Entering into summer time can be one of two things for student affairs professionals. For Res Lifers, such as myself, it may be a time of pure joy and happiness. While the students are gone for a couple of months, I am finally able to breathe after 10(ish) months of ensuring that programs are completed, current RAs are trained, developed, and evaluated, new RAs are hired, residents are educated on important topics, community is built, and everything in between. On the flipside, functional areas such as Orientation or New Student Programs are taking the torch of the busy work, as new students are beginning their journey through orientation and similar programs. For those professionals that do have an ounce of free time, summer is a phenomenal time to revisit or create your professional development plan.
For those looking to create a new professional development plan and do not know where to start, I would recommend first evaluating what funding you currently have within your position. Once you have that, begin looking inward and evaluating what you want to learn most at your current level in student affairs. For example, while I am currently in Residence Life, I know that I may eventually make my way back to Orientation or Student Programming. Instead of me focusing all of my attention at aligning myself with ACUHO-I or any of the regional organizations, (i.e. AIMHO, SEAHO, etc) I choose to stay general with NASPA and their plentiful conferences ranging from state drive-ins, regional, or national conferences. It is best to ensure that you are adequately talking with mentors, supervisors, colleagues, and even partners you may have, to ensure that you are doing your best to better equip you with the knowledge and resources to advance and fulfil your career in student affairs.
Outside of all of the many organizations and conferences within Student Affairs, it is also important to delve into what opportunities are available to you at your current institution. Some of my most influential and developmental activities have come from my current and former institutions. Join a divisional or institutional committee, volunteer to serve as a Teaching Assistant for a class, take an additional class, collaborate with a faculty member in the Higher Education department on current research initiatives, or even just browse your institution’s website. Oftentimes, I have found budgetary information or strategic goals online that has been beneficial to my learning and development, seeing as I hope to make my way up the ranks in higher education, and will one day deal with larger scale projects and responsibilities.
As for those looking to revisit or reformat your professional development plan, it is important to ensure that you know what worked well and what did not work well with your current professional development plan. An area to which you can start with this includes looking through the ACPA/NASPA Core Competencies, or even looking to see if your current functional area’s organization has a set of core competencies to look through and evaluate your development with. Oftentimes, professionals gravitate towards a select few core competencies that is at the forefront of thought, but tend to forget some of the other, and equally important, core competencies. Take me for example, during my graduate program and first year of professional work in the field, I found myself focusing the majority of my attention and professional development efforts on competencies such as advising and supporting, social justice and inclusion, and leadership. On the flip0 side, I was not focusing much attention at all on assessment, evaluation, and research, law, policy, and governance, or technology.
As Lao-Tzu once said, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The first thing to truly help with your professional journey in higher education and student affairs is to sit down and think of where you are and where you want to be! A professional development plan is one of the best tools to help get you there!
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Matthew Linton is currently a Community Director in the Residence Life department at the University of Arizona. Matthew also serves on the Region VI New Professionals and Graduate Students Leadership Team. He loves all things Disney, traveling the world, spending time with his husband, and raising his Siberian Husky puppy. Matthew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.