At the 2012 NASPA Assessment & Persistence Conference in Tampa, Florida this year, one of the concepts discussed was the ability of Student Affairs professionals to articulate our role in supporting student success and achieving the institutional mission. How many times are we asked, “So, what do you do?” How do you respond to this question? My friend affectionately refers to his office as “The Office of Fun & Games.” I have seen people nod their head in agreement with, “Oh, like a dorm mom.” My personal favorite (that I regularly hear from my own family) is … “So you’re a teacher.”
If we cannot be depended upon to consistently articulate how important our role is, no one will do it on our behalf. As student affairs professionals, it is our responsibility to communicate the value in our work. I am still working out how to do this, but here are some loosely formulated ideas I have after reflecting from the conference and would enjoy reading your comments and suggestions!
Ask: Talk to the Senior Student Affairs Officials on your campus, mentors you have in the field, the professors from your graduate programs, other professionals in the field. Ask them how they explain their roles. Develop a consistent language and some key statements for articulating the importance of our practice. I like this example, “We provide co-curricular opportunities for students to demonstrate and apply classroom learning.”
Use Data: Data translates across many mediums. Use data to explain what you do. For example, “I work in the department of Housing and Residential Education. Last year we housed 8,900 students on campus. Our trained student leaders worked with 32 campus partners to sponsor 215 programs for which exposed students to a variety of resources and support services.”
Elevator speech: Develop an elevator speech that you can deliver at a moment’s notice to any audience. This is an interactive tool designed by the Harvard Business School to help you create and analyze your elevator speech: http://www.alumni.hbs.edu/careers/pitch/.
Read What Leaders are Reading: At my current position, at most, I see a handful of levels of operation (10,000 feet, 25,000 feet, and occasionally the 50,000 feet level) depending on who is in the room. One way to gain insight into what your leaders are thinking about is to read what your leaders are reading. At the conference, NASPA’s President recommended A Crucible Moment as a book that several college & university presidents are currently reading.
Know What’s Important: What are the institutional priorities? Does your campus have common learning outcomes? Do you know what they are? Do your students? How do you intentionally work towards these priorities in your office, department, division? Perhaps most importantly, how do you communicate to others how you meet these priorities?
At the conference, there was a conversation about our profession being “under fire” and the feeling that we have to “justify what we do.” This post is not written from a lens of pressure or fear or justification. What we do matters. We know this through our student interactions, our crisis response, and our programs that support the mission of the institution. We may suffer a healthy scrutiny and this keeps us accountable for being good stewards of student resources. We are responsible for articulating how our field contributes to student success, meeting institutional priorities, and overall representing what we do.
I’d love to hear your thoughts? How do you represent our field? What advice can you give?