Preparing New Professionals in Student Affairs: A Supervisory Model to Maximize Graduate Student Success


Preparing New Professionals in Student Affairs: A Supervisory Model to Maximize Graduate Student Success
Katelyn Romsa
Bryan Romsa
South Dakota State University

Effective preparation for graduate students pursuing work in the field of college student affairs most often includes both a formal classroom experience as well as a supervised practical experience, such as internships or graduate assistantships (Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education, 2012). A formal classroom experience typically consists of specific learning outcomes, regular and structured class meetings, and educational experiences designed by the instructor. This experience is vital to graduate student growth and development but is insufficient in preparing them for the real-world experiences they will soon face. Although supervised experiences have historically been a required component of preparation programs’ curricula (McEwen & Talbot, 1977), strategically designed and executed supervised experiences are vital in preparing new professionals to thrive within the rapidly changing landscape of higher education.

With the constant pace and complexity of changes occurring at higher education institutions student affairs professionals will be required to manage more ambiguous contexts in environments demanding a greater degree of responsiveness (Levine & Dean, 2012; Selingo, 2013). Although the learning that occurs in a classroom is important, researchers have found that having a supervised internship experience in addition to classroom instruction is more effective for student learning and development (CAS, 2012). The effect of intentional design in internship, which includes purposeful actions, often leads to successful outcomes (Bruening, Peachey, Evanovich, Fuller, Murty, Percy, & Chung, 2015).

Given the fast change and complexity of higher education contexts, graduate students will need to develop increasingly complex thinking and intuitive problem solving skills during their practical experiences (graduate assistantships or internships), which will likely generalize to new situations that they may encounter during their first professional position (Reber, 1993; Sheckley & Keeton, 2001). Faculty and site supervisors can serve a critical role in helping graduate students achieve these necessary skills prior to graduation through the development of strategic assistantship/internship experiences.

As faculty members who have had experience teaching graduate students involved in an assistantship/internship experience, we want to provide insights to other faculty supervisors and site supervisors as to the manner and design of a strategic supervised assistantship/internship experience to maximize graduate student success. In this article we provide a supervisory model for supervisors to help them create and design effective supervised experiences to best prepare graduate students preparing to transition from graduate school to work in the field of college student affairs. The intended audience of this article are faculty and site supervisors at all levels, both seasoned and novice, who are supervising graduate students preparing to transition from graduate school to work in the field of college student affairs.

Why is Strategic Supervision Important?
In order for faculty and site supervisors to best prepare graduate students for work in the field of college student affairs, they will need to be strategic in their supervision approach. A relevant question to answer then is, “why is strategic supervision important”? Strategic supervision can be important because it provides supervisors with a road map of how to help their supervisees achieve specific learning outcomes and work responsibilities (Bruening et al., 2015).

Strategic planning was first introduced in the business world in the 1950s and has led to the success of many businesses, and many of its characteristics can be transferred to the field of college student affairs when supervising graduate students (Steiner, 2010). Strategic planning is a mindset or a way of life. It is having a macro level mindset of specific aims or goals as well as a micro level mindset of clearly defined strategies to achieve those goals. It provides both supervisors and graduate students an opportunity to decide goals in advance while simultaneously allowing room for flexibility of those goals (Steiner, 2010).

In our supervisory model, we have essentially created a strategic plan to help supervisors become more intentional in their supervision with graduate students. Our model consists of attitudes, strategies, and practical ideas that supervisors can implement to maximize graduate student success. Our supervisory model is inspired from the work of Janosik, Cooper, Saunders, and Hirt (2014) and consists of five components: (a) conducting a personal skills assessment, (b) setting realistic expectations, (c) developing a contract for the experience, (d) understanding the roles of each person, and (e) assisting graduate students in achieving life-school-work balance.

Conducting a personal skills assessment
A great place to start when beginning a supervised assistantship/internship experience with graduate students is with assessment. Conducting a thorough assessment of the skills graduate students bring to an internship site as well as the skills students need to improve upon is an excellent tool for developing goals and responsibilities for the experience. By completing an assessment, students create a profile of their (a) current skill level and (b) necessary skill level that must be developed prior to graduation. This will allow students to determine ways in which their internship can be a vehicle for them to meet the appropriate skill levels.

How do graduate students know what skills they should be striving to work towards during their internship to best prepare themselves for the field of college student affairs? ACPA and NASPA leaders of the student affairs profession have created a document of 10 competency areas such as advising and helping and assessment (ACPA & NASPA, 2010) that are essential to student affairs practice. A major purpose for the document is to inform the design of professional development opportunities for student affairs professionals by providing outcomes that can be incorporated into student affairs curriculum and training opportunities. In our classes with graduate students, we created a handout that lists these 10 competency areas where students rank their current skill set (on a scale from 0-5 with 5 being excellent and 0 having no skill). Although we only provided this handout to our graduate students in the classroom, we encourage supervisors to do something similar so that they can also be involved in the assessment of the graduate students they supervise.

