Great Times #CACUSS15

The Supporting Student Success research team had an amazing time connecting with old friends and making new ones this past week in Vancouver. A big thank you to SFU and the #CACUSS15 conference planning team for putting together such a tremendous professional development event. Looking out what is arguably the most beautiful window in Canada, it gave attendees place and space to reflect on how the whole campus can support the whole student.


We were thrilled to share tips on survey design, findings from Phase 3 of the research study and opportunities to highlight innovative programs and initiatives on the Blueprints for Student Success website. In rooms that had people standing as well as sitting on the floor, conference attendees talked about developing better student surveys and improving outreach to faculty and other student affairs and services staff. Throughout the conference, folks stopped us in the hallways wanting to talk more and asking for our slides. We will post these in the coming week to the main portion of the blog as well as to the Publications/Presentations tab. So stay tuned!

If you came to one of our sessions and have suggestions on how we can better present the content, please “leave a reply.” We are putting together an infographic and would love to incorporate your thoughts and ideas.

Finally, we invite you to take a look at the awesome poster that Diliana Peregrina-Kretz and Kim Elias shared on how people feel encouraged to partner to support student success on their campus. CACUSS 2015 Poster Presentation_SSS


It was a time of great celebration. Although some of our team members weren’t able to join us, they were definitely there in spirit. Thanks to all who made this such a special conference.


Working Smarter not Harder: Communities of Practice and Organizational Learning

If there was ever a time in which higher education administrators were asked to work smarter and not harder, it is now. One need look no further than to the numerous examples of institutions involved in some form of prioritization planning process (PPP) to see that efficiency and accountability to institutional mission and mandate rule the day.

Postsecondary institutions are in the midst of substantial organizational change, in large part as a result of financial constraints. Administrators are looking for ways to serve more students (I’m unaware of any institution recruiting fewer students) and typically students with more diverse backgrounds (first generation students, international students, mature learners, Aboriginal students, students with disabilities) but often with a budget that isn’t any larger than the previous year.

How to support a more diverse student body in achieving their personal and academic goals on a reduced budget (whether that reduction is in real or proportionate terms) while doing so in a way that is efficient and aligns with the institutional mission and mandate. These are challenging questions and ones that the Supporting Student Success research team heard at a number of institutions during our site visits.

It’s interesting how postsecondary institutions and postsecondary professional associations face related challenges in terms of meeting needs and expectations in ways that are flexible and nimble. Like many colleges and universities in the Supporting Student Success study, the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS) is in the midst of organizational change. From six divisions affiliated under a broad umbrella, CACUSS is responding to member interests and needs through the organic development of Communities of Practice (CoPs).

Etienne Wenger and colleagues (2002) define CoPs as “groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis” (p. 4). They can connect people, provide a shared context, enable dialogue, capture and diffuse existing knowledge, stimulate learning, and generate new knowledge (Cambridge, Kaplan & Suter, 2005).

I had the opportunity to facilitate a dialogue at #CACUSS2014 about CoPs and how they can be effective in both meeting members’ professional development needs and advancing CACUSS’ goals. Similar to postsecondary institutions where an issue like supporting student paraprofessionals spans across functional areas like orientation, residence life and health promotion (to name a few), interest in this and similar issues spans across CACUSS divisions. Rather than duplicate the conversation across multiple divisions, the CoP model allows members from across the association to find one another, share practices and develop resources that inform and advance one’s practice.

The Supporting Student Success team heard about the power of CoPs during phase 1 and 2 data collection. At one institution, a respondent shared about the value of bringing people from across the division together to discuss student leadership development. The perspectives varied and from learning together the staff were able to work efficiently and synergistically to strengthen the support they provided student leaders.

At another institution, we experienced the potential forming of a CoP as a result of the focus group. In this situation, focus group participants learned that they both were involved in developing peer mentoring programs but didn’t know of the other person’s work. At the end of the focus group, they exchanged information and set a time to meet to discuss developing joint training materials.

I’m a big advocate of finding ways to work smarter rather than harder. For me, this naturally means looking for opportunities to partner, collaborate, share resources, and look for synergies of what I’m doing with what others are doing. I see Communities of Practice as a means for community members to learn from one another in ways that inform and improve practice. From a higher education administrator perspective, CoPs may provide additional knowledge and ability to leverage resources to best support a more diverse student body. From a CACUSS member’s perspective, engaging in a CoP (or several CoPs) may allow one to seek professional development and contribute to the professional development of others along the multiple facets of one’s professional identity.

