Student Affairs Podcast: Adapting and Trying New Things

You can now listen to the latest episode of “Conversations with Student Affairs,” the podcast managed by the Student Affairs team at Penn State World Campus in collaboration with our many colleagues and partners across the University’s Student Affairs teams.

Title: Adapting: Try More New Things

Participating guests: Penn State students Bailey, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation and Human Services at Penn State University Park, and Carrie, who is pursuing a Master of Public Administration through Penn State World Campus.

Summary: Bailey and Carrie explain their Penn State journeys and describe what adapting to change and creating new productivity and networking strategies has looked like for them over the past few years.

Three interesting or helpful takeaways from this episode:

Professionalism is important when communicating via any work-related platform. Bailey noted that, as she has been doing more meetings via Zoom (like so many of us), she’s had to be more conscientious about making sure she looks professional and acts in the same professional manner that she would use in an office environment.

The trend toward more flexible work arrangements means new opportunities for many people. As she nears the completion of her degree program, Carrie has been looking at remote roles, which she says is something she wouldn’t have considered possible in the past. “For me, professionally, that is a big difference, especially because I will be working in the nonprofit sphere. And so that’s not typically a space where there were remote jobs. But now, you’re seeing a lot more where they’re remote or hybrid.”

Networking can be beneficial at all points in your career and education. Many people think of LinkedIn as a tool you mainly use when looking for a job, but Bailey said she has been using the platform and other networking tools to develop a support system and gain insight about how other people are balancing everything. “I’ve done so many informational interviews just trying to figure out what other professionals went through during this [pandemic]. And if they are going back into the office, how are they managing their time differently because they are in-person?”

Catch up on all episodes:

“Conversations with Student Affairs” Podcasts 

Recommended resources:

  • Explore Networking and Alumni Connections with LionLink — this blog post explains how to get the most out of LionLink, a professional networking and job search resource offered by the Penn State Alumni Association
  • Get Involved — learn about the many different ways to get involved as a World Campus student, from student government to clubs and organizations.

Podcast Transcript: Adapting


JEN TOOF: Hello, everybody. Welcome to Conversations with Student Affairs. I am your host Jen Toof. I’m the Assistant Director for World Campus Student Affairs as well as the Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response.

And for today’s episode, we are going to be looking back over the last few years, looking at some of those skills and those strengths that we have learned about ourselves, maybe how we have used them in our journey as a student through education as well as the professional. And we’re really excited to have two student guests here who can talk about their experience. And we’re really going to focus on the overarching, high-level topic of adaptability.

And our two guests today are Bailey and Carrie. They are Penn State students, and they actually have had two different journeys at Penn State. So let’s take it– let’s get to know them a little bit more. Bailey, would you like to introduce yourself, and then Carrie?

BAILEY: Yes. So my name is Bailey. I am a Rehab and Human Service here at Penn State. And I’ve currently been a student for five years now, and I am graduating this August.

JEN TOOF: Thank you, Bailey. How about you, Carrie?

CARRIE: I am currently in graduate school on World Campus, and my master’s will be in public administration.

JEN TOOF: Great. Thank you for sharing that little bit about your academic journey. And I think what’s really interesting is our podcast of Conversations with Student Affairs can look at the World Campus student experience. It can also look at the residential experience for the student.

But as we all know, in the last few years, we’ve all lived, I guess, in a remote or hybrid lived experience and student experience, as well. And as we’re talking about this adaptability piece, for our listeners, you’re going to hear us leave this into our conversation for today.

But let’s get going with an icebreaker. This is probably one of my favorite pieces that we do. I mean, oftentimes, we have talked about Penn State memories and ice cream.

But as we’re talking about learning about each other and our strengths, here’s my question for our If You Could icebreaker. If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice, what would it be? And Carrie, let’s start with you.

CARRIE: If I went back in time, I would give myself the advice to try more new things and not be shy about it and not be shy about failing, or feeling like I might fail, or feeling like I would have to be really good at something just to give it a try.

BAILEY: Yeah, I definitely agree with what Carrie said because being comfortable is something that I’ve always valued. And not trying new things, I haven’t been able to go out and do more things that I would have liked to. So I think giving that piece of advice to myself would have been awesome, as well as not listening to what others say, having your own opinion about yourself, and sticking to that– morals and things like that.