We also created two qualitative assessment handouts for both faculty/site supervisors and supervisees titled “Interview Your Supervisee” and “Interview Your Supervisor.” Oftentimes when we want to obtain information, we feel stuck in what, when, and how to ask questions. Some of the questions listed on the “Interview Your Supervisee” handout include: tell me about your academic background; what are your professional aspirations?; and what are some skills that you possess that are an asset to this office and what skills do you wish to improve upon? We created the handout to help faculty/site supervisors to get to know their supervisees better as well as to help supervisees in developing a sense of curiosity and a habit of asking effective questions, which will also help them in the future while working in the field of college student affairs.

A major purpose of the “Interview Your Supervisor” handout was to help graduate students obtain information that could be helpful in developing goals. Some of the questions listed on the “Interview Your Supervisor” handout include tell me about your career path, what are the responsibilities of your position, and what do you most enjoy about your current position. We encourage supervisors to also create qualitative assessments and to incorporate them into their supervision meetings with graduate students throughout the assistantship/internship experience.

After conducting a skills assessment with graduate students, we encourage graduate students to then develop their goals for the assistantship/internship experience. Scholars have affirmed the importance of writing down goals in order for them to become a reality (Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 1997). Similarly, if supervisors encourage graduate students to write down their goals for the experience, they will also be more likely to achieve their goals and make the most of their experience.

Setting realistic expectations
After conducting an assessment(s) of graduate student’s skills and developing goals, supervisors will be ready to set realistic expectations for the assistantship/internship experience. This can be broken down into internal opportunities on campus and external opportunities off campus. When thinking about internal opportunities, it will be important for supervisors to discuss how they expect their supervisees to be involved within their office and/or on campus such as attending staff meetings, committees, and/or technology and multicultural opportunities. When considering external opportunities, it will be important for supervisors to discuss how they expect their supervisees to be involved off campus such as attendance at and/or involvement in professional organizations and conferences. We feel that it will be important for supervisors and their graduate students to consider all of the internal and external opportunities available to their students to help them to best develop and improve upon their skills. In addition, it can be a great exercise to help supervisors and graduate students to intentionally design the assistantship/internship experience by linking experiences to goal setting.

Another important area to address with graduate students is the importance of legal and ethical issues. As faculty members we created a legal and ethical issues handout that asked students to write down a list of the major activities they do at their graduate practicum and internship sites such as the following: answering phone calls, handling confidential files, attending meetings where sensitive information is shared, distributing information to students/parents, participating in hiring practices, operating office equipment, supervising others in or away from the work site, and/or planning events. Next, we had them rate the potential of liability of each activity. This is an excellent exercise for supervisors to do with their graduate students as a learning tool to identify the potential of liability as well as to better understand the training that supervisors should provide and expectations they should address with their graduate students to minimize liability and maximize success.

Developing a contract for the experience
Developing a contract is a great way for faculty/site supervisors and their graduate student to write down and outline the goals and realistic expectations they have for the assistantship/internship experience. It will be important for supervisors and graduate students to create the contract at the beginning of the experience, so that expectations are clear right from the start. When we taught graduate students involved in a practicum and internship class, we required our students to take the lead in creating this document, but they were required to ask their supervisors for feedback and approval. Students were to include the following elements in their contract: a purpose statement, goals/objectives, activities, skills or competencies, proposed work schedule and time for each activity, and signatures of the student and faculty/site supervisor(s). We found that it was also helpful to add a section for the faculty/site supervisor’s responsibilities, so that they were also aware of what was expected of them such as: (a) meeting with the student once a week for one hour of supervision; (b) providing orientation and ongoing training; (c) providing feedback to the student; and (d) identifying resources that the student will need to be successful during the experience (e.g., personnel, facilities, equipment, and financial and insurance needs).

Although we required our graduate students to create the document, we encourage supervisors to be contributors. Supervisors could create a list of specific expectations they want to be on the contract before meeting with their graduate students. Being prepared ahead of time will assist supervisors to articulate the roles and responsibilities not only of graduate students but also of themselves.

Most importantly, it is our hope that the contract represents what graduate students hope to contribute and achieve during their supervised experience. Knowing graduate students’ dreams, goals, and ambitions will help faculty/site supervisors to be more intentional in designing the assistantship/internship experience by matching and/or creating opportunities that will allow graduate students to reach and achieve those initiatives. Reviewing and updating the contract throughout the academic year will also be important for supervisors and students to stay on task and make sure that goals are being met.

Understanding the roles of each person
From teaching graduate students involved in an assistantship/internship experience, we have learned how important it is for graduate students and supervisors to understand each other holistically. Graduate students bring much strength to the internship setting such as their skills, experience, and a fresh perspective. Given their role as graduate students, they also bring a wealth of knowledge from the courses they have recently taken or are currently taking (e.g, theories, crisis intervention, multicultural counseling, and administration in higher education). In addition to work and school, graduate students are also balancing their personal lives. We discovered that when faculty/site supervisors understood that their graduate students were balancing many life roles, they had a much greater level of empathy, understanding, and realization of how their student intern’s strengths could be best utilized and stretched. In addition, when the supervisor understood what courses graduate students have taken or were taken, they were better able to have discussions about how real-world work situations connected with their coursework.

