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									                                                   Student Development Autobiography 1

RUNNING HEAD: Student Development Autobiography

             How Did I Get Here?: A Student Development Autobiography

                                  Jenny Ellefson

                              Oregon State University
                                                           Student Development Autobiography 2

                  How Did I Get Here?: A Student Development Autobiography

         As I reflect on being a student from kindergarten through my senior year of high school,

one idea comes to mind: learning. Then, as I reflect on my life as a student post-high school, the

idea shifts and expands to something beyond just learning. This idea is a sense of growth, active

learning, pursuit, challenge, and of development. My undergraduate experience was a time of

refinement of skills and pushing of thought. The impact of my time at the University of

Wisconsin- La Crosse (UW-L) on my student development is overwhelmingly significant and has

in turn led to me where I am today. My development as a student has not yet reached its end, but

by acknowledging the events and transitions I have experienced thus far will contribute to my

strength as a student affairs professional. Theory can help to explain and enhance the time

periods of greatest significance during my undergraduate career. In this autobiography I will

illustrate the development that occurred through my first year experience, extracurricular and

academic involvement, and transition out of UW-L. Freshman year is an appropriate place to


         In comparison to other colleges and universities that I applied to during my senior year of

high school, UW-L was a more competitive university at which to be granted admission. This

may have been my first encounter with Schlossberg’s concept of mattering. The facets of

Schlossberg’s concept that I can relate to my feeling of mattering in college include attention,

importance, and ego-extension (Schlossberg, 1989). When I visited campus and met with an

Admissions Counselor, I felt as though she was truly invested in giving me attention, answering

any questions I had about the college, and making me feel confident and proud of my academic

standing. Once I made the decision to attend UW-L and moved on campus freshman year I

continued to feel as though I mattered as a student. I lived in the freshman-experience residence
                                                             Student Development Autobiography 3

hall and felt a true sense of belonging there, and I got involved with the Campus Activities Board

(CAB) within the first two weeks of fall term. I will go into further detail on the impact that CAB

had on my undergraduate experience later in this paper.

        Although my first year at UW- L was an overall positive experience, I definitely faced

some challenges. Along with mattering comes marginality and this was the reality in my case.

Schlossberg (1989) states that “people in transition often feel marginal and that they do not

matter” (p. 6). My experience of feeling marginal started with my assignment of an academic

advisor. I was undeclared within the College of Liberal Studies, so I was randomly paired up

with a history professor. She expressed no eagerness in helping me find a way to explore

possible majors or areas of study. Not having decided on a major caused me to lose sleep at night

because I felt like I did not belong at the university if I did not have a clear cut path, so the lack

of direction from my very first “mentor” on campus instilled in me a sense of marginality. It is

interesting for me to think back to how I felt as an undeclared student my freshman year because

last year when I held the position of Admissions Counselor, I found myself encouraging high

school students to enter college with an open mind and essentially to remain undecided until

sophomore year. This idea also ties into Chickering’s theory of identity development and its

seven vectors of development (Evans, 1998). As one strives to define his or her identity, the

position on the various vectors may be in constant movement. In my case, I was striving to

connect my competencies with a desired purpose and identity. Also, I recognize that at this point

in time I felt challenged to declare a major but had not yet found any source of support.

        Another way in which I felt marginal when I first entered college was through attempting

to maintain close high school friendships as well as establishing new friend circles at UW-L. I

wanted to hold on to the sense of mattering to my old friends who I had moved away from and
                                                          Student Development Autobiography 4

simultaneously build a new sense of mattering among my new peers. What I had yet to learn was

the amount of time it takes to truly get to know people and to decide who I wanted to surround

myself with. Freshman year was a time of having hundreds of acquaintance friends but not

knowing exactly where I fit into the picture. The thought of transferring to another institution

crossed my mind because I felt like I would experience more belonging if I moved to a college

where I had the comfort of friends who knew me better. Luckily, I realized my potential for

growth at UW-L and decided to stay. The marginality closed in over the span of four years that I

attended UW-L, and much of this was a result of my involvement on the campus.

