Nikita Rodriguez earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychological Sciences from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at UConn Stamford in May 2020. Since graduation, Nikita has secured employment with Florida International University as an Assistant Residential Life Coordinator. She is also pursuing her Master’s of Science in Higher Education Administration. Nikita is sharing her story and career planning tips for current students.
How did you choose your major and area of academic interest?
I consider myself a “people person” because I really like to help others. I initially wanted to become a child and adolescent psychologist. I knew I wanted to major in Psychological Sciences since my first year, but then I discovered the option to take on a minor and became interested in adding coursework in Human Development and Family Sciences.
How did you find out about your current position?
I was a summer assistant for the Residence Hall at UConn Stamford and I connected with the Assistant Residential Life Coordinator from Florida International University who was studying Higher Education and doing her graduate assistantship at UConn. I was interested in learning more so she talked to me about the program. That’s how I started to discover higher education and student affairs as a potential career path.
How did you go about conducting your search?
I primarily used one of the main professional associations for higher education— the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NAPSA). I was able to use the Advanced Search feature that helped me to narrow down my options based on criteria such as private schools versus public, the size of the institution, the geographic location, urban or rural, and so on. After I developed a list of the colleges and universities I was most interested in, I went into more in-depth research by going directly to each university’s website. From there, I researched their graduate programs and identified available opportunities.
What groups, organizations, and resources at UConn? Do you feel helped to contribute to your success?
Of course, the Center for Career Development helped me a lot with my resume, cover letters, and interview preparation. I connected with the Child Guidance Center of Southern Connecticut through the Career Fair. Additionally, my academic advisors and my supervisors in Residential Life and Student Services were helpful and provided me with opportunities to learn more about the field. I really appreciated that I attended UConn Stamford because of the close-knit environment and connections I was able to make. My advisor, Professor Sehulster, was amazing. Throughout my four years, he always encouraged me to think about what I might want to pursue after college. He taught me about internships and helped me to explore career possibilities. Specifically, he introduced me to the Stamford Public Education Foundation (SPEF) where I gained early experience with mentoring middle school students.
What experiences during your time at UConn contribute to your success?
Being an orientation leader was definitely an influential experience for me. I have always been an outgoing person, but being an Orientation Leader helped me be more comfortable with being uncomfortable. The role challenged me to adapt to working with many different personalities. I had the chance to work with students from different backgrounds and learned a lot about diversity.
What academic or career job search obstacles did you feel like you needed to overcome and how did you do that?
There was a time when I thought about just going straight into the workforce. I started searching for jobs but soon realized that most of the postings within my desired field were seeking candidates with experience and/or an advanced degree. I realized that if I wanted to pursue this field, I would need to gain more experience and to further my education.
What do you feel are some skills or competencies that are essential for success in your fields?
I think the most important qualities are to be adaptable and empathetic. The college environment is very different from what it was like just a year ago and it just keeps changing and evolving. As higher education professionals, we need to be in tune with the challenges facing our students, such as navigating college during COVID and continually adapt in order to offer services to address the students’ needs.
Particularly as a student of color, what advice would you have for other students from diverse backgrounds at UConn?
Join cultural clubs or organizations. Sometimes you might feel like you don’t fit in during certain situations, like if you are the only student of color in a meeting or a class. But as long as you create and maintain those connections with people from similar backgrounds, those relationships can really help you to move forward.
What advice would you give to current UConn students who are looking to follow the same career path?
Definitely attend conferences hosted by professional associations and learn more about trends in the field. Reach out to mentors. There are UConn alumni who are more than willing to talk with you, answer your career questions, and provide you with helpful guidance and advice.