Staff spotlight: Joni Carpenter, Asian Studies undergraduate advisor
interviewed by Jennifer Tipton, graduate coordinator
Posted: March 5, 2014
Jennifer: Where did you go to college and what did you major in?
Joni: I’m a proud alumna of the University of Texas at Austin! I attended as an undergrad and earned a B.A. in English, and several years later, I returned to UT to earn a Texas Teaching Certificate in Secondary English. Not long afterwards, I came back to earn a M. Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction, but I took half my hours in graduate English so that I could teach in higher ed.
Jennifer: When did you start working at UT and for which program? When did you become an advisor?
Joni: I started working for UT in 2002 at the Distance Education Program, which at that time was part of Continuing and Innovative Education. While there I was mostly occupied with creating assessments and writing curriculum for their Online High School. I joined the College of Liberal Arts during the summer of 2004 when I started working as an academic advisor in the Dean’s Office. Initially I worked in the Student Division with undeclared majors, but I really wanted to be in a department, so in 2006 I went to work for Religious Studies. Much as I loved working there, I left in 2007, wooed away by the Dean’s Office with the prospect of becoming the Training Coordinator for advisors in the College of Liberal Arts. Three short years later that position was eliminated, and I was transferred to the Department of Asian Studies to work as a Senior Academic Advisor.
Jennifer: You used to teach. Tell us a little about what you taught. How has your teaching background influenced you as an advisor?
Joni: Although certified to teach high school English, I only did that for a year as I prefer to work with older students. I taught freshmen composition for eight years at Austin Community College and five years at St. Edwards. Working with college freshman all that time proved to be great preparation for advising; I became very familiar with challenges students faced in making that transition from high school to college. I think it made me both more compassionate and more realistic in my dealings with students. So much happens during those crucial years between 18 and 22: students grow into a starter version of their adult selves as they learn more about who they are and what they want for their grown-up lives. They learn to set goals and to make decisions, but for many, it’s an uneven process as they struggle with parental expectations and their sense of their own identity. I love working with students on the edge of adulthood – so much promise! So much stress! It’s exciting – and I get to be a non-judgmental adult who helps them gain perspective and confidence.
Jennifer: What is your favorite thing about being an advisor or working with students?
Joni: My favorite thing about advising IS working with students. I am so impressed with our majors: their language abilities, their willingness to put themselves in unfamiliar/uncomfortable settings while studying abroad, their ambition and focus. I see myself as a resource and problem solver in my work with students: I love to research opportunities and help students take advantage of them. And I enjoy being a “knowledge worker” who’s well informed about higher education and student development. I hope our students feel supported both academically and emotionally. UT can be somewhat impersonal and unwieldy to a new student; I aim to make it more manageable and personal.
Jennifer: If you could give students one piece of advice, what would it be?
Joni: Just one? That’s tough for an advisor. I guess my main piece of advice would be don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Fear and insecurity can really get in the way if you let it. So much goes on developmentally during these years, and decisions made can impact the rest of one’s life. So I hate to see students waste opportunities to enhance their major and advance their career goals. Students who take advantage of such things are more likely to find meaningful work upon graduation. And they seem to have a lot more fun in college!
Jennifer: What's your favorite thing about Austin?
Joni: Well, I’ve lived in Austin for 36 years and consider it my home, but it’s not the little city I moved to in 1978. Still it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else (in Texas, at least!). I love Austin for its weirdness – for all the wacky, creative individuals who support music and the arts, and for what’s left of the counterculture. I love that despite its growth, Austin is not, and never will be, Dallas or Houston.
Jennifer: You are taking a poetry class this semester. How do you enjoy it? If you could go back to school, what would you study and why?
Joni: I love my poetry class! We’re studying the poetry of Philip Larkin, that wonderfully curmudgeonly English poet who crafted these beautiful poems about disappointment, loss of illusions, and “man’s defeat by time and his own inadequacies.” A real happy fellow! And a master craftsman of verse. If I could return to school, I’d probably major in Religious Studies. I’m especially interested in Asian religions, but in general I love learning about the diversity of religious experiences and traditions. I’m fascinated by religion’s interactions with society and politics and the ways in which it defines and divides us.
Jennifer: If you go back or forward in time, when and where would you go and why?
Joni: I would only go backwards in time (the future is too uncertain!). I’d like to go back to the 1920s. I love the popular culture of that time (jazz! Art Deco! F. Scott Fitzgerald!) as well as the era’s social, artistic, and cultural dynamism. All that rebellion; speakeasies, and the music of Gershwin, Duke Ellington, and Bessie Smith – what fun!