Welcome Back Another new first day of school

I'm Nicole Stedman, professor and associate chair of the UF/IFAS Department of Agricultural Education and Communication.

Welcome #1: 1993

I have always been in love with being in school. I never questioned if I wanted to go to school, although sometimes I wondered where and when. For me, the University of Florida has undoubtedly been my where. As a three-time Gator, each step in my academic career led me to learn more about myself, my discipline, and ultimately the world around me.

My first “University Welcome” came in August of 1993, and my parents were dropping me off at South Hall (now known as Riker Hall) in the Tolbert Area. I did not bring a lot with me, because I was sharing a dorm room with one friend from high school and another student I had yet to meet. It was in this moment that I started to question whether I was ready. Am I really up to the challenge? Can I do this? Is college a mistake? What were my parents thinking leaving me here? Even though the transition was challenging, it was also exhilarating.

College gives us so much freedom to explore who we are, what we want to be, and how we can make that happen. There was one particular powerful conversation during my undergraduate career in which I learned that my time at UF would be limited if I did not change my major. It was a tough conversation, and one that I had to grapple with the most. It was also because of this conversation (and some awesome advising) that I found a new major that I loved and fit my needs. Ultimately, it also encouraged me to pursue more education. Unfortunately (fortunately), it took me five years, five moves around Gainesville, many “Welcome Backs” and a lot of trust to figure it out.

Welcome Back #6: 1998

August 1998 was a special “Welcome Back” for me: I had finally figured out my life. I was gainfully employed and loved my job, but I was missing the access to the University. I just had to go back.

Deciding to pursue my Master of Science degree seemed like a natural transition. I was working at the State Attorney’s Office and wanted to be better equipped for that position, so more school seemed like the best option. As a lot of students do, I worked 40+ hours a week and slowly made my way into graduate school. It wasn’t all great, though.

I dreaded the GRE and ended up taking it twice. I awaited my official acceptance to my program and prayed that I knew what I was doing. I got married. We moved (again). I meddled my way through work and school. My challenge was never really feeling like I was 100% in, I was constantly balancing work, school and a new marriage! After three years of graduate school to earn my M.S. degree, I decided my next step was law school! It wasn’t long before my great decision was intercepted by a wise advisor that encouraged me to think about a doctorate. Wait. What?!

Welcome Back #9: 2001

In August of 2001, my “Welcome Back” looked a little different. My parents were not dropping me off. I had a husband and was pregnant with our first child. We moved (again) and I was definitely wondering what the heck I was thinking! After feeling the strain of work and school, I left the comforts of being employed and became a full-time student. While there were still moments of doubt, I knew this was the best thing because I LOVE SCHOOL. I just knew this would be the challenge and fulfillment I needed and wanted.

To be honest, I still did not know what I wanted to be when I grew up. For some people in my program, it was clear. I want to be a faculty member. Or, I plan to be a consultant in the industry. For me? I had to figure it out the long way. At some point during my three-year program, I realized I enjoyed research, I enjoyed teaching, and meeting with folks across the state was icing on the cake.

I know we say it often and it sounds cliché, but when the right opportunity is ready, it will present itself. So, in 2004, I made my first academic position decision and moved once again, this time to Texas A&M University. This also marked the first time I experienced a fall “Welcome Back” at a university that wasn’t UF. For three short, quick years, TAMU welcomed me back, but where there is a will there is a way, and in 2007 I returned to my wonderful University of Florida.

Welcome Back #26: 2018

Now, I sit thinking about my 23rd “Welcome Back” at UF, and my 26th total. I am more enthusiastic about this University, the students (you!), and this awesome community that we get to call home. Returning to campus this fall is about connecting with our new students, reconnecting with our established students, reaching out to colleagues, and enjoying the Gator Nation -and of course, beating FSU!

Whether this is your first “Welcome” to UF, or your 26th “Welcome Back,” we are happy to have you here. The uncertainty will hopefully pass, and you will grow into the person you are meant to be. So Welcome Back, and if you are ever near Rolfs Hall, be sure to stop by!

Created By
Jarred Shellhouse


Photos courtesy of the University of Florida/Brianne Lehan, Nicole Stedman and the UF/IFAS Department of Agricultural Education and Communication.

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