I think we are in for many more days of fiscal restraint. In the current political climate, the pressure toward efficiency and accountability is likely to grow stronger. This has implications for both higher education administrators and the professional associations that aim to meet the professional development needs of those administrators. As Cambridge, Kaplan and Suter note, CoPs have the potential to help people organize, introduce collaborative processes, share existing knowledge and generate new knowledge — all important aspects in today’s world.

I want to hear from you! Please share your experience as a member of a CoP in the comments section below.

By Tricia Seifert, Primary Investigator for Supporting Student Success research study.

Supporting Student Success Presentations at #CACUSS2014

CACUSS 2014 (#CACUSS2014) is less than a week away and the Supporting Student Success team is excited to present in a number of sessions. This post showcases the three sessions directly related to our ongoing research project as well as other presentations which involve members of the research team. For those who are not able to attend the conference in Halifax, we will post our presentation slides after the conference. Please check out the “Presentations and Publications” tab in late June.cacuss photo

Project-Related Presentations

301 – Blueprints for Student Success: Improving High School Students’ Awareness of Student Affairs And Services: Presented by: Christine Arnold and Kathleen Moore
Student affairs and services (SAS) have become integral components of Canadian colleges and universities. Increasing high school students’ awareness of service areas, programs and initiatives is imperative in order for students to make informed decisions regarding involvement, academics and health/wellness. This presentation will engage participants in our research-based Blueprints for Student Success website and mobile application developed to provide high school students with the knowledge and language necessary to navigate their transition to postsecondary education. Monday, June 9, 3:30-4:00 Session # 301, 200C2

602 – It’s All About What You Ask Them: Using Cognitive Interviews to Improve Student Assessment: Presented by Jeffrey Burrow, Diliana Peregrina-Kretz, and Tricia Seifert
The assessment of programs and services is a crucial step in improving and understanding student learning and development. Cognitive interviews can improve the quality of student affairs assessments by uncovering the cognitive processes participants use in responding to questions. This learning lab will introduce the theory and practice of CI’s and will highlight how they can improve assessment. Participants are asked to bring their own assessment examples so they can conduct mini-cognitive interviews during the session. Tuesday, June 10, 1:45 – 3:00, Session #602, Meeting Room #4

913 – How Do You Know? Why Do You Think So? Using Research to Inform Practice: Presented by: Tricia Seifert, Janet Morrison, David McMurray, and Karen Cornies
This panel presentation highlights the experiences of senior student affairs and services leaders in using research from the Supporting Student Success study. The panelists will share how they have used the findings from this research broadly, and in some cases their institution’s data specifically, to foster conversations with colleagues about the role of student affairs and services in supporting student success, re-organize and structure a division, and influence organizational culture. Wednesday, June 11, 9:30-10:45, Session #913, Suite 307

Members of the Supporting Student Success research team are also presenting in several other sessions. We invite you to check out their great work.

305 – Employer Perceptions of Co-Curricular Engagement and the Co-Curricular Record in the Hiring Process: Presented by Kimberly Elias
Universities and colleges promote the value of co-curricular engagement and the Co-Curricular Record (CCR) as a means to highlight transferable skills to employers. Listen to the results of a thesis study which examines the question: How are co-curricular experiences and the CCR perceived and valued by employers in the hiring process? This study explored current hiring processes, competencies and factors employers look for, and perceptions of the value of the CCR in the hiring process. Monday, June 9, 3:30-4:00, Session #305, Suite 306

411 – OPEN BOOK: Recent Literature in Student Affairs: Deanne Fisher, Rob Shea, Tricia Seifert, Ross McMillan, John Austin, Tamara Leary and Jeff Burrow
Each year, the Open Book session introduces participants to relevant and recent literature – good and bad – in student affairs and related fields. Our panel of readers present mini-reviews of books that have influenced our practice and the institutions in which we operate. This usually provokes a conversation about the big ideas that shape our work. Audience participation is encouraged! Monday, June 9, 4:15-5:30, Session # 411 Suite 205

