Mihaylo College alumna Amber Deister '03, who has a career in higher education at New York City's Columbia University.

Amber Deister ’03 recommends that students try a job or internship in a field they are considering to see if they like it before committing. “Exposure to a function or industry is a great way to test it out. Some of my most valuable experiences were realizing what I didn’t want to do.”

Mihaylo Marketing Alumna Amber Deister ’03 oversees career education and advising for the specialized masters students at Columbia Business School in New York City, one of the nation’s leading business schools. Deister discusses her career path and what it is like working in higher education.  

A college education may be a necessity for most young people to succeed in the contemporary economy. Yet colleges and universities can also be a rewarding career path in themselves. More than 2 million people, or about 1.14% of the labor force, were employed in higher education in the United States in 2016, including professors and lecturers, student advisors, researchers, administrators and clerical workers. While job growth in this field declined during the Great Recession and its aftermath, the nation’s educational institutions are again hiring, with the goal of preparing the next generation of citizens and leaders.

From Earning a Degree to Helping Others Do the Same

For Amber Deister ’03, a career in higher education was not on her radar when she completed her marketing degree at Cal State Fullerton in the early 2000s. “I did a marketing internship in high school and pursued this path in college and my early career,” she says. “Volunteer humanitarian work had inspired me to professionally pursue the nonprofit world and it was through overseeing an internship program at a nongovernmental organization in D.C. that I realized how much I enjoyed working with and being a resource to college students and was turned on to considering a career in higher education.”

Like many students, Deister had a lot of exposure to the educational world during her degree programs. This ultimately helped her develop a career path. “My career has obviously been driven by personal experience,” she says. “Another reason that higher education did end up being so attractive to me was due to a number of professors and administrators who were immensely transformative in my own journey through the various institutions I attended, including Cal State Fullerton.”

After landing a job with NYU Abu Dhabi and earning a graduate degree in higher education and student affairs from New York University, Deister was hired in her current role at Columbia Business School in 2014.

Deister says that the tasks in her job are largely dependent on the academic calendar, and the various seasons have their own workload. “In the fall, I could be running a few small group session on the importance of developing a professional network, providing feedback on a résumé and then hosting a company presentation,” she says. “Spring tends to be more focused on one-on-one meetings with students, speaking with companies about our programs and what employment opportunities they have now, as well as meetings with faculty regarding current needs and planning for the next academic year. Summer is project time, where we work on things that we can’t devote as much time to during the fall or spring and also prep for the incoming students.”

Challenges and Opportunities

Like any career path, Deister says there are both challenges and benefits when working for a university. “I’ve really enjoyed the engaging and learning-focused environment, a wide range of fantastic colleagues, and getting to know my students and helping them move to the next phase in their lives,” she says.

“It can also be a challenging place as it is a hierarchical environment where things tend to move slowly. It is important to understand the structure of leadership in higher education, what is referred to as shared governance. This ensures that a single person is not making decisions without the advice of key stakeholders but is also not a simple democracy with a group vote. Anyone who is interested in a career in higher education would be well served by studying the history and development of shared governance.”

The columned exterior of a Greek revival building on the campus of Columbia University in New York City.

The dramatic historic architecture of Columbia University is world-famous. A positive and esthetically appealing work environment are just some of the benefits of a higher education career at many of the nation’s educational institutions. Photo from Pixabay

Starting Your Career in Higher Education

Think you enjoy your time at Mihaylo so much that you’d like to make a career out of education? Deister has some words of advice, first focusing on what you need to succeed in any field.

“If you are able to while in school, I would recommend taking an internship or part-time opportunity in a role or organization that is of interest to you,” she says. “Exposure to a function or industry is a great way to test it out. Some of my most valuable experiences were realizing what I didn’t want to do.”

If you have decided on higher education as a career path, Deister recommends a work-study or student assistant role while you are still working on your degree. “I’ve seen entry-level roles many times go to work-study students because they’ve already shown how great they are,” she says. “You could also look for opportunities in peer advising or tutoring. Any role where you can interact with administrators will provide the opportunity to showcase your demeanor and skills and build relationships with people working in higher education.”

Recognizing that culture can foster or impede on one’s success, Deister suggests asking questions about how things get done in an organization and how people are successful. “If you’re someone who appreciates structured environments, ask how teams are organized or how your interviewer’s week is structured. And finally think about who within the organization could serve as a potential mentor. The people who are most successful in their careers are those who build a strong board of mentors they can go to for guidance and advice.”

Finally, Deister says continuing education can help you move higher in an educational career. “A great way to get an advanced degree while building your career is to work at a college or university for a year or two and then consider starting a master’s program part-time to take advantage of tuition benefits programs, which will cover most, if not all, of the cost of your degree,” she says.

For More on Higher Ed Careers

For more on working at Cal State Fullerton as a student, check out the student assistant job postings available on your student portal. Click on the “Career Center” tab on the left side of your screen and then select “Jobs & Internships.” Follow the links to look for on-campus jobs through the university, Associated Students Inc. (ASI) or the Auxiliary Services Corporation (ASC).

For a first-hand look at what it takes to succeed in a particular career path, talk with your professors, tutors, advisors, or other faculty and staff. Many would be willing to discuss their positions with interested students or alumni. Not sure who to talk to? Check out the university’s publicly available online directory.

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