Young Professionals’ Perspectives on Career Development

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EDUCAUSE Community Conversations | Season 4, Episode 1

John O'Brien talks with two former members of the EDUCAUSE Young Professionals Advisory Committee about their perspectives on building a career in higher education technology. You can also watch this conversation on YouTube.

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John O'Brien: Welcome to another Educause Community Conversation. I'm John O'Brien, the president of Educause, and I'm thrilled to introduce you to our two guests. Today we have two recent former leaders of the Educause YPAC initiative and YPAC is Young Professionals Advisory Committee. And both of these wonderful colleagues have a lot to say about that. So I'm going to introduce you to Sarah Buszka and Bea Jimenez. And with that, I'll hand the mic over to Sarah first and Bea to talk a little bit about where they're from, Stanford and Northwestern, and a little bit of their history with YPAC.

Sarah Buszka: Thank you so much, John. I'm so thrilled to be here with you and with Bea to talk about the YPAC. As John said, my name is Sarah Buszka and I'm a Senior Relationship Manager at Stanford University. So what does that mean? Really, it means a lot of things. I think me and my team wear many hats, but we specifically work a lot on strategic initiatives. So what does that mean? That means working on large-scale, university-wide initiatives that are complex, that need extra grease, that need a lot of experience, expertise, strong understanding of higher education, technology, and the services we provide in this ecosystem. I've been in that role for almost three years now, and I don't like to pick favorites, but this has been my favorite job thus far in my career, aside from being the chair of the YPAC for three years.

John O'Brien: There you go.

Sarah Buszka: Yes. And with that, I'll hand it over to Bea.

Bea Jimenez: Thank you, Sarah.

John O'Brien: [inaudible 00:01:43] already. Go ahead, Bea.

Bea Jimenez: Thank you, Sarah. Thank you, Sarah and John. My name is Bea Jimenez and I work as a Learning Engineer at Northwestern University in Evanston Chicago area. And my role entitles everything that it's about technology and teaching and learning. So I work with the rest of my team, wonderful people on projects that relate the learning management system, but also everything that relates to education and technology.

John O'Brien: Thank you. Thank you. So both of you are active on your campuses, obviously, and you've taken this wonderful role as leaders of this emerging, I'll say emerging, of young professionals have always been there. When I say emerging, it's the name of a podcast I've recently learned about, of rising voices, the voices of young professionals being heard more often and a little bit louder and organizing around that. So what would you like those folks who are listening who consider themselves young professionals to know about what it's like to be a young professional and how to make that a little more navigable? Maybe start with Bea.

Bea Jimenez: Yeah, no, that's a very interesting question, John. I would say that for the young professionals out there trying to get into IT and higher education, I would say to be very open-minded and to be willing to ask questions. Sometimes within higher education what happens is that either we work in science sometimes or we work in our honest pace, and sometimes we are not fully aware of what's happening outside or what's happening outside the university even. And I feel like working in this space is so important to don't be afraid of asking questions. And I think it's a field where everywhere you go, especially around Educause, if you ask questions, you would find a ton of people willing to help. So that's an amazing opportunity out there, that for me, in my past I wasn't fully aware of. So I would say that that's the key. And I would say that I wouldn't be able to get here without all the people who've helped me in the past. But I think it's an amazing field to work in, especially if you are not afraid of being innovative and ask questions and ask for help.

John O'Brien: We'll get to Sarah in a minute. I love what you said, especially about asking questions. I was just in a conversation today with someone and we agreed that curiosity was the primary job capacity that we're looking for. I mean, especially going forward when AI takes over everything, what are characteristics that are unique and that curiosity is everything. So I love what you said about asking questions, but it leads me to ask another question of you, which is what do you do as a young professional when your voice isn't being heard?

Bea Jimenez: Oh, that's a very good question. Well, I'm very stubborn [inaudible 00:05:22]

John O'Brien: I think I can attest to that.

Bea Jimenez: But I would say, to be patient. Sometimes working in this field, you have to be a little bit patient. I feel like sometimes moving the needle takes a little bit longer than maybe in other field or working for other teams. So I would say, for me the past what really helped me is... Well, especially in my case working a learning engineer, I work a lot with faculty, so my main focus is to help faculty to adopt technology and to adopt technology in a pedagogical way. And I have a trick and it's a trick out there, that I call ego management. So working with faculty when I was feeling like... Usually faculty or instructors, they tend to do their own thing and if that worked for them, they don't have the incentive to try new thing to be innovative.

