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The SAGAS Saga: An Assessment of Student Affairs Graduate Assistantships Matthew J. Skoy & Zachary T. Ford Iowa State University
SAGAS Saga 2 The SAGAS Saga: From Conceptualization to Implementation On the Iowa State University campus, a variety of staff serve the student body as student affairs professionals, working to create a nurturing environment for student development and learning in and, more importantly, out of the classroom, where otherwise there would not be support. These professionals work to frame the lives of undergraduate life during those students’ entire stay at the college. Assisting these professionals are a number of graduate assistants, most of whom are working towards a graduate degree in Higher Education through the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS). To be enrolled in the program, these students are required to be employed in one of these assistantships. Often, these individuals have opportunities beyond their job expectations to create and implement engaging programs and services to support student life. Parallel to the field in which they are working, much of their learning occurs outside the classroom as well. The experience of these graduate assistants has never been formally evaluated. In 2007, the ELPS department provided assistantship supervisors with learning outcomes and expectations for their graduate assistants. These outcomes and expectations create a functional framework in which to assess the graduate assistant experience. In addition to evaluating these learning outcomes, we hope to capture a snapshot of the overall working experience of student affairs graduate assistants, because such an evaluation has never been conducted. This information will serve the ELPS department as well as the Division of Student Affairs and other offices with working effectively with their graduate assistants. Executive Summary Purpose
SAGAS Saga 3 This assessment collected information about the general experience of student affairs graduate assistants at Iowa State University. The researchers hoped to capture a snapshot of the quality of these assistants' work environments and whether their learning outcomes are being met within their assistantships. This information will provide insight into the learning and professional development experiences for graduate assistants. Objectives 1. To understand the experience of current student affairs graduate assistants in their
work environments. 2. To reveal strengths and weaknesses within the current assistantship program in
terms of the expectations set forth in the Supervisor’s Manual. 3. To make recommendations to the Department of Educational Leadership and
Policy Studies of how to improve the assistantship experience in terms of its academic oversight. 4. To make recommendations to the Division of Student Affairs regarding ways
supervisors of graduate assistants can improve the learning and professional experience of graduate assistants with whom they work. 5. To make recommendations to campus professional staffs regarding how they can
improve work relations with graduate assistants. Description This assessment utilized mixed methods of information collection through a survey conducted online using SurveyMonkey.com. The entire population of current graduate assistants (including two doctoral students) was contacted so that the results could be as generalizable and descriptive as possible. The survey participants responded to numerous quantitative items and
SAGAS Saga 4 also had a qualitative portion where they could provide comments regarding specific experiences related to the questions. Results Of the 60 graduate assistants who were sent the survey, 33 completed it, a response rate of 55%. The results of the survey showed that overall; respondents are generally satisfied in their assistantship. Of the 31 respondents who responded to questions about their overall experience, 28 (90%) agreed or strongly agreed that they have had positive experiences in their graduate assistantships. The assistants also indicated that they are afforded the kind of flexibilities they need to balance their workloads academically and professionally. About 91% (n=29) of respondents indicated that their workloads are flexible enough to accommodate their studies, and about 94% (n=30) indicated that their hours were flexible enough to accommodate their other academic responsibilities (which could include homework, class, and practicum opportunities). The numbers declined when factoring in other life experiences: 81% (n=26) felt that they maintained a balance between their assistantships and their other life activities. Still, despite what strain the respondents might feel because of their assistantship, 84% of respondents (n=27) do feel that their supervisors appreciate the time they dedicate to their assistantship work. Though many respondents reported that they did understand the expectations set forth in their job description (90%, n=29), about 41% of respondents (n=13) disagreed or strongly disagreed that they received adequate orientation when they began their assistantships and 47% (n=15) felt they were not prepared on the first day of work. Overall, respondents reporting have positive relationships with their supervisors. One of the most positive responses was to the item, “My supervisor respects me both as a person and as
