Program Coordinator for the Office LGBTQI Life, Vanderbilt University
Alumni of the Department of Religious Studies, Masters of Arts
What was/is your area of study?
Religious Studies – I specialized in looking at sports though a religious lens. My personal research focused on looking at Muay Thai (Thai boxing) through a religious lens. I also was a research assistant for my advisor who studies James Naismith and how his religious beliefs influenced basketball.
What is your current career or position title?
I am a Program Coordinator for the Office of LGBTQI Life at Vanderbilt University
What do you do?
In the simplest, yet broadest terms, my job is to be the face of the LGBTQI Life Center. I’m in charge of networking with the Vanderbilt community in order to build relationships across campus and work on collaborative programming. I advise and support students. If it doesn’t deal with policy or training, it’s probably my responsibility within our office.
I don’t have a higher education background so a lot of my success in my current position comes from learning how to build rapport with students as a GTA. That skill has served me well in terms of building relationships with my current students and colleagues across my division.
I would also say that pursuing my academic interests and finding people to support my ideas provided immense preparation for my current position. I was hired to shake things up, and bring new life and ideas to my office. Having spent two years in my MA program trying to convince professors that Muay Thai is religious despite limited scholarly work, I gained the confidence and tenacity to move forward with my own ideas. Thanks to having to sell my academic ideas, thus far I’ve had no problem selling my programming ideas to my boss at Vanderbilt.
What is your favorite aspect of your job/career?
There are two things. The first is working with incredible students every day and helping them thrive despite challenges to their identities.
The second is my boss who works hard to empower his employees and gives us a lot of autonomy. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you have a boss who trusts that you will do your job and helps you flourish with constructive criticism and small nudges to challenge you in order to help you expand your strengths.
What advice do you have for current graduate students?
Find someone in addition to your advisor to help you grow. I had 3 mentors and 2 advisors in addition to my department assigned advisor. This range of perspectives really helped me hone my strengths and figure out my next steps after my MA.
If you don’t know what you want to do, or how you should use your degree, look at how you spend your time when you’re not doing schoolwork. I never imagined working in higher education, but I was able to find a job (in an unlikely field) that centers my interest of social justice (which is what I spent most of my free time involved in).
Jayhawks are everywhere! No matter where you go or end up doing; if you find yourself in a new city with no contacts, reach out to the local alumni association reps or attend basketball watch parties. My first connections and friends in Nashville were fellow KU alumni.