During her time as a student, Amanda Handsbur ’18 was active across campus in various leadership roles. From being a peer mentor and serving as the vice president of Black Student Union to working in the post office and representing classmates as a Student Government Association senator, those experiences have inspired her career path. After receiving her master’s degree in student affairs and student education from Texas State University, she accepted a position as director of student activities at Austin College.
During her junior year, the Communication Studies major eventually knew higher education was the industry she wanted to pursue. The connections she made with first-year students as a peer mentor left lasting impressions. She realized she could help others achieve their goals.
“I loved seeing the first-year students I worked with grow and transform,” she said. “Being a part of their support system, even after freshmen year, gave me so much joy. Seeing them succeed and getting emails from them about how I had helped them pursue their dreams was amazing.”
Handsbur said once she graduated and saw her first official class become seniors, she realized even more that guiding college students on their journey was something she wanted to explore professionally. Not only is she is using all of the tools and skills she learned at TLU in her role at Austin College, she’s using her experience to also develop a diversity and inclusion task force.
“At TLU, I learned it was possible for me to achieve my own goals because I saw myself represented,” she said. “Representation is important, and in higher education, there aren’t many people of color in administrative roles. There were times when I knew I needed specific support from others who could identify with my experience. Sometimes, you do start thinking that maybe you’re going to the same people too much with your concerns. Everyone at TLU was so supportive. Now that I’m in this position, it’s important for me to let students know I’m here for them. I want them to know they can talk to me because what they’re feeling is what I’m feeling.”
Handsbur also acknowledges that it is sometimes difficult to engage colleagues and other students about like diversity or race. However, there are ways to effectively communicate to help people feel more comfortable having these discussions.
“I like to remind everyone that the efforts I’m leading or what we as a college are trying to do isn’t about just them. It’s about all of us and we all play a part in it. To learn more about other people’s experience if sometimes have to have uncomfortable conversations. At Texas State, I did a presentation where I asked people to create their own identity platform. It was fun and interactive, and it wasn’t just me standing there listing all the things you say or can say that are wrong. When you take that approach, people feel attacked. I want to really talk with others and engage with them about the issues and why we should care.”
Effective communication is a key component for how Handsbur approaches her work, giving much credit to Communication Studies Professor Steve Vrooman and English Professor Margaret Gonzales.
“They pushed me to get where I am,” she said. “They taught me how to frame presentations and arguments, especially in an academic sense. They also taught me how to expand my audience and develop persuasive speech. They made me go outside of my comfort zone and I thank them for that.”
Handsbur said there were many moments at TLU where she was encouraged to think outside the box or venture beyond her own comfort level. She connects that back to the value of a liberal arts education.
“One of the main benefits is that you’re not locked into just one type of learning or one interest,” she said. “I was never a big science person and I discovered I really like environmental science. I also learned that I really enjoyed dramatic media. I never would have played golf, but I took it and ended up loving it. A liberal arts college like TLU lets you explore different parts of your identity that you maybe never would have elsewhere.”