ACSD New Professionals Collaborative: Mentoring Minute
By Andre Broquard
The New Professionals Collaborative (NPC) of ACSD introduces the "Mentoring Minute." These short interviews are designed to provide practical advice for members who are new to the field of student development. The NPC has asked some ACSD veterans about their early experiences in the field and their thoughts of the future. This interview is will Dr. Stephen Beers, Vice President of Student Development at John Brown University and President-elect of ACSD. Steve has served in Christian Higher Education for 23 years as a resident director, director of residence life, campus minister, dean of students and vice president.
NPC: Thanks, Steve, for spending some time answering questions about your early days in the field of higher education and particularly in student development. What was your first professional position in higher education?
SB: My first position would have been a community college counselor intern for a semester. My first full time professional position was a hall director.
NPC: Looking back, what would be one lesson that you learned through that position?
SB: I think we are all drawn to working with students; the one-on-one ministry component. I don’t know that I fully realized that I was also going to be part of a team – not just a team of resident life directors – but also a team of student development professionals and teammates with the staff of the whole institution. I remember in my first year working as a hall director our Dean of Students was on sabbatical. We disciplined a student and asked him to leave campus. Being a small college, we probably had less than 1000 students, the president got involved as a surrogate dean. I can remember how crazy it felt to be fresh out of grad school, 26 years old, and working directly with the president on disciplining a student. I think I fully realized that it wasn’t just me living in a hall by myself, but I was part of a larger mission; a larger community, that wasn’t just residence life. It was a whole campus community that was working in the same direction.
NPC: As you entered the profession, your dad was also in student development. Did he or anyone else give you any sort of advice that was particularly helpful that you would want to pass on to someone else?
SB: My dad was the Dean of Students for six years. In fact, his last year was my freshman year of college (I don’t know if there is a correlation there or not). I don’t remember anybody intentionally giving advice or being a mentor. I was probably more of an experiential learner than an observer. But if I had to quantify what people said through their actions (25 years ago) it would be: we are called into relationships, we’re called into the mess of life, it won’t go the way you think it does, but you’re called anyway to be salt and light. What that means to me now as I look back is you won’t be perfect in what you do, but you are still called to be a part of this “stuff”. When I think about my dad’s role as the Dean of Students, one of the things I remember him doing when students were being kicked out of school is actually having a couple of them live in our house before they were sent home. I remember two in particular. One was a guy who’s nickname was Ratso; a fun, silly guy who lived in our house a week or so towards the end of a semester. The second student I remember was a gal that you could tell came from a rough background. At the time, my bedroom was upstairs with my sisters, and I had to move downstairs in order to give this girl some space. Again, I don’t think my dad said anything to me about it but his actions said “life is messy, you have to get personally involved, it is Kingdom work.” I guess I would say a similar thing to the new professional; don’t be too hard on yourself, get involved, know that your work is not going to be perfect, but you are called into this ministry. Think about all the disciples referenced in scripture. They were not perfect yet God used them to transform the world.
NPC: In what ways has the student development profession changed in your 24 -25 years?
SB: I would say that in the 80s, Christian colleges were still in flux trying to grow. The staffs I remember from college were relational, giving, loving, and kind. They probably didn’t see themselves as faculty or professional educators. As colleges have become more and more specialized, more expensive, we in the student development profession have had to become more professional. Our programs and policies are appropriately more research-based. We have had to become more intentional in what we do and more articulate about the outcomes. Thirty years ago, when I was in college, the institution could support a “relational” ministry. Now, institutional leaders are being held accountable for certain outcomes. In the earlier days, simply “getting into people’s lives” was acceptable. Today, with different expectations, we have to be a lot more calculated about what we’re doing and a lot more intentional about collecting data and documentation that we are making a difference. It has become a lot more complex. The out-of-the-classroom experiences continue to have huge impacts on students, but what is intriguing to me is that in the last few years we have seen a shift in classroom pedagogy to include much more active and inquiry-based learning. To be honest, student development has always had the corner on the market with that kind of educational methodology. Classroom faculty have now caught on to the power of providing experiences and reflections to stimulate and encourage change. Some may even be doing it better.
NPC: Looking forward to the next 10-15 years, what do you see happening in student development?
SB: I think the “professionalization” of our roles will continue. When I was in college, the people who served as deans of students and vice presidents in student development probably had master’s degrees. Student development professionals in the residence halls probably didn’t have masters. Now, most vice presidents who are in their 40s or 50s have completed or are completing doctorates. You’ve got a lot more Deans of Students and Directors completing doctorates. So the professionalization of the department has changed and expanded. I think there’s a lot more research data out there to provide direction for our work. It used to be more intuitive work. Now, we may still have that component but we have research to back it up. In addition, with the increasing expense of college, we are going to need to figure out ways to engage in providing the influences of student development to the ever increasing population of on-line degrees. I think that is going to be a really important discussion we are going to have to have – what added value do we bring? Let’s face it, currently a student can earn a degree and never talk to a student development professional.
NPC: As we see new professionals coming into our institutions and particularly becoming members of ACSD, how would you encourage them to make a positive contribution? Are there one or two things that you would advise them to do to be successful?
SB: Again, going back to where we are going with our institutions, I think the cost of our schools will continue to force the upper administration to look at ways to do things more efficiently and cost effectively. I think that the more student development professionals can partner with the academic affairs faculty and staff, the better we will be in impacting the next generation. It’s interesting that at our college there’s a real openness of the new faculty to understand the holistic education that we provide and, specifically, the role student development plays. I think the younger generation of faculty, in my limited experience, is really open to student engagement in and out of the classroom. I think it behooves us both as professionals and educators to partner with academic affairs or whoever else is on your campus; engaging in opportunities to teach or co-teach in the classroom and including the teaching faculty in student development programs like retreats or service learning – not just as “experts” but as collaborators with you. I don’t think I would ever want a new resident director or dean to think that they provide less educational opportunities than a teaching faculty member. I would want them to partner with the faculty in the larger educational goals of the institution. Early on, get involved outside your residence hall, outside your particular role on campus, and partner as a true partner.
Andre Broquard serves as the Director of Residence Life at John Brown University, located in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.
The New Professionals Collaborative connects graduate students and new administrators in higher education for the exchange of ideas, mutual support and professional development.