During my time in the higher education and student personnel program at Kent State University, I have learned that becoming effective student affairs administrators requires a general set of competencies, skills, and paradigms. Specifically, I have learned that a successful student affairs practitioner is a student-centered, intentional, reflective professional, who is mindful of stewardship. While there may be officers operating in student services capacities who do not share these competencies, skills, or paradigms, those who do will be more successful and more effective.
Student affairs professionals should be student-centered. To serve students, an effective administrator must understand students. To that end, I have learned about student development, the aggregate environment of the student body, and student subcultures. I have sought out experiences working with students at the beginning of their higher education, at the end of their education, and after their graduation. I have learned about multiculturalism and diversity within the student body, and specific methods for improving engagement for students from disadvantaged groups. I try to serve students with everything I do in the career office. I feel my role is to help them plan their way, to provide options, and to connect them with opportunities. By focusing on the student and actively spurring them towards their own goals, I ensure that students learn appropriate skills and find a career with the right fit.
"From many courses, I gained not only skills for working in higher education, but I also gained the comprehensive theoretical framework which will allow me to examine higher-level influences, consider factors that might complicate a given situation, and continue my examination of topics beyond what could be covered in a two-year graduate program."
To be effective, an administrator in higher education must be intentional. Within the case studies course, I am learning how to more directly apply different student affairs paradigms, theories, and concepts to situations in order to respond in the best manner for the students, the institution, and myself. When planning an event, meeting with a student, or responding to a crisis, one must act with ethical intentions, and intending to do best for all involved. When I plan events for students, I try to keep my audience in mind. When planning career development events for sophomores, I might plan a different selection of activities than I would for a group of seniors. I try to examine where students may be developmentally, tailor my events and initiatives for students based on what is popular , and vary my approach based upon the kind of engagement the students are looking for. I also try to model proper professional behavior and relate interactions I have with students in the residence hall to their identity development. By keeping those goals in mind, I believe I am more effective as a practitioner.
As educators, student affairs professionals must be reflective. The profession is not an exact science. Practitioners can always improve their services, responses, and actions. After a surprise or unexpected outcome, a professional committed to ongoing improvement should reflect on why the outcome did not meet expectations. Based upon that reflection, the administrator could be more prepared for events the following year. As a new graduate assistant in charge of two residence halls, I experienced a rowdy fall rife of hall vandalism, damage to common areas, and more policy violations than other halls on campus. Within the first half of the fall semester, my residents had accrued over $1,000 worth of damage to the hall and common areas. After engaging in reflection, learning more about student development, and working with my supervisor to plan a response informed by theory, damage to common areas and instances of vandalism declined in the second semester. In my second year in the same hall, I undertook an informed plan of action from the outset, which resulted in a much smaller quantity of damage, fewer incidents of policy violation, and a more engaging community within the hall. For a student services professional, failure to reflect and learn from past events results in ineffective practice.
Throughout the higher education program, I realized anew that higher education administration is a profession, and as such, administrators and personnel are professionals. I have learned much about the professional community around student affairs, including professional organizations and future ongoing developmental opportunities for young professionals. I have learned much about the profession’s shared set of ethics and standards for best practice. Through my graduate assistantship, I have continued to mature in my professionalism in attitude, behavior, and supervisory style. I sometimes shock myself when I think about how much I have changed since I first thought of higher education as a possible profession, since I began working in admissions after graduation, and even since I arrived at Kent for my first day as a graduate student.
Effective student affairs administrators should also be good stewards of the resources entrusted to them by their institutions. A good steward must be mindful to manage limited resources appropriately. Administrators must be accountable for the funds spent by their departments. Managing a budget is an important skill, but money is not the only limited resource in student affairs. Assessment and evaluation of programs and initiatives ensure that student affairs functions are meeting the needs of students and producing the desired outcomes. As a professional in higher education, I will use what I learned in my assessment coursework to ground outcomes for students within my programs and initiatives to ensure that programs on which I spend my time and institutional money are worthwhile ventures.
My graduate experience has been quite different than I expected. Since this program is focused on preparing its students for a particular career field, I expected much of the education to center around concrete strategies for responding to certain situations, simulation of professional activities, clear guidelines for working with different populations, and general regulations that govern higher education professionals. While I did learn much about regulations and best practices, I also learned quickly that the world of higher education and student affairs was much more ambiguous and relative than I had expected. The classes I took focused equally on theory and practice, if not more on theory than practice. For instance, in the assessment class, I had expected we would design assessment forms, examine the finer points of survey construction, and perhaps implement an assessment project or two. Instead, that class was discussion and seminar-based, in which we examined real cases, researched different assessment and evaluation methods, and discussed implementing change based on assessment data. The skills and insights I gained were invaluable; I now will not only be able to write questions for an evaluation instrument, but I will also be able to discuss assessment design and implementation. From many courses, I gained not only skills for working in higher education, but I also gained the comprehensive theoretical framework which will allow me to examine higher-level influences, consider factors that might complicate a given situation, and continue my examination of topics beyond what could be covered in a two-year graduate program.