Ginny went abroad in Fall 2009 to Rome, Italy with a custom program from Ohio Dominican University. She is now an Academic Adviser for Miami University and was awarded the 2017 ‘Outstanding New Academic Adviser’ by the Ohio Academic Advising Association. We chatted with her to learn where she is now and what advice she has for students who want a career in higher education.
Q: What motivated you to work in academic advising?
A: This is my fourth year doing full-time academic advising. I kind of fell into higher education, because in undergrad I was very involved on campus. I worked in the admissions office, participated in student organizations, and was a Resident Assistant. After college, I worked as a Hall Director in the Residential Life Department and finally started to realize this is a career field I could go into (and was already in!).
I started my graduate degree at Miami University for Student Affairs in Higher Education, with the goal of working in study abroad or student activities. During graduate school, I had an Assistantship in Academic Advising and loved getting to know the students and their goals, and where they want to go in life. I enjoyed connecting them with resources to achieve those goals. I fell in love with the field. Then, I realized I can spread my love for study abroad in this position. One of the first questions I ask students when they come in my office is typically “Are you thinking about studying abroad?” And if they are, we figure out what they are hoping to get out of the experience. If they aren’t yet, then often it’s because they didn’t know it was an option, or they don’t think they can afford it, and I help them work through those issues (or myths).
Q: What personal growth have you seen from your semester in Rome?
A: When you’re thinking about study abroad, consider what you hope to gain, and that might help you decide on the location. For example, Rome wasn’t ever on my list of places to go before I went, and I didn’t have a knack for history before studying abroad even though I was a good student. I had to be in the middle of Rome, immersed in all that history, and it all came together and clicked. I started falling in love with learning. Now I can’t get enough of Italy; I’m obsessed and keep wanting to go back. I have been back since then, to show my husband the place where I lived and even the grocery store I used to go to. Rome is absolutely a home away from home for me.
My time in Rome was absolutely a defining part of my life, and what started me on my path toward higher education -- because I fell in love with learning again. It sparked that curiosity, and led to me being a lifelong learner. If I’m curious about something now, I’ll just jump into it. Study abroad makes you become comfortable in unknown situations, to problem-solve and work through new issues, and not stress about it. When you’re away from home, you have to just find a solution yourself. It makes you realize that what you’re facing is not that big of a deal anymore. It broadened my perspective and helped me welcome and celebrate differences, which helps me in my career now too.
Q: What tips do you have for someone trying to get into higher education as a career?
A: Getting a master's degree is often a common standard for advising and higher education work, from what I’ve seen. If you’re still in undergrad, then get involved on campus and work with the offices you're interested in. Also, professional conferences like NACADA in higher education often have student opportunities or study abroad scholarships, and I would take advantage of those. Reach out to professionals and learn how about how this became their path. You can also look into the different types of graduate programs available, and talk with current school advisers and staff -- they’re a great resource. I would also recommend informational interviews to gauge whether this is a field you want to pursue. My experience as a resident hall assistant certainly helped me get into this field, having direct interaction with students is often a prerequisite for this career.
Q: What advice do you have for students regarding studying abroad and their career path?
A: When you come back from study abroad, I encourage you to think about how you are going to share what you learned. How did you grow? That will help you in future interactions and interviews.
College is for exploration and figuring out your career goals. I went to a higher education conference recently, and they said something interesting: “Your major is only one line on your resume.” It’s true. What might help you in your future career -- will it be internships, study abroad, student organizations you care about?
I can’t speak highly enough about my experience abroad with CEA. It’s been a life-changing experience and I would absolutely do it again.
Ginny Engwall is an Academic Adviser at the College of Arts and Science & University Studies Advising Office at Miami University. She is also a CEA Alumna and studied in Rome, Italy.
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