JEN TOOF: Great. Thank you, both. And I think that’s really important when we’re talking about this adapting, or a lot of people heard the word pivoting during the start of the pandemic. I do hope the word pivoting gets retired, which is why I really wanted to go with adapting for this.

But I think as we start getting into our different segments here, let’s talk about how you would describe your student experience. So, for instance, have you been on a traditional student path? Have you been on a nontraditional student path? What does life kind of look like for you in the start of that student journey?

Or Carrie, you, as a graduate student, have had a couple journeys. And Bailey, it sounds like you are in a different lane for going into your next journey. So Carrie, let’s start with you on this one.

CARRIE: Sure. So I did the traditional route with undergrad and went to a residential college in Pennsylvania. And then it was a little bit later when my youngest was about to start kindergarten that my husband and I were planning on doing our master’s degrees together and online. So we both would be there at night studying, and writing papers, and things like that at the same time.

So I actually started my graduate degree in 2015. And then I was about two months in, and I found out that I was pregnant, which was a surprise– but a blessing, but a surprise. And so I put it on hold. And found out once this little one, now, was starting kindergarten, I was like, I’m going to start back up with my graduate degree.

And it was super easy to reapply, and all my grades and everything were in from when I had started. And so I actually restarted in 2020 right when the pandemic– I actually had applied in February before we knew everything that was going on.

So I restarted my graduate degree in 2020 in the summer. So that was kind of the height of the lockdowns and everything. So yeah, so it was not a traditional journey even for graduate school with having the stop and start again five years later. But it was definitely worth it.

BAILEY: My route was kind of traditional. I came in with my undergrad right out of high school. So I started here at Penn State in 2017. And I’m technically taking my fifth year right now because I took a semester and a half off, so that may be considered a nontraditional route, since I am taking a fifth year had a lot to do with that as of right now.

JEN TOOF: Well, thank you, both. When we get into our first segment, we’re doing these skill-based episodes, you know which is a change from our previous Conversations with Student Affairs episodes during the previous year. And in this first segment, it’s going to be focused on the student and that academic journey. And where did adaptability play a part for this?

And so the first question is, when I look at this is, going back to 2019, what would life have been looking like in November for you? Think about that current place in time. And then when we fast-forward a couple of months into 2020, Carrie, you shared you were looking at getting back into school and all that.

So share with our listeners, if you would, what did that 2019 window look like? And then what did that 2020 window look like? And Bailey, we’ll start with you on this one.

BAILEY: Yeah, so 2019, I was a sophomore. I was currently at Penn State Altoona– so I was not at University Park– and at a smaller campus to coming into University Park where there’s thousands and thousands of kids and hundreds of people in my classes. So I would say, life was pretty normal at that point. I was just doing a lot of adapting to my surroundings and meeting new people here on-campus and things like that.

And then November of 2020, things obviously started to pick up because of the pandemic. And I had to adapt to being an online student, just like everyone else at Penn State had to. And it was difficult, not only in your personal life, but in your work life, being with other students, trying to figure out with your peers how to navigate this pandemic. And social life, as well, was affected heavily. So it definitely was something that had to adapt to.

CARRIE: Yeah. So in 2019, I had just started thinking about what the process would look like to get back into my graduate degree because my daughter would be in kindergarten, and I would have more time to study. And so I did reapply and then was granted back access to the program.

And so I had scheduled my first classes for the summer semester of 2020. So those begin in May. So at that point, we were in lockdown. And my kids weren’t done with school yet, so all five of my kids were home. And I was helping them do online school, and I was doing my online school, too.

So I think it helped them see that this is kind of a normal thing for some people if you do online courses, which many people do now. And they could mimic some of my tactics that I use for online school. But it was definitely not what I anticipated starting back at school.

I thought I would have more time and energy, whereas I was basically homeschooling all five kiddos from kindergarten or pre-K through ninth grade. So it was like redoing all of those grades over with them, too. So that was the beginning of my journey back into grad school was homeschooling and doing grad school.

JEN TOOF: Carrie, you use the word tactic, and I really appreciated that. Because I was thinking of, what were the different strategies that we use? Because it was– everything needed to be done all at once. What becomes priority when everything needs to be a priority?