While working and communicating with faculty/site supervisors, we found a reoccurring theme of faculty/site supervisors not giving themselves enough credit of the incredible role that they can have on their graduate students professional and personal lives. In other words, the vehicle of students’ learning and development often occurs through a positive working relationship with their supervisor. The importance of the supervisory relationship in students/clients’ development has been supported by several scholars, including Loganbill, Hardy, and Delworth’s (1982) developmental model of supervision. As most solid relationships require an investment of time, it is most often during 1:1 weekly supervision meetings when a supervisory relationship will blossom while supervisors take the time to teach, actively listen, and genuinely care for their graduate students.

Supervisors are not only professionals who provide orientation and training to their students, they are also educators and developmental mentors (Janosik et al., 2014).
We created two handouts to help faculty/site supervisors become the best educators and developmental mentors they can be. The first document we created was a live supervision form where supervisors are to (a) observe and/or listen to their student during a “live” encounter that their student has at their internship and (b) document and provide feedback to the student about that event/experience. We had our faculty/site supervisors do this six times throughout the academic year. We saw how impactful those live supervisions were both to faculty/site supervisors and graduate students in sharing or receiving important feedback, developing goals, and developing their relationship.

The second handout we created was a journal entry handout that graduate students were to fill out weekly and share with their faculty/site supervisors occasionally. Students were to write down a recent event while outlining a description of it as well as their thoughts, feelings, and plans for action because of the event. This handout was a very effective tool for teaching graduate students a way in which they can become reflective practitioners.

Assisting students in achieving life-school-work balance
When discussing the roles of the assistantship/internship experience, we mentioned the importance for supervisors to holistically mentor and educate graduate students. When teaching and working with graduate students, faculty/student affairs professionals may think of students holistically but often think of their primary identity as “graduate students” or “graduate interns” depending upon their role as faculty or student affairs professionals. We encourage supervisors to view graduate students in a balanced triadic order of life-school-work balance. We encourage supervisors to think of “life” at the top of the triangle with “school” and “work” balanced at the bottom two corners of the triangle. In this article we have addressed the school and work items, and now we want to emphasize the importance of the lives or personal needs of graduate students. When considering the personal identity of graduate students, we encourage supervisors to think of graduate students’ well being, which includes their health, happiness, and prosperity.

In our years of working with faculty/site supervisors, we discovered those who were most effective were the supervisors who cared about students as people first and as employees/students second. Contrary to this, those supervisors who lacked a genuine interest or care about the satisfactory condition of their graduate students seemed to have more conflict in their work settings, and oftentimes their graduate students lacked a sense of belonging to their office. We encourage faculty/site supervisors to engage in appropriate conversations with their graduate students to get to know them as human beings. One way supervisors can do this is by asking their graduate students about their goals and aspirations, which will begin a dialogue that will often lead to a healthy and lasting relationship. As graduate students come to understand their supervisor’s care and investment for their lives, they will be even more eager to learn from them and receive their mentorship.

Scholars have concluded that a successful assistantship/internship experience is most often one that is intentional in its design (Bruening, Peachey, Evanovich, Fuller, Murty, Percy, & Chung, 2015). With the constant pace and complexity of changes occurring at higher education institutions graduate students are needing to be more prepared than ever to manage more ambiguous contexts in environments demanding a greater degree of responsiveness (Levine & Dean, 2012; Selingo, 2013). In order to best prepare graduate students for these changes as they transition from graduate school to work in the field of college student affairs, we recommend faculty/site supervisors to be strategic in their supervision approach. It is our sincere hope that our five component supervisory model will provide faculty/site supervisors with a road map of attitudes, strategies, and practical ideas that they can implement to maximize graduate student success.

Discussion Questions
1. How might you apply some of the concepts addressed in this article to your current supervision style?
2. What expectations do you have for the graduate students whom you supervise? How and when have you communicated those expectations to them?
3. What role has assessment had in the development of expectations for the assistantship/internship experience?
4. How can you help graduate students put their goals into practice as they transition to work in the field of college student affairs?
5. How can you assist graduate students in achieving life-school-work balance?

ACPA & NASPA. (2010). Professional competency areas for student affairs practitioners. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from
Bruening, J. E., Peachey, J. W., Evanovich, J. M., Fuller, R. D., Murty, C. J. C., Percy, V. E., & Chung, M. (2015). Managing sport for social change: The effects of intentional design and structure in a sport-based service learning initiative. Sport Management Review, 18(1), 69-85.
Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS).
(2012). CAS
professional standards for higher education (8th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Janosik, S. M., Cooper, D. L., Saunders, S. A., & Hirt, J. B. (2014).
Learning through supervised practice in student affairs (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.
Levine, A., & Dean, D. (2012). Generation on a tight rope: A portrait of
today’s college student. San Francisco: CA: Jossey Bass.
Loganbill, C., Hardy, E. and Delworth, U. (1982). Supervision, a
conceptual model. The Counseling Psychologist, 10(1), 3-42.
McEwen, M. L., & Talbot, D.M. (1977). Designing the student affairs curriculum. In N. J. Evans & C. E. Phelps-Tobin (Eds.), The state of the art of preparation and practice in student affairs: Another look (pp. 125-156). Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Reber, A. S. (1993). Implicit learning and tactic knowledge: An essay on the cognitive unconscious. Oxford Psychological Series, No. 19. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Selingo, J. J. (2013). College unbound: The future of higher education
and what it means for students. Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt.
Sheckley, B. G., & Keeton, M. T. (2001). Improving employee development: Perspectives from research and practice. Chicago, IL: Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.
Steiner, G. A. (2010). Strategic planning. London: Simon and Schuster.