SAGAS Saga 5 a professional in training,” with almost 94% (n=29) agreeing or strongly agreeing. The following item, “My supervisor respects me as both a student and as a colleague,” was also strong, with about 87% (n=27) agreeing or strongly agreeing. Of 24 respondents, 100% agreed to a number of items, including that they felt their time was appreciated, they were respected as a person and a professional, they were encouraged to express their opinions, they were supported in their job search (n=12), and that other staff in the office created a comfortable working environment. Though the results were generally positive, there were exceptions. For example, 13% of respondents (n=4) did not agree that their supervisors accept them “as both a student and a colleague,” that their supervisors “maintain informal, friendly relations” with them, or that their supervisors encourage them to express their opinions. In addition, 16% of respondents (n=5) indicated that their supervisors have not created opportunities for them to engage in staff culture. Generally, respondents had positive experiences with the other staff in the offices in which they work. Nearly 94% of respondents (n=29) felt that other staff members respected them as professionals and 97% of respondents (n=30) reported that other staff members in the office are friendly with them. However, when asked if other staff have taken the time to get to know them better, only about 81% (n=25) agreed or strongly agreed. Responses regarding supervisors’ feedback were not as positive as for other categories. When asked about the feedback, 56% (n=18) of respondents said they did not regularly receive critical feedback from their supervisors. Of those 18 respondents, 78% reported that they did not have regular one-on-one meetings with their supervisors to discuss job performance. Most (83%) did not have learning contracts. But, two out of three respondents who said they do not receive regular critical feedback do report receiving written evaluations. Fifty-three percent (n=17) of all
SAGAS Saga 6 respondents reported having regular one-on-one meetings with their supervisors to discuss their job performance. Seven respondents (22%) reported that their supervisors had discussed developmental theory in relation to the expectations of their assistantships’ job descriptions. In discussing their contact with students, 29% of respondents (n=9) felt they were not prepared to assist students who were dealing with crisis situations. Recommendations 1. Investigate efficient and consistent methods for the ELPS Department to communicate with assistantship supervisors. 2. Consider what expectations the ELPS Department has of assistantship supervisors and how the supervisors are prepared to meet them. 3. Establish a consistent process for regularly collecting supervisor’s written evaluations of their assistants. 4. Create module for graduate assistants to regularly assess their experiences in their assistantships. 5. Consider how the ELPS Department can organize consistent professional development workshops for all student affairs graduate assistants. 6. Establish consistent policy for sick leave, vacation time, and comp time. Purpose of the Evaluation This survey collected information about the general experience of student affairs graduate assistants at Iowa State University. The researchers hoped to capture a snapshot of the quality of these assistants' work environments and whether their learning outcomes are being met within their assistantships.
SAGAS Saga 7 This information will be used by both the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (which oversees the assistantship process) and the Division of Student Affairs (which oversees the departments in which the graduate assistants work) to provide insight into the learning and professional development experiences for graduate assistants. The Client We, the investigators, are the primary clients of this assessment. We are Matt Skoy and Zack Ford, and we both are currently master’s students in the Higher Education program with graduate assistantships. In conversations with our peers and colleagues and observations from our own assistantships, we found that there are a variety of positive and negative experiences taking place that do not currently have an outlet for being identified. Because the student affairs graduate assistantship is required for degree completion, it is important to make sure that the learning outcomes are being met and that graduate assistants are having experiences that will prepare them professionally for a career in student affairs. This is also important not only for retention, but for recruitment of future students. We have the support of both the ELPS department and the Division of Student Affairs to conduct this assessment, though the idea was our own. Key Stakeholders There are various stakeholders interested in our results. For example, the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies will be able to use the results to determine graduate students’ needs and how well the assistantship program is serving their learning. The Vice President of Student Affairs is also interested in how he can work with the various assistantship supervisors who report to him to create a more educational and productive work experience for graduate assistants. The supervisors themselves may also be interested in exploring how they can
SAGAS Saga 8 improve the experiences of their assistants. As graduate assistants ourselves, we are hoping to reveal some of the challenges that members of our program are experiencing in their assistantships. Justifying and improving the assistantship program are important utilities for recruitment in the ELPS department, particularly because graduate assistantships are a required part of degree programs. By demonstrating a consistent commitment to improving the assistantship program, the ELPS department can build upon its reputation and recruit from a more competitive pool of applicants. Limitations and Disclaimers The first obvious limitation is that we, as the researchers, are also members of the participant group. We acknowledge that we are key stakeholders in this assessment as well, which may offer bias to the work we are doing as well as how we present the results. Still, we believe this is an important assessment to be done, and we only began work on this study once we were assured the support of Nancy Evans, Coordinator of the Student Affairs Masters program. We have done our best to objectively assess the graduate assistantship experience as well as portray the results without bias, showing both the positive and critical feedback we received. Our intention was to hold focus groups to give participants the opportunity to follow up on the results of the survey and share more stories from their own experiences. When we put out the call for focus group participants, we received only four volunteers, barely enough for one focus group, let alone two. These participants were also not available at the same times, so we could not hold even one focus group. Many of our peers stated that they would like the opportunity to talk candidly about their assistantship experiences, but did not feel comfortable in a focus group setting because of who might hear what they are sharing. While we could assure
