Reflections on Applying & Leading Assessment in Student Affairs

Reflections on Applying & Leading Assessment in Student Affairs

Reva Wittenberg, MPA, California State University, Sacramento

Having just started my position as Student Affairs Assessment Manager a year ago, I was excited to take the Applying & Leading Assessment in Student Affairs course to make sure I was on the right track and to continue to build my knowledge and skills in assessment. Evaluation and assessment have been a part of every position I’ve had in my career since graduate school, but I had rarely been responsible for assessing programs other than my own. I was feeling fairly confident in my approach to working with our Student Affairs programs, which involved working with each program to develop a logic model to articulate goals and outcomes and using the logic model to develop an assessment plan. However, I wanted to learn more about standards and best practices in the field to make sure my approach was solid and to bolster myself in areas where I felt less confident, such as data analysis and equity-centered assessment.

Two of the activities in the course that I found most helpful were the writing assignments in Modules #3 (Coaching & Consulting) and #5 (Critical Approaches & Mindsets). Both modules provided two case studies of relevant assessment scenarios and an example response by an assessment practitioner. We were then asked to review a third case study and write about how we would respond. A detailed grading rubric was provided in each module to help guide our thinking around what to include in our response. Both of these assignments required me to think deeply about how I would respond to the scenarios and apply elements of the lectures and readings from the module. 

For the Coaching & Consulting case study, we were asked to help a New Student Orientation director who disliked assessment develop an assessment of Orientation Leader learning after their program had begun. This required me to think about how to sensitively be a champion for assessment, meet a program where they were at, and guide development of an effective assessment for their stage of development, while keeping an eye on the future. 

For the Critical Approaches & Mindsets module, we were asked to consult with a First Year Experience program that had already assessed a pilot program for at-risk students and wanted to scale the pilot to a larger population, while keeping in mind our own positionality and how we might mitigate bias in the process. This assignment required me to think about my own mental model and how that might affect my response to this scenario. It also reminded me of the importance of disaggregating data to explore potential disparities in outcomes and involving multiple stakeholders (especially students) into assessment processes to bring in diverse perspectives.

Both of these assignments helped build my confidence to approach assessment scenarios sensitively, ask tough questions, and reduce the risk of bias in my work. These are skills I plan to use moving forward as an assessment coach and consultant. Some of the key things I want to work on applying from this course include building my skills related to all five essential roles as an assessment practitioner (Jankowski & Slotnik, 2015), identifying ways to build programs’ assessment capacity in order to further develop a culture of assessment, and finding ways to include students in the assessment process whenever possible. I also look forward to digging into more of the course’s suggested readings and tools as an ongoing resource.


Daniel Kaczmarek, University at Buffalo


I’ve been working in Student Affairs Assessment in some capacity for a decade, but a recent expansion of my office has made me rethink how I approach this work and how I can better position my office to shift the culture of assessment at my institution.  I approached the Applying & Leading Assessment in Student Affairs course as a way to refresh my fundamental skills and reinforce the strategies around establishing a healthy assessment culture.  I was also drawn to the idea that it was self-paced, so I could work it easily into my schedule, and that it could provide an opportunity to virtually connect with colleagues across the country.   I ultimately found the course was a solid individual reset, of sorts, that aligned well with the larger changes my office was facing.

It is not surprising then that my favorite part of the course was Module #7 – Establishing a Culture of Assessment.  In the lecture for the section, Dr. Megan Bell discussed the four core components of establishing a healthy assessment culture, what stakeholders need to be involved, and provided recommendations for how this philosophy can be turned into action on your campus.  Culture building is a big lift, and often times with limited resources and staff dedicated to the coordination of assessment work, developing a proactive approach to creating a healthy assessment culture can take a backseat to being reactive and responsive to changing data needs from university stakeholders.  As I work to reposition my office back to the proactive approach, the content in this module gave me an organizational framework that allowed me to easily identify the areas where my office was excelling and the spaces where we need to dedicate more time and energy.  As my office onboards new staff and expands, we will discuss how this culture-shift is reflected in our mission and strategic goals.  It has also helped me organize how I’m rolling out changes to our divisional assessment planning process and establishing buy-in from leadership and staff on the investment into assessment work. 

While this module stood out, the design of the course overall, particularly in Module #1 – Assessment Foundations for Effective Practice and the modules that incorporated the case study approach, were valuable examples of how to teach these concepts to a general audience.  The very brief lectures were reinforced with key readings, straight-forward quizzes, the occasional case study, and the course instructors were engaged in cultivating the chat within Canvas.  I am actively working on a similar kind of badging process for staff within my own division that is designed to reinforce the annual assessment planning process but also expand the capacity of staff to collect and analyze their data.  I think this course serves as a good model for transitioning away from the workshop/multi-day retreat ideas of the past that no longer align with the availability and capacity of staff.

The access and centralization of the resources alone has helped me build out my resource library, and I look forward to seeing how the impact of this course shapes my work for years to come.  I appreciated that it was constructed in such a way as to not over-burden students, but it was still managed to encompass the full scope of assessment leadership.  It was definitely worth the time-commitment, and valuable regardless of how long you’ve been toiling away in the assessment world.  Kudos to the instructors for taking their own time and energy to make this great contribution to the SAAL community.


Jankowski, N.A. & Slotnick, R.C. (2015). The five essential roles of assessment practitioners. Journal of Assessment and Institutional Effectiveness 5(1). 78–100.


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