Zimmerman, B. J., & Kitsantas, A. (1997). Developmental phases in self-
regulation: Shifting from process goals to outcome goals. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(1), 29.

About the Authors
Katelyn Romsa, Assistant Professor of Counseling and Human Development at South Dakota State University, has nine years of higher education experience in both practitioner and scholarly roles. Katelyn’s research interests include the evolution of student-faculty interactions, what matters to millennial college students, preparing graduate students for success, and initiatives to improve student retention and satisfaction.

Bryan Romsa, Assistant Professor of Sport Management at South Dakota State University, has been working as a college professor for the last seven years. Bryan’s research interests include cultural learning through a sport tourism experience, students’ perceptions of leadership behaviors through service learning, and preparing graduate students for success. Both Katelyn and Bryan have taught practicum and internship courses to graduate students pursuing a master’s degree in College Student Affairs or Sport Management. Katelyn and Bryan have created several handouts aligned with the five components of the supervisory model.

Please email inquiries to Katelyn Romsa or Bryan Romsa.

The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Guidelines for Positive Experiential Learning Experiences for Students and Supervisors


Guidelines for Positive Experiential Learning Experiences for Students and Supervisors

Amber Fallucca
University of South Carolina

Overview – Assessment Practicums and Internships

Many higher education and student affairs (HESA) graduate programs promote engagement in first-hand experiential learning experiences for students to learn about the varied types of positions and professional duties existing in the field. Often referred to as practicums, internships, or experiential learning opportunities, HESA programs may require this field experience in a half-semester, full semester, or summer term, and they may or may not be credit-bearing. For the field-based supervisors, the additional “hands-on support” in the office or program can be perceived as both a blessing and minor challenge as finding the correct amount and appropriate types of activities to shape a comprehensive view of their unit, or expertise area, can be daunting. For the student, the exposure gained from the experience and developing skillset can be difficult to articulate if not pinpointed early as part of the internship design. For example, can supervisors articulate what skills or knowledge the field students will be gaining from the personalized experience? Is there a roadmap to help ensure the student and supervisor will have a quality and engaged learning opportunity benefitting both parties?

In my professional role as a director of assessment in a university housing department, I provide leadership across assessment design of residential engagement outcomes and staff satisfaction, summative program evaluation, and documentation of departmental strategic planning. I regularly supervise 1-3 practicum students across varied lengths, including the half-semester, full semester, and summer-long internship. The following account demonstrates how supervisors and student participants can promote quality practicum experiences, regardless of the length or area of expertise involved.

In terms of participants, my institution’s HESA program requires a combination of practicum experiences to complement the theoretical foundation provided through the academic curriculum. While these experiential learning opportunities are considered a program requisite, students are able to self-select from a number of offices providing practicum opportunities each semester. Interested supervisors are asked to submit available opportunities via a listserv, and no obligation exists to participate from the offices themselves.

My decision to write this article stems from the many positive experiences I personally have encountered with providing practicum experiences to graduate students and the positive feedback I receive from participants completing the specific structured experience. Former practicum and internship participants responded to my request to share their respective experiences through three posed questions as part of the development of this article. The following themes emerged from the respondents.


Reasons for Selecting the Assessment Practicum/Internship

Participants noted the importance of facilitating assessment in our student affairs field, as well as the perceived value placed on developing an assessment skillset. One respondent stated

Assessment is a ‘buzz’ word we use in higher education but is something critical in positions. I knew that in these tough economic times professionals were being asked to do more with less, and what we are doing needs to be backed by facts and numbers to give validity to how and why we help students.

Another respondent noted his interest emerged “because assessment is a hot-button topic. I had some limited experience, but they [previous supervisors] assured me that this skillset would help as an emerging leader in student affairs.”


Skills Gained Carried into Professional Career

When asked about the skills gained through the experience, respondents described specific technical skills that continue to support their professional role. For example, one respondent developed “a strong respect for writing learning outcomes as probably the strongest asset.” A respondent provided an example of a learned skill that continues to resonate: “My ability to create an executive summary is spectacular-and I often am tasked with making data ‘pretty’ and ‘presentable’ to various constituencies.” From an analysis standpoint, one participant found it “a benefit to learn about equations, filters, everything. I use it with ease now and watch as many professional struggle just how to organize properly in an Excel sheet.”


Approaches to Ensure a Successful Experience

Emerging themes centered on the use of informed strategies focused on meaningful outcomes and realistic expectations:

Something foundational for me was the usage of the NASPA/ACPA Competencies for Student Affairs Practitioners. This seems something so practical in terms of developing goals and outcomes for a position, yet is something overlooked … This is something that I can and definitely will use with future student affairs practitioners that I supervise!

Furthermore, the idea of a project-based practicum, as opposed to limited exposure office elements, proved to be beneficial:
The most valuable part of this practicum was taking ownership over a project and gaining the hands-on experience while I completed it…The practicum should extend beyond                “shadowing” and general office work, because neither of those tasks are helpful beyond the practicum experience.

