Sorted Into SAAL: How I Found my Place in the Magical World of Assessment

Sorted Into SAAL: How I Found my Place in the Magical World of Assessment

Hagrid from the Harry Potter movies says, You're a Wizard, Harry. 


“You’re a wizard, Harry,” explains Hagrid, saving him from the infamous cupboard under the stairs and escorting him to Hogwarts. After years of living with his Muggle aunt and uncle, wondering where he fits in, Harry has found his people and is sorted into Gryffindor House. Magical adventures and mischief ensue. 

While perhaps not as dramatic or magical as Harry Potter, I believe all of us want to find our people. It’s amazing when we find a community that shares our values, gets excited about the same things, and validates our skills and experiences. For me, that has been the Student Affairs Assessment community, and more specifically SAAL.


I’ve known since I was a little girl that I wanted to be a teacher. I was the one lining up my dolls and baby sister and I delighted in telling them all the things I knew. And, I loved learning. This continued into college where some key staff and faculty mentors (my very own Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore) led me to Student Affairs. I earned a Master’s degree, worked my way up in residence life and then the student union, and felt happy to be mentoring college students. 


Portrait of Professor McGonagall and Professor Dumbledore


But something was missing for me. I longed to exercise that learning and academic part of my brain, and secretly worried that perhaps I had missed my calling to become a faculty member. I decided to enroll in a PhD program and found I loved the challenge of connecting scholarship to practice. It was about this time that I was asked to lead an assessment initiative for my campus. Though I had acquired some solid skills through my doctoral program, I was a bit lost for where to even start.

Thankfully, I learned about SAAL through one of my dissertation research site contacts (shout out to our President Renee!) and then I attended a summer assessment institute where there was a SAAL meet-up. After that, I signed up for the listserv and suddenly, it clicked that there were others like me! There were people who understood Student Affairs and loved students, but who were genuinely excited by data and research. There were people who wanted to formally evaluate programs and services, and saw the power of gathering evidence to make decisions and improve the student experience. 


I realized I had never felt like I fully belonged on either the academic side or the Student Affairs side of the university. Thus, SAAL became the community where I connected with others who lived in this magical “between” space - right in the middle of these two worlds. I had found the other “Hermiones”- the cleverest, and more importantly, most prepared and well-informed of all the wizards.

Hermione raises her hand.

Hermione raises her hand 


I feel honored to be serving as a co-instructor for the online open course and on the board for a second time. As the new VP of Community Development and Engagement, I’m excited to develop new strategies with the committee’s goal of “fostering a sense of belonging” for SAAL members. Our committee looks forward to hearing your stories of how you came to be engaged in Student Affairs assessment work. And, we invite ideas for how we can better connect our current SAAL members and invite new professionals to join the organization. No matter if you are a veteran assessment professional, a graduate student, or somewhere in between, SAAL’s goal is to help everyone find their place and feel like they belong.  

“5 points to Gryffindor!” if you comment below. Share how you got connected to SAAL, an idea you have to foster a sense of belonging for SAAL, or your Hogwarts house.  

Blog written by Dr. Megan Bell, Vice-President of Community Development and Engagement (who fancies herself a Ravenclaw, but might actually be a Hufflepuff). 

2023 Community Development and Engagement Committee Members:

Kyle Amore (Santa Clara University)

Ashley Farmer-Hanson (Rocky Vista University)

Paul Holliday-Millard (UNC Charlotte)

Mandy Westfall-Senda (University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa)


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