90 Ideas in 90 Minutes: Research and Assessment section: Tricia Seifert and Jeff Burrow: Tuesday, June 10 | 8:45–10:30, 200C2

501 – Moving Forward – Transitioning Beyond the First Year: Presented by: Adina Burden, Diliana Peregrina-Kretz, and Lake Porter
The growing number of students with disabilities enrolling in post-secondary education requires that institutions provide comprehensive and tailored programs to meet their unique needs. Transition programs that introduce students to campus and student life are an integral component in supporting students with disabilities acclimate to the new environment. This session will provide participants with tools necessary to develop a successful transition program for students with disabilities including: planning, executing, and follow-up programming to support students. Tuesday, June 10, 11:15-12:30, Session #518, Meeting Room #4

518 – Understanding Icky: Making Difficult Ethical Decisions in Student Affairs: Presented by Chris McGrath and Tricia Seifert
We all make tough decisions under tough circumstances. But when the difficult choice results in a negative outcome for our students, our personal and professional ethics can easily collide. This is an opportunity to learn about models of moral and ethical decision making in professional practice, and to begin mapping our “moral languages” (Nash, 1996) towards a better understanding of how we make tough professional choices. Tuesday, June 10, 11:15-12:30, Session #518, Suite 202

605 – Navigating Transition Through Online Mentorship: Presented by: Leah McCormack-Smith and Steve Masse
In the spring of 2013, we rejuvenated our student transition program by pursuing a unique experiment with e-mentorship. Informed by current theories of student engagement and best practices emerging from our campus Student Communications Summit, we committed to matching our entire first-year class with successful upper-year e-mentors. During this session we will introduce you to the program, share our successes and challenges, as well as discuss our plans for the future! Tuesday, June 10, 1:45-3:00, Session #605, Suite 306

801 – Transfer Literacy: Assessing Informational Symmetries And Asymmetries: Presented by Christine Arnold
International researchers have voiced concerns regarding students’ understanding of credit transfer and the resulting impediments. An investigation of students’ clarity and confusion with credit transfer processes centers on the existent information system in place and its accessibility. In the Ontario context, this information system includes government/agencies, institutional administrators and students. This research seeks to examine the extent to which the college-to-university transfer information system is performing efficiently and identify (a)symmetries existent in stakeholders’ understanding of this process. Tuesday, June 10 4:15-4:45, Session #801, Room 200C2

1002 – Co-Curricular Record/Transcript: Establishing Standards and a Community of Support: Presented by Kimberly Elias and Chris Glove
The rapid adoption of the Co-Curricular Record/Transcript (CCR/T) program across Canada created a need for the CCR/T Professionals Network to form. This network recently met in May 2014 to develop a framework of recommendations on how CCR/T’s should be structured in Canada as it pertains to quality and standards. Participate in the ongoing discussion and share your thoughts and feedback on the recommendations developed at the Summit. No experience with CCR/T is needed to participate. Wednesday, June 11, 2014 11:15-12:30, Session #1002, Suite 202

We hope your conference is a great one, and that you are able to attend some of the eleven (11!) presentations we have featured here, as well as the dozens and dozens of other, amazing presentations scheduled for CACUSS 2014. See you in Halifax!

#CACUSS2013: Re-living the Passion! in Three Acts

Like any romantic drama, #CACUSS2013 has been full of Passion!, this year’s annual conference theme. Befitting of Montreal, conference attendees experienced this passion in a multitude of ways. Over the course of the next three posts, the Supporting Student Success research team will share their perspective on how Passion! radiated from this year’s conference presentations and activities.

The curtains went up on the first act displaying a Passion for wellness. In collaboration with the Canadian Mental Health Association, CACUSS released their Post-Secondary Student Mental Health: Guide to a Systemic Approach. The press has been out in force covering the story on the launch of this much needed suite of resources, including a webinar learning series. Check out articles published in the Globe and Mail and the Ottawa Citizen.  Congratulations and thank you to CACUSS and CMHA for developing a resource that will provide students and postsecondary staff and faculty with tools to address one of the most significant issues on postsecondary campuses today. 

But mental wellness was only part of this act’s passion for wellness. There were several sessions on physical, sexual and emotional health and wellness, including sessions on movement (check out @MoveUofT), on-campus sexual health resources at McGill (@ShapShop) and UBC, and a research study conducted at the University of Toronto-Scarborough’s Health & Wellness Centre which examined the relationship between students’ strengths and their ability to flourish.

