A Day in the Life of …


Sean FerrisFerris_Sean

Student Activities Adviser
University of Washington 
Seattle, Wash.

Educational Background

Ohio State University
B.A., History

Western Washington University  
M.S.Ed., Student Affairs Administration

Number of years in the profession: 1

What have you learned from the profession?

When I left graduate school and started to work at the University of Washington, I think I brought with me a sense of urgency to make an impact. I wanted to have an impact on the lives of my students, my institution, and my newfound career. What I have learned is that having a positive impact takes time and patience. I learned that I needed to build trust and relationships with my students before I could impact their lives in a way they were happy with. I learned that my institution is massive, and to make the right kind of impact will take patience, it will take an understanding of this complex university, and it will require the help of others. I learned that my career is young, and I believe that having a positive impact on my students at my university will lead to the type of career that I want for myself. There was something about the brevity of graduate school that ignited this feeling of urgency, and the job search definitely stoked the flames. While the feeling of urgency has abated the fire, the desire to make an impact still exists, though now it is tempered by experience and recognition of the patience required to be successful.

What inspires, motivates, or gets you excited about your job on a daily basis?

Very simply put, I am motivated and inspired by my students on a daily basis. They fill my work with passion, compassion, empathy, energy, excitement, and drive—and I feed off of that. As someone who considers himself to be an educator, I also find those moments when I recognize learning taking place to be immensely fulfilling. Sometimes they are as blatant as a sunrise and other times they are hidden in nuance; but when I can see a student make that jump in logic, change in attitude, determine a career goal, take initiative, or simply start planning a program a week earlier, it is very rewarding.

How did you arrive at your present job?

I believe my path into student activities is a clear indicator that there is no one way into the profession. As a college student, my involvement on campus was limited to membership in one club and participation in recreational sports. The majority of my leadership experience was off campus where I managed a local retail ski and snowboard shop and coached soccer. After I graduated from The Ohio State University, I decided to make a move to Seattle, Wash., where I eventually hoped to pursue a masters in teaching so I could be a high school teacher. After I moved to Seattle, I remained involved in soccer, and it is soccer that I believe eventually led me to a career in higher education. In coaching, I really began to appreciate and see value in the opportunity to impact the lives of others through an alternative form of teaching and learning. At the same time, I was discouraged by the direction public education was taking in terms of curriculum, funding, and standardized testing.

As I began to look for a graduate program, I literally stumbled across the field of student affairs administration. As a result of my limited involvement on campus as a student, working as an educator in a college environment had never occurred. I thought the only people on campus that could impact a student's education was a professor, and at the time, I did not have an interest in being a faculty member. The more I explored programs in student affairs, the more it just seemed to fit me. I became involved in college unions and student activities as a result of my graduate internship at Western Washington University. It was in the Viking Union that I really fell in love with the self-directed learning that can occur in student government and student programming.

What followed my very rich internship was a tedious job search and a blessing from God that ultimately resulted in my arrival into the Student Activities Office at the University of Washington.

Paper Clips(1)A Typical Day for Sean:


7 a.m.

It's Wednesday morning, my radio alarm goes off, and I snooze it for another 10 minutes of much needed sleep.

7:30 a.m.

Once I crawl from bed, I shower and then make myself breakfast. This is my most important meal of the day. Usually it consists of eggs and toast and a fruit juice and yogurt smoothie. While I eat, I catch up on the happenings of the day through SportsCenter, CNN, and The Weather Channel.

8 a.m.

Today, I am running on time and I hop a bus for a short 15 minute ride to campus. When I'm running late, I race in my car to get in front of the bus and then hop on the bus that I previously missed for an even shorter ride to campus. Parking is way too expensive at university to drive myself—plus that's just not green.

8:30 a.m.

The half-mile walk from my bus stop takes about 10 minutes and is a great way to wake up in the morning and get my head in the game. Today it is not raining or windy, and I enjoy the walk. However, as awake as I am, I still need my morning coffee. I bought my own latte maker this year because $3–4 a day was adding up. Making my own coffee drinks has been fun, and inviting others for a coffee has been a great new way to get to know students and colleagues.

9 a.m.

