On Thursday, December 2, 1993, graduate students in Western Kentucky University's Student Development in Higher Education class, along with WKU's Student Affairs Graduate Association, co- sponsored "What Were They Thinking When They Did That?", a Conference on Student Development for regional Student Affairs professionals and paraprofessionals. The Conference, which lasted from 12 noon until 5:30 pm, was held in the Downing University Center on Western's campus.
Dr. David Parrott, WKU Director of Residence Life, gave the introductory address for the Conference, "Student Development in the 1990s." His remarks were followed by three 1-hour sessions in which six mini-workshops on the practical applications of student development theory were each presented twice.
The Conference was developed primarily as a class project. Students in the master's and specialist's degree programs in Student Affairs at Western wanted to do something that would benefit both themselves and the profession. A primary topic of discussion in most Student Affairs classes involves strategies for bridging the gap which sometimes exists between the academic and practitioner sides of Student Affairs work. The class decided that sponsoring a Conference would be an excellent way to demonstrate how student development theory has direct application to Student Affairs practice. It would also provide an opportunity to network with professionals from several different colleges and universities who are currently working in the Student Affairs field. Finally, since there was no registration fee associated with attending the Conference, it would afford many practitioners a rather unique opportunity to participate in a somewhat unique professional/staff development experience.
In order to facilitate the Conference, the instructor assigned members of the Student Development class into six teams. Each team was responsible for developing a 1-hour mini-workshop over a particular student development theory. The mandate was that each team had to develop a session that would provide some background information, yet be primarily applications-oriented. Overall direction and organization of the Conference was provided by a three-member student Steering Committee. The instructor served as advisor for the Conference.
Specifically, each team was required to develop a mini- workshop focusing on the programmatic implications of one of the following student development theories: the Jung/Myers-Briggs Theory, Astin's Involvement Theory, Perry's Scheme of Development, Fowler's Stages of Spiritual Development, Gilligan's Theory of Women's Development, and Atkinson, Morten and Sue's Minority Identity Development Model. Workshops were to be designed so that they could be utilized as training vehicles for professional and paraprofessional staff working in the delivery of student services. Each team was required to present their workshop to the class for critical analysis and feedback prior to presenting it at the Conference.
Each team was also responsible for producing a Resource Guide for their workshop which included a brief description of the theory on which it is based, any supporting information the team deemed appropriate, and all "training" materials developed for the workshop along with an explanation of their purpose and how they are used within the workshop context. Complete copies of the Resource Guide were to be distributed to each class member.
Everyone in the class took the Conference assignment very seriously. One team member actually visited J.W. Fowler at Emory University in order to discuss his team's development of a workshop on spiritual development. Another class member discussed, via telephone, the Minority Identity Model with its originators, D.R. Atkinson, G. Morten, and D.W. Sue.
The Conference was highly successful from both a quantitative and a qualitative standpoint. Over 120 participants from throughout Kentucky and Tennessee attended the Conference -- despite less than favorable weather conditions. At the conclusion of each session, participants provided feedback to the presenters in the form of a written evaluation. Attendees were asked to rate the presentations using several different criteria. Both objective (in the form of a Likert scale) and subjective (in the form of written comments) evaluations were solicited from Conference participants. The general consensus was that the sessions were exceptionally well developed and executed, and that the information presented was extremely relevant and useful. More than one attendee commented that the sessions were better than what they had encountered at national meetings and conventions.
There was quite a bit of discussion about doing something similar next year.
For the record, Student Development in Higher Education (CNS 574) is a required course for all Student Affairs majors at Western Kentucky University. It examines the total development of the college student through an investigation of various theoretical models, sociocultural foundations, developmental program designs, and assessment techniques. It is designed to give students a thorough understanding of the developmental processes common to most students who are striving to negotiate the collegiate environment. Student Affairs professionals need this type of knowledge and understanding if they are to be successful in responding to student needs via effective program development and implementation.
For further information about "What Were They Thinking When They Did That?", future such events, WKU's Student Affairs Graduate Association, or the master's degree program in Student Affairs at Western Kentucky University, please contact Dr. Aaron W. Hughey.