Every generation of student brings new challenges as well as opportunities to those who serve the field of Student Affairs. The complexities of remaining current in identifying the needs of today’s student can at times seem insurmountable given all the daily position responsibilities each of us carry. However, as individuals who entered the profession to help students succeed in both their academic and co-curricular pursuits, we have no greater responsibility than the investment of our time and resources in meeting their needs and preparing them for their future. Ever changing realities regarding available resources, new legislation, local, national and global events and ever shifting institutional priorities make this goal even more challenging. As we move forward it may serve us well to take time to reflect upon our foundation of education, understanding for student development theory and practical experience, identify tools to measure the student experience and learning, commit ourselves to expand our knowledge base, seek opportunities to work collaboratively and continue the effort with passion and intention. Our journey will lead us to embrace important practices and programs to meet the needs of this generation of students.
Reflecting Upon Foundation
We begin our careers at various levels of knowledge and understanding of student development. With experience, members of this profession have an obligation to expand upon this knowledge and become increasingly comfortable integrating it into everyday work as practitioners. In addition, taking the time to reflect upon our own professional core values positions us well to seek and accept opportunities at institutions in which the mission and core values similar to our own are recognized and celebrated. This foundation provides insight into how we may choose to become part of the conversation regarding the institution’s goals and strategic plan. Strong and powerful opportunities to meet the needs of this generation of students present themselves when we have clarity on how students develop, align ourselves with the institution’s mission and core values, and become invested in its goals and strategic plan.
Identifying Student Needs
As practitioners we have constant opportunities to communicate with students regarding their college experience and future aspirations. Utilizing both informal and formal methods we should intentionally provide students with opportunities to share their thoughts, perceptions and suggestions. Forging relationships and making ourselves accessible to students encourages their involvement in the conversation and helps affirm that we are approachable and interested in their success. Formal surveys should measure not only perceptions but also learning outcomes. Tools should be selected carefully. It is helpful when longitudinal benchmarking data for the institution is collected over a period of time and also when it can be compared with other institutions. There is value in using tools that allow for students’ priorities to be measured. This provides an understanding for what they identify as most important as we consider available resources and other information as well. There are a multitude of various sources available to gain additional insight. Remaining in regular communication and collaboration with faculty and listening to their experiences regarding student learning inform us. We can acquire knowledge from other community stakeholders both on and beyond campus that have specific expertise and opportunities available for students. We are wise to pay close attention to data that identify the most sought after competencies and skills graduate schools and employers are seeking in candidates applying to their institutions and organizations. Finally, we gain wisdom by staying connected with professional colleagues and organizations on the local, regional, national and global levels and reviewing the latest research and publication offerings. Utilizing these resources and others expands the breadth of our knowledge and increases the probability for us to contribute in a significant manner.
Seeking Opportunities to Work Collaboratively
So much of identifying and successfully meeting the needs of students depends upon our willingness and ability to work collaboratively with others. As individuals we simply cannot accomplish the same level of positive achievement as we can collectively. Genuine and effective communication and respect for the opinions of others is important. Through daily interactions, regular meetings, committee and coalition work, as well as involvement at seminars and conferences, our focus should purposefully include an ear toward how we might best serve our students. Seeking out new opportunities with faculty and other colleagues that stretch our own development exposes us to a variety of beneficial experiences, and can help us to identify current and anticipated student needs. As we involve ourselves in activity that encourage the sharing of information and ideas, we extend our sphere of influence in advocating for students and collectively making recommendations for new practices and programs that are in line with their personal growth and development and the institution’s goals and strategic plan.
Working with Passion and Intention
Engaging students, faculty and staff throughout the community with intention is often complicated, challenging and also exhilarating work. Having understanding for student development, being grounded in our core values, and having true commitment to the mission of the institution provides us the opportunity to help address and support the physical, social, emotional, spiritual, cultural, intellectual and life planning needs of students. We must be vigilant in identifying trends pertaining to both current as well as prospective student needs. We should be diligent with developing practices and programs that foster a socially and intellectually stimulating campus environment and implement targeted efforts to best prepare students to become truly exceptional and help assure their on-going success.
Many are fortunate to be a part of endeavors such as these at their institutions. And while it will look different on each campus there should be a common thread to all of these initiatives which includes the collaboration of members of our community with the desired outcome of meeting student needs. This can be difficult work and having a deep sense of passion for it provides not only the motivation but often the drive to remain focused as we move forward through even the most challenging of times. These efforts involve contributions from students, staff, faculty, and/or off-campus constituents. They are conducted in a manner, which support genuine communication and participation, sharing of information and resources, and are in line with the best interest of our students, institutions and community.
Those in senior level positions throughout the field of Student Affairs have a special duty to provide leadership to their staff in this effort. They are well advised to ask candidates seeking positions on their teams to specifically comment on their own professional core values and experience in working with colleagues outside of their immediate areas of responsibility to help gauge appropriate fit with the institution. Staff teams should be encouraged to continue to build upon their knowledge of student development as well as the core values, mission, goals and strategic plan of the institution. Staff should be expected to develop and cultivate a culture that makes clear the desire to gain additional insight for student needs as they provide formal training and meet regularly with student leaders. In their daily interactions, staff must be urged to listen closely and take note of the unmet needs students identify. Staff should be challenged to measure outcomes for on-going initiatives and current practices to help ascertain opportunities for improvement in meeting student needs. They should be supported in their efforts to remain connected with their local, regional, national and international colleagues and organizations particularly as it pertains to increasing their knowledge base regarding the changing needs of students. Finally, it is imperative for Student Affairs leaders to inspire confidence in their staff to visualize themselves as genuine contributors to the dialogue, the recommendations and the solutions.
Each of us has an important role to serve in the academic and co-curricular success of students and preparing them for their future as distinctive graduates. It is our responsibility and obligation to participate collaboratively with students, faculty and other colleagues throughout and beyond our campuses to implement the important new and innovative practices and programs we must embrace for the good of our students, our institutions and our society.
Submitted by Rick LaRosa, Consultant with over 40 years experience in housing and residence life