In addition, the availability of the supervisor was deemed valuable.  One respondent noted a positive experience was associated with “consistent meetings and an open door.  I constantly had questions and wanted to clarify things – eventually I learned this is how the data/process works, but it was intimidating at first.”

Supervising Experiential Learning Opportunities

While learning student affairs assessment is the focus of my field experience, please note the following practices can be included across many varied student affairs professional areas and implementation methods. For example, 10 competency-based areas exist as part of the Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners (ACPA & NASPA, 2010). Your department might not fit easily into one area as mine focuses mainly on Assessment, Evaluation, and Research (AER); however, there is opportunity to focus on multiple criteria across numerous competencies. I have framed the potential advantages of this experience into two categories: supportive practices and supervisor gains.


Supportive Practices

Many practices support a positive experience for the student. I present three specific areas here.

  • Competency-based education. The Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners (ACPA & NASPA, 2010) guide the experiences I provide; however, there is potential with the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS), the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International (ACUHO-I) competencies, and other professional guidelines to provide direction for the skillset or goals achieved by completing the practicum experience. The focus becomes less on the time-on-task requirement, (i.e., “butt in chair” thinking), but more so on the proficiencies gained through the practicum. Participating students will rise to the challenge of project development and completion once foundational knowledge is provided. Furthermore, because they are using common terminology and competencies likely to be well-known across multiple institutions and programs, they walk away with a familiar language in which to articulate their work to future employers.
  • Syllabus “roadmap” to guide the experience. A very important discussion should occur very early on in the practicum, ideally even before its initiation. This conversation should focus on an overview of the unit functions, as well as exploring what the student wants to learn from the experience. A supervisor should also review expectations, usually specific to individual supervision style, communication expectations, overview of anticipated project ideas, etc. The follow-up meeting should include a review of the competencies, or guiding professional framework. Furthermore, an explanation for how these activities will align with the expected competencies should be included. Timelines are important; however, be sure the syllabus is flexible enough to allow for a change of course based upon project completion or individual student interest. The mid-experience “check-in” is designed to provide updates regarding student progress and also creates an opportunity to inquire about ongoing uncertainties or anticipated future roadblocks. Lastly, it is essential to require a culminating project for students to demonstrate what was learned via the practicum experience. This capstone event is significant so the learned skillset can be utilized as part of a job interview or as means of articulating what was gained through the experience. For example, how would the student articulate this experience on his/her resume? What tangible evidence could they present to describe what was gained?
  • Goal-setting: Early stages through “Closing the loop”. Revisit the competencies as part of the final evaluation. As homework, I ask students to review the AER competency criteria (ACPA & NASPA, 2010) prior to the last meeting. Students should determine if they gained expertise across the list of criteria and be able to describe what activities shaped this decision (see Figure 1). Examples are key! As supervisors, our job is to ensure the review is comprehensive (e.g., did they see that web-based training or oral report contributing to their competency development as much as you did?), but also realistic. For example, I sometimes have to remind the students that I am not at the level of “expert” on every assessment skill, so it is more likely they are not either. The competency self-evaluation helps to remind the supervisor of the key projects and skills gained, which will then inform the documented practicum evaluation the student (and likely graduate program or affiliated course) will receive for academic credit. Best of all, this exercise requires students to reflect on their experiential learning and presents a visible understanding of the practicum’s cumulative effect leading to their growing professional skillset. As a supervisor, I find this to be a highlight as the students articulate what they learned as part of the collaborative effort.
ACPA Assessment, Evaluation and Research (AER) Rubric

*NOTE: throughout this rubric AER is used to refer to Assessment, Evaluation and Research.  Institutions and individuals are encouraged to choose the term that best fits their situation/focus.

  Beginner Intermediate Advanced
Define Terms and Concepts Has trouble differentiating among assessment, program review, evaluation, planning and research in methodologies and approach Utilizes the appropriate assessment, program review, evaluation, planning and research methodology/approach in data collection and review.

Completed online exercise matching examples with definitions

Teaches others the differences between assessment, program review, evaluation, planning and research.
Value May see value in AER, but has difficulty translating into action through active participation, use and practice. Actively participates in AER activities and effectively uses AER in daily practice.

Utilization of Assessment Practices, including SPSS usage for RM Survey, EBI Analysis, and Excel Usage for year-end-reports

Creates the climate at the unit level that AER is central to the unit’s work and encourages others to use AER in daily practice through training and allocation of resources.

Presentations in RLC Training & during RM Focus Group about Assessment strategies/techniques.

Figure 1

Example of Matching Exercise from Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners


Supervisor Gains

Now, what do you get out of it? There can be much for you to gain so the experience can be mutually beneficial.

  • Work efficiency and new skills. In terms of my office, the practicum student’s development of an assessment skillset likely means one less report, or summary for me to complete—a lighter workload, but more noticeably a significant contribution from the student, not just an “add on” component. Ideally, this is what a practicum experience should entail. Ask yourself and your office, “what meaningful opportunities for work contributions can be made available for a practicum student? Program facilitation? Meeting with students? Executive summary of findings from a focus group?”


