Transferable Skills in Action: Applying Your Student Affairs Experience


Understanding how skills you have gained in one position will benefit you in another is critical to anyone seeking career advancement. I serve on the steering committee for a local non-profit organization, AthFest, which plans the local music and arts festival each summer, the Athens GA Half-Marathon in the Fall, and year-round art and music education events for local children. The festival was last week and I put many of the skills I gained working in Student Affairs to good use.

Candidates will often be asked to give examples of times when they planned a program, dealt with a difficult person or situation, or responded to a crisis. This week, I will give some examples from my recent experiences during AthFest. I will do my best to explain them in a loose P-A-R (Problem-Action-Resolution) style, to emulate the way that candidates should use in their interviews.

Part 1: Event Planning and Coordination

The AthFest Music and Arts Festival is a multi-day event, featuring an Artist Market with over 50 vendors, a business and food area with about the same number of vendors, two main stages, two beer tents, a kid’s festival with inflatables, arts and crafts, a comedy night, a film festival and music video awards, and a “club crawl” with over 150 bands during the week of the festival. Planning for the festival occurs year-round.

Problem: Select Approximately 50 artists, Assign Booths Spaces and Keep Them Happy

I serve as the Artist Market Chair. In this capacity, I recruited 2 jury members to review artist applications, and facilitated the jury process using online resources (mostly Google Apps) due to the difficulty of coordinating schedules.


  1. I fielded a few hundred inquiries, some of which were clearly not fine art, but commercial products, hobby crafts, or materials made by persons other than the applicant. These I notified of their status, and forwarded to the business vendor contact.
  2. From the rest, we reviewed submissions, debated each on their merits, and accepted over 50 artists to exhibit their work in 47 tent spaces. I coordinated the notification of the artists, their payments to the festival, and their assignment to particular booth spaces, taking into account special requests, and trying to vary the assignments so that artists were not directly beside or across from their direct competition.
  3. I also worked with the business vendor chair and her team to keep business vendors separate from the artist market, and to ensure that we maintained legally mandated fire lanes and points of entry and exit. I coordinated the timing and flow of artist and vendor loading and unloading, traffic control and barricade passes.
  4. During the festival, I worked with two judges to select award recipients and managed all aspects of the market, and other festival “duties as assigned or became necessary.”

Experiences from Student Affairs Used:

  • Jury: My experience serving on award and scholarship committees in Residence Life and at the Smeal College of Business served me well. It’s always interesting to see how groups come together to work out a process for reviewing applications. I worked with my fellow Judges Pat McCaffrey and Susan Staley to review artist applications and the art samples submitted. I scanned samples of the art and saved pdf files to a Google Docs space and set up a Google spreadsheet for the judges to enter their thoughts. Working from there, I coordinated an e-mail conversation and we accepted some artists, and referred the rest to our business vendor contact, in case they still wanted to show their wares, outside of the juried market.
  • Booth Assignments: I met with our talented intern, Regan Mulcrone, who did a CAD drawing of the festival using Google Sketchup. We created 3 zones for the booths and designated them according to their placement on upper Washington Street, the area of the festival where all of the Artist Market and KidsFest would be located. During the assignment process, we varied assignments by categories and tried to assure that artists were not right by their direct competition. These are skills I developed in helping with Involvement Fairs, Career Days and of course, roommate assignments.
  • Traffic Control: At Penn State, I was responsible for a while for Residence Life’s Welcome Week events and for a time, I was directly responsible for managing the logistics involved with getting about 6,500 first-year students, their 240 RAs, nearly 500 Welcome Week Leaders, and the appropriate professional staff to their hall meetings and hall dinners, and then over to the President’s Convocation, and after that, to Late Night Penn State, our alcohol-alternative programming. I was the first person in the history of the event to get all these people to the Bryce Jordan Center on time, so that President Spanier could start his dog-and-pony show, and so that Residence Life could be praised for managing the process, instead of roundly criticized for not doing so. I am extremely proud of that accomplishment, and of the fact that the model I designed is still being used. It has been modified a bit, but the larger framework I built still stands. And Residence Life doesn’t get slammed anymore for being late to the President’s party.

Some Take-Aways

  • Everything you do teaches you something worthwhile, if you remember it and can integrate it into your skill set.
  • Your ability to appreciate the skills you have gained and to apply them in new ways is critical toward success in any position.
  • Even things that seem to be minor accomplishments, 0r footnotes in your career history, can hint at areas of expertise you might develop and apply later in your career.


  • What transferable skills have you gained from your work in Higher Education?
  • How can you explain your experience in ways that show that you appreciate the skills you have gained, and are ready to apply them?
  • How do you explain your ability to get results?
  • Do you have appropriate examples of your experiences to discuss in your interviews?



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