CUPA-HR Wildfire Program Helps Ease Transition for Military Veteran Into Higher Ed HR Career
January 11, 2018

Six early-career higher education human resources professionals have been immersed for the past six months in all that is CUPA-HR and the profession. From attending CUPA-HR conferences, meetings and other learning events to cultivating relationships with senior higher ed HR leaders and CUPA-HR volunteer leaders to experiencing a “day in the work life” of their mentors and more, the six individuals in CUPA-HR’s 2017-18 Wildfire program have had plenty of opportunities to learn, grow and connect. (If you’re not familiar with the Wildfire program, read all about it!).

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be profiling this year’s Wildfire participants and hearing their stories firsthand. We hope you enjoy getting to know this awesome group, as we have over the past few months! First up —Drexel King, manager of learning and development at Baylor University. Here’s Drexel’s story:

I was first introduced to CUPA-HR in September 2016. At that time, I was still an active duty Marine Corps infantry officer. As I was beginning my transition into civilian life and into a human resources job at Baylor University, a colleague mentioned she was attending an HR conference in D.C. I had never been to a work conference “out of uniform,” and I was still unfamiliar with many of the concepts and much of the language around human resources and higher education. But I attended the CUPA-HR annual conference that year, and it was a great introduction to the higher ed HR world of which I am now a part.

After the awesome experience I had at the 2016 annual conference, I knew I wanted to be part of the CUPA-HR family. To help further my pursuit of learning all things higher ed HR and to help me make the connections I knew I’d need to be successful in my work, I applied for the association’s Wildfire program last spring, and here I am!

With the connections I’ve made, the resources I’ve been provided and the knowledge and skills I’ve gained through my participation in the program, in just over a year I’ve been able to help Baylor’s learning and development team:

  • Improve mechanisms of communication for professional development opportunities available to staff and faculty;
  • Incorporate diversity and empower staff through means of accountability;
  • Provide training on setting team/department norms;
  • Help leaders with vision-casting, goal-setting and developing a mission statement;
  • Provide formal training on how to conduct and lead a meeting;
  • Help address the lack of advancement or career pathways for increased responsibility; and
  • Provide trainings, courses and team-building exercises specific to team and individual needs.

I’m particularly excited about my Wildfire program capstone project, which is intended to help college and university leaders, managers and the campus community as a whole create a culture that attracts and retains veterans in the higher ed workplace. (I’m currently gathering data on veterans in the higher ed workplace to help inform my project deliverable. If you’d like to participate in a short survey on this topic, I’d love to have your input!)

The relationships I’ve formed within the CUPA-HR organization over the past year and a half have given me the confidence and support I’ve needed to take on the challenges, adventures and excitement of a new career in higher ed HR. As an early-career professional, a millennial, a transitioning veteran and a minority, I feel that mentorship, connections and a shoulder to lean on are extremely important for my success, progression and competency in the workplace — and I feel I’m getting this and so much more through my involvement in CUPA-HR and the Wildfire program.

And thanks in part to the support and assistance of the CUPA-HR staff, my Wildfire mentor, alumni of the program and the many HR professionals I have met since being a part of the organization, my transition to a new location, a new job and an entirely new field has been an easy and enjoyable one.