while my partner was about to graduate from her own higher ed master’s program. We were both ready to move closer to the Mid-Atlantic region to be nearer to more family, friends, as well as just be closer to more stuff.

My job was fine, it wasn’t too stressful but also wasn’t challenging me in the ways I wanted. It felt very safe, and I was hungry for more. I had tried to find some different jobs available in higher ed adjacent organizations, but was coming up short in terms of actual postings. Any progress with the ones I did find fizzled out. I searched for campus based roles as well, and didn’t find what I was looking for there either.

Eventually, I stumbled across my current role as a Student Support Advisor, and the hiring process was smooth, fast, and fun (a rarity for higher ed from my experience). I was excited to jump into a position with a growing higher ed tech company changing the face of the field. It had a laid back culture, which I loved, and I was able to do what I did best to support the company; guide students to be successful as they moved forward in their studies with whatever they might need. I work with online MBA students at American University calling, emailing, and troubleshooting all sorts of things. I’m essentially an academic advisor and coach to these students, so the demands really depend on the needs of the student.

I felt I had given a lot of organizations a fair chance to impress me with their culture, their team, and the position. I never found anything that really spoke to me on a campus. They either were more of the same of what I was currently doing (which I was ready to move on from), had a culture where I didn’t see enough urgency and progress (was the problem with where I was), or the compensation just wasn’t worth the sacrifice (I know education is typically going to be paying less, but as a master’s educated professional working to support and build a family, I knew what I was worth).

The journey so far, one which started almost a year and a half ago, has been a mixture of fun, stress, growth, frustration, and a lot of self-exploration. I’ve learned a lot about how complex systems of higher education work, how they can work better, and what I (generally) want from the next step in my career. While the transition was difficult, between moving and getting used to a more metric driven culture, it would be hard for me to imagine going back to a campus role. It would have to be something like I haven’t encountered yet but I feel may be out there. I know some professionals have positions with the urgent, creative, laid back culture that I love but it really seems few and far between. It also seems it can rely solely on a single person in a position of decision making power to drive it, rather than an organizational commitment to continual improvement and progress in creating a stellar student experience.

I don’t know if my current position, department, or company is where I want to be for the long term. But for now, it is giving so many more growth opportunities than I was getting or I feel like I could be getting elsewhere. Plus, it’s been a fun ride. I feel even more strongly now that the wide pasture of positions in different higher ed adjacent organizations need to be featured more prominently in grad programs as potential options. These groups could benefit greatly our student development expertise, and we could use benefit just as much from their unique perspectives and opportunities.

While I don’t know where I’m ultimately headed yet, in the end, it’s all about the journey.

Dustin Ramsdell currently works as a Student Support Advisor at 2U helping to the support online MBA students at American University. He previously worked as a Resident Director at Husson University in Maine, and went to graduate school for College Student Affairs at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Things that make Dustin laugh are all things smartly silly, puppets, and a good pun. Connect with Dustin at his blog, on Twitter, or on LinkedIn.

The Defectors (series 2) is sponsored by Presence. At Presence, we’re working to solve all of the higher ed problems you’ve always heard couldn’t be fixed. If you love asking questions, finding solutions to intricate problems, and learning about new people and places, we want you to join our team. Check out our open positions and apply today!


The Defectors, Series 2: Kelly Wuest, Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands


Today’s Defectors contributor post via video from Kelly Wuest, Volunteer Services Coordinator with Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands. Not sure what we’re doing here yet? All is revealed here.

 After graduating from Columbia College in 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, Kelly received her Master’s Degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs from University of South Carolina in 2008. She is a roller derby skater with the Columbia QuadSquad. In her free time, Kelly and her husband Mike go camping, cook, and spend time with their rescue pets. Kelly is empowered by making a difference in the lives of others and strengthening the community.

The Defectors (series 2) is sponsored by Presence. At Presence, we’re working to solve all of the higher ed problems you’ve always heard couldn’t be fixed. If you love asking questions, finding solutions to intricate problems, and learning about new people and places, we want you to join our team. Check out our open positions and apply today!


The Defectors, Series 2: Wimer Alberto, GradGuard


Today’s Defectors contributor post comes from Wimer Alberto, Director of Campus Partnerships at GradGuard. Not sure what we’re doing here yet? All is revealed here.

