Theory into Practice (and Practicality)

Curious friends often ask what a graduate program in student affairs entails. Unlike some grad programs, most of my learning happens in experiences outside of the classroom. My profession is one in which theory needs to be put into practice; for an individual like me, a practically-based program is wonderful, as I learn best by doing. Here are a few examples of projects related to theory and practice.

1. AHE 510 – Summer 2011 – University of the West Indies

  • My colleague and I spent a portion of time conducting informational interviews. We talked to representatives from functions such as advising, housing, international programs, disability access services, and counseling/psychological services. We looked at how operations were being carried out, and how operations had evolved/were continuing to evolve. Given our experiences in the American higher education system, our job–as posed by our supervisor–was to make suggestions for improvement, as we functioned as an unbiased, outside party.

2. AHE 510 – Summer 2011 – Wenatchee Valley College

  • I examined several sources before making recommendations on how to improve WVC’s new student orientation. First, I was given a set of models proposed by peer institutions (e.g., other community colleges in the Pacific Northwest). I looked at how their programs were designed, as well as the rationale for any changes that had been made in recent years. Second, I researched WVC’s demographics and the student population(s) it primarily served. Third, I examined WVC’s most recent attempts for new student orientation and noted potential downfalls. From there, I was able to create a proposal for how orientation would be overhauled and redesigned. My proposal then led me to the direct creation of a new, online component which was intended to serve as a “pre-orientation” tool, which was also comprehensive enough to allow students unable to attend on-campus orientation to gain a sense of the institution and their place within.

3. AHE 510 – Fall 2011 – Willamette University

  • This was probably my most research-intensive internship. At WU, my task was to compile a document outlining best practices in advising student organizations. I had to first understand the environment in which advisors functioned (i.e., a small private liberal arts college), as I did not have any previous experience within that kind of institution. Afterwards, I met with advisors from different areas to find out why they advised and how they advised, among other things. Although the sample I got seemed invested in the organizations, this could have been due to the interviewees being a self-selecting population. That is, the interviewees were already involved, and as such, were happy to share with me; uninvolved advisors may have not responded to my inquiries, thus leaving out an important perspective.
  • At the end of my internship, I was able to make recommendations. Notably, it was decided that a new method of delivering information–mostly to new advisors–was necessary, as email communication was often lost or misplaced. Because of this, I designed a working document (a Prezi), intended to capture advisors’ attention, and hit key information in under five minutes: the Office of Student Activities’ contact information, effective ways to engage and communicate with student leaders, and where to find the advising handbook.

4. AHE 520 – Spring 2011 – Multicultural Issues (course)

  • My end-of-term research paper was a library research paper. I essentially deconstructed multicultural conflict into the concept of “trust.” From there, I made the suggestion that cross-cultural mentoring become a way to bridge the gaps in trust between various groups.

Currently, I am working on a “personal capstone” internship which utilizes elements of student development theory and advising. I am currently assessing high-school students” completion rates of math classes at a community college and from there, I will make recommendations on how to reach out to these students and improve rates. I have been waiting for a project like this my entire graduate career, and I am very excited to put things in motion.

In closing… hooray for research! It doesn’t all involve lab coats and mice in mazes.

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