25 Summer Professional Development Activities

June 11, 2012

Got extra time on your hands in the summer? Maximize your time by taking advantage of easy and inexpensive ways to develop yourself professionally. Here are 25 summer professional development activities that I recommend:

1. Brown Bag Lunches – Start a “brown bag” lunch series with colleagues from across your division and institution to discuss current issues facing your institution and the profession. (For those of you not familiar with this practice, you essentially invite colleagues to bring their own lunch to a meeting to have professional discussion). 

2. Sister Institution Visits – Jump into a university vehicle with some of your staff and visit another institution within your system (if applicable) or simply another college or university within driving distance. Visit with that school’s staff to discuss each other’s programs amd share ideas.

3. Article Discussions – Pick an article from the Journal of College Student Development or other higher education-related publication, and discuss it during your next regularly scheduled staff meeting. Discuss how the article is pertinent to your department and what if any changes you can make because of the information.

4. Staff Development Scavenger Hunt - Create a program based on various intellectual activities that staffers must complete throughout the summer. They get credit for each activity completed, and those that finish all of them get a small prize or privilege (e.g., free lunch, time off, university apparel, etc.) Completed activities can be discussed at meetings. Examples include: read a higher education-related book and write a one page summary; teach a colleague a new skill; create and implement a training activity for the staff.

5. Create a Blog - Use WordPress.com to create your own blog, and write about issues that are facing your department and what you are doing to stay successful. Share your blog posts on Facebook, Twitter, and via email announcements.

6. Seek Out a Professor to Partner With – Summer time is typically down time for a lot of individuals on campus, including faculty. Send out email announcements to seek out faculy that may be willing to partner on projects out-of-class or within the class related to student learning outcomes. Plan the project over the summer to implement during the fall semester.

7. Sit on a Committee – Ask your supervisor and / or other university executives if you can sit on a university-wide committee that may not directly relate to your day-to-day job. You’ll learn different ways in which the institution operates, which may lead to other networking and programmatic opportunities.

8. Volunteer in the Community – Make service to the community a priority over the summer. Find a charity organization to support, and dedicate some time every week to help. Involve students to make it a unique learning opportunity.

9. Make a New Professional Friend on Twitter – As I once read, Facebook is for who you know, Twitter is for who you want to know. Learn how to use Twitter, and make a new connection with another higher education professional somewhere else on the planet. Here’s a “Twitter 101 for Student Affairs Professionals” guide that you will find helpful.

10. Mentor a Graduate Student – Find a graduate student on your campus that you can take under your wing. Challenge yourself and them to work on a new project that will benefit your campus. You can also mentor a graduate student virtually. Many high performing graduate students can be found on Twitter through the #sagrad (i.e., student affairs graduate student) hashtag.

11. Write an Article - Find a professional topic that you are passionate about, and craft an article. There are multiple print and online newsletters, blogs, journals, and other publications offered through ACPA, NASPA, and all of the other student affairs-related professional organizations.

12. Facilitate a Free Webinar – Create a webinar based upon areas of expertise that you have. Use a free webinar service such as anymeeting.com and advertise the webinar in advance through Facebook, Twitter,  and personal inviations.

13. Plan a Research Study – Take the time in the summer to outline a research study that you can conduct in the upcoming fall or spring semesters. Read articles in the Journal of College Student Development to familiarize yourself with how studies are structured.

14. Learn How to Use SPSSSPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) is a powerful software package used to figure out complicated statistical analyses for assessment and research purposes. Learning how to use SPSS will prove to be an invaluable skill for your department. Most universities have existing software licenses so check with your IT department to see if you can get it installed on your computer. You can also download SPSS for free for a 14 day trial.

15. Host a Workshop – Invite colleagues and students from across campus or from other institutions to attend a workshop. Seek feedback ahead of time from staffers and students to see what types of topics they would like presented. You can host the workshop for a morning or afternoon only so you do not have to worry about meal costs.

16. “Shadow” Another Administrator – If permitted, shadow an administrator in a different department or division to learn about what they do and how it impacts your students. This will expand your understanding of the institution and higher education in general. It also offers an opportunity for you to network and make new connections.

17. Create Your Staff Development Plan – Plan out training and development activities for your staff ahead of time. This way you will have everything scheduled and ready to go for the upcoming semester. Create new and innovative activities that your department has never done before.

18. Participate in Faculty Programs & Research – Many faculty members perform research over the summer or host various trips and programs related to their area of study. Trips abroad, volunteer work, and data collection and analyses are just some of the activities that you may be able to get involved in.

19. Host and / or Attend a Local “Tweetup” – A Tweetup is a pre-planned professional or social gathering that is advertised through Twitter. Pick a location and invite higher education professionals from your region to attend. Tweet the date, time, and location, and ask Tweeps to RSVP so you know if they are planning to attend. Use the Tweetup as a time to network and discuss current topics and practices within the field.

