Defining Professional Standards

naspa professional standards division

LeAnne Wiles, Karis Kim, Paul Metellus

March 26, 2019

By LeAnne Jones Wiles, Professional Standards Division

Jeffrey Dessources recently posted an article about wearing Jordans to work as a way to stay connected and relevant in the eyes of students. This piece made me re-evaluate my perspectives as we embrace the business casual recommendation for the NASPA Annual Conference. Dessources notes, “NASPA as an organization has set the conference dress code as business casual. This is more than suggested attire. It is an opportunity to intersect aspects of professionalism, authenticity, and swag.” As we enter this new era of higher education, we need to continue to dialogue about these intersections and further redefine professionalism through conversations and taking action.

The NASPA Professional Standards Division seeks to help us take these moments and create meaning through the lens of NASPA/ACPA Competencies and Rubrics. The first step when considering a self-assessment is to examine how you define professional standards for yourself. To continue these conversations and hear from different voices, I recently had a discussion with student affairs graduate student Karis Kim, and new professional Paul Metellus. We explored the notion of professionalism, heard how they are feeling about being emerging student affairs professionals, and considered the voices of the leaders in our field. 

What do professional standards mean to you as a new professional in the field of higher education?

Karis: Professional standards are something that I keep in the forefront of my mind when interacting with other professionals. It is very much how I present myself, not only through my choice of dress but also in how I interact with people. It means how I choose to present my actions and demeanor, such as "putting my extrovert hat on." In my experience so far, I have not felt that professional standards have been explicitly articulated or laid it out for me. I have been told to be mindful of my actions and my dress and how those both accumulate to affect others' impressions or perception of me, but there has not been a singular standard that was clearly defined as a definite "standard."   

Paul: Professional standards are the things that we as a field value and hope to see in the various institutions of higher education, and also the professionals and staff members who work at those institutions. It is the ethical and moral standard that we work to espouse each and every day through the work that we do with our students, no matter what functional area we work in. As institutions and professionals, we have a duty to provide students with an experience both in and outside of the classroom that prepares them for their future profession. We as professionals in higher education should be an example that our students use as the model of how they engage in a professional work setting with peers, superiors, and those who report to us.

How have you seen professional standards change or shift over the years?

Karis: There is an expectation of new professionals to have the knowledge and navigational capital of how to show up professionally and act within graduate school interviews or application processes. I find that I have been very fortunate to have had the mentors, subsequent mentorship, and workshop opportunities in my experience, but that I would be completely lost without their guidance. I also acknowledge that not everyone is afforded the opportunities or navigational capital that I have had, and that lack of opportunity could be a hindrance or barrier to their success.

Paul: The shift that I have seen is more towards accountability and holding institutional and department leaders to those standards, much more today that I think I've seen when I was in graduate school four years ago. I have seen an increase from new and mid-level professionals requiring much more of their supervisors to speak and stand up for the values that we as institutions say that we are built on, especially when it comes to the areas of diversity, inclusion, and social justice.

What do you want people to know about your experiences in the field?

Karis: Personally, I think that I could benefit from getting connected to affinity groups and sponsorship opportunities to better explore the field of student affairs. I am thankful for the support and opportunity that I have been afforded thus far within my professional journey throughout higher education in student affairs. I was drawn to this field because of the sense of belonging that I felt as an undergraduate student leader and I am forever thankful to have had the guidance and teaching needed to navigate to where I am today.

Paul: Overall my experiences in the field have been great. Both of the professional experiences that I have had have really challenged me to be much better, not only for myself or the institution but for the students that I am working with. I believe I have the opportunity to impact lives, and how I show up every day when I come to work or when I communicate with my students and other colleagues matters. Have all my experiences in the field been good? No, but they have been good for me. They continue to help mold and make me into the professional and leader in higher education and student affairs that I aspire to be. I have met some really strong professionals in student affairs who I have the privilege of being connected to, who provide a great space for mentorship for me.

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