As Student Services Supervisor for the Department of History, Kira Blaisdell-Sloan now has the answers it never occurred to her to ask as a non-traditional student who was mostly home-schooled and successfully navigated Berkeley as an undergrad and grad student.
How did you get into advising?
KBS: I was a Berkeley undergraduate transfer student, graduate student and then lecturer for a few terms after I finished the Ph.D. here. This gave me both a very good sense of how intimidating the campus can be when you first arrive and how incredibly rich, opportunity filled and supportive it can be when you know where to look. As both a graduate student and lecturer, the greatest part of my workplace joy came from my mentorship role and helping students make the most out of their time here. When I decided I did not want to pursue a traditional academic career, I thought about what made me happiest about teaching and decided that advising would be an ideal path. Aside from bringing me joy, it also appealed to me as it struck me that good advising had the potential to make the university much more socially just, which is a large part of what motivated me to go to graduate school in the first place.
What do you think your background allows you to bring to your work that is distinctive?
KBS: In the broadest sense, I think the big thing I bring is empathy. I have experienced this campus from many different subject positions and so I think I connect with the constraints, motivations, anxieties, hopes and dreams of the student, faculty and staff populations I work with on a very personal level. It makes me fundamentally happy to see programs implemented that I wished for when I was a student, or when my team produces resources for the faculty that will make their lives easier. Likewise, I like thinking strategically about how to help my staff grow professionally and find happiness and satisfaction in their work.
In a more disciplinarily specific way, I was trained as an historic archaeologist. This may seem unrelated, but actually involves a lot of skills I use every day: staff supervision, project management, public program planning, diplomacy, quantitative and qualitative data collection, and analysis. All of these skills have been incredibly useful as an advisor and continue to be useful as a student services supervisor.
What inspires you in your current position?
KBS: I think one of my favorite things about working in the History Department is being part of such a dynamic and creative student services team. With four staff advisors between the grad program and the undergrad program and a team of six peer advisors it truly feels like a team endeavor to make this huge university a more supportive and personal place; one in which all students get the information they need to succeed, and helps them back on their feet when life makes that success more of a challenge. Leading a collective of such a great group of advisors allows me to do far more than I ever could on my own and often in ways that I might never have considered. But in the end here as elsewhere, what inspires me the most is the students themselves. Berkeley draws such an amazing pool of individuals, many of whom don’t come from traditional backgrounds, and knowing that you are part of helping them realize their dreams and go on to do the amazing things they do is eminently satisfying.