And while student health and wellness is important, it is difficult to support students if we are not healthy and well ourselves. This act of the play, Passion!, came to a close with a number of sessions focusing on staff and faculty members’ exercising self-care so that we can be more present and available for supporting students. There was a session titled, “ComPASSION . . . the essential fuel on the road to fulfillment” and another titled “Come Alive – Integrating Personal Passions into your Professional Role to Create an Exceptional Environment for Students.” Couple these with the session, “Get the Health Outdoors” and it was clear that taking care of oneself is necessary (albeit often overlooked) part of the supporting student success picture.

Personally, I started some of my self-care program while in Montreal. I ran to the top of Mount Royal behind McGill several times during my visit. I breathed in the crisp morning air while my lungs burned with the exertion. It was a perfect way to begin the day. I also began the daily examen, a reflective practice of reviewing the day with gratitude.

So as we move into summer—that time where we can breathe and reflect on the past year while simultaneously planning  for the year to come— I invite you to share your strategies for taking care of yourself this summer: physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.Please leave a comment so that we might learn from and inspire each other.

The passion for wellness was alive and well at CACUSS 2013. Check in Monday, June 24 when we share the second act of Passion! from CACUSS 2013.  


Teaser Video: Two Roads Met in a Yellow Wood

We look forward to seeing you at CACUSS 2013 for our presentation Two Roads Met in a Yellow Wood: Faculty and Staff Perceptions of Student Success. The team is presenting on Tuesday, June 18 from 4-5:15PM in room W215 Arts. Please see page 35 of the conference program for more information.


Finding Your Way During Conference Season: A first time attendee looks back at AERA13

In late April I attended the American Educational Research Association conference in San Francisco. It was nearly a month ago, but with a few conferences coming up in June I wanted to reflect on what I remember.AERA2013_Banner_Homepage

I remember it was BIG. The largest conference I have ever been at. I think at the #ACPA13 keynote address they said there were 6,000 or 7,000 guests including the NIRSA delegates. AERA was more than twice that size with about 15,500 registrants. It’s a monster and had2,400 sessions and 6,000 presenters scattered over at least 6 hotels. And at 452 pages, the program guide was bigger than most municipal phone books I have seen.

It was BROAD & DEEP. AERAs’ divisional structure covers nearly any angle of academic research you can imagine. K-12, curriculum studies, social contexts of education, teaching to teacher education. Post-secondary education (#AERADiv_J) is what I would call ‘home’. But even Division J has 6 sections within it! However I am also attached to the Measurement and Research Methodology group, which is Division D and, as a current doctoral student I am a member of, the very large (and well organized) Graduate Student contingent.

Wait there’s more. AERA also has a very large number of Special Interest Groups (SIGS).  There are at least 100 of these and they cover issues that cut across the divisional structures like Private Education, Survey Research, or Post-Colonial Studies. So there are no shortages of places for newcomers to use as a ‘base’ for the conference.

It was FORMAL. By this I mean that the most common session was 3 or 4 papers grouped into similar topics like one session Tricia Seifert presented in called ‘Assessing Teaching Contexts, Strategies & Outcomes’. Each paper (they are presentations based on pre submitted academic papers) had about 15 minutes to present, followed by 15 minutes from the discussant talking about each paper’s (strengths/weaknesses) and common themes, followed hopefully by a few minutes of questions from the audience.

But it had VARIETY. In any 90 minute block there were usually 80 sessions, plus any 60 or so roundtable discussions. These also had 3 papers, a discussant, but the audience, sat around them, making it a little less formal and more conversational. There were poster sessions with maybe 50 presentations several times a day usually organized around a few themes. There were keynote lectures. There were invited responses to conference themes. There was a Film Festival.

It was very active in SOCIAL MEDIA. Search Twitter for #aera13 and you will see what I mean. Also a number of the very large keynote addresses had hashtags set up in the program beforehand.

It had some BIG NAMES. Depending on your line of work and research, many of the big names were present. For those interested in research methods you could see presentations by John Creswell. Interested in critical theory? Michael Apple and Peter McLaren were presenting. And in the higher ed world Laura Perna, Adriana Kezar and Kristen Renn were each a part of numerous sessions. And from what I saw and experienced, everyone was very willing to take time to talk.