SAGAS Saga 9 them our confidentiality as the researchers, they could not be assured that their fellow focus group participants would respect the same confidentiality. This suggests concerns regarding trust that could be explored further through individual interviews. Object of the Evaluation This assessment was designed to evaluate the experience of student affairs graduate assistants at Iowa State University. The targeted students are all enrolled in degree programs in Higher Education through the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and are required to hold such assistantships for fulfillment of those degrees. The ELPS department has never collected information about the experience of these graduate assistants. In 2007, the ELPS department did implement a supervisor’s manual for the first time. The manual outlines the expectations for graduate assistantship supervisors and discusses relationship, reflection, learning outcomes, and how the assistantship intersects with the curriculum. The development of this manual provided an excellent opportunity to conduct an assessment because it provided a clear set of expectations for the assistantship experience. Another component of the supervisor’s manual was the expectation that supervisors provide a written evaluation of their graduate assistants at the end of each semester. Still, there was no process by which the assistants themselves could offer feedback about their experiences. This assessment is designed to capture an overview of what graduate assistants are experiencing and hopefully provide insights as to how such feedback could be collected in the future. Assessment Goals The goals of this assessment are as follows: 1. To understand the experience of current student affairs graduate assistants in their work environments.
SAGAS Saga 10 2. To reveal strengths and weaknesses within the current assistantship program in terms of the expectations set forth in the Supervisor’s Manual. 3. To make recommendations to the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies of how to improve the experience of the assistantship experience in terms of their academic oversight. 4. To make recommendations to the Division of Student Affairs regarding ways supervisors of graduate assistants can improve the learning and professional experience of graduate assistants with whom they work. 5. To make recommendations to campus professional staffs regarding how they can improve work relations with graduate assistants. Assessment Design This assessment utilizes mixed methods of information collection. Our instrument was a survey constructed online using SurveyMonkey.com that combined quantitative and qualitative questions. After responding to a number of quantitative items related to a specific aspect of their assistantship experience, they had the opportunity to share comments related to that aspect. The entire population of current graduate assistants was contacted so that the results can be as generalizable and descriptive as possible. Population and Sample The population consisted of all students currently employed in a student affairs graduate assistantship through the department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, including both Master’s and Doctoral students. This list was publicly available from the ELPS department. Because this group was relatively small, the entire population was invited to participate in the study.
SAGAS Saga 11 Contacting Individuals Prospective participants were contacted by an email which contained the link to the survey. This email can be found in Appendix A. A similar reminder email was sent a few days before the survey was closed. Methods A list of the survey questions can be found in Appendix B. The survey was conducted in late March/early April. (A specific timeline can be found below.) By this time of year, all participants had been in their assistantship for at least seven months, ensuring they had enough experience to answer the survey questions accurately. The survey had numerous items, but most of the responses were on a Likert-scale, so participants would not feel overwhelmed by its breadth. In fact, the researchers expected most participants would be eager to participate because they had not previously had an opportunity to share their feedback and reflect on their assistantship experiences. We estimated participants would require anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes to complete the survey, depending on how much depth participants chose to provide in the comments sections. Analysis The survey was analyzed using descriptive statistics (frequencies, means, etc.). Responses of “Not Applicable” were not considered in these tabulations. Written responses have been coded to look for themes. In particular, these responses have been connected to the results of the quantitative items from the survey when applicable. Timeline February 7 February 14 Present list of goals, objectives, questions, and learning outcomes. Present outline of research methodology
SAGAS Saga 12 February 21 March 13 March 13 March 27 March 31 April 16 April 19 April 10 May 5 Present summary of the evaluation approach Survey will be distributed and open for participants to respond Present Evaluation Present Status Report Last day participants will have to respond to survey First Focus Group (proposed) Second Focus Group (proposed) Present Status Report Present Final Results Reporting Plan Once results were collected, a report was developed with three audiences in mind: a) HgEd 597 Program Evaluation and Assessment, b) Vice President Tom Hill and the Division of Student Affairs, and c) Dr. Nancy Evans and the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. In addition, we will offer to share our report with all participants originally contacted. The report will include our findings as well as recommondations for consideration and action based on the results. Evaluation Results Overall satisfaction
SAGAS Saga 13 Overall, respondents are satisfied in their assistantship. Of the 31 assistants who responded to questions about their overall experience, 28 (90%) agreed or strongly agreed that they have had positive experiences in their graduate assistantship. See Figure 1 for a breakdown of these responses.
