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New Professionals: Challenging Students Where They Are, By Challenging Assumptions

EACE Blog contribution by Tiffany Waddell, Assistant Director of Career Development at Davidson College

Working in a career & professional development context is such a great space to build relationships, work as an educator, partner with other professionals, and really contribute to the lives of others.  But what happens when the learning moment falls outside of a scheduled workshop or event?  Where do we draw the line between being professional advisers, counselors, and coaches – and also mentors to our students?

Having tough conversations with some of the best and the brightest students in the country requires a great deal of empathy, compassion, but also fearlessness.  The truth is not always popular.  And, it certainly isn’t always easy to share.  The touted stereotypes of the new millennial and the challenges that come with this particular generation are often used as an explanation for poorly written emails, inability to take coaching or direction, and an overall sense of entitlement.  Helicopter parents make it difficult for some of us to offer “teachable moments” to our students, for fear of being publicly shamed or even penalized for holding our students to reasonable professional standards (and sometimes even campus policies and procedures).   We often tow the line between being both educators and customer service agents.

While generational differences do give much context to consider when working with students and even other professionals – I also struggle with that being the end of the line.  Being an older millennial myself, on the cusp of ageing out, I find that upbringing, geographic and cultural identities impact who we are…not just our age.  And, I am not a big fan of excuses in general.  Regardless of age, background, and access to the digital stage – we are still accountable for our actions, and our interactions with others.  Sure, my ability to multitask and use technology tools may impact my ability to have a face-to-face conversation (or so they say!) but at what point do trends among generational factions get tempered with good old-fashioned common sense?  As we seek to engage students where they are, where do we draw the line between accepting others as they are – and pushing our students, peers, and colleagues to grow, learn, and do better?

I believe we must check our assumptions at the door.  Use the knowledge of generational trends, personality type, and cultural clues to be pieces of data that support relationship building – but not a roadmap, alone.  Checking our assumptions is the first step in meeting our students, peers, and colleagues where they are – so that we may continue to work with them in positive and productive ways.


waddell-tiffanyTiffany Waddell is the Assistant Director for Career Development at Davidson College. She has coached hundreds of budding young professionals on how to create strategic action plans for academic and career-related goals.  Affectionately known for her “tough love” approach to coaching and people development, she is an avid connector of people and ideas.  Waddell received both her BA and MA from Wake Forest University. Connect with her on Twitter @tiffanyiwaddell and start a conversation!

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