ACPA Convention Professional Development Scavenger Hunt

March 23, 2014

ACPA Professional Development

The upcoming ACPA Convention allows each of us to connect and learn from one another in very impactful ways. Each of us can create our own customized convention experience, but sometimes this can be haphazard and without little or any thought behind how we determine what to do while there. I would like to suggest that you follow a professional development “scavenger hunt” to get the most out of your convention experience. By following this scavenger hunt, you will be able have some concrete goals going into the convention that can further develop your career rather than simply catching up with old friends and attending interesting sessions.

1. Attend a technology-related session and jot down ideas of how you can incorporate session lessons into your department.

2. Meet a new colleague from a different region of the country and make plans to check in on each other throughout the year via phone, email, or social media.

3. Attend a session in an area or topic unrelated to your department and attempt to collaborate with colleagues from that area when you return to campus related to the information you learned.

4. Lend some help by signing up to volunteer for one of various functional areas throughout the convention.

5. Go to a Commission meeting and plan to participate regularly in their activities and discussions throughout the year.

6. Purchase a book from the available publisher on the convention floor and share its content when returning to campus.

7. Meet a younger colleague and offer to mentor them with your experience.

8. Tweet from a session to share its content with your followers and those who are not at the convention.

9. Talk to at least one of the session presenters and offer to collaborate on a project together.

10. Take random brainstorming notes to prepare for presenting a session for next year’s convention.

Good luck with the professional development scavenger hunt. Enjoy your convention experience!

5 Career Mistakes to Avoid in Student Affairs

November 18, 2013

Mistakes in Student Affairs

1. Job Hopping – While switching jobs is endemic in higher education, job hopping is typically not a good idea. Chasing money, position titles, or trying to find the perfect institution that emulates your alma mater can unintentionally make for a sketchy-looking resume to prospective employers down the road. A resume that illustrates a job for every one or two years can communicate that you are hard to get along with, never happy, or “too big for your britches.” No one goes from being a resident director to a vice president of student affairs overnight. Promotions, responsibility, and a higher salary come from experience and patience. “Paying your dues” is very true in our field.

Friendly Advice:

  • Do your best with where you are at. While your current work situation may not be the best, use it as an opportunity to further develop your skills and your experience. If it is a negative experience, do your best to turn it into a positive for you (no matter how difficult that may seem!)
  • If you are excelling in your current role, ask for more responsibility without the expectation of increased income, which typically should not be expected anyway given the current financial climate of higher education in the U.S. This can only help you in the next step in your career path. Create the experience you want to showcase on your resume and portfolio.

2. Getting Involved in Negative Politics – Colleges and universities are rife with politics in both academic and student affairs. Unfortunately, negative politics can consume your time and energy and get you away from your department’s mission and vision. While it’s easier said than done to avoid the politics of your institution, ultimately you are in control of how to interact with your colleagues and contribute to the success of your students. That’s why we do what we do, right?

Friendly Advice:  

  • Simply put, stay away from those who exhibit negative energy. There’s enough challenges and complications within the institution outside of negative attitudes and drama. Contribute your time and energy in creating solutions and not more problems.

3. Negative Social Media Presence – Social media is now ubiquitous and entwines both our personal and professional lives. Gone are the days when all that a prospective employer knew about you was from what you listed on a paper resume. Many employers screen your online presence, and in some cases, will expect that you will have a positive and impactful presence online related to your department and the field in general. We should be role models for our students after all, right?

Friendly Advice:

  • Understand that it is extremely difficult to have a completely separate personal and professional life online. Given this, the best practice is to keep your online presence as positive, professional, welcoming, and “restrained” as possible.
  • Social media outlets are not the place for uninhibited opinion and “diarrhea of the mind,” particularly if you are looking to land the next best position in student affairs.

4. Failing to Seize Opportunities – There will be the proverbial “two roads diverged” at some point in your career in which you will be faced with a choice to participate in various opportunities. This could be anything from committees, travel, presentations, grant writing, and other institutional initiatives. It pains me when I hear colleagues complain about such opportunities and whine about extra work or not getting compensated for projects outside of their normal workload. By failing to seize these types of opportunities, you limit your exposure to meet new colleagues across the institution, share resources, and impact students on a larger (or simply different) level.

