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Building Strong Partnerships and Fostering Professional Development

Supporting the Profession Student Affairs Partnering with Academic Affairs
April 24, 2024 Nadir Sharif University of Pennsylvania

As the fall semester wrapped up last year, I connected with Dr. Christopher Lewis, the SAPAA Chair, for a conversation about the history of his involvement with the knowledge community, and what his hopes are for the group as he contributes to its post-pandemic revitalization. 

Christopher Lewis assumed leadership with a distinct focus on recognizing excellence and breaking down information silos. Having been part of SAPAA since its inception in 2002, Christopher has witnessed first-hand the evolution of collaboration between academic affairs and student affairs. Though his initial perspective was informed by his role within an academic department at the time, he soon realized that the challenge a lack of a common language on both sides of the proverbial fence. At one point the knowledge community was so active and productive that workgroups like those focused on orientation programs and career services spun off into their own knowledge communities! 

Recognizing the challenges faced by many Knowledge Communities due to COVID, SAPAA, with Chris back at its helm, is working to identify areas of overlapping interests and commitments among its members. The hope is to find synergies, and share knowledge with community at large without adding undue burden for members. 


Nurturing Professional Development

Christopher emphasized the importance of strong professional development opportunities within SAPAA. Identifying areas of overlap for professional development, such as success coaching advising communities, he highlighted the potential for members to belong to more than one group based on their passions.

Despite the challenges faced during the pandemic, SAPAA is committed to bringing back its programming. The goal is not to reinvent the past but to find what works best for the current membership.


SAPAA Partnerships and Collaboration

Christopher, with a background predominantly in academic units, emphasized the seamless collaboration between academic and student affairs. SAPAA, he noted, has been a valuable sounding board for addressing campus issues. Sharing experiences and ideas has been a hallmark of SAPAA's mission.

The issue of language differences between academic and student affairs was a recurring theme. Christopher stressed the importance of demystifying these differences to foster better collaboration. SAPAA, as a thread connecting various KCs, promotes a mindset of leveraging each role to build strong partnerships between academic and student affairs.


Focus on Students and Their Journey

With a changing perspective among students and families, Christopher discussed the shift towards a more consumer-like mindset. Students are increasingly focused on Return on Investment (ROI). He encouraged consideration of community college education as a cost-effective alternative, emphasizing the need to align educational experiences with career readiness.


Looking Ahead: SAPAA Initiatives

  1. Re-engagement with the Group: A renewed focus on the SAPAA community, understanding who we were and who we are today.
  2. Fundraising for Scholarships/Grants: Initiating efforts to fund a scholarship/grant opportunity through the foundation to support SAPAA research, encouraging discourse.
  3. Highlighting Best Practices: Utilizing communication channels to share success stories and best practices within the SAPAA community.
  4. Expanding Professional Development: Bringing new opportunities for professional development to SAPAA members.