Practicing and Developing Professionalism

Last week I used Chapter 3 “Practicing and Developing Professionalism” from the new NASPA book Careers in Student Affairs: A Holistic Guide to Professional Development in Higher Education when teaching a class for Master’s of Science in Engineering Management students who are involved in summer internships with engineering firms. Faculty who are teaching in higher education professional programs may find the strategies helpful content for their courses. In addition, student affairs professionals who are supervising and mentoring new professionals may also find the strategies useful.

Before the class meeting (we are using Adobe Connect since the students are quite literally engaged in internships all over the world), the students were required to read the chapter and prepare answers from the “Questions for Reflection” that appear at the end of the chapter. In this case, I asked the students to replace “higher education professionals” with “engineering professionals” and replace “students” with “other interns.”

To begin the discussion, the students identified their Communities of Practice concentric circles as described in the chapter. These circles represent influential groups who assist in the development of professionalism. The students identified other interns at their companies and in the class as their innermost circle, new professionals in the next circle, supervisors and mid level management in the third circle, advanced professionals and senior leadership the fourth circle. Each of the students discussed the ways in which they can be engaged in each circle to maximize their internship experience. Finally, we discussed the ways in which professional associations can be included in the outermost circle and how associations can be helpful in terms of professional development.

The students went on to describe their general organizational culture and the ways in which they have acclimated themselves. The topic of organizational culture led to a lively discussion on how to avoid violations of organizational culture and strategies to avoid those mistakes. Meeting behavior was next on the class agenda and what the students have observed as good meeting behavior and bad meeting behavior. Professional communication was discussed and that quickly evolved to discussion about global cultural differences in both written and verbal communication. A brief discussion about social media and how bad decisions, in terms of posting questionable content, can impact ones professional reputation. The final topic for the class discussion was transitions and how the students can prepare for a seamless exit from their positions and companies. 

The chapter was helpful in framing class discussion for the interns. Both faculty and student affairs supervisors and mentors can use the content to start meaningful dialogue with their students and mentees.


William Smedick, EdD, is a senior lecturer in the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University