For nearly a decade, ACPA’s Student Affairs Assessment Institute has served as the premier gathering of student affairs professionals seeking to build capacity in assessment. Whether you a brand new to assessment, taking on new responsibilities in your unit, or seeking to build additional skills, the Assessment Institute has consistently been the answer for many student affairs professionals.
In partnership with CACUSS, the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services, this summer marked the first Student Affairs Assessment Institute hosted outside the United States. 171 attendees from 119 different institutions in three countries gathered in Toronto from July 9-12 to build skills, foster new connections, and return to campus more inspired about assessment work.
Post-institute evaluation data consistently highlights the quality of the event, and this summer’s institute was no different. 93% of attendees agreed that the 2019 Assessment Institute was a valuable experience and 84% would recommend the Assessment Institute to a colleague.
So, what aspects of the institute are most beneficial to attendees? Members of the planning team reached out to attendees to gain a deeper understanding of what was of most value to them. Their collective comments highlighted three key benefits of attending the Student Affairs Assessment Institute.
Learning from an Intentional Curriculum
The content of the Assessment Institute is intentionally designed to provide a guided, curricular experience where participants can gain practical knowledge and work through critical stumbling blocks related to conducting assessment. This, combined with efforts to balance instruction with hands-on experience, is intended to ensure attendees leave with the assessment skills and knowledge necessary to develop and execute quality assessment plans on their campuses.
With the Institute’s international location, the planning team was intentional about building in content related to decolonization and indigenous methodologies to supplement the existing curriculum. For many, these topics were of major value. Sarah Ready, a Student Success Advisor at Dalhousie University, noted that, “What provided me with the most learning was the intentional focus on social justice and decolonizing assessment. This focus encouraged me to think of assessment as more than ensuring diverse voices are represented but that the methods themselves should be examined more critically.” Jaime Williams, Assistant Director of Residential Life & Housing for Assessment, Virginia Commonwealth University, also said that this content was of huge value to her work. “This year’s institute focused on inclusive assessment practices and indigenous methods- something that I feel is relatively new and at the forefront of the assessment field in the United States. I left Institute with valuable resources and a list of books I need to read, and I have already been able to implement some of the inclusive assessment practices I learned about as I continue to work with colleagues in my department to build skills and capacity in assessment.”
Engaging with High-Quality Faculty
The institute’s curriculum is developed and taught by faculty who are leaders in the field of student affairs assessment. This year, fifteen faculty members brought a wealth of experiences, resources, and perspectives that helped to foster meaningful collaborations with attendees. And, in addition to the planned sessions, faculty were available throughout the institute for conversation circles, where individual participants or small groups could discuss session concentor get feedback on assessment projects.
Amy Westmoreland, Director of Assessment for Educational Equity at The Pennsylvania State University, stated the faculty were a valuable part of her experience at the Assessment Institute. Westmoreland remarked, “I gained valuable insight by engaging with the faculty. They provided the space to ask a range of questions about assessment practices. I appreciate the faculty’s breadth of knowledge and their willingness to engage and share resources.” Ready had a similar experience with Assessment Institute faculty, commenting that, “I felt so lucky to have the opportunity to learn from such knowledgeable faculty at this year’s Student Affairs Assessment Institute. The institute seemed to provide the opportunity to gain assessment skills no matter what area of Student Affairs you may represent.”
Building Meaningful Connections
A key goal of the Institute has always been to help attendees connect and build relationships with other assessment professionals. The importance of helping attendees to build quality connections is one of the primary drivers of the size of the Institute. At less than 200, the Assessment Institute is large enough to build enough connections, but not so large as to feel overwhelming for attendees.
With this year’s Assessment Institute being hosted outside the United States, there were more opportunities for attendees to build connections. Anna Ghoneim, a Student Success and Projects Coordinator at Centennial College, particular valued the international connections. She stated, “The most valuable part of the Institute was the opportunity to make meaningful connections with colleagues in similar roles from across Canada and the United States. It was invaluable to learn from their lived and professional experiences, successes and challenges while expanding my sense of community and belongingness.” Gabriella Masini, an Assessment Coordinator from University of Wisconsin-Platteville, also benefited from new connections fostered at the Assessment Institute, noting, “I enjoyed meeting a lot of other higher education professionals at the institute. Assessment can be an isolated field and it was really helpful to make those connections with other professionals across the United States and Canada.”
Whether through networking with other professionals, sharing resources from experienced faculty, or benefiting from the guided, curricular approach, attendees agreed that the Student Affairs Assessment Institute was an incredibly valuable professional development opportunity, even for experienced professionals. Williams noted that, “the 2019 Student Affairs Assessment Institute was hands-down the most impactful professional development opportunity I’ve experienced in quite some time. I’ve been doing assessment for 10 years and this year’s institute opened my eyes to different ways to view this work.” Westmoreland agreed, noting that, “This conference made me realize that this is a field where we are continually learning, growing, and building our skills.”