Furthermore, listening to the comments from this “external consultant” lens is a continuous reminder of whether I am articulating concepts in a clear manner, or if certain procedures should be revisited for practical consideration. If they have questions about the initiative I am describing, chances are so would the outside audience. In addition, the supervisor will learn new skills. Students show me new tricks with software, or varied formats of sharing data across social media. I am continually looking for new ways to advance my work and often innovation originates with the practicum students. Lastly, I know they are walking away “giving assessment a good name”. The better our new professionals are with designing and facilitating strong assessment, the better our student affairs profession will be. Imagine how a quality experience in your office will continue to resonate across the participant, his/her peers, graduate program, and ongoing development within the profession. Who knows—these students may be your colleagues one day, or even someone you hire. The time invested early will pay off dividends later.

Discussion Questions

  1. Can the practicum and internship supervisors in your unit articulate what skills or knowledge the field students will be gaining from your personalized experience? For example, how would the student articulate this experience on his/her resume? What tangible evidence could they present to describe what was gained?
  2. Ask yourself and your office, what meaningful opportunities for work contributions can be made available for a practicum student?
  3. How would the supervisor describe the experience of managing the practicum student and experience? What components would you maintain and what elements would you change based upon what was gleaned through participating students’ reflections?



ACPA & NASPA. (2010). Professional competency areas for student affairs practitioners. Washington,

DC: Author. Retrieved from

About the Author

Amber Fallucca leads assessment and research efforts for six functional units across the University Housing department and provides support for student affairs and institutional assessment initiatives. She has published on student affairs assessment and directs the program receiving a 2014 National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Excellence Bronze Award on the topic of developing a culture of assessment in student affairs. She also received the Outstanding Experienced Professional, 4-9 Years by ACPA – College Student Educators International and the Commission for Housing & Residence Life in 2014. Amber currently serves as a member of the editorial board for the Journal of College and University Student Housing, provides practicum and internship opportunities as part of the Higher Education & Student Affairs (HESA) graduate program at the University of South Carolina, and regularly serves as a thesis committee member. Related research interests include: student affairs assessment, intercollegiate athletics and student-athletes, professional training programs.  She has a bachelor of science degree in psychology from the College of Charleston, a master’s degree in exercise and sport psychology from the University of Florida, and holds a Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University of South Carolina.

Please e-mail inquiries to Amber Fallucca.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

A Ph.D. Student Experience

Every year the ACPA Convention offers a number of programs presented by current doctoral students offering their insights on successfully completing a doctoral program. Over the years I have attended several of these sessions hoping to glean knowledge that would help me when I made the transition back to the classroom. The advice has been helpful, but as I wrap up my first year as a full time doctoral student I have taken some time to reflect on my decision to begin this journey. Although I am happy with this path some of the choices I have had to make along the way have been difficult, and I wish I had learned a few things beforehand that might have made the road a bit smoother.

One of the toughest decisions for me was whether I would resign from my full time student affairs position at a mid-size public institution or attend school as a part-time student while remaining employed. I had really found my ideal job with great colleagues, wonderful students, and a location that had already been home to my family for the previous three years. Having only been in the position for two and a half years I felt that I still had much more to contribute. However, I also knew that balancing a full time job, a family, and coursework would put too much of a strain on me and those I care about. Therefore, I made the very difficult decision to be a full time student and say goodbye to the students, colleagues, and job I really enjoyed. Fortunately, I am able to maintain the relationships with my former colleagues since I continue to live in the area.

Remaining in the same community means that I commute about 75 minutes each way to school. Fortunately I have family near my institution and spend two nights a week in the area. I never realized how much I would miss my partner and son the three days a week I am away from them. Nothing could have prepared me for this, however, I am able to give them much more of my attention the four days a week I am at home. When faced with the prospect of relocating our entire family, or spending three days a week from home the latter seemed to be the best alternative for all of us. So far, with the support of an understanding partner, family, and child care providers these arrangements have worked out much better than expected.

Most of my first year has been about adjusting to a new way of life. At this year’s ACPA Convention two colleagues and I discussed how much our lives have changed since the last time we were all together one year earlier. In less than a month one colleague went from being an entry-level housing professional at large public institution to being the chief housing officer at a smaller university. The other colleague recently became the chief housing officer at a mid size private school after working as an independent consultant. Of course, I went from having a full time position with an office, an administrative assistant, student workers, and responsibilities to just having lots of responsibility without no staff or an office of my own.

Many responsibilities that come with being a doctoral student are part and parcel of the experience. However, looking back I wish I had known to say no far more often as some responsibilities come by choice. Saying no to those opportunities that are unappealing may be fairly easy, but when all of the opportunities seem attractive it is easy to believe you must do everything. Some of my fellow doctoral students would suggest that balance is the key to managing multiple priorities. Instead, I recommend tipping the scales with far more free, flexible, and open.

At the same time, being a student is about stretching beyond one’s comfort zone. Taking risks, and trying something that is unfamiliar can be so worthwhile when it pushes you to develop new skills instead of simply relying on old ones. I suggest seeking mentorship from faculty and/or other students who can help you acquire new skill sets that will serve your future goals. Doing this has been instrumental to my own growth. There will always be opportunities to maintain those competencies you already have, and to collaborate with fellow students and faculty in ways that will build old and foster new competencies.