So let’s talk about those tactics or those strategies. And since this is a spur of the moment question, I’ll share with you guys one of the things that comes to mind for me is I started thinking creatively about my time– about, when did I feel like my low points and my high points in my days were? Also, what were my surroundings looking like?

So did it mean that my connection to electronics– because I was more connected through work, in my off-work time, did I not want to have that electronic connection of less news, but I can choose when and where I want to go see my news? Also, being a really early morning person, I really appreciated reading my emails while drinking my coffee in the morning and catching up that way before digging into a project, whereas before, I always dove in head first.

And I just became more creative about how and where I put that energy and when I tuned in to certain things. So Carrie, since you had mentioned tactic as that word, let’s go back to you for that. And then Bailey, if there’s anything that you feel as though was a tactic or a strategy that really feels like having to adapt, you’re really honed in on.

CARRIE: Yeah. I really, like you said, being more mindful of my time and what I spent my time on. And also, almost having a schedule really helps. Because even though the kids weren’t going to school, my husband wasn’t going to work, I wasn’t going out and volunteering like I normally did, the day could just get away from you really easily.

So it was maybe not a rigid schedule, but kind of like, this is what we do before lunch, and this is what we do after and having a time to get outdoors, and move around, and be outside as opposed to just sitting in front of the computer all the time. And then I am a paper kind of person. I don’t read on Kindles. I don’t read on the computer.

I’m not– I like to highlight and take notes. And I know you can do that with the wonderful apps, now. But I could take my kids to the park and take my schoolbooks with me and know, they’re going to be here at the park. I’m going to be able to sit at the picnic table and do my reading.

So just kind of scheduling out both my academics and their academics– like you said, Jen, being mindful that we don’t let the day get away or being more mindful of how we spent the time in front of the computers versus socializing or being outside.

JEN TOOF: Awesome

BAILEY: Yeah. So I definitely became more appreciative of my time. I got to do a lot of things that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I were in-person taking these classes. I became a morning person, which I’m definitely not a morning person.

I got to do more things with my roommates because we were closer than ever. I mean, we were stuck together in a house. I got to sit outside, enjoy the morning. And like you said, drink coffee, get on Zoom, and be able to see peers that I’ve never seen before because, sometimes, in-person classes– things happen. People can’t make it, whether that be work or personal.

So being on Zoom, it kind of gave others the opportunity to attend more classes and have better conversations because there’s more people involved. And that’s something that I got out of that. And I also learned how to prioritize my time.

I got to spend more time with my family during this time. I spent more time exercising because I was at home and not on campus all day. So I definitely took that strategy. And I think it was very helpful, and we made the best of the situation that we were in.

JEN TOOF: Well, thank you, both. Those were really excellent things that you shared. And let’s go forward to 2022. And have any of those tactics and those strategies that you adapted, or that pivot word that you went to, are you carrying forward any of them that have become really a strength and a skill for you? So Bailey, we’ll lead off with you.

BAILEY: Yeah, definitely. So every morning I start off with a coffee, and I walk to the mailbox. That is my favorite thing to do every morning. And I definitely picked that up during the pandemic. So being able to get up and do that, and look at your email, and have time to do those things, and prioritizing what you need to get done for the day– and that’s not something that I knew how to do prior to being stuck at home.

And I became more tech-savvy, definitely. And it has helped me during my internship that I’m in right now. And a lot of skills that I’ve learned during the pandemic definitely helped me, and I continue to use those same tactics now that I did prior.

CARRIE: Yeah, I think Bailey brought up a really good point about learning new things in the pandemic that we hadn’t used before, like different strategies for socializing, but also for academics and for work. And I definitely agree with that. There are some things I don’t want to go back to in-person meetings, or there’s different strategies that I’ve used with classmates or friends to connect that we didn’t even realize were even available before the pandemic. And maybe they weren’t, or maybe they’re more accessible now.

But I definitely think trying to figure out how to connect with people for social and personal reasons, but also for academic or business reasons– I think we’re definitely stronger now and have better strategies for making those connections and keeping those connections, even if we can’t see the people because of distance, or time, or things like that.

So I think I’ve been really glad that we got that peace from being locked down and separate for so long. I definitely am more on a routine now than I was before. But I think I also really appreciate time to myself more than before. And I think Bailey is agreeing with that.