Friendly Advice:   

  • Don’t be the person who said, “Man…I wish I would have been a part of that!” Hindsight is always 20/20 so take on the prospective of keeping your eye open for opportunities as they arise. Even better, create opportunities rather than waiting for them.
  • Keep in mind that NOT every opportunity is a good one nor has to be pursued. Keep your options open and take advantage of those that will fulfill your department’s mission while also appealing to your own interests and expanding your student affairs experience.

5. Failing to Make a Difference – You are what you do; And if you’re not doing much, you’re not making a difference. I will share the same message with you that I try to impress upon student leaders: what are you creating, what are you changing, and what are you influencing? If you don’t have much to show during your next job interview other than a bland job description, others who have made an appreciable impact upon their institution will clearly win out.

        Friendly Advice:

  • Like Stephen Covey stated, start with the end in mind. What difference do you want to make? Figure that out and work toward that end. Develop goals, write them down, and display them so you can see them daily. Also, create initiatives that you can assess. This way you can qualitatively and quantitatively illustrate the difference your work has made.
  • Don’t spin your wheels to impress colleagues. You’re there to impact student learning and retention (among other goals) and not create a club of cronies. As was the case with #2 above, stay clear of drama and concentrate on your work.

* Photo courtesy of Zsuzsanna Kilian

The Leader’s Pocket Guide (book review)

December 5, 2012


The road to leadership begins with self-understanding and so does John Baldoni’s leadership book, The Leader’s Pocket Guide.  “Leadership has often been defined as a journey. The journey begins with a starting point, and that starting point is the self.” He immediately catches the reader’s attention as he describes leadership as a journey of understanding, learning, growth, and humility. The first of three sections (“SELF”) provides the reader with 20 suggestions for improving their self-leadership skills and helps the reader understand how they interact with others as a leader. At the end of the section, there is an assessment that evaluates how well a reader leads and understands who they are as a leader. Baldoni outlines tips for growth and learning as a self-leader.

In the second of three sections (“COLLEAGUES”), Baldoni declares that one of the most challenging aspects of being a leader is leading your peers. He captures the essence behind interacting with peers and improving the relationship with them in the 33 different suggestions. He encourages the reader to understand how they are influencing their peers and gives them knowledge on how to do it in a positive manner.  The book also gives the reader an opportunity to evaluate how they interact with their colleagues and tips for improving those relationships.

In the final section, (“ORGANIZATION”), Baldoni coaches the reader on what it takes to lead an organization. He addresses everything from authentically interacting with your people and instilling a purpose in them to making time for yourself outside of the organization. Like the other sections, he provides the reader an opportunity to evaluate how they lead their team. To lead a team successfully you must execute positive change so that your team is learning and growing together. Baldoni understands what it takes to be a leader and passes on his knowledge so they are developing into positive and productive leaders.

The Leader’s Pocket Guide is an excellent tool and resources for all leaders because it provides well-rounded and diverse suggestions for improving leadership skills that can be applied to any field and any leader. It would be an excellent resource for new supervisors because it would help them evaluate how they lead themselves, interact with their peers, and supervise their workers.  It is a book that can be used over and over again to improve how a leader learns and grows.

Surviving an Organization that Stifles Innovation

November 5, 2012

I have worked at institutions that both encouraged and stifled innovation. While working in these environments creates various challenges, you should not have to ask for permission to succeed. Organizations that stifle creativity and innovation work to preserve the status quo. This can be especially frustrating for those of you who like to try new approaches to solving problems. Without resorting to giving up or finding another place to work, there are some strategies you can use for surviving an organization that stifles innovation:

Don’t Create More Work for People – Many times new ideas can be quickly shut down because there is the perception that it will create more work. This can be especially true if you suggest an idea that you expect someone else to implement. If you bring something to the table, offer a plan that illustrates that you will take the lead and offer the resources needed to make the idea a success. Let them know that you simply need their support in principle, but not necessarily in resources or time.

Align Yourself with Decision-Makers – Without being perceived as a “kiss up,” take the time to develop relationships with those who will have a direct influence over whether new ideas are utlimately implemented or not. Not only will you better understand how these individuals make decisions, but you put yourself in a better position in which your ideas will at least be permitted to be presented.  