The most consistent pre-doctoral advice I received was to connect with my fellow students. This has been key to the support I have received and been able to give throughout my first year. My cohort has been instrumental in my success, and I am glad I received lots of good advice prior to beginning my program about how important this group of people would be to my experience.

Our common group experience allows us to encourage and empathize with one another. We also help each other figure out what classes we will take each semester, and stay on top of the administrative deadlines that come with the program. While we all may travel in various social circles, we definitely share a common bound that transcends everything else and makes our experience unique.

I have found that one aspect of being successful as a doctoral student involved giving consistent effort and letting go of perfectionism. This is a lesson that I am still trying to learn. Sometimes it is easy to focus on being perfect since usually in a full time position you have already mastered all or most of what your job requires. As a professional your ability to balance tasks and urgent matters may often be rewarded, but it is the quality and thoroughness of your work that is important as a doctoral student.

Through my course work and involvement with a research team my own research interests have become much more clear. I learned early the value of gaining clarity about my interests, but at the same time being open and flexible to other ideas and opportunities that may come along. While there is no need to begin your doctoral program with a dissertation topic and title in hand, it is important to spend time cultivating your interests. Share your curiosity with your advisor and seek faculty members, even those outside your program and department, whose interests may be similar.

Being open to new experiences also means taking classes outside your program and department. Some of my most insightful classes have been outside of my department. I did not know this going into the program, but have been pleasantly surprised. An added bonus has been the supportive relationships I have formed with students and faculty in other departments.

Beginning a doctoral program is a risk itself. I have learned to not be shy about meeting with someone who I do not know, but may want to work with in the future. The best advice I have received so far has come from a seasoned faculty member who in 20 minutes shared insights that I will carry forever. I was invited to a meeting with two other colleagues who were unable to attend. Since I was already there this faculty member and I just talked about current events, my research interests, and a wide range of other topics. Ordinarily our paths would seldom cross, but because of chance meeting we were able to make a connection that will continue. To date it has been the best hour of time spent this entire year.

Few doctoral students complain of boredom or an over abundance of free time when in a doctoral program. However, one of the most poignant lessons that I have learned over the past year is the importance of holding onto those simple pleasures I enjoy. Being a doctoral student does not mean giving up time with one’s family, friends, and outside interests. While it is true that being a doctoral student is a time intensive experience, it does not need to consume all of your time. This is a recent insight for me and I look forward to implementing it next fall.

Never being one to rush a degree I took five years to complete my bachelors and four years to finish my masters. Though I always had the intention of beginning a doctoral program I thought I needed to wait at least five years before applying. There have been times over the past year when I wished I had started my program a year or two earlier. Nonetheless, I am happy to with my decision to start now. Having a few more years of working and living have made my courses much more relevant than they may have been without six years of post masters professional experience. When to start your own program is personal decision, and does not necessarily need to be contingent on external factors.

As I go into my second year of doctoral study, equipped with all that I have learned about myself and what I want out of my program, I know I will continue making some of the same choices and some different ones as well. One of the benefits of working in higher education is the cycle of the academic calendar. A new year provides new opportunities where old lessons are incorporated into daily practice, and new lessons are discovered along the way. I look forward to the journey continuing.

Interviewing Tips for Grad Students and New Professionals

Interviewing Tips for Grad Students and New Professionals

Summer is right around the corner and for graduate students and new professionals that means job searching and interviewing for a new or first professional experience.  Interviewing can be intimidating, but with the right information and preparation it does not have to be. Always remember that the interview is an opportunity not only for the interviewer to see if you are a good fit for the position and the institution, but for you to find a good fit for your skills, interests, and personality.

Interview Preparation

The two best ways to improve your interviewing skills are (1.) to recognize what the hiring department is looking for by knowing the job description and (2.) to practice!  Job descriptions are provided for a reason, and they are your best defense in interview preparation.  The hiring department compiles a lengthy list of qualifications and skills necessary to perform the job and it is up to you to recognize how your experiences through employment, student activities, and coursework fulfill some of those necessary requirements.  Once you understand how your skills and qualifications fit the position you can practice. Stop by your University’s Career Center or visit the Commission for Career Development’s website at for a list of questions.  Actually say the answers out loud. It is helpful to practice saying your answers in front of a mirror so you can focus on your facial expressions. Get your friends and family members to ask you questions and give you feedback on your answers. Better yet, schedule a mock interview with your Career Center. This will give you the opportunity to practice interviewing in as close to a “real-world” situation as possible. Do not let this opportunity pass you by! If you are not currently enrolled in a program, contact the Career Center at your alma mater to schedule an in-person or phone mock interview; many institutions provide Career Center resources to alumni for life.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in an interview is not researching the institution. When you walk into an interview you should know the institution’s size, mission, and something about the student body and culture. You should know if the division or office with whom you are interviewing has a mission or vision statement, and what those statements are. While the interview is an opportunity for you to ask questions and learn more about the employer, you should show the employer that you have done thorough homework. This is a great way to impress the employer during your interview, and will not go unnoticed! Ways to research the employer include reviewing the employer’s website, reviewing hard-copies of materials provided by the employer, reading copies of the school newspaper, searching local news sites to learn about current events involving the institution, and speaking to individuals who work at the institution.


