The zombie head cookie jar perched on our filing cabinet, the row of Avengers bobble heads gathered for a strategy meeting at my supervisor’s desk, the Spock and Groot figurines guarding my bookshelf like a science-fiction power couple…these are the images that greet me every morning and confuse the hell out of anyone that walks by our open office door for the first time. The Pennoni Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry is located at the bottom floor of Hagerty Library at Drexel University—what we lovingly call the Dungeon (during sunny days), the Bullpen (during busy days), or the Wall (during the summer when the air conditioning in the building is somehow set to “Wildling Country”). “What is this place?” the brave few ask while they search for a quiet study space. Whenever I do have the chance to explain the programs and initiatives coming out of our office, I am rewarded with a still half-confused “oh, right” and then on their way they go. While one of our primary goals involves service to students, casual library foot traffic doesn’t realize how this environment has played a critical role in helping me to develop a feeling of belonging in this, my first “new professional” position. Having faced some challenges in prior experiences, finding a workplace that I could feel welcomed and be myself was a priority.
The buzz words “organizational fit” loomed over me throughout the post-graduate school job hunt. Somehow convinced that I was the only person of my 24-member Student Affairs cohort to not obtain gainful employment left me in a constantly panicked state. I was faced with a dilemma that many encounter leaving school: Do I take the first thing that gets offered to secure myself financially? Do I wait for a place that feels right, among other variables, no matter how long it takes? Armed with the privilege of temporary financial support from family, I made the conscious decision (risk) to be selective about the places I would apply and interview for.
My Drexel interview happened late into the summer and drew frighteningly close to the beginning of the academic year. My then potential supervisor and I covered the job responsibilities, the student expectations, all the nitty-gritty work details…but we also made jokes, discussed the Philadelphia foodie scene, and touched on the inevitable zombie apocalypse (surprise-surprise, we’re Walking Dead junkies, too). These are my people, I remembered thinking. Eight months later I couldn’t be happier with my position in an office that was created to be an incubator for independent thought and innovation. The value of our initiatives paired with the physicality of our environment sends a very important message—that we have created a space that is judgment-free: a place that you can be yourself and–by golly—even us professionals can give a glimpse of our personalities to our students and our higher education institution does not implode as a result!
Now, leaving behind our individual unit and going to meet coworkers for lunch is always a treat because I’ve realized that the break room is filled with others also deeply interested in the most random array of things—and that folks somehow understand and accept your obsessions too. And by understand, I mean understand. Without a single spoken word, I walked in the day after Leonard Nimoy passed away and was greeted with a silent hug by our Director of Administration and Finance...that level of understanding. I started off bonding with them and continue to bond over these different passions. Of course, beyond our displayed toys (*ahem, collectibles) and morning check-ins about the latest episode of this or that, I also happen to work with very progressive, caring, and dedicated professionals with a number of shared values regarding education. That, most importantly, is the core of what makes my office a great place to work. The fact that they also have a great sense of humor and always (ALWAYS) dress up in a group costume for Halloween is just the cherry on top.
The environment you choose to occupy, the people with whom you choose to surround yourself; these things are indicative of the kind of experience you can offer to students and colleagues. I can’t emphasize enough how impactful it has been for me to be able to work in a place where I feel safe both as a professional and as a person. Being in a place that allows me to love my work and be successful with the people I work with every day—it has given me the power to be a better advocate for students and keeps me energized in a way that an office saturated by passive aggression, judgmental attitudes, and resentment simply cannot. With the understanding that not everyone has the luxury of passing over offers, the best decision I made after graduate school was to wait until I found a job that connected with my values and personality. When students walk into my office I hope they know they can talk about transcript audits, internship decisions, and roommate troubles without issue. In the event that they have the pressing need to debate the deeper philosophical ramifications of Star Trek the Next Generation Episode 125 The Inner Light---hey, I’m ready for that too—and they should feel completely at ease bringing it up.
Ana Castillo-Nye started as the Program Coordinator for the Pennoni Center For Interdisciplinary Inquiry in September of 2014. After completing her B.A. with a concentration in Industrial and Organizational Psychology at Rutgers University in 2011, she continued with graduate studies at the School of Education where she received her Ed.M in College Student Affairs/Higher Education Administration in 2014. She believes in cultivating student personal and professional growth with the goal of facilitating leadership development that approaches problem solving in the systemic mindset. She tries to challenge students to learn how to move between “small lens” and “big lens” thinking. Within and outside of academia she is interested in issues regarding educational access, specifically related to immigration advocacy/reform as well as educational and leadership opportunities for women globally.