But in the moment they see something out there that is innovative and is working well, they recount, they try to adopt that new thing as well. So like having maybe a couple of people who can be your promoters or your allies is very helpful. So in the moment that you find those, just take care of those folks, those people, it can be within your department or out there. It can be instructors, it can be, I feel like working in this field, it's so collaborative. So it doesn't need to be your boss, it doesn't need to be your manager or your colleague, but if you find that cannot support, speak to it and try to put the word around those maybe things that you would like to change or try to demonstrate how to afford or to do that innovation or that change. For me, that would be my...

John O'Brien: That's good. I'll just say that I trust you, that's good advice for young professionals. I can also say that's good advice for senior executives and executive positions as well. And the only thing I would add to it is yes, patience is required and if you can be patient with a smile on your face, you get bonus points. And that's not always easy, but recognizing that we're in an enterprise that is not known for its speed, and if it's absolutely crucial for you to get stuff done on a weekly timeframe, higher ed may not be the choice for you.

Bea Jimenez: Absolutely.

John O'Brien: So you'd need to come to grips with a slower moving engine, but one that still has many other charms as well. Sarah, of the long-awaited, Sarah.

Sarah Buszka: Thank you. I'll jump back and answer your former question. I think I have two messages for young professionals. One for current young professionals in higher ed and the other for prospective young professionals in higher ed. But first, for young professionals right now coming into their career, many of them are Gen Z, coming out of college during a pandemic who have not had the opportunity to have some of the internships in training and job transition that many of us, at least millennials like myself and our predecessors have had. So I think that can really create a sense of uneasiness and feeling like you don't belong or questioning what you're doing, why you're doing it, what you want to do with your career.

And my message is to those folks who might be struggling, you belong here and it's totally normal to be struggling and to be feeling that way. And it's okay. And to prospective young professionals coming into this space or if you're even considering it, this is an amazing career to have. I'm in grad school right now and something one of my professors said to me last summer on how he advises his undergrad students, is to really have them consider your overall life and work-life balance and what you want to get out of it, more so than just focusing on finding the next job or the first job that's going to have the highest salary.

Consider what really makes you happy, things that drive you, things that interest you. For example, if you're someone who really likes having flexibility and autonomy and has really great ideas and wants a lot of space to be able to kind of create and work with really smart people, well, higher ed is the perfect job and the perfect ecosystem for that. Nowhere, I think, in the world do you have as much flexibility as you do working in higher education, really in almost any capacity. There's just so much flexibility for learning and innovation and creation, and it's not as, sometimes as stifling, and as gruesome as working in a private sector job, 80 hours a week can be, so don't let a flashy salary distract you from the things that you really want.

John O'Brien: Yeah, it's fascinating to me that the biggest broth to bring people to work at a campus is that you're on a campus. I mean, what an ideal place to be. Who wouldn't even my point in life, when I go on a campus and I step onto that quad, it just makes me smile every time. It reminds me of some of the best years of my life being in a place. Well now, and I'm just going to make a guess that you are both at home.

Sarah Buszka: Yeah.

Bea Jimenez: [inaudible 00:11:36] At home in a [inaudible 00:11:39] actually, I don't want to make anyone [inaudible 00:11:44]

John O'Brien: Maybe even more to my point, because nowadays, the ideal workplace is to not have a workplace for some people, and it's just a really interesting dynamic for higher education. What is the draw? And I think, Sarah, it's so great that you reminded people of that. And the other thing I wanted to ask about, just because we keep throwing around young, young, young, young, young professional, does being part of a young professionals group have an age range?

Sarah Buszka: Age is just a number, John.

John O'Brien: [inaudible 00:12:19] Professional?

Sarah Buszka: No, you're young at heart, John.

Bea Jimenez: We consider ourselves quite young.

John O'Brien: I'm guessing by the answers you don't obsess about what your age starts with or ends with. It's a question of if you're interested in supporting young professionals. Which I got to say, as you've been talking just up until now, this is all new. When I was coming up through organizations, we didn't talk about this stuff. We acknowledged this group of employees as just getting started and this group has been... And the academic structure has gradations, Assistant Professor and Associate Professor and so forth, that I think it's just so important that we talk about it. But YPACs doors are open to anybody who wants to support and talk about this group of employees. Is that accurate?

