Some professionals in their industries knew that they would be in their respective careers from the moment they entered university. Others ended up in their fields by accident, but now have zero intentions of leaving. One of those who didn’t know where he’d end up right away is Thomas Balestracci, the Assistant Director of Student Involvement at SNHU.
Balestracci, 26, is in his second year at SNHU. He is closing in on completing his sixth year in the field. He has many tasks assigned in his role, to which he says “nothing is the same.” The office he works in mirrors this uniqueness with various posters hung, most of which feature his beloved Boston Red Sox, as well as papers spread everywhere over the desk.
Balestracci’s primary roles include co-advising the Coordinators of Activities and Programming Events (CAPE), the university’s programming board, supervising the campus design team and planning and executing events including the Fall and Spring Late Night Breakfast.
In regards to why he loves his job, Balestracci said, “It’s the fact that I get to be with students. Talking and interacting with students is one of the reasons I want to be in student affairs for the rest of my life.”
As an advisor to CAPE, Balestracci meets weekly with three of the organization’s seven executive board members. The Weekend, Late Night, and Weekday chairs all report bits of information, including the status of upcoming events and their annual budget.
“Tom is an excellent advisor. I’m so happy that SNHU brought him on board,” junior Haley Mailloux said. Mailloux, the current vice president of CAPE, was one of Balestracci’s first advisees.
Despite being in the professional world of student affairs for less than two years, Balestracci has received considerable recognition for his work. At the 2016 National Association for Campus Activities Northeast regional conference held in Hartford, Connecticut, Balestracci was awarded the David A. Ross New Professional Award.
Balestracci said of his recognition, “When the announcement was made, I couldn’t believe it. I was just barely eligible. All of my mentors and students came in to my head. I wouldn’t be getting the award without my students or mentors.”
One week later, at the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) Region 1 conference in Burlington, Vermont, Balestracci received two awards in the new professionals category. One, the N.H. Richard F. Stevens Outstanding New Professional Award, recognized him as the top student affairs professional in the state. The other, the Region 1 Richard F. Stevens Outstanding New Professional Award declared Balestracci as the best student affairs professional in all of Region 1 of NASPA. Region 1 includes N.H., Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, six Canadian provinces, and twelve European countries; however, the award Balestracci received covers strictly the United States.
Upon receiving both awards, Balestracci said that he felt the same emotion as when he received the Ross Award.
When he started his undergraduate education at Eastern Connecticut State University (Eastern), Balestracci had absolutely no intentions of going in to student affairs. His field of study was sport management, and for the first year and a half, his only other involvement was as a runner on the track team.
“I wanted to take that first year to see how college was and to see whether or not I could handle being a runner along with my coursework,” Balestracci said.
The transition to the field of student affairs started in the second semester of Balestracci’s sophomore year. His then-girlfriend, now fiancé, convinced him to join the Eastern Campus Activity Board (CAB). Balestracci said he was hooked from that point forward.
During his junior year, the year he made his decision to pursue a career in student affairs, Balestracci served in his first leadership role. As Communications and Media Coordinator for the CAB, he oversaw executing promotional operations within sub-committees of the organization. Balestracci had an annual budget of $8,000 and 50 general committee members with whom he used to accomplish his goals.
One of the goals was to plan a big event for the campus community at Eastern. His members came up with the idea for Arcade Night. For this event, Balestracci had a slightly smaller member number: around 30 to 40, with Balestracci as the leader. The event consisted of a large banquet hall on campus filled with all types of arcade games and was the highest attended event during the semester. In total, 300 of the university’s 5,500 students attended.
”I am so proud of the students I worked with. I was a student with them but as their guide, I couldn’t have been more proud. It’s the same feeling I get when one of my CAPE advisees plans a successful event,” Balestracci said.
After graduating from Eastern, Balestracci jumped right in to graduate work. He attended the University of Rhode Island (URI) and pursued a master’s degree in college student personnel. Balestracci served in three graduate assistantships.
His primary assistantship was in the Office of Student Involvement at URI. Some of his tasks assigned while he was in this role are very similar, if not identical, to his current profession. He was responsible for co-advising the Student Entertainment Committee, URI’s equivalent to CAPE. One task that differed from his work at SNHU was that of managing the Student Event Advising Office (SEA). Balestracci was tasked with helping fraternities and sororities with their events, something he does not do at SNHU.
Also during his time at URI, Balestracci obtained facilities management skills. He learned to run the campus student center, Memorial Union. Of this role, Balestracci said the training was of the most help because most of the events he planned took place in Memorial Union.
A proven valued member of the SNHU staff, Balestracci knows he has found his lifelong passion.
“I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t working in student affairs. The students and staff are amazing,” Balestracci said. Eventually, he says that being a dean of students would be a dream, but would be difficult due to his overt positivity.
“To be someone that has to be very strict about conduct is something that I am hesitant about. What makes me hesitant is that I am a naturally positive person,” Balestracci said. “Having fun is one of my favorite things.”