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Using the Professional Competencies as a Framework for your Graduate Preparation Program

Supporting the Profession Region IV-W Region IV-W
January 2, 2019 Nicole Kotlan, Ph.D. Kent State University

The beginning of a new calendar year provides us many opportunities for visioning, goal setting, and strategic planning within our divisions, our units, our staff, and for ourselves. A new calendar brings an opportunity to think innovatively about our existing programs, services, events, interventions, and initiatives while examining opportunities for us to establish new avenues to support our students. The ACPA and NASPA Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Educators provides an excellent starting point for you to begin thinking about your resolutions and goals as you focus on your own professional development during the 2019 calendar year. In addition, the Professional Competencies can provide a solid foundation for integration in the curriculum and co-curriculum of higher education graduate preparation programs.

Recruitment and Onboarding Processes

Graduate preparation programs have an opportunity to utilize the Professional Competencies as a central focus in program marketing and recruitment materials, emphasizing the alignment between the competencies and the academic coursework. Graduate preparation program faculty members can utilize the Professional Competencies including the language and foundational outcomes in individual conversations with prospective students.

Student affairs educators recruiting for graduate assistants can also utilize the competencies in their recruitment materials. Graduate assistant position descriptions can be rewritten to highlight the competencies aligned with each position description, further integrating the connection between learning in the graduate preparation program and on-the-job learning in the graduate assistantship.

Once hired, student affairs divisions can onboard new graduate assistants to the competencies through multiple avenues. Divisional professional development and/or graduate experience committees can host formal division-sponsored programs to officially introduce and reinforce the connection between the Professional Competencies and the graduate assistantship program. In addition, divisions can support just-in-time learning through extending the onboarding process by conducting a monthly onboarding series, devoting time each month through instructional and experiential activities on a single competency and helping graduate assistants to reflect on that specific competency.

Program-Level Decisions

Graduate preparation program faculty administrators, program directors, and department chairs can use the Professional Competencies to guide program-level decision making. These decisions could be related to examining the course of study, identifying and re-evaluating the most appropriate course rotation, the addition and/or elimination of courses, and ensuring accessibility of courses for virtual and distance learning students.

Individual Course Content and Curriculum

The Professional Competencies also serve as an excellent framework for individual faculty members within graduate preparation programs to critically examine the curriculum and content for individual courses. During the Fall 2017 semester, I was asked at my previous institution to re-imagine the AEP 875 Technology in Higher Education and Student Affairs course for the graduate preparation program. The graduate preparation program added this course during the 2015-2016 academic year following the 2015 revisions to the Professional Competencies to include Technology as a standalone competency. As I began the process to reimagine and redesign this course, I immediately went to the Professional Competencies, specifically the Technology competency and used it as my guidance for the direction of the course content. Course outcomes were drawn directly from the foundational outcomes of the Technology competency. The course syllabus focused on many of the foundational content identified in this competency. In addition, instructional activities and assignments throughout the 16-week course were intentionally developed to enhance a graduate student’s confidence and ability to meet the foundational outcomes of this specific competency.

Practicum and Internship Experiences

Graduate preparation program administrators and faculty members working alongside student affairs administrators could use the Professional Competencies as a guiding framework for required or elective practicums and internships experiences as part of the academic coursework. Student affairs administrators should develop practicum and internship experiences for graduate students with the Professional Competencies in mind. Position descriptions should be articulated that will clearly outline 2-4 competencies that a student can expect to experience during the proposed graduate practicum or internship. In addition, graduate preparation program administrators and faculty members should work with graduate students to intentionally reflect upon which competencies the students desire for growth and use that reflection to match with the most appropriate practicum or internship. When this mutual match can occur, graduate students and practicum and internship site supervisors can both focus on infusing the competencies on a daily basis throughout the student’s journey at the site through language, projects, and evaluative tools.

Graduate Assistant Supervision

If graduate preparation programs intentionally infuse the Professional Competencies within the curriculum, student affairs divisions must also intentionally prepare graduate assistant supervisors to use the competencies themselves and with their students as daily practice. Supervisors should not only be aware of the competencies but also provided training and support about how to use the competencies with the graduate assistant staff as a professional development and growth experience rather than solely as an employee evaluation tool. Competencies can be used during one-on-one meetings with staff to support their growth and development as well as determining special projects that will mutually benefit the unit as well as the graduate assistant. Supervisors should also be modeling the way to their graduate assistant staff in using the professional competencies in their own daily practice.

Student Co-Curricular Engagement

Student affairs administrators and graduate preparation program faculty members who advise student organizations comprised of higher education graduate students should support the students in using the Professional Competencies to guide the organization’s efforts. Assist these student organization officers articulate the skills gained through service to this student organization and align those to the Professional Competencies. In addition, these student organizations can utilize the competencies for student-designed professional development experiences through peer dialogue, reflection, and/or presentations by alumni, faculty, and administrators. At a previous institution, when I served as one of the divisional staff advisors for the student organization for higher education graduate students, the organization executive board wanted to reinvigorate the professional development offerings. They used the Professional Competencies to identify and develop two new professional development sessions that provided them knowledge that they had not gained previously in coursework or on the job with graduate assistantships. One professional development session focused on the history of higher education (aligning with the Values, Philosophy, and History competency) and a session about being an adjunct instructor teaching a course while serving as a student affairs professional (aligning with the Student Learning and Development competency).

Program Culminating Learning Experiences

Finally, graduate preparation programs and student affairs divisions should work collaboratively on providing forums for students preparing to graduate from the program to reflect and make meaning on the competencies in practice through the curriculum and co-curriculum. These avenues could include written reflection pieces and/or oral presentations to demonstrate a solid understanding of their growth and development in each of the competency and articulate how they will continue to use the Professional Competencies as they enter the student affairs field as a new professional. This focus ensures that the students realize the competencies are ever-present part of their student affairs professional journey.