Over the last 7.5 years of my career in higher education, “assessment” has only been part of my job title recently. As a new professional, I often heard about how important it was to engage in assessment in my role, yet I didn’t always know how to incorporate it into my daily work, or how to gain experience without it being directly part of my role.
Assessment is increasingly important in our work as student affairs professionals. Not only does assessment allow us to continuously improve the quality of our programs and services for students and other constituents, it provides us with a structure for strategic planning and sharing our story. While assessment may not be currently integrated into your job title, the longer your tenure in student affairs, the more likely it is you will be asked to incorporate assessment into your role. So how do you gain experience in assessment if it’s not part of your job title? I’ve listed seven easy ways to learn about assessment and engage in this practice, all of which will serve you well in your career as a student affairs professional.
- Join the conversation. Whether it’s signing up for an email listserve (I highly recommend Student Affairs Assessment Leaders), joining or signing up for emails from the NASPA AER (Assessment, Evaluation and Research) Knowledge Community or joining another professional association’s committee, there are ample opportunities to join the assessment conversation. Simply by being present in the conversation, reading blogs or emails, or checking out resources online, you will gain knowledge and find excellent resources at your disposal. When questions arise at work regarding “how to develop an assessment plan” or “how to create a survey,” you’ll know exactly where to look and who to ask.
- Let your supervisor know about your interest in assessment. As someone in a management role, there is nothing better than hearing from one’s direct reports that they would like to be more involved in a particular area of interest, especially assessment! Your supervisor may have specific assessment projects that you could work on, or connect you with assessment leaders on campus. Either way, you’ll gain major brownie points and open the door to future opportunities for professional growth.
- Join a campus committee. There are often a plethora of committees and working groups on campus. Whether these committees are specific to assessment or not, there are often ways to engage in assessment as a committee member. Whether it’s an event committee and you volunteer to create the post-event survey, or it’s a committee focused on retention, where you can meet assessment leaders and assist with data collection, there are many ways to engage in assessment as a committee member.
- Conduct an informational interview. No time to take on more work in your current role? Not a problem. Conducting informational interviews are an easy way to learn more about assessment if you have little time or resources. Find an assessment leader on your campus, or check out LinkedIn to find assessment professionals around the globe. Send a short, professional email stating how you heard about them and asking for 30 minutes of their time via phone or in-person to learn more about their career path. I guarantee you will find someone in your network available for a quick chat. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from working in Career Services, it’s that most people love talking about their career paths and enjoy the opportunity to help others progress in their field. This method is not only helpful for you to learn more about assessment, you may make a valuable connection for your future.
- Check out available resources online or at the library. Sometimes, just picking up a book can open a new chapter in your life. (See what I did, there?) Your local library and Amazon have wonderful books available on assessment practice in Student Affairs. The SAAL website also has a drop box filled with assessment readings and resources.
- Incorporate assessment practice into your role. If you’re not currently assessing your work, including the programs and services you develop for students and other constituents, it’s time to get started. It could be as simple as asking someone on your team for help collecting data in your particular area. One of my favorite questions to ask is “Who is missing from today’s event?” Even attendance and demographic data can help you identify possible issues, so you can make improvements to your marketing and event logistics in the future.
- Champion assessment in your department/campus. Whether you’ve tried all of the above or none, you can start championing assessment in your department and on campus. Even asking the question, “How should we assess this program?” will lead you to important conversations. It will encourage others to think about assessment as well.
Whether you’re a new or seasoned professional, there are many ways to engage in assessment within your role. I know you’ll find that engaging in assessment is not only beneficial for your professional growth, but an increasingly critical part of what we do as Student Affairs professionals. The more we engage in thoughtful and intentional assessment, the better we will be able to accomplish our goals.
STAY CONNECTED: to the AER KC by following us on twitter @NASPA_AERKC. Use #SAassess to follow conversations! This is a great way to interact with KC leadership and other KC members. You can also "like" us on Facebook for weekly updates. If you are interested in contributing to the blog e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.