by Rebecca Nelson
Meg Brannan grew up in upstate New York, in Oneonta, and stayed in New York for her undergraduate career before coming to UConn to matriculate into the HESA program. Graduating from UConn in 2016, Meg now works as an Area Director at Lewis and Clark College. Much like the explorers for whom the college is named, Meg moved far west across the country to Portland, Oregon, where Lewis and Clark College is located.
It turns out that Meg has more in common with the famous explorers than just moving west. She is constantly challenging herself and pushing herself to do things that scare her, much like an adventurer, within her own life. She says that she deliberately chose to complete her HESA practicum in the Office of Community Standards because it made her the most nervous, rather than choosing a path that felt safe or familiar.
“Push yourself to get involved in things that make you uncomfortable,” she said. “Things that push you and challenge you to grow.”
She attributes her growth and success in HESA to this adventurous attitude: doing things that made her nervous during her time in HESA, she says, prepared her to go out into the world and be a confident professional. The feeling of confidence and accomplishment that comes with successfully doing something you never thought you could is what Meg seeks out in every experience.
The HESA program provided plenty of opportunities for Meg to challenge herself, from a practicum in the Office of Community Standards and a graduate assistantship at the Rainbow Center to regular facilitation experiences and public speaking. Thanks to HESA, Meg says she is much better at giving presentations and facilitating. She calls herself a hands-on learner, which made the HESA program a great fit for her. “I learned so much more than I would have if I was just sitting in a classroom being lectured at,” she said. Seeing the impact of interactive assignments and presentations in HESA made a powerful impression on her that she carries into her professional life.
During her time at the Office of Community Standards, Meg discovered a passion for student conduct management, which led her to specifically seek out a job that incorporated both housing and conduct responsibilities, exactly what she found in her current position. In her first semester as an Area Director, Meg trained as a Title IX investigator and hearing officer, and spearheaded RA selection. She’s also been putting in extra hours at work to go to student conduct administrator conferences through the Association for Student Conduct Administration (ASCA), and plans to go to the national ASCA conference next year. Her career path has been different from what she would have expected, in part thanks to the variety of experiences she had as a HESA student. “You can’t really plan out every single detail of your career for decades at a time,” Meg said. “The experiences you have will shape the direction you go in.”
Other than pursuing things that scare you, Meg says that one of the keys to success in HESA is to “get involved in things that are meaningful without spreading yourself too thin.” HESA has so many opportunities to learn and get involved in, she says, but you have to “whittle it down and dive deeply”. It’s a common temptation to try and do as many things as possible, to boost your resume with diverse experiences, but Meg recommends instead finding the most impactful experiences and putting your all into them. One experience, she says, like her practicum in the Office of Community Standards, can be “more than just one thing on your resume”, but a multitude of challenges rolled into a single experience. During her time in community standards, for example, she was the facilitator of the book club. “The book club was outside the realm of HESA, and wasn’t an academic expectation, but I took it really seriously,” she said. “It allowed me to connect with professional staff members.” Choosing a book and running the book club, she says, pushed her to be deliberate on what concepts she wanted to focus on in her work, and she “would see that show up in [her] daily life”, and saw that it left a lasting impact on the people who were part of the book club. She chose Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, which is about how embracing vulnerability takes great courage, but allows you to become a better person, colleague, leader, and friend.
During her graduate assistantship at the Rainbow Center, Meg says that “allowing [herself] to be vulnerable” was one of the greatest challenges and learning experiences, but also one of the greatest sources of success. In Brene Brown’s book, which Meg says is now one of her favorites, Brown says that “when we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof…we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable.” Embracing vulnerability, an important lesson that the book teaches, allowed Meg to experience great success during her time at the Rainbow Center. She proposed, developed, and ran a program which the Rainbow Center has sustained since she left. The F.A.M.I.L.E.E. Mentor program helps first-year UConn students adjust to life at UConn with the help of continuing students, focusing on academics, maturity, independence, leadership, and empowerment. Meg says that the experience had “a lot of autonomy to do everything and anything”, which was “scary at times”.
While at the Rainbow Center, Meg was trained in Husky Ally Safe Zone facilitation, which taught her how to create safe spaces for people of all gender identities, expressions, and sexualities. She has taken the skills with her since then, particularly the focus on inclusion. Her experiences at the Rainbow Center challenged her and has made her confident enough to be “willing to confront or intervene” in problematic situations.
“I don’t really like a typical office job that’s the same every day,” Meg says. Instead, she pursues opportunities that are dynamic and surprising, as exemplified by her experiences at the Rainbow Center, and continuing now in her job as an Area Director. She says that no matter what she does, she wants to be “happy and healthy in her career”, which for her requires a job that allows her to make “really close and personal connections with students” so she can “hear their story, help support them, and help them be successful.”
Since completing her HESA program, Meg says she’s been pleasantly surprised by the amount of free time she has. At first, she says, she “didn’t quite know what to do with [herself]”, but has come to embrace the free time. “I didn’t realize how wonderful free time would be for my self-care,” she says. “And how it would give me the energy and motivation to be even better at my job.”
HESA, Meg says, has contributed to her current success “in a million ways, from really small things to really big things.” Put yourself out there, she says. Find mentors who challenge you. Take on opportunities that scare you and force you to dig deeper within yourself and into the world. Get out of your comfort zone, and, according to Meg, you’ll go far. If Meg’s career and successes are anything to go off of, it seems that her advice is worth listening to.