Like many AACRAO professionals, Staci Bernhard, Admission Officer at Florida International University (FIU) and faculty for AACRAO's Winter Institute for International Credit,
never expected to work in higher education.
"I started my undergraduate career as a psychology major, and figured that working on campus would be the easiest way to maintain a heavy academic load and a job," she said. "I found a position as a secretary during budget season; I was making copies and filing all of the budget reports. Once the new budget was finalized, I was out."
Soon thereafter, she was offered a position within FIU's undergraduate processing center handling the data input for paper applications, back when that was the only way to apply, and she stayed in that role for three years.
"The running joke in the office was that if you could survive a year there, you could earn a degree in cryptography from having to decipher high-schooler handwriting," she said.
After graduation, she wanted to leverage her major in the "real world." That lasted seven months.
"I begged to come back every day," she laughed, "until I came back to a position in the undergraduate processing center handling transcripts and transfer credits, as well as general registration information. A couple years after that, I started a role as a graduate admission officer, and realized that I genuinely enjoy working with students, faculty, and credentials. So I earned my masters in higher education administration and have worked my way up through my current department to become the senior manager for admissions, recruitment, and agent relations."
The critical role of training
In her current role, she says, she's learned the importance of supporting credential evaluators through professional development.
"I never attended the International Institutes as a participant, and I feel like this was a major disservice to my role!" she said. "My department sent to me another credential evaluation workshop at the beginning of my credential evaluation career, and I feel like I didn’t learn nearly enough to take back to my office and run my area."
Now an experienced evaluator and Institute faculty, Bernhard described the Winter Institute as an essential asset in professional development.
"Having had the opportunity to serve as faculty and see all the information that is shared with the participants – the tools, resources, and detailed explanations of what to do, look for, etc – I feel like this is a must for anyone in the field of credential evaluation," she said. "Even as an experienced evaluator, and faculty for the institutes, I come home with new information or techniques that I didn’t have before."
"It’s important to always be learning in this field," Bernhard said. "Part of my personal professional development every year is to become better versed in a country that is relevant to my position. I feel as though attending the International Institutes gives me the opportunity to learn from others in the field and find where that next market will be.
Indeed, Bernhard loves learning so much that she just started a second masters in global strategic communications, and she pursues travel at every opportunity to continue learning through experience.
"I’m interested to see how I can apply the skills and tools I obtain from this degree can be applied to my roles within admission and recruitment," she said. "I also love to travel, and am always taking weekend trips around my state or am the first one to volunteer for international travel within my department. Up next on my travel list are a trip to New York for the IIE and AACRAO workshop on displaced and vulnerable students, a trip to China for recruitment, several more trips to St. Augustine with my best friend as she is planning her wedding there, and a much needed vacation to Amsterdam, Belgium, and Ibiza (although that’s not until May, but I’m counting down the days!)"