Sarah Buszka: Definitely. Yes. And getting back to your question on age, because I think a lot of people are curious to know, "Okay, well what's the range? If you had to pick a range, what would it be?" So I actually did some research on this and some of the young professional related groups or communities across the United States, at least, most of the ages or between 21, early twenties and 40. Some cut it off at 30 some to 40, I would say probably 40 is at least for us in higher ed, where we typically curtail things. But for folks who are listening who have attended the Educause annual conference in the recent years and even last year, we created a new sticker and slogan where we're talking about being young at heart. So that's what I said to you, John. It's meant to be inclusive while still giving folks a voice and giving folks who really identify maybe in that 21 to 40 age range, a place where they can feel seen, but it's not meant to be exclusionary whatsoever.

And that's been I think one of the biggest honors that I've had, at least in serving on the YPAC for the past three years. And leading it has been to really open up this conversation more. Like you said, John, all of us share in common that we have started our careers as early young professionals, and we all know what it was like when we were starting off with no money, either straight out of college or straight out of high school, trying to figure out what we're doing, trying to make it work, living with parents, living in basements, living in cars, maybe apartments. It is just such a really hard point in everyone's life during that stage. And I think it adds another layer of challenges on top of the work that we're trying to do. Not that other generations and other groups of folks don't have that, but it's something that we can all rally around because if we're not supported, it increases the likelihood of us failing or leaving higher ed or not knowing what we're doing.

And for us in higher ed, I think it's been no secret that hiring has been a problem and getting that talent to come here has been a problem. So how do we combat that? I really believe young professionals are the future of this profession and will be determining how we survive over the next few decades here. I was reading a New York Times article recently that said 45% of Gen Z feels that a high school diploma is all that you need to be financially secure in life. And so if this new generation, if half of them, half of a swath of a population thinks that they'll be just fine without a college degree, well what incentivizes them to work for colleges and universities? What does that mean for a talent pipeline?

John O'Brien: Well, young professionals are our future. That's a mathematical certainty. But notwithstanding that, it's also more than ever, I think, I've had more conversations with senior leaders on campuses about how they struggle to bring in people to hire people for jobs that are so hot right now. Cybersecurity professionals would be just one example. And so I think there many of these folks are talking about turning their attention to growing leaders from within, and that presents a huge opportunity for young professionals. And so I've always said, and here I'm answering my own question, but I'll give them for one moment to say, if I were to ask myself, "John, what could young professionals do to position themselves most effectively?" There's a part of me that would just say everything you both said, but also just be open to the universe.

Because I go back and I think of the two or three critical junctures in my career where a door opened and I went in, were ones I never could have planned for, ever would've planned for, and it was being ready for that. And so I think young professionals could feel like they know what the pathway is, and it's always good to have a pathway, but you have to be open to what you don't see coming. And my spouse's advice to the kids was always, "If you want to be successful, make yourself indispensable." And I think that's every bit as true as you're making your way through a career higher ed. Just because there's so much need for talent if you just are clearly the person who's curious, asks questions, and is dedicated, that makes all the difference in the world.

Sarah Buszka: Yeah, John, that reminds me of a quote that Barack Obama says, and he was recorded in a video saying his advice to young people was just learn how to get things done. And I think it's so true. Just have to learn how to get things done.

Bea Jimenez: It's so true. And also it's so important to don't be afraid of failure. Sometimes we stick to a plan, as you said, John, like life throws a ton of opportunities that you never expect. But also don't be afraid of failure. Sometimes we as young professionals, we have a something in mind and then you fail. But that's always a learning process. It's always a learning process. Even when you have a senior role, it's always about trying to have a learning mindset in how to improve every day.

John O'Brien: And to communicate what you learn when you fail is, fail, dust yourself off, but then tell whoever is disappointed by that, what you learned and what you're going to do differently next time. And I have to say, one of my favorite things is when I open up my email and I have somebody apologizing for something because I am a collector of apologies. I love a really good apology and when somebody needs to write a letter of apology, I always tell them, "This is an opportunity to assert the kind of leader you are." It's easy to assert your leadership when you're in charge of stuff that's getting done.

Much harder, but much more memorable when you assert your leadership in failure or in something you did wrong. And so be sure to send me one of your good apology letters. I'll add it to my collection. Maybe I'll write a book on apology sometime. Listen, [inaudible 00:20:10] we've talked a lot about young professionals, but I think young professionals... For a voice to be heard, it has to be listened to. So when you look at some of the people who are senior leaders and who are veterans, how are they best supporting young... What practices do you see them doing that are supporting your work and young professionals in general?