20. Spend Time at the Library – While this may sound a bit nerdy, you’ll be amazed how much you can learn in a simple trip to the library. Browse the stacks and select a few titles that you can thumb through and acquire some new ideas to implement in your work.

21. Read a Biography of a Leader – Along with #20, reading a biography of a leader can inspire you to make changes and innovations within your own department. There are numerous individuals that you can choose from. Be sure to check out the “new books” section to see if any recent biographies have been published.

22. Learn About Assessment Practices – Grab a few books or do some searching online to familiarize yourself with qualitative and quantitative assessment practices. Use the knowledge gained to plan how you can assess student learning outcomes for the upcoming academic year.

23. Take the StrengthsFinder Quiz – Purchase the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book, and take the online quiz. explore your strengths and how you can utilize this new found information to incorporate within your work to develop your staff.

24. Attend or Teach a Class – If you are able to, enroll in a class on your campus to increase your knowledge. Take a class in management, business, public speaking, technology, or anything else that you may find interesting. On the other hand, teach a class if you can. In many cases you do not need a doctorate to teach a class dependent upon the institution, particularly community colleges.

25. Swap Jobs with a Colleague – Use a day or more to switch jobs with a close colleague to see what it is that they do and how that insight may help you in your own position. Likewise, they would switch with you and hopefully gain the same insights.

What other professional development activities have you completed or participated in during the summer that you can recommend? 


8 Ways to Make Yourself Indispensible in Student Affairs

June 6, 2012

Because of recent discussions related to professional accreditation through ACPA, I felt it would be appropriate to write a post on how current and prospective student affairs professionals can make themselves indispensible within the field. Putting yourself in a position in which “they can’t do without you” not only firmly establishes you at you own institution, but also makes you marketable on a national level.

Here are eight ways to make yourself indispensible in student affairs:

1. Have a Working Knowledge of Research & Assessment – Higher education is coming under more scrutiny in regards to accountability by politicians and tax-payers alike. Are we accomplishing what we’ve set out to accomplish? Are we making an impact on the lives of our students? If so, student affairs professionals need to be armed with the practical skills involved in assessing developmental and educational learning outcomes. Being able to develop and assess student learning outcomes is a skill you definitely want to have in your “bag of tricks.”  Both CampusLabs.com and AALHE (Association for the Assessment of Learning in Higher Education) provide excellent resources.

2. Ablility to Do More with Less (Resource Management) – Times have become tight across the U.S., particularly within public higher education institutions. The ability to maximize resources, whether human resources or financial, is a crucial skill for those who want to remain and excel in higher education administration. Many resources exist through NACUBO (National Association of College and University Business Officers) and NACAS (National Association of College Auxiliary Services) that you may find helpful.

3. Innovation – Being able to leverage technology within student affairs has now become a must-needed skill set. Instructional technologies and social media are now at the forefront of curricular design across the globe.  Also, being able to think outside of the box, challenge the status quo, and develop new and fresh ideas that can help set your department apart from others. What new ideas and practices are your bringing to your department?

The Chronicle hosts the “Wired Campus,” which publishes the latest “news on tech and education.”  Additionally, I highly recommend the book The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen.

4. Develop Student Learning Outcomes – Student Affairs typically complements the university’s academic mission, and being able to demonstrate that that your work directly affects student learning and developmental outcomes is key. Moving beyond mere attendance counts for programming can be challenging, but this is the mark of a true student affairs professional. The Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education offers many resources on learning and developmental outcomes.

5. Knowledge of Best Practices – While many would criticize this for being an overused phrase, having a broad knowledge of what works and does not work within Student Affairs is valuable knowledge. Set yourself apart by placing the bar high and constantly excelling. Again, the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education is a good place to start to explore what practices and standards you should be implementing within Student Affairs.

6. Nurturance of Diversity – More and more students are coming to our campuses with diverse backgrounds and varying needs. The “traditional” college student is no longer an 18 – 22 year old white male. Student characteristics have become increasingly diverse, and the ability to meet the needs of all of our students is crucial. Student Affairs is past the point of merely “accepting” diversity; a new paradigm of nurturing diversity by reflecting the diverse characteristics of a “global” community is what is expected from all Student Affairs professionals.

7. Political Saavy – Being able to wade through the often murky political waters of an institution is a tricky task. Learn all you that can about those you work for, including the upper-level administrators. Make a name for yourself, and find ways to help them achieve their goals so that they may help you to achieve yours.

8. Mentoring & Supervision – Developing and leading a shared vision is key to being a successful student affairs administrator. Helping others understand and carry out that vision is essential to the growth and development of your department. Be there to support those you supervise and mentor because the more you are there for them, the more faith and trust they will develop in you.

In what other ways have you made yourself indispensible within student affairs? Please share your comments below.


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