ACPA 2013 Overview

We have the ACPA blues – it was difficult to return to Toronto after a wonderful conference and a wonderful time (and weather) in Las Vegas. While at ACPA we had amazing opportunities to connect with student affairs practitioners and scholars from the U.S. and Canada, and attended an array of interesting and inspiring presentations. We were thrilled that so many of you joined us on the last day of the conference to hear our presentation: Are There Really Two Sides of the House? Faculty Perceptions of Student Affairs. This presentation was based on the findings from Phase II of the Supporting Student Success research study in which we asked faculty members from 9 universities and 5 colleges in Ontario about their perceptions of their organizational structure and the role that student affairs plays in supporting student success. While our study focuses on institutions in Ontario, it was fascinating to see how our findings resonate within U.S. and other Canadian contexts. During the presentation we shared for the first time visual representations of faculty perceptions of student affairs at their institutions. We were very excited to share these drawings using YouTube. The short video (created by Kim Elias) portrays how faculty with varying understanding and involvement with their student affairs colleagues perceive the role of student affairs. We hope our conversations about this topic continues through discussions on our various social media forums and we hope to hear your about own experiences.

There were a multitude of great presentations highlighting the most current trends in the field. With each day starting at 7:30AM and ending at 4:30 PM we crammed as many presentations into our days.  Here is a just a brief highlight of some of the sessions we attended:

Jeff’s Pick

Critical Discourse: The culture of faculty and student affairs practitioners

This year at the 2013 ACPA Inspiring Communities of Wellbeing conference there was a special category for sessions on Faculty-Student Affairs Interactions. One of the most interesting ones in that group was one in particular Critical Discourse: The culture of faculty and student affairs practitioners hosted by Susan Jones, Kristen Renn, Juan Guardia and John Hernandez. It was a very critical look at the values of both faculty and student affairs staff and more specifically some of the myths surrounding those values.  Two provided the student affairs perspective and two the faculty perspective. Both groups highlighted that the lack of cooperation and the sometimes competing perspectives partially originates from well-meaning, but often misinformed, stereotypes about the groups.

Just as not all student affairs staff is focused on in-the-moment programming planning, or working in large teams, not all faculty members were orientated towards the individual, highly autonomous and theoretical development. Accordingly, these values or approaches to work exist in both groups and vary greatly. The session highlighted the importance of meeting faculty, as we do with students, as individuals, where they are at and begin building a relationship from there.

Kim’s Pick

Promising Practice: The Students Have Left the Building: Viva Las E-Student Affairs

Students are increasingly flocking towards online courses to receive a postsecondary education, whether it is one course or an entire degree. Yet, the structure of these institutions are often focused on the face-to-face experience. While the use of technology has become embedded in our culture, how are postsecondary institutions adapting to the increasing numbers of online students, and are we neglecting to an entire population?

Texas Woman’s University has started to develop co-curricular activities online—a new concept that is still in its infancy stages. The presenters described their efforts at reaching their online student population, by creating an Online Epsilon Omega Epsilon Student Honor Society, and a Total Health Challenge. These activities focus on drawing participation and increasing a sense of connectedness and community. Through these activities, students participate in discussions, challenges, and activities. The presenters noted that the uptake has been positive, and they are pleased with the feedback.

In Canada, a number of colleges and universities are developing a Co-Curricular Record (CCR). The CCR allows students to search for opportunities beyond the classroom, links those experiences to competencies, and provides students with an official validated record of their involvement. However, one of the key pieces of success for the CCR is to acknowledge that there are barriers to engagement, and to use the CCR as a mechanism to help students find meaningful opportunities that suit their lifestyle. Thinking about this notion of online co-curricular activities, is there a space for these opportunities to be included on the CCR? What would online co-curricular activities look like, and would that address student barriers to engagement? I pose this question as a thought—one that I will sit with and pose to my colleagues.

Tricia’s Pick

Transforming Student Affairs in China: The Macau Student Affairs Institute

I’m interested in how student affairs and services work is practiced outside of North America. I was intrigued by the session presented by Susan Komives and colleagues titled, “Transforming Student Affairs in China: The Macau Student Affairs Institute.” The University of Macau is growing and is in the process of opening several residential colleges for their students. The idea of living learning environments is a new model for the university. To achieve the desired outcomes of the model, senior leaders recognized there was a need to provide professional development for the staff so that the design highlights student learning and development with a mind toward assessment. The ACPA session described the multi-day institute which sounded like a professional preparation master’s program on steroids with days dedicated to the field of student affairs’ history, philosophy, ethics and competencies; student development theory; and assessment and evaluation. It was fascinating to hear about the presenters’ experiences bringing Western concepts of the field to another context. This was a session that I wish would have had 90 minutes; there was just not enough time to fully appreciate the development of the institute, the presenters’ experiences sharing the curriculum, and the participants’ experiences.  I can only hope the presentation team collaborates with the participants and shares their reflections in a journal article. I have no doubt that many readers would enjoy learning from their experiences.

Diliana’s Pick

A Double Shot of Leadership: Lessons Learned from Starbucks

There is something to be learned from one of the largest and most successful companies in the world: Starbucks. While I had never thought about the company that delivers my daily cup of joe as a model to serve students, I must admit that I was impressed with how the presenters made these connections. There are five key tenets that Starbucks has utilized to grow their company and to maintain happy and loyal customers. These are:

  1.  Make it your own: Be welcoming; be genuine; be considerate; be knowledgeable; and be involved
  2. Everything Matters – Retail is Detail: Create an environment and make the experience a bigger stop
  3. Encourage a Felt Sense –  Everyone Matters: Surprise and Delight Your Customers (your students)
  4. Embrace Resistance: Profit From Praise and Value Criticism
  5. Leave Your Mark: Invest in People and Encourage Volunteerism

If we think of each of these tenets and apply them in the work that we do with students we can create an environment for them that is supportive and welcoming – one where their voices matter and where they are included in the process as partners. For me, the second principle, “Everything Matters,” really resonated with my own work with students. You just never know what small or large action, conversation, comment, etc. will impact the students that you serve. If we keep this principle in mind we are in better shape to develop intentional mechanisms that support students.

We would love to hear about your favorite sessions at ACPA – please share these in the comments section.


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