Figure 1. Many of the final comments shared are positive and enthusiastic. For example: one female assistant in her first year wrote: I love my assistantship, I can't say anything bad about it. It rocks my socks off and even though i [sic] was intimidated by it at first it has been one of the most influential experiences of my life. Another first-year female master’s student pointed out that she has had positive experiences in her assistantship but that it might not be for everybody: The final question, "would I recommend this assistantship experience to others", I feel would vary depending on the person who I would recommend it to. If they are searching for an environment to get a better social life, then sure my office would be great for that.
SAGAS Saga 14 However, if they are looking for a solid educational experience in learning how to work and assist with college students while having great supervision, I would say this is definitely not the place. This response clearly demonstrates that not all assistants are having the same experience or learning the same skills Flexibility The assistants indicated that they are afforded the kind of flexibility they need to balance their workloads academically and professionally. About 91% (n=29) of respondents indicated that their workloads are flexible enough to accommodate their studies, and about 94% (n=30) indicated that their hours were flexible enough to accommodate their other academic responsibilities (which could include homework, class, and practicum opportunities). About 81% (n=26) feel that they can maintain a balance between their assistantships and their other life activities. Eighty-four percent of respondents (n=27) do feel that their supervisors appreciate the time they dedicate to their assistantship work. Some respondents described the way they discuss their assistantship’s flexibility with their supervisors. Many of their comments expressed praise and gratitude for the flexibility they had. For example, a female in her first year of her assistantship said: My assistantship provider is extremely flexible with my personal and professional schedules and accommodates my requests for time off whenever possible. Another male first-year assistant described just how he and his boss set up his work schedule: My supervisor stated at the beginning of my assistantship that she expects me to make sure that if I give any extra time, I take it back for myself. This sort of fluid honor system has been particularly helpful since I do not get any sick or vacation time.
SAGAS Saga 15 While some respondents expressed concern about a lack of consistency among policies for graduate assistants’ sick and vacation time, this assessment did not ask questions specific to that issue. Other students expressed some concern about how flexible their assistantships actually were. Another female in her first year shared: This semester I have rarely worked my 20 hours a week, I have been working more like 30-35, but this is alright with me because I am gaining valuable experience and I enjoy my job (most of the time)! This respondent clearly appreciates her experience, but is still working beyond the expectations set forth in her job description. A female in her second year described just how that can play out: My assistantship demanded more than 20 hours a week and sometimes this was noticed and appreciated by my supervisor and other times I was informed that this was how the "real world” would be so I should get used to it. Overall, I was allowed to flex out time for extra work hours but this only happened when I pointed out my excess hours to my supervisor and we had a discussion about how I did indeed deserve the time off. It is unclear whether the student was aware of these expectations before accepting the assistantship. While respondents do feel their assistantships are flexible, there seem to be some inconsistencies in how this flexibility is afforded by different supervisors in different offices. Student Interaction Respondents seemed very pleased with the amount of interaction they have with undergraduate students. Of the 31 respondents to items related to student interaction, 84% (n=26) reported that the amount of student interaction they have meets the expectations they had when entering the assistantship. Even though some respondents felt they were not interacting with
SAGAS Saga 16 students as often as they would like, 100% of respondents agreed (n=15) or strongly agreed (n=16) that they are able to provide the “resources and support” that their students are seeking. As a second-year female student shared: My experience with the students is one of the main reasons I have stayed with this assistantship. Preparation Though many respondents reported that they did understand the expectations set forth in their job description (90%, n=29), about 41% of respondents (n=13) disagreed or strongly disagreed that they received adequate orientation when they began their assistantships. In addition, 47% (n=15) felt they were not prepared on the first day of work. Some respondents did not mind this, as one first-year female shared: The orientation was helpful, but some things you just need to learn through firsthand experience. This was certainly true for me. Others expressed more concern at their lack of preparation. A second-year female said: I did not know what was to be expected of me and my supervisor went on vacation the day after I arrived. I do not believe I fully understood my assistantship responsibilities until the first semester of school ended. A first-year female respondent was even more candid in her concern: It was difficult because shortly after I went over my job responsibilities with my supervisor, they left the office, and after that those responsibilities were basically out the window, and I never really had a meeting to outline new ones. I was shuffled to where there was need and where there was an adequate supervisor. I had no training or preparation what-so-ever except a tour of the office.
