Each year faculty in graduate preparation programs face the persistent (and largely welcomed!) task of designing engaging and challenging course assignments that meet learning goals for courses and advance program objectives. We strive to ensure that course assignments contribute significantly to student learning, advance the core competencies of the profession, and provide opportunities for students to take ownership for their learning and often that of their peers; this is no small task. Yet faculty need not be alone in curating resources to support assignment development. NASPA, as part of its continued service to the field of student affairs and its members, maintains a rich array of tools and information that maybe used to support engaging assignment or course design.
To support creative assignment development and to provide an example of how NASPA resources can support faculty, this blog shares an innovative assignment conducted as part of an introductory student affairs course in the University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education, Higher Education Master’s Program. The NASPA VPSA (Vice President for Student Affairs) Census Praxis Project connects two valuable resources in our field: the NASPA VPSA Census and emerging student affairs professionals in graduate preparation programs.
Leveraging NASPA Resources to Support Course Design
This past fall, 10 students enrolled in Student Affairs Administration – a survey course designed to serve as an introduction to the student affairs profession. The course provides an overview of student affairs, including its historical development, philosophical frameworks, professional codes of ethics, functions in postsecondary environments, as well as how student affairs operate at the University of Denver and other colleges and universities.
In the course, students were challenged to explore the Student Affairs profession from multiple perspectives and across a diverse array of institutional types. To facilitate this exploration, students participated in the NASPA VPSA Census Praxis Project. Through a partnership between NASPA staff and leadership and myself, students were able to leverage professional networks and access data from the NASPA VPSA Census to support creative assignment design and completion.
The NASPA VPSA Census was created in 2014 to provide a comprehensive look at student affairs divisions and the individual Vice Presidents for Student Affairs who lead the profession. Information in the Census includes a robust set of metrics that capture professional pathways to the VPSA role and provide snapshots of how student affairs divisions are organized.
In addition to using the NASPA VPSA Census data, students in my course met virtually with different VPSAs each week, providing personal communication and interaction with leaders in the field. Finally, students were able to connect with Dr. Kevin Kruger, President, NASPA as well as Dr. Marybeth Dreschler Sharp, Executive Director of the Council for Standards in Higher Education (CAS) providing overview and context for our field.
Taken together exposure to the data drawn from the VPSA Census, the conversations with VPSAs, and exposure to the leadership of student affairs organizations provided students with information and resources to produce meaningful course assignments; and represented a unique and engaging way for faculty to leverage NASPA to support our course-based work.
Outcomes of the NASPA VPSA Census Praxis Project
Through the NASPA VPSA Census Praxis Project, students used the VPSA Census data to better understand the pathway vice presidents took to their positions and reflect on how student affairs divisions are administered at different institutions types – outcomes that brought together the key themes of this course in an applied learning project.
As part of the praxis project students prepared brief policy memos of approximately 1200 words that sought to capture the different ways student affairs is administered across higher education. Students chose a variety of approaches to better understand student affairs administration using the NASPA VPSA Census data; advancing a core learning outcome of the course.
Some students elected to describe the role and responsibilities of the VPSA in a particular functional area, while others described the more personal pathways individuals took to the VPSA position. In all memos students demonstrated 1) familiarity with the VPSA Census data; 2) synthesized and presented outside literature related to the topic and 3) provided attractive visual displays.
The three papers represented in this post share three different approaches to the assignment. The first paper looks at how VPSAs can support the changing student populations. The second paper offers perspectives on the pathway to becoming a VPSA. The third paper examines a particular functional area, campus mental health resources, in the administration of student affairs. These three perspectives demonstrate the diversity in ways that the VPSA Census can be used as a learning tool for students.
Nontraditional Students: Supporting Changing Student Populations: A Guide for Chief Academic Officers & Chief Student Affairs Officers by Courtney Hittepole, University of Denver
Five Things Young Professionals Can Do If They Want to Be A Vice President of Student Affairs by Samantha Martinez, University of Denver
Improving Student Access and Utilization of Campus Mental Health Resources: A Memo for Vice Presidents of Student Affairs by Caity Lee, University of Denver
The NASPA VPSA Census Praxis project represents a unique collaboration between faculty and NASPA, provided students with opportunities to interact with NASPA leadership and used unique data to support effective completion of course learning objectives. As my faculty colleagues go through the continual process of designing and redesigning course assignments with the goal of enhancing student learning, they should consider how they might partner with NASPA to enhance creative and engaging learning opportunities for their students.