To take a leadership role in Student Affairs assessment, you have to be a pretty interesting character. First, you have to want to work for students as an advocate in advancing their experience. You need to be happy doing this by influencing the work of others. A lot of our success relies on other people doing work, and sometimes that work is not exactly at the top of their priority list. You need to make convincing, sometimes charismatic, and compelling cases that effort toward integrating the student voice into the machine of the university pays both short and long-term dividends. You have to love data and be conversant in the language of data as a way to understand complex learning systems and interactions. And you must be able to build data collection structures that integrate information that is often siloed in technology platforms or originating from student databases with obtuse data structures. And sometimes you have to explain all of this to someone whose eyes glaze when you start talking.
You have to be an educator, a change agent, and creator of culture. You sometimes serve as an interpreter between student affairs staff and technology professionals with varying degrees of understanding what the other person does on the day-to-day. You are pulled into conversations and you have no idea why, most likely because you’ve done such a good job at cultivating relationships that you’ve become a trusted voice in any decision-making process. You sit in the middle of the larger goals of advancing the institutional mission and the more concrete goals of making the individual student experience memorable and fruitful; between the people who see students as numbers reported out in aggregate to some external accrediting agency and the people who know students by name and become a part of the story of their lives.
Like some of my colleagues have mentioned in previous blog posts, I didn’t know the full scope of what I was getting myself into before I started to work in this field. I was drawn to SAAL more so than any other national organization because of the helpful, supportive community. Through my conversations with members, working on SAAL committees, by being part of the inaugural blog writing team, and by putting a face to familiar names on the listerv while I was at conferences, I was reassured that my experience was not just some strange anomaly brought on by my university context. I’ve had support in overcoming obstacles on my own campus by learning from peers who have already found the solutions or teaming up with colleagues who were facing similar roadblocks to develop plans. I’ve found tangible resources and professional development opportunities available when I needed them the most. And, occasionally, I found a sympathetic ear on the other side of a phone call when I needed a pep talk.
I’m excited to be working to advance the mission of SAAL through my role as treasurer because I know just how important this community is to support the advancement of our field. On paper, the role of treasurer of SAAL is simple: ensure the financial responsibilities are paid by the organization. These responsibilities are not many, but are tied specifically to the relationships and partnerships that SAAL has established over the years. It’s a position that I know will rely on me tapping into all the facets of my student affairs assessment leader skillset to help ensure the sustainability of the organization for years to come. As we each strive individually to understand the story of the students on our respective campuses, through its individual paragraphs and chapters, to its novels, series, and canon, I look forward to contributing a word or two to the story of SAAL in the years to come.
Blog written by Daniel Kaczmarek, Treasurer