SAGAS Saga 17 Another male respondent expressed his frustration about the lack of support he received: In my opinion, assistantships are not supervised closely enough by the ELPS department resulting in vastly different experiences depending on the office the GA has their assistantship through. I was not even aware that we were supposed to have learning contracts. Learning contracts are an expectation set forth in the new supervisor’s manual that the ELPS department distributed this past year, though it unclear if supervisors were given proper notice or explanation for this expectation. Because the survey was constructed using the manual as a guide, several questions on the survey reflected this expectation. These items led our respondents to ask their own questions, as one second-year female respondent simply asked: We have a learning contract? Only 25% of respondents (n=8) indicated that their supervisors had worked with them to develop a learning contract. Of those respondents, only half (n=4) reported that their supervisor regularly referred to the learning contract or that their learning contract helped guide their work in their assistantship. These results might yet be misleading, since one of those four respondents shared: What do you mean learning contract. We have a plan that us in the office are getting done and I know where I fit on the plan and that is altra [sic] helpful. Despite the low numbers for learning contract use, some respondents seemed optimistic about their experiences, as one first-year female shared: I don't know if we have anyting [sic] in writing about what I am supposed to learn but my boss is continuely [sic] asking me if there is anything she can do to help me learn more of what I want to learn. A second-year female shared simply:
SAGAS Saga 18 I have never heard of a learning contract before either in my assistantship office or from any of the other grads in ELPS. If ELPS expects learning contracts to be a part of every student’s assistantship experience, this goal is currently not being met. While many students do feel they understand their job responsibilities, there seems to be a need to better address issues of preparation and job expectations early in the assistantship process. Supervisor Relations and Staff Culture Overall, respondents reporting have positive relationships with their supervisors. One of the most positive responses was to the item, “My supervisor respects me both as a person and as a professional in training,” with almost 94% (n=29) agreeing or strongly agreeing. The following item, “My supervisor respects me as both a student and as a colleague,” was also strong, with about 87% (n=27) agreeing or strongly agreeing. A 23-year-old first-year female student shared: My supervisor has been very supportive of both my personal and professional life. I know that whichever path I decide to take in future years, I can rely on this individual as an excellent resource and reference. One of the items that received the most critical response in evaluating supervisorassistant relationships was “I feel comfortable talking to my supervisor about concerns I have regarding the workplace environment, or other professional concerns,” with 75% (n=24) of respondents agreeing (n=13) or strongly agreeing (n=11), lower than for any other similar question. Thus, this item proved an interesting measure for what factors contribute to a positive relationship between supervisors and their graduate assistants. Of those 24 respondents, 100% agreed to a number of other items, including that they felt their time was appreciated, they were respected as a person and a professional, they were encouraged to express their opinions, they
SAGAS Saga 19
n=2 4 100 % My supervisor respects me both as a person and as a professional in training. My supervisor encourages me to express my opinions. The other professional staff members create a working environment in which I can comfortably and productively work (n=23). My supervisor has supported my job search efforts (n=11). I feel comfortable talking to my supervisor about concerns I have regarding the workplace environment, or other professional concerns. My supervisor appreciates the time I dedicate to my assistantship.