       The most significant amount of positive growth that I have experienced as a student

stems from my involvement in leadership positions on campus. When I was a freshman I found

my niche with the Campus Activities Board; that was the experience that shaped most of my

development during college. By being invited to the first weekly meeting and immediately given

opportunity to help at events I found my place of mattering. My commitment to CAB led to a

strong sense of involvement on the campus and community, and it eventually pointed me to an

area of study that was fitting for me. Involvement is defined as “the amount of physical and

psychological energy that the student devotes to the academic experience” (Astin, 1984, p. 297).

My involvement in academics was strengthened by my involvement with CAB. These two areas

were completely intertwined during my undergraduate years. I started as a general member of the

organization my freshman year, was appointed as an event coordinator on the board my

sophomore year, and became president of CAB for both my junior and senior years. I was able to

make connections between my major, which I declared as Communication Studies with

emphasis in Public Relations, and the work I was doing in CAB. Planning events, coordinating

publicity plans, working with other student groups on campus, contracting with performance
                                                            Student Development Autobiography 5

agencies, and leading a group of 15 students prepared me more than anything for the type of

work I was expected to do in the classroom. Perhaps this contradicts the common thought that

extracurricular activities are designed to be an addition to the core academic experience. Astin’s

(1984) involvement theory includes five postulates, one of which states that “the amount of

student learning and personal development associated with any educational program is directly

proportional to the quality and quantity of student involvement in that program” (p. 298).

Through my experience, I believe that my academic major and coursework were just an addition

to the experience I was getting through CAB. My time serving as president held more

importance to me than any single academic responsibility I had at UW-L.

       Becoming the president of the Campus Activities Board was an event that was

unexpected and highly influential on my development as a student. The nature of this new role

can be related to Schlossberg’s transition theory, which consists of anticipated transitions,

unanticipated transitions, and nonevents (Evans, 1998). Stepping into the president role was an

unanticipated transition for me, especially as a junior, because I had not held that strong of a

leadership role in the past. I was encouraged to apply for president by my advisor and was

surprised at myself for taking that leap. This was a monumental time for my development as a

student. Schlossberg’s transition theory encompasses “four major sets of factors that influence a

person’s ability to cope with a transition: situation, self, support, and strategies” (Evans, 1984, p.

113). The situation was positive because although I questioned if I was ready for this challenge, I

had the support of several advisors and peers. My role change was a gain because in a sense I

was moving up and taking on more responsibility, and I was just starting to come into a comfort

level with my identity. During sophomore year I had declared my major and started taking the

upper level courses, I had started to meet friends that shared common interests with me and that I
                                                           Student Development Autobiography 6

connected with on a deeper level. I had just freed myself from a romantic relationship that had

been going downhill, and I felt confident in my character and self-concept. Support is a very

important piece to consider during this time of transition as well. I was surrounded by support

and encouragement and am forever grateful for those individuals who pushed me to take a big

step forward and get more involved with this leadership opportunity. Lastly, Schlossberg’s set of

factors that falls under strategies can be related to my situation in the way that I coped with this

role change. It was important for me to make the most of my opportunity, give it as much energy

as I could handle, and at the same time not let myself get stressed over what it meant to be

president. The strategy that I used, as I look back on the situation now, was identifying who I

wanted to be as a leader on campus, and who I did not want to be.

       By increasing my involvement with CAB, I was in motion to sculpting my identity. I

believe that Chickering’s theory of identity development supports my growth in this area. I

learned interdependence among the group of student leaders I was working with, I definite ly

build competence in leadership and interpersonal relationships, and I had found a solid purpose

for which to work hard and achieve goals during my undergraduate experience. Both Astin’s

student involvement theory and Chickering’s identity theory run parallel to my development

through CAB, but the way in which my experience does not relate to Astin’s theory is the fact

that my relationship with faculty was not as influential as my relationship with involvements

outside of the classroom. Astin (1984) claims that “frequent interaction with faculty is more

strongly related to satisfaction with college than any other type of involvement” (p. 304). I can

see how this would be true in many students’ cases, but it was not for me. Because my

involvement in college had such an impact on my life, it was a struggle to approach the point of

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       As I mentioned earlier in this paper, my feeling of mattering was pretty strong throughout

my time spent at UW-L. Beyond just CAB, I found other ways in which to absorb myself into

the college community. I got a job working at the information counter at the student union,

became a campus tour guide through the Admissions Office, engaged in undergraduate research,

played intramural sports, wrote for the school newspaper, studied abroad, and attended several

conferences endorsed by the university. Because of my level of involvement at the university,

when it came time to depart I had a rough time dealing with the transition. Relating back to