You’re stuck with your roommates. My roommate just happens to be younger than me. But you’re stuck with them for so long that I think personal time now feels almost like a luxury and having that self-care component and things put into your routine, whether it is your cup of coffee in the morning and going to get the mail, or taking a walk, or taking the dog out, or something like that. I feel like I appreciate it more now. So even reading a book in the quiet is nice.

JEN TOOF: Yep. Yeah, I definitely realized how I was prioritizing different boundaries, as well, and where I wanted to put time and energy into maybe having harder boundaries or softer boundaries. And I really identified where– my family lives eight hours away in New England. And when it came to that, I was like, you know what? This is a part of a piece of me that I felt more connected during the pandemic. And I did not want to lose that.

And maintaining that connection of whether it’s family, or our friends, or our social connections. It all just, I think, ties in. But what I’ve heard you both also say is it helps to take care of yourselves, as well, in what was really difficult and trying times for everybody. And I’m really appreciative of what you both have shared out.

So our second segment here is, we’re going to look forward to these skills that we learned, these strengths, these tactics, these things that we adapted to. What does it look like going into that professional field? Like I am a professional in Student Affairs at Penn State. I shared a little bit in our last segment about how I overlap that, but it also helped me personally, as well.

And I wasn’t a student like you both were, so I couldn’t necessarily chime in there. And I’ve shared this to Bailey before, but I joked and said, I no longer have a sticky note pile. And Carrie, you talked about being a paper person.

But I learned how Microsoft Office made me be a sustainable person and that I hate having little piles of paper now on my desk. And I used to have hundreds of sticky notes I could accumulate over a month. So professionally, just from a sustainability aspect, that’s something that I carried forward in everything now, whether it’s a note in my phone, it’s keeping an electronic note like up on my screen.

And so, Bailey, for you, since you are hitting this next step of your journey, what do these skills look like for you, whether you’re going on to graduate school, or pursuing a profession, or even community organizations? What does this look like in that next step?

BAILEY: Yeah, definitely as a young professional, I was kind of coming into my internship here at Penn State blind. I had no idea what to do, how to act, how to show everyone that I should be taken seriously. So I got really lucky with my internship.

And I was not very tech savvy coming into this internship, so I’ve been learning things through Microsoft Office, as well. I mean, I’m a sticky note person. I have them right here. Learned that OneNote by Microsoft is a thing, and it’s amazing.

But yeah, I’m definitely like Carrie. I like to write everything down. So that’s kind of a skill that I’ve been learning throughout this.

And these skills that I’ve acquired through being in the pandemic and being home remain [AUDIO OUT] a professional during these Zoom calls and things like that. So I’ve been learning how to virtually be a professional as well as being physically in the office. And those things have been big learning experiences for me.

And as a young professional, I think I’m handling it well. And it’s been great.

CARRIE: Bailey, I like that you said that you’re learning how to be like a professional virtually, also. Because a lot of us had to figure that out, too, whether or not we’re quote, unquote, “young professionals” or not. I think that does take a specific skill set right to be able to present yourself virtually and be mindful, what’s your background? What are you wearing, at least from the waist up?

And do you have your camera on? Are you trying to make eye contact through Zoom– that kind of stuff? That’s definitely a skill I feel like I also learned in the pandemic, too.

And I also come back to the idea of connecting– connecting with people virtually. And they’re skills that we learned in the pandemic that we can use when we’re in person, also. But I professionally, for me, I’m getting to the end of my degree, finally– yay– and I’m looking more at remote jobs, too, which is something I would have never even considered in the past.

But now that we have this experience. And, OK, I can connect with people through a screen or through occasional meetings. But I don’t need to see them every day to be productive and to keep a connection.

So I think that, for me, professionally, is a big difference, especially because I will be working in the nonprofit sphere. And so that’s not typically a space where there were remote jobs. But now you’re seeing a lot more where they’re remote or hybrid.

And I would definitely have never considered that in the past. All of my work experience, and my work friends, and everything were in-person. But now that we’ve had this experience, I feel like I’ve adapted some in that I can even consider that, and I feel like I could be successful in that.

JEN TOOF: I feel like everybody was concerned about losing water cooler moments, such as walking in, seeing each other, saying hi. Bailey, it’s walking into the classroom. It’s chit chatting with people. Or it’s chit chat and more with people who were on your path for walking into the classroom or walking into the office. Or I think about even getting your breakfast on the way to the office or your coffee on your way to the office that there was always this loss of feeling like we were losing contact with each other.

