An Interview with Jennifer E. Gossett
“The aspect that I love most about my job as a college disability access coordinator is the dynamic environment where I work. I have never had 2 consecutive days that have looked the same. There are always new problems to solve and students to help, so I look forward to every day.”
Jennifer Gossett has worked as a student support services coordinator in the Disability Access Services department at Oregon State University for more than 3 years. Her job is to accommodate students with physical or learning disabilities so that they can participate in college classes. Jennifer holds a Master of Science in Educational Leadership and Policy from Portland State University and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Social Studies from Western Washington University.
Jennifer chose to work in disability access services because she wanted a position within educational leadership that would allow her to work with students with disabilities at the collegiate level. She likes the dynamic working environment at Oregon State University because no day is the same as the one before.
In your own words, what is a disability access coordinator?
A disability access coordinator helps run programs and find accommodations for students with physical and learning disabilities. The job description is complex because someone in this position acts as both a counselor and a program director. In order to provide equal access for students, we accommodate their needs. For example, if somebody had a physical disability and they could not write, a disability access coordinator would hire a note taker to take notes for them in their classes.
If a student said to you, “I am interested in becoming a disability access coordinator,” what would your response be?
I would want to sit down with anyone who is interested in this career and discuss their reasons for wanting to do this. I would encourage them to learn what they can about this profession because they will have the opportunity to work in a really dynamic environment. But I would also caution them that they will have a hand in everything from crisis management to diversity initiatives to data analysis. This is an exciting job and you have to be able to wear many hats.
What level of education is necessary to become a disability access coordinator?
People in my position typically earn a masters degree. However, there are a variety of masters degrees that can qualify you for this job. For example, I have a masters in educational leadership and policy, but you could also get a masters of education in student affairs administration.
Are there any licensing or certification requirements to become a disability access coordinator?
In my current position, there are no licensing or certification requirements. But if you were to work in a different division of student support services like in a college counseling center, you would have to get a different degree with a strict set of credentials.
Why did you decide to become a disability access coordinator?
I decided to become a disability access coordinator because the experiences that I had in other working environments led me to want to work with the college-age population. Specifically, I wanted to work with at-rick populations. I initially wanted to be a teacher, but after working in the Peace Corps and within the field of wilderness therapy, I realized that I like working with young adults best. That is why I decided to get involved with student support services and help out those students who had the greatest risk of dropping out.
What were the biggest misconceptions that you had about becoming a disability access coordinator?
I can’t think of any misconceptions that I had about this career because I knew what I was getting myself into when I started my job. This is a field in which there is little room for promotion for several years unless you is willing to relocate. But I knew that coming into the field, so it didn’t come as a surprise.
What do you enjoy most and least about being a disability access coordinator?
The aspect that I love most about my job as a college disability access coordinator is the dynamic environment where I work. I have never had 2 consecutive days that have looked the same. There are always new problems to solve and students to help, so I look forward to every day. At the same time, my job can be very challenging because we don’t have the kinds of resources that we would like. That means we have to find creative solutions to problems, so I am never bored at my job. But I do wish that I had summers off, like most of the staff. That is a major difference between being part of the faculty and working in student services.
What is a typical day like for you?
Although every day is different, I typically start out the day by holding a series of one-on-one meetings with students who need help to navigate the world of college. If they are struggling academically, we talk about ways that they can implement strategies to be more successful learners. I also have a lot of meetings across campus with a variety of departments. Most of those meetings are related to how we can make our campus more accessible to students with disabilities. I also spend a lot time answering e-mails and staying connected to my colleagues. I have a lot of freedom to design my own work week.
How do you balance your work and your personal life?
I work between 40 and 50 hours each week so I don’t have trouble finding a good work-life balance. That said, it is important to take lunch breaks and vacation and give yourself a rest so that you don’t get overwhelmed or burn out. In my case, I don’t take work home and I have plenty of free time to participate in the activities that I like, such as soccer and community involvement.
What personality traits do you think would help someone succeed as a disability access coordinator and what traits would hinder success?
I think open-mindedness and organization are both extremely important to my job. You have to be open-minded because you will be working with a diverse group of students every day. And because of the legal nature of my job, I have created a very organized system of managing my e-mails so that if there was ever a discrimination complaint, I could produce records of how I responded. I am not the most organized person in the world, but I definitely have learned to develop those skills. It naturally follows that someone who is disorganized or inflexible would not do well in this job.
Are there any extra-curricular experiences that you think a student interested in becoming a disability access coordinator should pursue?
An extra-curricular experience that someone who is interested in working in higher education student services should pursue is to become a resident advisor, or RA, in the dorms. Another option is to work as an orientation leader or tour guide for prospective students. Those types of experiences can really set you apart from other people who are applying to graduate school.
What classes did you take during your schooling that you have found to be the most valuable for the work you do today?
The most valuable classes that I took were research methods, statistics and higher education legal issues. An understanding of how to gather and analyze data is really important to any job that involves the use of population statistics. And understanding the legal atmosphere and requirements of the work that I do now, which is mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act, was really helpful.
What words of advice or caution would you share with a student who is interested in becoming a disability access coordinator?
The advice that I have for someone who is thinking about a career in student services is that you need to get work experience in the field during your undergraduate education. If you want to work in new student programs or orientation, be an orientation leader. If you want to do student activities, get involved in student government. That is a good way to find out if what you think you want to do really is what you want to do. Often people have this idea about what a career or profession is going to be like, but then they start it and they don’t like it. But the last thing you want to do is to get a masters degree and then realize you hate what you are doing.