Engaging New Professionals and Graduate Students in Policy

naspa divisions groups public policy division

Krista Saleet, Director of Max A. Shacknai Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education at Colgate University

December 19, 2017

As the Region II Public Policy Representative to the NASPA Public Policy Division, I give a number of presentations at conferences and on campuses addressing policy and its impact on higher education.  I am noticing a sharp increase in the number of new professionals and graduate students who attend these sessions and ask how they can be more knowledgeable and get involved in policy conversations.  To that end, NASPA is working hard to engage all members in policy awareness, advocacy and activism.  In this post, I share resources and strategies for new professionals and graduate students to increase their involvement in policy affecting their work.

Be Informed.

Many resources exist to follow policy changes and trends at the federal level.  NASPA provides many resources to digest complex topics easily through the  lens of a student affairs professional. 

  • Follow the Research and Policy Institute (RPI) of NASPA.  You will find a wealth of resources:
    • Regular policy updates written by NASPA policy staff focused on the latest movements on key policy issues that NASPA is following and advocating on.
    • A monthly Policy Briefing Series provides an interactive forum for participants to engage with RPI staff and other leading experts to stay current on federal policy developments and to learn about how NASPA and its partners are elevating the perspectives of higher education leaders, including those in student affairs, to inform and address national policy issues.  The series can be viewed as a live webcast or as a post-event recording.
    • Quarterly Policy Virtual Town Hall discussions, focused on a hot topic related to policy, provide a venue to hear expert perspectives  and a space for participants to both engage in and share what's happening on their campuses.
    • Conferences and workshops that provide opportunities for focused learning are available encompassing broad and topical policy information, such as Strategies Conference addressing Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse Prevention, Violence Prevention, and Mental Health; Law and Policy Conference; and NASPA national and regional conferences.
  • Stay up to date on key pieces of legislation.  Opencongress.org provides up to date legislation information at the federal level. The Openstates.org website provides a comprehensive and interactive map of legislation and state politics; including each state’s legislators, the voting history of legislators, bill tracking, and proposed and passed legislation.
  • Develop a network. Being an educated consumer of policy information requires having an understanding of varied perspectives on issues and applying these lenses to practice.  Tapping into resources provided by other organizations within the higher education domain through virtual tools provides a rounded perspective.
Be Engaged.

Being an engaged professional can mean many different things depending on your approach to action.  Here are some ideas for how to move from information to action.

  • Apply for the 2018 NASPA Hill Days and first ever National Student Affairs Day of Action.  These events will focus on how student affairs practitioners can develop approaches to promote advocacy and activism on a city, state and national level.  More information can be found here.
  • Designate time in your workday or week to read about public policy both at the national and state level. This could be 30 minutes at the start of your day or even time after lunch. Explore a variety of websites and resources to get a balanced and well-rounded perspective on issues of note.
  • Write about what you learn.  Reflection helps to make connections to practice and other issue areas and clarifies material you take in.
  • Host a policy discussion group.  Bring together colleagues, faculty, or graduate students to discuss policies and the impact that they have on your institution and/or your field.
  • Pass information on. Volunteer to present a professional development program for your institution on relevant policies, teach a graduate level class, or present at a conference.  
  • Find a policy mentor.  There is always someone who will know more than you. Find them. Find out what they are reading and where they get their information.  This person could be in student affairs, hold a governmental affairs position at your institution, or perhaps works at a neighboring institution.  
  • Expand your campus network. Speak with your supervisor about opportunities to connect with professionals on your campus that are working on policy advocacy.  See if there are options to for a collateral assignment.
  • Look for grassroots opportunities. If you are seeking a more direct advocacy role, reach out to your NASPA regional public policy representative to see what opportunities exist to volunteer in your region. 

Staying up-to-date on the latest policy developments impacting your profession, your institution, and your students is a necessary part of any student affairs professional’s job.  Set a goal for how you plan to stay informed, engaged, and active and use NASPA’s resources to help you meet that goal.

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