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UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA

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Past, present and future HESA scholars collaborate

Left to Right: Thomas, McLain, Newton, Keeling, and Maher

Past, present and future Higher Education Student Affairs (HESA) scholars from USC's College of Education presented their findings at the 2013 Emory Student Affairs Assessment Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

This collegial group was comprised of USC's School of Library and Information Science Student Services Manager Dr. Sarah Keeling, who is a graduate of the college's Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration program; Coordinator for the Gamecock Gateway and recent graduate of the college's HESA Master's degree program Mr. Drew Newton; Graduate Assistant for USC's Student Conduct and Academic Integrity Tessa McLain, who is currently enrolled in the HESA Master's Degree program; and Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Policies Dr. Michelle Maher.

Alex Thomas, who is currently enrolled in the college's HESA master's degree program, also attended and is expected to present at this conference next year.

Through interactive workshops, the Emory Student Affairs Assessment Conference provided a cohesive experience to advance participants' assessment expertise. The conference's two-day programming was divided into three tracks – developing foundational and advanced knowledge and skills to conduct assessment; showcasing promising practices for evaluating programs and services; and creating and supporting a culture that values assessment. The college was represented by its four scholars in two of the three areas.

First up was Dr. Sarah Keeling. She presented The Softer Side of Assessment for the Developing Foundational Knowledge conference track. In order to sustain a culture of assessment, Keeling advocates that practitioners must understand the softer side of assessment – the skills needed to effectively gather data for, and tell the story of, assessment.

"I discussed," says Keeling, "the importance of being cognizant of your audience when sharing assessment results. Remembering to employ soft skills – especially communication skills, professionalism, empathy, integrity, and teamwork skills – is important. Additionally, using narrative – making your data tell a story – helps make your results more relatable to your audience."

Keeling concluded her presentation by encouraging her workshop participants to view their organizations through Bolman and Deal's Reframing Organizations (2008) four frames – structural, human resource, political, and symbolic. In doing so, Keeling believes they could incorporate this knowledge to result in richer data, increased institutional support and a higher quality of institutional relationships.

Next were Dr. Michelle Maher and her team members Ms. Tessa McLain and Mr. Drew Newton in the Showcasing Promising Practices track. They presented Using Holistic, Authentic Programmatic Assessment: Promises and Pitfalls. Dr. Maher purported that assessment has assumed an increasingly prominent place in student affairs practice, and that many student affairs graduate programs now include a dedicated assessment course.

"It is vital," says Maher, "that these courses address the historical, social, and political influences that have shaped and continue to shape the assessment movement. However, it is also critical that courses provide students the opportunity for authentic participation in assessment practices."

Their session detailed the semester-long authentic participation of students in the student affairs assessment course (EDHE 839: Assessment in Higher Education) as they applied knowledge and skills to the task of actual program assessment. The team assessed Gamecock Gateway (GG), a collaborative, year-long residential bridge program supporting students transferring between Midlands Technical College and the University of South Carolina.

McLain discussed the project from her perspective as an EDHE 839 student responsible for assessment activities. Newton identified promises and pitfalls associated with the use of this hands-on assessment technique during his GG program's first operational year. While Maher, the EDHE 839 faculty instructor, discussed the array of logical and pedagogical issues that must be considered when using this approach. Their collaboration on this project provided unique credibility, profound relevance, and dramatic findings that implored student affairs practitioners, faculty, and graduate students to inquire further about their methodology.

The mission of the College of Education is to contribute to the high achievement of all learners through well-designed educational experiences that foster growth in ethical behavior, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving. In doing so, the college offers a forum for dialogue and advancement that promotes equity, excellence and opportunity at all levels. This concept was illustrated clearly in both of these presentations that cultivated an educational ideal in which democracy is both a goal and a method of instruction that values justice, respect and trust.

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