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  • Connecting Professional Competencies to Experiential Learning:An Intervention for Supervisors and Graduate Assistants
  • Jeannine Kranzow (bio) and Stacy A. Jacob (bio)

The revised ACPA/NASPA Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Educators (PCASAE) reinforced the profession's commitment to educating students as whole persons while also detailing specific areas in which student affairs practitioners should be knowledgeable and competent (American College Personnel Association [ACPA/NASPA], 2015). Both an understanding and consideration of the professional competencies of the field and the ability to practice them are essential (Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education [CAS], 2015). It is crucial that students in student affairs preparation programs (SAPP) are able to connect the important concepts and theories that they are learning in the classroom with what they are learning in their internships, field studies, and graduate assistantships (GAs). Experiential learning opportunities are therefore a common feature of SAPP helping students develop skills and knowledge necessary to excel in their professional practice.

Scholars have identified the need to intentionally consider the influence of experiential learning on professional preparation (Kuk, Cobb, & Forrest, 2007; Renn & Jessup Anger, 2008); however, there is an absence of scholarly research addressing ways to maximize the benefits of assistantships and other experiential learning in the field of student affairs (SA), particularly for students who are guided and supervised by someone not highly experienced with the PCASAE and/or professional preparation outside the field of higher education and SA.


We sought to extend the current scholarship related to the juncture of the academic curriculum and experiential learning opportunities in order to better guide and support future SA practitioners in their professional competency development. Further, we aimed to support campus partners whose professional training is in an area outside of SA or those less familiar with the PCASAE. The primary question guiding this study was: How does reflection on competency exposure increase student self-agency and awareness about the PCASAE in their GA or work roles?

This study is rooted in the educational concepts of andragogy that emphasize critical reflection and learner self-direction in the adult learning process (Knowles, 1975; Mezirow, 1985). Many scholars "posit that [End Page 366] self-directed learning should have as its goal the development of the learner's capacity to be self-directed" (Merriam, 2001, p. 9). Through the utilization of pedagogy that encourages students to reflect critically on their role in their own future learning and professional development (PD), faculty can help students reach this goal (Dynan, Cate, & Rhee, 2008; Kranzow & Hyland, 2016).

In the classroom, as faculty members in SAPP at different institutions, we historically utilized the PCASAE (ACPA/NASPA, 2010, 2015) and the Professional Competency Areas Rubrics (ACPA/NASPA, 2016) developed by the professional organizations as part of the standard curriculum in their Introduction to Student Affairs courses. While students learned of the documents and examined their level of competence in each area, they rarely used them to evaluate their own competence proactively and intentionally, to identify gaps, and to map out a PD plan.

To address this deficiency, we created an intervention and tool (rubric) intended to help students think purposefully about how they could gain higher levels of competence and how they could communicate PD goals to a supervisor. Distinct from the ACPA/ NASPA rubrics (2016), this one helps students to measure their exposure level (opportunity to practice a skill) to the PCASAE in their experiential learning positions. From a pedagogical perspective, the focus of the intervention is not the rubric itself, but the purposeful examination and reflection on exposure opportunities to PCASAE. Even so, students and supervisors lacking experience in SA or student learning concepts may benefit from a similar rubric. By helping students to consider the professional competencies from this (degree of exposure) vantage point, we hope students will be poised to consider gaps in exposure to PCASAE and to make intentional plans to address them.


We utilized qualitative methods to understand how first-term students in SAPPs make meaning around their professional growth and development. With IRB approval as an exempt study (on both campuses), the data came from the reflections/journals of students in master's-level introductory courses in...


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pp. 366-371
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