And I think my experience is I value my coworkers’ times and my colleagues’ time so much more that I carve out so many moments. Not specific, but knowing it’s like, OK, I know I want to purposely connect with this person and make it meaningful. And I want to hear what’s going on, just like if I were to stop by their office.

I don’t know if we necessarily need the water cooler moments because it’s adapted into something different where I think there’s more meaningful connections with our peers and our colleagues of those that are, I think, are in our inner circle. We’ve expanded our inner circle in a different way, as well. And the water cooler moment might be that first couple of minutes.

And it’s no longer hanging back 10 or 15 minutes at the end of a meeting. It’s like, no, I value you. I want you to get up out of your chair. I want you to move. I want you to be able to put your time and attention but know there’s always time for us together as colleagues, as peers, as friends.

You can even put your family into that category depending on how you’re practicing that skill. But I think there was a lot of loss that was felt in the early days, but I think we’ve gained, also, so much more connection. And you’ve both hit upon that, also, in what you’ve shared. I see you both shaking your head. Bailey, do you want to start off if there is anything additional want to add?

BAILEY: Yeah, definitely. I’ve learned how to network through this all. It’s definitely not something I think I would have learned if the pandemic never happened. I got a LinkedIn. That was something I never would have done prior. So networking through [INAUDIBLE] for me. I’ve done so many informational interviews just trying to figure out what other professionals went through during this. How did they continue their education and still being involved in this pandemic but coming off of it a little bit? And if they are going back into the office, how are they managing their time differently because they are in-person, and things like that? So networking was a huge thing for me. And it’s a great skill that I’ve learned.

JEN TOOF: Thank you so much, Bailey, for sharing that. And Carrie, you’re still shaking your head and what we’re all saying. So what would you like to add?

CARRIE: Yeah, I just agree. Everybody was afraid, like you said, Jen, of we’re going to miss out on the connection, the human connection. And I just think of– like my sister lives several states away, and we started using this app that we send videos back and forth.

And she’s always lived several states away. This is nothing new. But in the pandemic, we were seeking that kind of contact. And it’s something we’ve just continued. And then I can see my nephews, and they can see their cousins. And we just do small little videos back and forth.

But I also feel like you do that we were all very worried about losing human contact in those small bits during the day that you would get in class, at work. And I think it’s really changed to be better in more ways that are more accessible no matter the distance.

JEN TOOF: Which brings us to our final thought for our episode. And let’s see here. Carrie, let’s have you go first with a final thought. And Bailey, since you are in this– getting ready to take these next steps, we’ll have you close us out. So Carrie, how about you?

CARRIE: I think my final thought– I’ll just circle back to where I was at the beginning– is to try new things. And that would be what I would have given myself advice a long time ago. And I think the pandemic has definitely pushed us to try things that we never thought we would be able to do or never thought existed.

And now that they do, it’s good to try it, whether you feel like you’re going to be good at it, or you’re concerned you’re going to fail, at least you try it. And you might be scared of the outcome, but we’ve seen from the outcome of the pandemic, we have better connections. We have better skills. So don’t be afraid to try.

BAILEY: Yeah, I completely agree with Carrie. I mean, I think during this pandemic, it definitely led us to be more appreciative of others’ time as well as our own. And being able to take the initiative to reach out to others and network, I think, has been– the pandemic wasn’t the best thing, but I think everyone has learned a lot from it.

And having those new experiences virtually and [INAUDIBLE] as well, now. Time is very important. And I think the pandemic really helped us come to that realization. And trying new things, and then we find out we like it, it’s great. And I think that is what I took away from the pandemic itself.

JEN TOOF: So Bailey, best wishes in this new adventure that you are on for your next steps past Penn State or if you decide to be continuing into graduate fields Carrie, you shared you’re getting close to graduation. Best wishes for you as you’re concluding your graduate journey with us.

And students, we want to get your stories out there and connect them with our different skill-based topics. If you want to come on to an episode, we’ll have my contact information in the description. But thank you so much, Bailey and Carrie, for being with us today.

CARRIE: Thanks, Jen.

BAILEY: Of course. Thank you.