There was some CONTROVERSY. (Search Google/Twitter for Arne Duncan AERA).  That particular controversy was given a forum, and a process to discuss the issues was set up. Surely, not everyone was satisfied with that process, or the outcome, but AERA recognized how important the discussion was for many members.

I enjoyed AERA this year, but know there was lot of unrealized opportunity. All conferences need a plan, and this is especially trye for for me and AERA14. And with the annual Congress/Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education and CACUSS  coming up I’ve thought a bit about how to have a better conference experience; especially when it’s your first time attending.

What You Can Do

  1. Review the program schedule carefully, identify your preferred session and have a backup in case you get sidetracked or something gets cancelled. With that read the abstract and the title carefully.
  2. Talk to people who have been there before to learn about the key events, experiences, cultures and people that you may not know about or don’t jump off the page while you are planning the sessions you will attend.
  3. Have a 30-second talk ready for when someone asks you about your research and/or work.
  4. Try to engage deeply with a few people, rather than meeting everyone.
  5. Attend orientation and welcome sessions, roundtables, panel discussions, and anything with free food! These are some of the best places to meet new people.
  6. Think about your networks. They are larger than you realize. Both your institution and your area of work or research.
  7. Follow up during and after the conference.
  8. Volunteer. Most divisions, interest groups etc are always looking for volunteers to help out.

What the Conference Can Do

  1. Host 1st-timer and newcomer sessions – Both before the conference and as the conference begins. Kristen Renn hosted a great webcast for newcomers to AERA13 that really helped me plan my time there.
  2. Mix up the program with large plenary talks, paper/presentations, roundtables, films, Pecha Kucha sessions, learning labs. Recognize multiple learning styles!
  3. Ask for feedback! AERA_DivJ had a full session on improving the conference experience.
  4. Give some of the conference away for free. Pick a few sessions, have them webcasted for free to anyone – member or not. This is a way to introduce your organization and conference, and encourage participation and attendance next year.
  5. Set up hashtags for each session and put them in the program guide. A+ to ACPA 2013 for starting this!

These are just a few random thoughts as we move deeper into conference season. We would love to hear what advice seasoned conference-goers and newcomers have for maximizing their conference experiences!

Student Affairs and Services in Global Perspective

Typically our blog focuses on research, findings, presentations and musing related to the ongoing Supporting Student Success research project. As we wrap up sharing preliminary findings with each of the participating institutions, we will begin our cross-site analysis and continue to plan for presentations at Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education in Victoria and CACUSS in Montreal in what promises to be a very busy and exciting summer.

However, this week we wanted to share something a little different. The International Association of Student Affairs and Services (IASAS) has started a research project to look at the practice of student affairs and services around the globe. Some of you may have already received this invitation and we are grateful to the nearly 100 people who have already responded. If you have not participated yet, we encourage you to do so. Either way we want your voices included as part of this project and hope you can share this message broadly with your colleagues, locally, nationally and beyond!

The formal invitation and survey link are below. Thank you again for reading and participating.


In recent years, two books have provided an organizational perspective of student affairs and services practice from around the world. Whether you work in residence life, career or job placement services, academic learning support services, counseling or in another area that serves to support students, we would like to hear from you!

This research study seeks to understand the experiences of postsecondary/tertiary staff members. As a subscriber to a listserv for student affairs and services practitioners, we invite you to help develop this understanding by completing a brief 15 minute survey in which you will be asked about your job position, duties and background. We intend to use the results from this survey to share information about student affairs and services work in a global context and provide resources and a support network for those working in the field.

We invite you to share the survey link with other staff colleagues not part of the listserv. A copy of the results from this study will be available on the IASAS Web site. You will be notified through this listserv when the results are available.

To access the survey, please click here. If the survey does not open automatically, please copy and paste the following link to your Web browser’s address bar.

If you have any questions regarding the content of the survey or want to know how we intend to use the data, please do not “reply” to this email. Rather, direct all study questions to Dr. Tricia Seifert at

Please help contribute to our understanding of the experiences of student affairs and services staff by completing the survey.


Tricia Seifert, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto
Brett Perozzi, Weber State University
Mary Ann Bodine Al-Sharif, Florida State College
Katie Wildman, Hamad bin Khalifa University, Qatar Foundation