It has been six months since I decided to leave my job in higher education and step into a student-affairs aligned role as the Director of Campus Partnerships at GradGuard. I’ve learned a great deal about myself and the field of higher education over the past six months. Although I have always been curious about what my career could look like as a Defector, I would have never envisioned that the transition would happen at this point in my career.  Looking back on it, I am very glad that I decided to take a leap of faith and follow what my heart was encouraging me to do.

Prior to my job at GradGuard, I worked in various functional areas within residential life and housing for eight years.  Enjoyed my time working in housing, largely because I had opportunities to work with talented student affairs professionals and make a difference in the lives of young people. Student affairs is the place where I developed my identity as an educator; an identity which I will continue to hold onto today. However, as time went on, I began to struggle with one important question:

What do you do when something that was once a professional aspiration, is no longer something you desire?

That is the question I asked myself when I came to terms with the fact that I no longer aspired to serve as Dean of Students or Vice President of Student Affairs. While I did not have any concerns about my capacity to eventually grow into those types of roles, I did have some concerns about the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual toll that a role like that would have on myself and that people I love.

It’s not that student affairs became any less important to me. It’s that I started to prioritize the alignment of career and my personal life with the things that are most important to me.

At the same time, I knew that I enjoyed impacting the student experience, even when orchestrating the “behind-the-scenes” aspects that students never get to see. My identity as an educator was never tied to my position or title.  It was — and still is —tied to my purpose, which is to serve others. In turn, in order for me to be truly prepared to make the transition from a working on campus to working at a company, I needed to come to terms with the fact that not only can student affairs professionals make a difference outside of the classroom, they can also make a difference working outside of campus altogether.

Amma Marfo captured this perfectly when she stated” I’d argue that a many people aren’t leaving the field, so much as they’re leaving campuses. This distinction matters”.

After I made this important mental shift, I was able to wholeheartedly look at my transition as something that was not only feasible, but also something that also aligned with my aspirations. My transition to GradGuard specifically was somewhat serendipitous. Part of our team is based in Phoenix, where I currently live. This prompted me to reach out to the team to see if they had any needs within the organization that I could fill, which evolved into a  series of conversation and an eventual offer.  The experience taught me a number of things:

  1. If you are thinking about making the switch to a company specifically, make sure you find one that has a value set that speaks to you.
  2. Make sure that the mission of the organization is something that you are excited to contribute to.
  3. Spend time with the people in the organization. Get to know what the organization’s needs. Ask yourself, “do I see myself contributing to the direction the organization is going in?”

Part of my current role consists of oversight over the day-to-day operations of the renter’s insurance side of the business, where I oversee software implementations, assist with business process development, strategic planning, marketing and operations. The other part of my role consists of university relations—ensuring that we are meeting the needs of our current housing partners, making sure the company is active in the higher education space, mentoring, presenting, consulting, and living out the values of the company through my interactions with higher education professionals who interact with students on the ground.

I can honestly say that I have never felt as fulfilled in my career as I do now. I get to work with brilliant people who genuinely want to make a positive impact in the lives of the thousands of students we serve across the country. I get to experience the higher education landscape from a lens that I would have never thought possible. Most of all, I am contributing to something larger to myself, in a role that challenges me to use my degrees and the competencies that I learned in higher education every single day.

Over the past six months, I have had many conversations with colleagues and friends that have asked me if I would ever consider going back to working in a university setting. To be honest, I would not rule it out. However, if I have learned anything in my most recent transition, it’s that you need to find an organization whose missions and values you align with, regardless of whether the organization is a non-profit, company, or unviersity department.  Remember, your work matters but you matter more. And if you ever find that your aspirations are no longer things that excite you, that’s perfectly fine, as long as you are willing to look for something that does.

Wimer Alberto serves as the Director of Campus Partnerships for GradGuard. Prior to working at GradGuard, he served as the Assistant Director for Guest and Conference Housing at Arizona State University. He enjoys stand up comedy and he secretly dreams of coming up with a higher education version of “Impractical Jokers”. Email him at if you would like to continue the conversation with him.

The Defectors (series 2) is sponsored by Presence. At Presence, we’re working to solve all of the higher ed problems you’ve always heard couldn’t be fixed. If you love asking questions, finding solutions to intricate problems, and learning about new people and places, we want you to join our team. Check out our open positions and apply today!