The Journal of College and University Student Housing recently published a study by Gavin W. Henning, Kristan M. Cilente, Dean F. Kennedy and Tomecca M. Sloane titled, Professional Development Needs for New Residential Life Professionals. Participants of the study ranked competencies necessary for the professional growth and development of entry-level professionals in residential life. Briefly, the top seven competencies are as follows:
1. Understanding job expectations
2. Enhancing supervision skills
3. Moving up in the field of student affairs
4. Adequate support from supervisors, mentors, and colleagues
5. Fostering student learning
6. Developing multicultural competencies
7. Understanding the culture and facilities of the college/university
I think it is worth it to note that the top three competencies are not typically topics found in a student affairs graduate curriculum. I agree these competencies are important; if not the most important for a new professional to master quickly. If you cannot understand your job, meet job expectations, and manage the people you supervise efficiently; moving up in the field will be challenging.
The article also speaks to the fact that there is no real consensus on what competencies new professionals should master to progress through the field. I have noticed personally and through other colleagues, that we briefly start out as generalist and then begin to develop interests in areas that will give us “expertise.” Once we become an office-proclaimed guru, our new found expertise makes us more marketable for the jobs we want in the future.
Participants also ranked their preferred delivery method for professional development. In almost every category mentoring was the preferred method of professional development followed by workshops, self-teaching, and administrative shadowing. It is clear to me why mentoring is the preferred method of delivery. No surprises here; mentorships offer many benefits including an unbiased opinion, one-on-one consultation, and networking opportunities. I wish the study expounded more on methods of self-teaching, but I’m assuming this means new professionals are taking advantage of webinars, scholarly books and articles, etc.
This is a reoccurring topic in students affairs, typically under the heading, “What I Wish I Would Have Learned in Graduate School.” The article does state that while there are professional organizations that have outlined core competencies for professionals; there is limited data on whether graduate programs are using these core competencies in graduate curriculums.
I have been out of graduate school for a while, but have programs evolved to include more core competencies like staff supervision, management, workplace politics and human resource management? If not, shouldn’t they be doing so?
Carla Finklea Green is a residence hall director at Old Dominion University.