Sarah Buszka: I can jump in right away. I would say, and this is just a kudos to the Educause community because I've so many of my people here. I don't know if I want to name names, but there's some senior folks in the Educause community, folks who have titles of CIO or President or something in that level who have reached out to me, even in this past year, and have seen my potential and have given me opportunities and have specifically and directly shoulder tapped me to take over something for them or to participate in something for them. Recently this manifested with a webinar I just moderated yesterday, actually. It was called New to Higher Ed Getting Acclimated. And because of this person shoulder tapping me, I then shoulder tapped folks on the YPAC, three folks actually who currently serve on the YPAC to also come along and serve and deliver this webinar.

And it's just such an amazing display of how we can support each other and give people opportunities. And it went so well, we had so much knowledge to share. Even while we were doing our webinar, I realized, "Wow, I'm with a group of young professionals who know so much." We have so much experience to share, so much perspective to share that I really feel is necessary to hear and to learn from. And we had folks blowing up the chat, just saying how grateful they were, how they had learned so many new things. And it was just a great example of how one person in a senior position, who could have taken that role and could have done this work again, but decided to pass the torch and give others opportunities.

And that opened the door for me to give others opportunities as well. So I think my challenge to folks would be, I think a lot of us who are in senior leadership positions have a lot of opportunities and access to spaces and people that others don't have. So just try teeing it up for someone and seeing how they handle it, seeing if they can do it, seeing if they're interested, inviting them to join you in meetings, to shadow, giving them a small project, spinning up a committee or an advisory council or a young professional's advisory council at your institution and giving folks some resources to see what they do.

John O'Brien: That's great. Reminds me of a story of a mentor of mine I was dealing in a few jobs ago with an employee. It was stalled, totally stalled. And I went to him and I said, "What do you do with an employee who's in a stall?" And he says, "Give them more work." But then he explained, "Give them more work that's meaningful." Give them something to own, something that they can say, "This is mine." And somebody from on high gave this to me because they entrusted it to me. So that's a really great point. Bea, were you going to add to this? Sorry.

Bea Jimenez: Yeah, little bit to add. I think Sarah went through a lot of bullet points, but I would say support of flexibility. I feel like especially young professionals, we are so diverse, and especially coming from pandemics. Things weren't so happy in so many different stories and human beings in different places, in different positions. So I would say providing that support. And I asked what I say the magic question, "How can I support you?" So I love when I hear that question because my needs might be different from Sarah's needs, and it doesn't mean that I'm going to work less or more or any different, but having that opportunity to express the things I need, and at least hearing from my managers and leaders that they are willing to listen. I think that for me, that's when magic happens.

Sarah Buszka: Yeah. Actually, to add one more thing, building off of what Bea said, I think young professionals more than any group right now, millennials certainly, I'm included in this, we love feedback. We need feedback. Even if it's bad, if it's good, I don't care what group of category you want to put it in, we want to hear because we don't learn if we don't know and we can't do anything we don't know about. So helping us early on and giving us that feedback, taking the extra minute or two to say, "Hey, that email wasn't very clear. Here's how you could have made it clearer," Goes a long way. And we welcome that, I think more than anyone really, because we don't want to look silly. If we're talking to someone like you, John, we want to have a well-written email.

John O'Brien: Well, it is young professionals, maybe more than others. It's like, "Tell me the rules. I just want to know what the rules are. And then I'll put the energy and creativity and curiosity into it to make it sing. But I need to know what, basic rules." Every time I talk to a leader of YPAC, I always end up thinking of more work to be done. I was just saying, wouldn't it be cool to do an Educause review? Manifesto's too strong, but five things we want our managers to do. And one of them could just give us feedback. I mean, not long, but just it would be something that YPAC members could share with their supervisors and say, "Hey, this spoke to me when I read this. Here you go."

Sarah Buszka: Absolutely.

John O'Brien: Because we all benefit from that. Well, anyway, the thing that I heard so loud and clear that each of you has woven throughout everything you've said has been the value of a community of young professionals that you can call on, rely on, complain to once in a while.

Sarah Buszka: Never.

John O'Brien: I think by itself that would be reason for this community to be a growing and thriving one, not to mention all the other things that you have accomplished and have worked on in your time in leadership of YPAC. What are you proudest of during your service?