were supported in their job search (n=11), and that other staff in the office created a comfortable working environment (n=23). (Some respondents selected “Not Applicable” for the last two items.) While most of the responses were positive in regards to relations with supervisors, it should be noted that there were some who were negative. Though they may be the exception and not the rule, these responses could represent concerns that need to be addressed. For example, 13% of respondents (n=4) did not agree that their supervisors accepts them “as both a student and a colleague,” that their supervisors “maintain informal, friendly relations” with them, or that their supervisors encourage them to express their opinions. In addition, 16% of respondents (n=5) indicated that their supervisors have not created opportunities for them to engage in staff culture. While these concerns are minimal, they are still present and worth considering. Generally, respondents had positive experiences with the other staff in the offices in which they work. Nearly 94% of respondents (n=29) felt that other staff members respected them as professionals and 97% of respondents (n=30) reported that other staff members in the office are friendly with them. However, when asked if other staff have taken the time to get to know
SAGAS Saga 20 them better, only about 81% (n=25) agreed or strongly agreed. See the chart below for responses about staff culture.
In describing his interactions with other staff members, a first-year graduate assistant shared the following: I think I surprise the other staff members sometimes with my ideas, but they are always eager to hear them. My office is slightly removed from the rest of the staff, so my interaction with them can be limited, but they always make sure to include me in social activities and are quite friendly. Feedback Responses regarding feedback were not as positive as for other categories. When asked about the feedback, 56% (n=18) of respondents said they did not regularly receive critical feedback from their supervisors. Of those 18 respondents, 78% reported that they did not have regular one-on-one meetings with their supervisors to discuss job performance. Most (83%) did not have learning contracts. But, two out of three respondents who say they do not receive regular critical feedback do report receiving written evaluations.
SAGAS Saga 21
Only 53% (n=17) of all respondents reported having regular one-on-one meetings with their supervisors to discuss their job performance. Half of respondents indicated that their supervisors do not encourage them to reflect on their experiences. A second-year, female respondent shared: My supervisor is new to the office and Student Affairs, so we do not have weekly meetings. I work primarily on my own, but do feel comfortable going to her when I do have questions/concerns. Others were not as confident about their relationship with their supervisor. Another in her first year reported: I do not have regular one-on-one meetings with my assistantship provider. As such, I do not receive regular feedback on my job performance, nor am I given the opportunity to reflect on what I am doing and how I might be able to improve in the future. A second-year male student had similar concerns:
SAGAS Saga 22 I wish my supervisor would offer more criticism. I know that there are things I don't do as well as I could, and I would appreciate honest suggestions for improving. If graduate assistantships are intended to be learning experiences, such experiences seem to be lacking consistency. Other Observations Participants were asked questions regarding developmental theory and crisis management. Only a quarter of respondents reported that their supervisors encourage them to apply developmental theory in the work the work they do for their assistantship. In fact, only seven respondents (22%) reported that their supervisors had discussed developmental theory in relation to the expectations of their assistantships’ job descriptions. In discussing their contact with students, 29% of respondents (n=9) felt they were not prepared to assist students who were dealing with crisis situations. While some assistantships may be more student-focused than others, we felt all student affairs professionals should be prepared for this circumstance. A female in her first year suggested: I think that more training on dealing with crisis situations and diversity training would be beneficial for everyone. Recommendations Without a doubt, the graduate assistantship program is having some very positive impacts on students. The data represents that they are learning and growing in ways that reflect the expectations of the program. Still, improvements could be made, as outlined below. One concern we have is an apparent disconnect between expectations set by the ELPS department and what actually takes place in the graduate assistantships. We recognize this may be challenging to address as it requires balancing a healthy relationship with the assistantship
SAGAS Saga 23 supervisors while ensuring a valuable learning experience for the graduate assistants. Considering it was the first year the supervisors’ manual was introduced, it would be important to collect feedback from the supervisors. Our first recommendation for addressing this disconnect is to investigate how efficiently and consistently the ELPS Department communicats with supervisors. How regularly should the department check in with the supervisors? What is the best method for establishing regular communication? In addition, the ELPS Department should consider what expectations they have of supervisors and how to prepare them to meet them. This should include investigating the effectiveness of the supervisor’s manual and how the manual is presented to supervisors. This would provide an opportunity for the ELPS department to adress what learning experiences they expect for their graduate students in their assistantships. Topics such as learning contracts and feedback could be discussed so that supervisors have a better understanding of how the ELPS department is asking them to support the