Notes from the ARC: “So, what do you do?”

Given we’ve just recently moved, I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked “So, what do you do working at Cal Poly?”  

Now begins my instantaneous internal conversation… How to I respond?  Where do I start?  What is their knowledge level of higher education or assessment?  Do I have the time to do this now?

Then my typical response: “I’m the Director of Student Affairs Assessment and Research.”  

At this point, they typically insert blank stare and “Woah, that’s a long title… So, what does that mean?”

Then there’s typically a small explanation of quality assurance and learning outcomes.  However, in actuality people are assessing and benefitting from assessment every single day of their lives.  

On a basic level, we read the assessment and evaluation of products and services, from Amazon ratings to Yelp scores.  We monitor our children’s symptoms to determine if they might have a cold or just don’t want to take that math test.  We provide and receive performance reviews because it’s important for us/our team to know how they’re doing at work (at least we should be).  We log, give and provide feedback every day on almost everything, even if it’s only stored away in our brain.

According to my iPhone dictionary: Assessment – The evaluation or estimation of the nature, quality, or ability of someone or something.

According to Webster: Evaluation – determination of the value, nature, character, or quality of something or someone

When you think about it in those terms, even a date is really an evaluation/assessment metric on whether or not you enjoy this person’s company and would like to see them again.  

Those of us who work in assessment, evaluation and research basically do that on an organized, systematized and professional level.  We aim to guarantee that what you’re marketed from an institution of higher education matches what you’re paying for at said college/university.  Then finally, that as a student, you’re learning the outcomes determined by your program and your degree is worth the paper it’s printed on.  

We assess both the content from inside the classroom that we’re all very familiar with: tests, quizzes, papers, presentations projects, final grades, cumulative GPA… but we also assess the happenings of the co-curricular efforts.  As a student affairs assessment professional, I’m interested to know How are college students developing as holistic human beings?  What are the intangible non-academic skills craved by employers and tend to be missing from the traditional academic curriculum?  Do the programs that we’re offering and investing resources in, actually make a difference in the lives of our students.

Assessment provides quality assurance; meaning and value to a degree, enables our programs to continually evolve and improve, and meet the ever changing needs of our student populations and world.  

So, in a non-jargony nutshell, that’s what I do.  Thanks for asking.  

Kevin Grant, Ed.D., is the Director of Student Affairs Assessment & Research at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He will lead several presentations at the #2018ARC, including sessions on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday

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