Sarah Buszka: Do you want to go first, Bea?

Bea Jimenez: I would say what I'm proud of is the big community itself. And having not only colleagues, but friends, and being able to have these close connections really helped me, not only becoming a better professional, but also as you you'll notice I have an accent. I'm originally from a Spain. So for me, when I moved to the US, I mean, I was coming from higher education, but it was another context. And being part of YPAC really helped me to blend into higher ed in dealing with in another way. And I have a lot of appreciation for the time I've spent within YPAC.

Sarah Buszka: I love that. Thank you, John. So I want to start by actually sharing a story and then I'll answer your question. So in 2016, I attended my first Educause Annual Conference. I was in Philadelphia. I'd never been to Philadelphia. I was going with my boss at the time, who was amazing, very plugged into the community. He actually was a former Rising Star award winner, and he introduced me to the community and wanted me to have this experience. So I went to this conference with him, and this is pre-pandemic days. So there's so many people, so many things, so many vendors. I had never been to a conference as big as the Educause Annual Conference before. And I was young twenties, super overwhelmed. I had no idea what to expect and everything that I was seeing, people things, I didn't know what any of it was.

And so not only was my head spinning because of all these new things, but also when I was looking around, I didn't see many people who looked like me, who looked as young as I was, early twenties. I saw a larger age gap, and I think for us as young professionals, when we're just starting out, when we're just trying to stop the world from spinning and make sense of things, it helps to find your people, find who's in a similar stage in their career as you, who you can hang on to and figure out what's going on, or at least make the world stop a little bit. And I'll never forget when I was going through the agenda that year, I saw a young professionals CG meeting, Community Group meeting. I think at that point it was called Constituent Groups, and it was the last time slot of one of the days, at the end of the day.

And I was so exhausted from already doing a few days of the conference, but I told myself, "Let's just go and see what this is all about." I walked into the room, there was just a handful of folks in there, but I saw some folks who looked maybe around my age. And there was this woman who was sitting at a row of chairs in the middle of the room by herself, and I just put on my brave hat and walked up to her and just sat down right next to her. Introduced myself, and she turned and looked at me with a biggest smile and southern accent and introduced herself right back and she and I have been friends ever since. And her name's Alicia and she works at Auburn University, and she's amazing. And we've literally been best friends ever since. And I met my best friend at an Educause Annual Conference.

She got married last year. [inaudible 00:30:55] We married a week apart. I know. She got married last year, I got married last year, a week apart. I played my violin for her at her wedding when she walked down the aisle. And that was last year, 2023. So it's just been this long journey of us being friends from being at the conference. But I cannot tell you how impactful it was to walk into that room and just feel seen and to have someone see me and fully show up for me. And that whole room of folks, I remember Jonathan Hardy being there, Tina Pappas, so many other folks who were just there and we were all showing up for each other. And it was just this amazing experience. And from that moment, I was like, "This is something special. We have to cultivate this by any means necessary, this cannot fail."

And so fast-forward to 2024 now, me just rolling off of YPAC, serving as chair. I'm proudest of the community that I've helped build and foster over all of these years. It has developed, I think more leaders, more opportunities and more conversation around young professionals, but even broader around how we all can support each other better and what that looks like. And I'm so thrilled to see it continuing. Obviously we've launched our podcast last year. I'm also serving as co-host of that podcast with Wes Johnson, who's incredible. And it's just been this beautiful opportunity to take all of that work over those years and bring so many people along and then amplify it and share it. And it's probably my proudest honor, really, of my career so far. So thank you.

John O'Brien: Wonderful. It's funny you say that, and I never thought about it before, but it's true that, if we do all the right things by our young professionals, we will make the world better and our worlds better because it means listening better and differently. It means being open and providing opportunities for growth. If any, how to be a good manager 101, it would be all of those things that's in there. So it would be a gift that would keep on giving. That's fantastic. Thank you both. This has been really enlightening, even though I've been following the accomplishments of YPAC since we created it many years ago. This has been energizing and insightful and enlightening and fills me with hope for the future. And that's about the best thing I could have in any given day. So thank you.

Sarah Buszka: Oh, thank you, John.

Bea Jimenez: Thank you, John.

Sarah Buszka: I echo your sentiments too.

This episode features:

Sarah Buszka
Senior Relationship Manager
Stanford University

Bea Jimenez
Learning Engineer
Northwestern University

John O'Brien
President and CEO