Provide Data and Evidence – People normally support ideas that have more of a possibility of being successful than a failure and a waste of time and resources. Do some background research on your idea and have data and evidence to support it. Sharing specific examples and case studies will lend credence to your idea. If necessary, pilot test your plan before presenting your larger vision to the group. By doing this you can demonstrate that you have had success and are able to support a larger initiative. If the pilot test does not work, you can either refine the initiative and try again, or simply scrap the idea and forget about presenting it to the group.

Create “Wins” – Find out what motivates your colleagues and superiors, and attempt to develop plans that create “wins” for them. Wins can be anything from increased program attendance, time and resource savings, increased exposure / publicity, and even prestige. These wins, of course, should align with the values, goals, mission, and vision of your organization. You will have a more difficult time gaining support for your own ideas if they do not in some shape of form create wins for others.

Spawn Your Own Projects – Stated simply, blaze your own trail. Use the amount of freedom that you do have to create your own projects. As long as you are following within the parameters of the mission and vision of your organization, you do not have to apologize for trying to create progress through new ideas. If you wait around for approval or acknowledgement from others, you may never bring a new idea to fruition. As I stated in the opening paragraph, you should not have to ask for permission to succeed.

Become a “Thought Leader” – Innovation breeds innovation. Those who are seen as experts in a particular area and strive to create new knowledge or innovative ideas will attract others who want to be a part of those exciting new developments. Tap into an area you are most passionate about, and do your best to make connections with others within your organization who share the same passions. You can even expand your circle of influence to include others you interact with online and via professional development networking opportunities (i.e., national and regional organizations, webinars, conferences, social media, tweet up’s, etc.) Blog, tweet, and publish your innovative ideas in order to gain a level of respect about your area of expertise. The more you are seen as a thought leader, the more likely you will be able to influence change within your own organization.

What are some other strategies that you have used to implement a new idea within your organization? Please share your thoughts below.

* Photo Courtesy of Pop Catalin

Combating Staff Fatigue

September 3, 2012

Work can be satisfying, gratifying, and challenging, but it can also be demanding and tiring. Have ever felt exhausted, had your creativity stifled, or found yourself irritable with your coworkers?  If so, you are not alone as this is a common theme among overworked employees called “staff fatigue.” If you are unsure whether you or your team is suffering from staff fatigue, there are a few behavioral warning signs and questions you can ask yourself:

  • Have you noticed a significant change in attitude?  (Those who were once easy going are now on edge.)
  • Do you or your staff members perceive most things in a negative way?
  • Is there are breakdown in communication? Are staff members having trouble communicating with one another?
  • Have you noticed significant changes in performance or production?
  • Are you staff members complaining more than usual?

If you find that you are answering yes to the majority of these questions, then you or your staff could be suffering from staff fatigue. It can affect anyone at any time, regardless of the type of work they are performing. Staff fatigue can be caused by overwork, dissatisfaction, poor balance between work and personal life, and lack of control over the work environment. It typically occurs during the busiest work times because staff members are working extra hours and spending more time together than usual. We can notice it in our student staff member because it can be particularly difficult for them to separate their work from their personal lives due to them living around one another and having constant interaction.

So if you feel that there is an issue amoung your staffers, how do you go about devising a solution and returning your team to its fully functioning and creative zenith? As a supervisor or team member you should:

  • Relax and take a deep breath before acting.
  • Extend your hand in appreciation.
  • Toss in some time off to give everyone some breathing room.
  • Understand the issues from each staff members’ perspective.
  • Recognize the work and effort of your staff.
  • Create open dialogue and the need to maintain open communication.

When team members spend more than eight hours a day with one another sometimes personal quirks can work their way under each others’ skin; after multiple days of the same routine it can become too much. As a supervisor, you must remain aware of your staff members’ feelings towards the work they are doing and realize when they are at their breaking point. As a team member, you need to be open with how you feel and communicate your feelings with those who are directly involved. Whether you are a supervisor or a team member, communicating with one another is one of the most basic and essential functions, and also it is what is needed to help return the team to a positive, productive, and creative dynamo.

For additional information, click HERE for a 30 second video (“30 Second MBA”) from Fast Company titled How do you re-inspire exhausted team members? by Dr. Joseph Folkman, Ph.D.

Have you ever encountered a situation where you or your staff has been overwhelmed by fatigue? If so, how did you work through it? What techniques did you use? We welcome your stories, thoughts, and ideas on this topic.

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 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 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? 

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