by Carissa Rutkauskas
Cultural Center Director, Assistant Residence Hall Director, Assistant Director for Advising and Student Development, Assistant Director of Alumni Relations, Academic Advisor, Assistant Director of Student Involvement and Leadership, Associate Director for Community Standards and Investigations of X College or Y University – these are the titles you would expect to hear for a Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) graduate early on in his career, not Senior Volunteer Specialist at the American Red Cross.
M. Andy Nagy (’14) is living proof of the transferability of HESA skills and competencies to the non-profit sector. His first post-HESA job was that of Academic Advisor at the University of Scranton in Scranton, PA, but he lost that position last August. Wanting to stay in the greater Scranton area, but finding limited openings in the field of higher education and student affairs, he decided to expand his job search. Investigation of what fellow AmeriCorps alumni were doing – prior to his 2 years with HESA at UConn, Nagy had 4 years of work experience in civic engagement with AmeriCorps – he applied and interviewed for a position involving disaster relief with the American Red Cross (ARC). Nagy did not land that position, but soon after found himself working for the ARC as a Senior Volunteer Specialist. Reading the job description, he realized he had all of the required skills, just in a different context. He credits this epiphany to his experience in his HESA practicum with the Center for Career Development and Beth Settje’s mentorship.
None of Nagy’s current colleagues have a background similar to his, but they have embraced and quickly recognized the positive influence it has brought to their work. A knowledge of HESA brings a unique perspective to the table, specifically with the use of assessment, ability to strategize, and strong communication skills. Nagy also feels that the hands-on activities in the HESA classroom, HESA assistantships, and HESA practicum prepared him for intentional conversations, conflict management, mediation, and group dynamics which he utilizes with his colleagues and volunteers. While in the classroom, he did not always understand the purpose of certain topics or even entire courses. For example, he questioned why there was a course on group dynamics of “fun, random activities,” but by the end of the course, it clicked. “Everywhere you go there are group dynamics that you deal encounter. You have to learn how to pull from each other’s strengths,” he shared.
Cookout at the home of Dr. Christine Wilson (Assessment instructor) with “competent buttons.” “Christine used an adult-learning grading system in which we got to choose our own grades based upon how much we wanted to master the material. Everyone started with getting a “B” if you completed the minimum number of assignments proficiently. She made you keep doing assignments until she deemed that your understanding and application of the material was “competent”. Christine was such an important part of my experience.” Nagy, left, with Gilbert Valencia ‘14, Abby Chien ‘14, Dawn Savage ‘14.
Nagy shared an anecdote from a recent ARC needs assessment project meeting, where he and his supervisor were still learning each other’s styles. Toward the end of a long meeting, colleagues starting packing up their belongings, anxious to move on to their next task. Nagy, a detailed-oriented thinker, saw too many loose ends and extended the meeting to ensure their strategy completely took into consideration and answered all the questions necessary to complete a successful assessment. It took guts for a new hire to speak up, but Nagy’s “big picture”-thinking supervisor commented that the two balance each other well. “If I am going to spend time doing something, I am going to make sure it’s done the right way,” said Nagy.
Nagy spends much of his time working with volunteers, who constitute a vast 94% of the ARC and are all-important for the success of the organization. . The volunteers are a diverse group, from non-high school graduates, to college students, to retired folks who have had a successful career in another field – or who have never even used a computer. One of the reasons Nagy was hired was due to his experience with the college-age population, but what makes him successful is his ability to identify with people through generational differences. Understanding that many retired people want to volunteer, but get frustrated with the online application system, he has made it an initiative to accommodate and assist with the application. He has extensive discussions with potential volunteers regarding their skills, interests, and values – an aptitude that he developed from his HESA Career for the Common Good assistantship. Nagy also conducts screening interviews to make sure that the volunteer is a good fit for a particular position.
Currently Nagy is working on the needs assessment project, but in the near future, his focus will turn to recruitment – based on the results of the needs assessment. When data comes back, he will be setting up opportunities to recruit at health and safety days, community events, senior centers, and college fairs. He sees this as an opportunity for anyone who wants to volunteer stating that there is something for everyone. There are opportunities in disaster preparedness, developing new skills (such as learning PowerPoint or how to build a database), and blood donation, just to name a few. Nagy will be building partnerships with companies to donate in-kind goods (which might have otherwise been destroyed or recycled) and heading out into community to work with organizations that have mandated volunteer hours.
Since he was an undergraduate at Susquehanna University, Nagy thought he would spend his entire career in student affairs and is grateful to have had the opportunity to have worked as an Academic Advisor at the University of Scranton, commenting that, “everything, everything I learned in HESA, I applied in my first year of work. Sometimes it takes until you are in your first job to understand.” He hopes to someday look Dr. Sue Saunders (HESA Coordinator during Nagy’s program) in the eye and say “now I get it.” Getting it – the interpersonal interactions, assessment, group dynamics and conflict management skills, classroom knowledge, and assistantship, practica, and volunteer opportunities – has afforded M. Andy Nagy the understanding of the transferability of what HESA has taught him to extend that to the non-profit sector.