Humans of TCGMC: Nathan Bambenek
For our next installment, Josh interviewed Nathan “Bambi” Bambanek, who talks about his work in higher education.
Josh: SO, NATHAN, I HEAR THAT YOU HAVE A PRETTY STRONG BACKGROUND IN HIGHER EDUCATION. YOU ARE SO YOUNG, AND YOU ARE ABOUT TO COMPLETE YOUR MASTERS DEGREE. TELL ME A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND IN HIGHER ED. WHAT INSPIRED YOUR PASSION FOR THE FIELD, AND WHAT EXCITES YOU ABOUT THE WORK?
Nathan: When you grow up, no one really tells you about higher education and student affairs. When I was young, I would play school with my siblings. They hated it – I loved it! – and I always knew I was going to end up working in education somehow. When I got to college, as a freshman my first job was working at the front desk of my residence hall. I was googling internships for fun, and one day I found an advising internship. I applied for it, I got offered an interview, and I started working with students in their academic programs. They would ask me questions like “should I take this many credits?” “My son needs surgery, and I’ll be stepping out. What do I do?” I found that I liked advising – which falls under student affairs – because it’s a mix of teaching, mental counseling, and leadership development. It’s how I got to my master’s program.
Josh: WHAT’S THE TITLE OF YOUR DEGREE?
Nathan: It’s a Master’s of Science in College Counseling and Student Development. The program is pretty heavily applied. [Along with coursework], we have to do 600 hours of an internship in our second year, as well as two practicum experiences. The first is meeting one-on-one with students (coaching), and the second experience is a group practicum. We co-teach a class with another cohort. To sum it up, our program is full-time courses along with working with students!
Josh: THAT WAS A GREAT OVERVIEW – THANK YOU! I USED TO WORK WITH SOMEONE WHO DID LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT. BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN, EXACTLY?
Nathan: Leadership to me is not “I’m going to follow someone; I’m going to obey them.” Leadership, historically, has had dominant, masculine qualities –a dominant/submissive relationship where one person is above the other. My view, in the more up-to-date model, is mentoring. If I and my director want to help someone, I will work with them individually. Perhaps we’ll shadow each other. I’ll give them feedback, along with chances to shine. You have to give them opportunities for success and failure. Leadership also encourages people to keep growing. It’s not always easy, but it’s being dedicated to someone’s growth and development.
Josh: WHAT DOES A DAY OF HELPING STUDENTS LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
Nathan: It’s varied. In my day, about half a day is student meetings, and the other is projects. On one side, you have registration, schedule planning, helping them dissect an issue with a professor, or a personal issue. On the other side, I work with events planning and coordination, ensuring our catalog is up to date, etc. I have supervisory meetings, and I also sit on committees.
Josh: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CORE ISSUES YOU MIGHT FIND IN THOSE STUDENT MEETINGS?
Nathan: The students will say, “I don’t know what to take next semester. I don’t’ know what my major should be. My family is telling me I should be a doctor, but I don’t like that. I want to drop this class. I want to pursue an internship. Where do I start? What do I do?” On my end, it’s a lot of professional advice. I always turn it back on the students, though, because my goal with them is to help them realize what they need. In my counseling education, I’m taught to get them to say the things they need. I’ll guide them… “You’re dropping the class – it sounds like you don’t like it. That’s what I’m hearing.”
Josh: TWENTY-YEAR-OLDS CLEARLY HAVE A LOT OF THESE IMPORTANT DECISIONS TO MAKE. WHAT ARE COMMON SOLUTIONS OR PIECES OF ADVICE YOU GIVE TO STUDENTS?
Nathan: There are so many aspects and layers. That’s why I love what I do! First is to know your morals and values. Your ideal job may conflict with your morals and values. “If you want to live in one place your whole life and raise kids, then maybe you shouldn’t be a pilot. If you value a high salary, you probably should not gear towards something like X.” You have to also understand what their influences are. They might have their family or friends telling them what to do. They might have ideas about a job that might exist. For example, I have students who’ve seen Grey’s Anatomyand they say, “I want to be this.” Then they share their science and mathematics grades, and I say, “These are C’s and D’s. You need this GPA for med school, and I don’t think you can raise it up in time.”
Josh: WHAT’S THE MOST DIFFICULT ISSUES THAT YOU FACE? AFTER ALL, YOU DEAL WITH PEOPLE, AND YOU DEAL WITH LOTS OF CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION.
Nathan: It’s when you have to break bad news to a student. There’s nothing worse than when you’re telling a student they’re not graduating this semester. Another is when students run into problems from not reading or understanding a policy. I work with PSEO students [PSEO is a program that allows 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade students to earn college credit while still in high school], and one of our students had to pay out-of-pocket for one of their classes, because our program only covers one online class. I feel bad, but for the same time, it’s part of my support model.
Josh: MOVING TO A BRIGHTER NOTE, WHAT IN YOUR WORK SPARKS JOY FOR YOU?
Nathan: Well, I really like validation from my supervisor! But from my students, it’s when one of them says, “Thank you, that was very helpful,” or “I didn’t realize that,” something small that brings me joy. Like when we do goal setting, and a student emails me later in semester to tell me that they moved their grade up to an A-. I’m like, “Doo-do-doo, I told you so!” Oftentimes, I’m just being the cheerleader, but that’s my favorite thing!
Josh: THAT BRINGS ME TO MY LAST QUESTION, THE SCARY ONE: WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
Nathan: Well, I graduate in early May. I’ve applied for positions in advising nationally, at both two-year and four-year schools, in urban and suburban areas. I would love to stay in Minneapolis, but I’ve always been someone who follows their dreams. If I find an opportunity I really love, I’m going to take it. I’m starting to mentally, physically, and emotionally transition out of school. I’m making sure to leave a good legacy for my school. I just have to be patient as I’m applying for tons and tons of jobs.
Josh: IT SOUND LIKE YOU MIGHT WANT SOME ADVISING YOURSELF!
Nathan: I like to be people’s cheerleader, but I could use a cheerleader, too!
Josh: WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO SOMEONE CONSIDERING HIGHER EDUCATION?
Nathan: I would say to think about why you want to work in this field. Just because you went to college and were a student doesn’t mean you’ll be good working with students. It doesn’t mean you should work in this. Also, ask who your mentors could be. Think of faculty or staff members. Apply to be an Resident Assistant. Do your research. Yes, you have time, and this work is amazing and transformative, but it’s not the most flattering in the salary area. Really go for this work if you’re looking to have a voice in higher education and advocate for students!
Josh Elmore (he/him), singer and member of our small ensemble OutLoud!, created Humans of TCGMC in 2018. He graduated from Carleton College with a B.A. in Linguistics and has since worked in sales, higher education, and, most recently, as a bilingual insurance agent (Spanish). Endlessly curious, he has dabbled in improv theater, stand-up comedy, sword fighting, the cello, and modeling for fantasy-themed photo shoots.