By 9 a.m. my computer is up and running, and I am working my way through e-mails that rolled in after the end of the day yesterday. This morning I have three e-mails from a student who is planning an exhibit on the experience of those with eating disorders. It is her first program, and it is approaching fast. I try to ease her concerns, answer some questions, give her some options, and keep her motivated and moving forward. Once her program is over, we will spend some time reflecting back, but for now it is full speed ahead.

9:30 a.m.

Once I have finished my e-mails, I usually try to breeze through Facebook or the student newspaper to catch up on campus news and events.

10 a.m.

Today is our bi-monthly staff meeting of student activities advisers. In addition to general adviser reports that cover upcoming events or trends we might be seeing in our students, we are discussing how we will cover events and office hours as the busy months approach. New budget restrictions have kept us from replacing a staff member that left and soon another colleague will be taking maternity leave. Being down two staff members, the workload is being spread around. The additional responsibility presents new challenges and experiences, but it is a bit overwhelming in light of what's to come.


After a two-hour staff meeting, I am ready to get out of the office for lunch. I grab my coat and am joined by Kirk, another adviser in the office, and we head to the Ave for some Pho'. Like many large campuses, the University of Washington is blessed to have a variety of privately-owned, delicious dining options close at hand. Our conversation meanders its way through movies, music, people, religion, politics, and always seems to find its way back to work no matter how hard we try.

1:30 p.m.

Part of my responsibility is to advise programs supported by the student government. This afternoon, I met with Courtney and Madeleine, two accomplished student leaders who co-direct the UW Leaders program. UW Leaders is a peer led, organized, and facilitated leadership development program. Students meet weekly to explore leadership and their role in student leadership at the UW. Today we spend a little bit of time on last weeks presentations from the vice provost of undergraduate academic affairs and then a little bit of time discussing how they are managing their peers who are getting ready to start a new unit focused on communication and leadership

2:30 p.m.

The meeting with UW Leaders takes a full hour, and I rush off to my next meeting. This one is with a group of colleagues; today, we are debriefing our late night programming event from two weeks ago. Although the event was a success and we all support moving forward with this program, there is some uncertainty about how the budget will impact the future of the program.

3:30 p.m.

Our debrief only takes about 45 minutes which leaves me 15 spare minutes to check e-mail and catch my breath before a student from the African American Association comes. Their largest event of the year is coming up, and it is time for them to finalize their budget and start seeking funding. This is Julianna's first time as the Event Coordinator and as a result there is a lot she needs to know about the process. We spend some time discussing funding sources, the process involved, and the requirements of each source. Then we take a look at last years budget and begin to plug some rough numbers into a budget that she can take to her group's office meeting tonight. She leaves me with two pages of notes, a task list, a rough budget, and I'm pretty sure a headache.

4:30 p.m.

As my meeting with Julianna nears an end, I get a phone call that my final appointment of the day is waiting in the office. Student reps from the Interested Ladies of Lambda Theta Alpha are here to follow up on their fundraising activities. They were selling candy hearts and roses for Valentine's Day. It turns out their fundraiser was quite the success, returning them almost 400% of their initial investment.

5 p.m.

Trying to get a handle on everything that happened today, I prepare my "to do" list for tomorrow. So far, I need to check on security for the African Student Association event, I need to get in touch with the student planning the eating disorder awareness event and make sure she is still feeling good and making progress, I need to place a payment for T-shirts for an upcoming fashion show (that one came through e-mail), and I still want to finish that article on successful leadership programs in higher education. Those seem manageable.

6 p.m.

On my way off campus for the night, I swing into the Latino Student Union Annual Networking Night. The event has a good turn out. Just enough students and staff that it makes for good conversation, but not so many that you can't talk with anyone. I say "Hello" to a few faces I recognize and shake hands and exchange cards with a few others that I don't. My appearance is short but sweet, and I am out just in time to catch the bus and make it home by 7:00 p.m. This is average for this time of year, but there are nights when it is much later. I make a personal choice not to bring work home with me. No e-mails. No "CrackBerry." I have my calender on my Trio so I know what to plan for in the morning and that is as far as it goes.

Updated March 19, 2009