Interviewing Types

Interviewing styles vary from employer to employer and interviewer to interviewer.  To better prepare for an interview, students are encouraged to be familiar with the different types of interviews that may be encountered. Many graduate students and new professionals undergo an initial or screening interview.  This can take the form of conference placement or a phone interview. For applicants, the goal of the screening interview is to get an offer to come to the campus.

The campus interview can last all day. You may be evaluated during meals and travel from/to the airport/bus/train. Remember that although the interviewer may engage in casual conversation during this time, this is still an interview, and you will be evaluated on this meeting. If your interview includes a meal, remember that the point of the meal is to interact, and eating is secondary. The entire campus interview will usually consist of a series of interviews with different individuals or groups throughout the day.  Students and people from other offices may interview you, and you may be asked to make a presentation.  Make sure to get two good nights’ sleep, eat breakfast the morning of the interview, and pace yourself throughout the day to conserve energy.  When you walk into an interview, you want to make a good first impression. Your attire should reflect this desire and should be pressed, simple, professional, and conservative. For more details on dressing for interviews please see the Commission for Career Development’s website or meet with a Career Center representative.


Interviewing Styles

The behavioral interview, the most common interview style, is based on the premise that the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in a similar situation. It focuses on experiences, behaviors, knowledge, skills and abilities that are job related. Employers predetermine which skills are necessary for the job for which they are looking and then ask very pointed questions to determine if the candidate possesses those skills. For example, if successful leadership is necessary for a position, you may be asked to talk about an experience in which you were a leader as well as what you think makes a good leader.

Your interview preparation should include identifying recognizing skills and qualifications from the job description and thinking of examples of situations from your experiences where you have demonstrated the behaviors a given institution seeks. During the interview, your responses need to be specific and detailed. Tell them about a particular situation that relates to the question, not a general one. Briefly tell them about the situation, what you did specifically, and the positive result or outcome. Your answer should contain these three steps (Circumstance, Action, Result or “CAR”) for optimum success. The CAR method is useful when answering any type of interview question, not only behavioral interview questions.

It is helpful to frame your answer as a story that you can tell. Typically, the interviewer will pick apart the story to try to get at the specific behavior(s) they seek. They refer to this as “digging a well.” The interviewer will sometimes ask you open ended questions to allow you to choose which examples you wish to use. When a part of your story relates to a skill or experience the interviewer wishes to explore further, the interviewer will then ask you very specific follow-up questions regarding your behavior. These can include “What were you thinking at that point?” or “Tell me more about your meeting with that person ” or “Lead me through your decision process.”

Whenever you can, quantify your results. Numbers illustrate your level of authority and responsibility. For example: “I was a graduate assistant.” could be “As a Graduate Assistant, I trained and evaluated 4 student employees.”  Be prepared to provide examples of when results did not turn out as you planned. What did you do then? What did you learn? Your resume will serve as a good guide when answering these questions. Refresh your memory regarding your achievements in the past couple of years. Demonstration of the desired behaviors may be proven in many ways. Use examples from past internships, classes, activities, team involvements, community service, and work experience.

Another interview style is the case interview.  Although case interviewing is typically thought to be business focused, you may come across case interview questions in your student affairs interview. These questions give you the chance to demonstrate your ability to work through student situations similar to those you might face as a professional. Cases are usually scenario-based activities, and your performance will be determined by how well you demonstrate problem-solving skills and competencies in the interview.


Questions and Follow Up

The interview is also your opportunity to learn more about the position, the school, and the department you are considering.  You are not just looking for the school that will have you, you are looking for a good fit; a program that fits in with your philosophy and will meet your needs.

Most interviews will provide you with an opportunity to ask questions during the interview.  If you do not ask any questions, it may look as if you do not care/have not prepared, or are not discriminate in your job search.  Before heading to an interview, write down a list of some things that you would honestly want to know about the school or position.  Decide which things would be appropriate to ask during an interview and work to phrase your questions carefully.  Some sample questions include: What challenges are currently facing your department/institution?  What kind of training will I receive for this position? In what ways are your department growing?

After the interview it is important to immediately write down the names of the interviewer(s), and any impressions you may have about the interview; send a handwritten interview note to the interviewer(s) using their names A handwritten thank you note is always better than an email. If you know the department is going to make a decision quickly, it is okay to send an email thank you, indicating you will be also be following-up with a handwritten thank you note. Then send your handwritten thank you note ASAP; keep in touch with individuals with wh om you have interviewed. If you have not heard from them by the time they indicated they would make a decision, call them to restate your interest in the position and follow-up; if you are no longer interested in an institution, let them know.

As you prepare for interviews, keep in mind that the keys to success are knowledge and practice.  The combination of these two elements will provide you with the confidence necessary to nail the interview and receive a job offer for a position that is a good fit with your skills, abilities, values and personality.
This article was adapted from the ACPA Commission for Career Development Career Planning Guide

Career Planning Guide authors are:

Betsy Reed, Vanderbilt University
Sonjala Allen, Carnegie Mellon University
Caryn Crane, Quinnipiac University
Aaron Phillips, University of Louisville
Julie Purcel, The College of William and Mary