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Informational Interview – Program Manager

2017 April 5
by ahadt

During my undergraduate career, the Community Action and Social Change minor has been one of the greatest influences on my career interests. It is through CASC that I discovered a passion for social work through a social justice perspective. My love of CASC led me to join the CASC Student Board and it is through my position on the CASC board that I met Amber Williams. Amber is currently the CASC Undergraduate Minor Program Manager. She has held a variety of positions in student affairs at different offices at U of M – from the Ginsberg Center, to MESA, and finally CASC. The work that she has done throughout her career is very similar to my own career aspirations in student advocacy work, and thus, I knew she was the perfect person to interview. Through this interview, I discovered how fluid work within this field can be and how the skills gained are very applicable to a variety of areas.

As the program manager, Amber’s main responsibilities consist of developing relationships with other academic and student life programs in order to help extend and expand the CASC network by building connections with various faculty and staff that are engaged in social justice work. She ensures that the minor is accessible to all students by building these partnerships. Additionally, one of her primary roles is to make sure that the nuts and bolts of the program are in place by engaging in student advising, keeping up student records, budgetary needs, branding and communications, and course management. Because her position requires so much of her, no day is typical as her responsibilities differ on a day to day basis. For the most part, she spends a lot of her time in meetings that range from student advising appointments, meetings with internal staff, potential partners, graduate students interested in joining the program, and providing individuals with connections so as to further their learning or career aspirations. A lot of her time is also spent emailing individuals as a follow-up to these meetings, an aspect of her position that she finds challenging due to the sheer quantity of emails she receives. As someone who is very passionate about student affairs, she strives to prioritize students over everyone else.

As a large portion of her job responsibilities include building relationships with others – whether that is a student, faculty, or outside program – Amber believes that one of the most important skills needed for her position is effective communication, particularly with off the cuff conversation. Additionally, her position requires her to connect with various team members in order to keep them up to date with all of the things that she is going. Because the CASC community is so interconnected with the School of Social Work, she is required to work together with multiple people at a time, making it very necessary that she be an efficient communicator. In addition to this, Amber believes that an important skill that a program manager needs is in risk management. Because the CASC Program Manager oversees a great deal of tasks, it is of use to predict and create solutions to issues before they arise, so as to increase one’s chances of producing successful projects. Leadership skills are yet another necessity for a successful program manager so as to ensure that one’s team is working efficiently and productively.

When asked to give advice for people interested in a career in her field – that of student affairs – Amber emphasized the importance of building connections as one moves through their life. Through networking, one can build a relationship with an individual that can be of much help down the line, specifically in gaining useful resources. Additionally, she discussed how an individual interested in becoming a program manager must learn to take ownership of their time. Because this position requires so much of an individual, it can get very difficult to work as one quickly becomes drained so it is important to leave time for reenergizing and rebooting, so that one can give as much as they can.

My interview with Amber was very invaluable as I was able to gain a lot of helpful information about what she does in her position. Although I work with Amber on a weekly basis, there was a lot that I didn’t know about her work schedule regarding the sheer amounts of time and effort she puts in. As someone who is very passionate for student advocacy work, I was grateful to learn more about the different types of tasks and responsibilities that are expected of an individual holding a student affairs position as this is a career pathway that I can see myself going down.

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