Schlossberg’s transition theory, graduation was an anticipated transition that I faced my senior

year. This transition was not as positive as other transitional experiences because there were so

many unknowns involved. The situation at hand entailed a variety of extreme changes: my role

change from student to full-time employee, the timing being somewhat appropriate but

intimidating to leave my friends and start over somewhere new, the loss of control and comfort

of such familiar surroundings, and concurrent stresses including my struggle with anxiety and

depression. I was dealing with some difficult mental and emotional issues that related to my

long-term romantic relationship, and at the same time I was trying to grasp what it was going to

be like to depart from the university that I had created as home. I did have support during this

time, but because of issues within my personal life it did not lift me up as much as perhaps it had

in the past. I think my struggle with self and the identity I had created with my boyfriend was too

much to handle at the time, and I was lost as to what kind of identity I would transition into

wherever I found a job after graduation. My senior year was a time of heavy reflection and I

believe that it was the beginning of my next leap of development as a student. Between

graduation from UW-L and starting graduate school a year and a half later, I learned a lot about

myself and how the events of college shaped my values, my drive, and my goals for the future. It
                                                           Student Development Autobiography 8

took a time of marginality then mattering, challenges and support, involvement across the board,

and the search for my identity to get me where I am today.

       If there is one underlying theory that I believe to be most important and almost always

applicable to student development, it is Sanford’s theory o f challenge and response. “This

approach to developing the individual grows out of the belief that people do not change unless

they encounter a situation to which they cannot adapt with the use of devices already present”

(Sanford, 1966, p. 44). I can relate more development to challenge and response (or support)

than any other theory that we have studied in class. For example, challenges during college

included living with a roommate in the residence halls, being denied from the student tour guide

group the first time I applied, learning to lead a group of 15 students (many of which were my

close friends), and interning at a local non-profit arts gallery. During that internship I had very

few resources for all the marketing work I was assigned to complete. My response to this

challenge was to make the most of it and to learn to do the best with what is presented to me.

       I also recognize that there are times during which I did not feel challenged enough. I can

learn a lot about myself by reflecting on how I responded to those situations. An example of this

was my junior year when I felt extremely frustrated with my French professor beca use she was

always late, was not organized, and I felt as though I was not getting much out of the class. One

day I visited the head of the French department to discuss study abroad opportunities and

decided to bring up my frustrations with my current French professor. The head of the

department gave me some insight about how to deal with my concerns and also explained some

background that helped me understand what kind of situation the professor was currently in, and

how that may be the cause of her unorganized manner. The problem was resolved soon after this,

and my situation within the French department definitely improved during subsequent semesters.
                                                            Student Development Autobiography 9

       Theories of student development have created context for many of my undergraduate

experiences, and they will continue to make meaning of situations I encounter as a graduate

student. Specifically, it will be interesting to relate my experience as a freshman to students I

work with. I think I have a good understanding of what it means to encourage and support

students and also to help direct them to resources if they are in need of support that I cannot

provide. I hope to never be like the history professor who gave me very little attention and if

anything, was discouraging when it came to helping me pave my academic path. Luckily my

involvement in student organizations and working on campus led me to a larger and stronger

support system and pushed me to grow beyond what the academic realm offered me. Examining

all the positive experiences I have had as a student is beneficial, but I also see value in

recognizing where I faced challenges and perhaps periods of confusion and uncertaint y. How I

have been able to relate (or not relate) my experiences to student develop ment theories will carry

over and greatly enhance the personal and advisory situations I am faced with in the future.
                                                         Student Development Autobiography 10


Astin, A. W. (1984). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal

       of College Student Personnel, 25, 297-308.

Evans, N. J. et al. (1998). Chickering’s theory of identity development. In Student development

       in college: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 35-52). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Evans, N. J. et al. (1998). Schlossberg’s transition theory. In Student development in college:

       Theory, research, and practice (pp. 107-122). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Sanford, N. (1966). Challenge and response. In Self and society: Social change and individual

       development (pp. 44-46). New York: Atherton.

Schlossberg, N. K. (1989). Marginality and mattering: Key issues in building community. In

       D.C. Roberts (Ed.), Designing campus activities to foster a sense of community (pp. 5-

       15). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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