Developing Young Assessment Professionals: A Year-long Professional Development Series for Assessment Graduate Assistants

Developing Young Assessment Professionals: A Year-long Professional Development Series for Assessment Graduate Assistants

Graduate school is a transformative journey, providing students with the opportunity to delve deeper into their chosen fields, cultivate skills, and make valuable connections. For graduate students engaging in assessment within a division of student affairs, a unique set of skills and training is often needed to bring graduate assistants into the fold of the assessment world. Seeing this need, I initiated the creation of a professional development series designed to enhance graduate assistants’ (GAs) capabilities, and empower their growth and development as assessment professionals. This series also serves as a way to enhance graduate student sense of belonging, promote ethical assessment practices, and provide a broader perspective on assessment within the division. During our first year of implementation, we met bi-weekly to discuss a wide variety of assessment skills and issues. 

Creating a community of assessment practitioners was at the heart of this series as we aimed to connect assessment graduate assistants to others engaging in assessment within the division. The inaugural meeting  consists of GAs introducing themselves, sharing their roles, and outlining their expectations for the upcoming meetings. This foundational session, aptly named "Living In Our Values” initiates discussions on how personal values inform work approaches to work and collaborative engagement. By fostering an environment of openness and shared values, participants build connections that will sustain throughout the series.

Another central objective of this professional development series is to deepen understanding of program development, differentiating it from program planning. Through engaging presentations and guided discussions, participants gain insights into the intricate components of program theory and its practical relevance to various departments within the division. Furthermore, assigned readings and interactive discussions provided participants the opportunity to sharpen their program development skills, paving the way for impactful assessment practices. The GAs also take time to explore the challenges faced by student affairs professionals when implementing assessment through engaging with a panel of current assessment professionals. These dialogues lead to a deeper comprehension of assessment's leadership role in driving positive outcomes within the division.

In order to expose participants to real-world assessment practices, the series features guest speakers who are practitioners and leaders in student affairs assessment. Through interactive Q&A sessions, GAs have the unique opportunity to engage with assessment professionals both from within their own institution and from institutions across the country. Participants engage in conversations with current assessment practitioners, delving into their current and past roles, strategies and challenges in data collection, analysis and storytelling. These sessions provide invaluable insights into the diverse landscape of assessment in higher education and inspire GAs to reflect on their own approaches.

Another area that we found important to emphasize with the GAs during the series included discussions around ethical assessment practices. This included speaking with professionals from Institutional Research on safe data storage and management practices, as well as discussion and reflection about accessible and equitable data collection and distribution practices and sharing of results with regards to changes made to programs and services.
We also make sure to expose GAs to assessment associations and their corresponding resources: AALHE, NILOA, and SAAL and ACPA’s Commission for Assessment and Evaluation. This emphasis on empowering participants to engage in professional organizations and the resources they can provide encourages GAs to consistently refine their skills and stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the assessment field.

If you’re interested in implementing something similar on your campus, here are some tips to get started:

  1. Identify relevant populations. On our campus we are fortunate enough to have specific graduate students serving in an assessment capacity, but many campuses may not have that opportunity, thus you might consider creating something similar for entry level professionals to increase their self-efficacy in engaging in assessment. Consider your reach and which populations might benefit from engaging in a similar experience to the Assessment GA Professional Development Series.
  2. Identify your priorities. Narrow down your goals for the series. What do you want participants to take away from the opportunity? Focus on activities and content that will help you achieve these goals. We created specific learning outcomes for the series as a whole, and each meeting’s content was tied back to at least one of these outcomes. This helped us stay focused on researching and creating content and interventions relevant to our outcomes for the series.

The Assessment GA Professional Development Series offers graduate students specializing in assessment a transformative experience that extends far beyond the classroom. By fostering a sense of belonging, facilitating discussions on ethical assessment practices, and connecting with experienced professionals, participants are better equipped with the tools and perspectives needed to drive effective assessment within the division of student affairs. This series not only nurtures their academic journey but also empowers them as leaders in shaping the future of assessment in higher education.

Blog written by:

Sarah LaFrance

Assistant Director for Career, Experiential Learning and Transitions Assessment

James Madison University



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