By Kate Blankinship
Like many college students, Jeff Nilsen couldn’t envision what path his career would take in his early twenties. After earning his bachelor’s degree in history, he worked for a year teaching high school history and coaching the school’s soccer team. Rather than stay in secondary education, he opted to shift gears after a year and went on to earn a master’s degree in college student personnel administration. He got his first taste of working in higher ed at Wichita State University, where he oversaw 210 student clubs.
It only took a bit of encouragement from his brother to apply for the student involvement adviser position at the Center for Leadership and Involvement in 2015. Nilsen grew up in central Illinois, and wanted to give city living a try. He also found the prospect of being surrounded by high-achieving students to be appealing.
“I deal with students who can speak on a housing crisis,” Nilsen said. “You can get more in-depth conversation.”
During his first year at the University, Nilsen focused on leadership and involvement. “I really liked it because there was a component of leadership development when I first started, and there was a component of student organizations and student programming.” This position was beneficial for Nilsen because it provided him with the opportunity to explore which path of higher education he enjoyed most as he “wore a couple of different hats.”
In 2016, Nilsen shifted and narrowed his focus to being in charge of student organizations. “I’m glad that this is the way that it has shaken out,” he said. Currently, Nilsen is in charge of 45 Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) and works with peer advisors who oversee 180 groups.
As Assistant Director of Student Involvement, Nilsen “makes sure that RSOs are getting the right information and doing the right things.” He establishes road maps for students to help them manage large sums of money, navigate university administration, and cope with internal strife.
Nilsen plans to remain in higher education for the foreseeable future. In addition to working, he is also earning his PhD in Higher Education Administration. “A PhD would allow me to never be capped in this career,” he said. With his PhD, Nilsen hopes to continue to a greater extent the work he does now: helping students effectively navigate various aspects of college life.
If you had asked Nilsen if this is what he thought he’d be doing when he was 20, he would have said no. However, “The more I get down this road, the more I like working on the practical side. I like working with the institution, working with policy decision and seeing that overview of student life,” Nilsen said. “I also like working with students. You get some genuine interactions on a different level, and you get to meet people outside of the classroom.”