learning of their graduate assistants. We also recommend that written evaluations should be collected on a more regular basis. The written evaluation process could be abridged so that it is less taxing for the supervisor to complete. However, asking for more regular written feedback creates more opportunities for students to learn about their progress. It will also ensure more opportunities for graduate assistants to meet one-on-one with their supervisors. If nothing else could be learned from this survey, it is the fact that graduate assistants have a lot to say about their experiences. Because an assistantship is required for completion of a the Student Affairs Master’s Degree program in ELPS, students should have the opportunity to evaluate their assistantship experience as they would any course. We therefore recommend that the ELPS department design a model for assistantship evaluation. Such an evaluation could be a
SAGAS Saga 24 survey similar to those used in course evaluations or could consist of individual interviews with the assistants. This will help make sure that the department’s learning outcomes are actually being met. Another concern from the data is the inconsistency among assistantship experiences—in particular, variation in professional development and reflection. We recommend that the ELPS department consider instituting a required seminar for first-year students that would include several workshops and trainings. These sessions could relate to responding to crisis situations, learning how to have conversations with supervisors, time management, and reflecting on professional experiences. These seminars would create venues for the students to have constructive conversations about their assistantship experiences while establishing some consistent professional development. A final recommendation we have is addressing the inconsistencies regarding sick leave, vacation time, and comp time. Though we did not specifically investigate this issue, many of our respondents shared that it was a concernt that affected their ability to balance their profession, academic, and private lives. Some graduate assistants do not have any opportunities to take time off work while others do. It seems almost unprofessional that such inconsistencies persist. All graduate assistants deserve to have a consistent expectation for the benefits they receive. Not having a consistent policy could negatively affect both recruitment of new students to the program and assistantship retention. Acknowledgements We wish to thank those who supported us as we completed this assessment. Because we are currently graduate assistants, we are very thankful that our supervisors were supportive as we conducted this assessment. They understand the value associated with the potential results and
SAGAS Saga 25 approve the use of work time for developing and carrying out this study. In addition, Zack’s assistantship has a paid subscription to the SurveyMonkey service which he may use, so we had no costs associated with this service. We would also like to thank Anne Gansemer-Topf for her continued patience and support on this project. As our Program Evaluation and Assessment professor, she spent many hours working with us to help ensure our successful completion of the assessment. Concluding Thoughts This survey represents an introduction to a future of more detailed and extensive evaluation. Graduate assistantships are important learning experiences and should be held accountable through the use of assessment. Such evaluation would model the professional expectations set forth in courses such as HG ED 597, Program Evaluation and Assessment, for which this report was generated. In addition, the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies could improve the experience of its students as well as the reputation of its program. This is the true value of assessment.
SAGAS Saga 26 Reference Fitzpatrick, J. L., Sanders, J. R., & Worthen, B.R. (2004). Program evaluation: Alternative approaches and practical guidelines (3rd ed). New York: Longman.
SAGAS Saga 27 Appendix A
You are receiving this email because you are currently enrolled in a program through Iowa State University’s department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and are employed in a student affairs graduate assistantship.
We are two students who are looking to collect information about your experience in these assistantships. An assessment has never been done about such experiences, and we are looking forward to capturing this snapshot. Though we are completing this assessment as a requirement for our class, Program Evaluation and Assessment (Res Ev 597), we also plan to share the results with the ELPS department and the Division of Student Affairs.
We are hoping that you would be willing to participate in our study, the Student Affairs Graduate Assistant Survey (SAGAS). Our first priority is your privacy, so please understand that no personal identifiers will be collected during this process. Our informed consent documents contain more details about how we will be gathering information.
If you would be interested in participating, we hope you will complete our survey. The link can be found below. Please make sure you read the informed consent document before proceeding to the survey. The survey will only be open through March 31, so please try to complete it before then.
SAGAS Saga 28
In addition to the survey, we are going to hold two focus groups so that we can collect more of your stories and personal experiences to support the survey results. The focus groups will be held on Wednesday, April 16 at 7:00 PM and Saturday, April 19 at 10:00 AM. Please email us back at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know if you would be interested in participating and which day would work best. If you would be available for either date, please let us know that as well. We look forward to hearing your stories!
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
The link to the survey is: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=G_2f0cH6XKqE45MgxlyNNftg_3d_3d Thank you for your time!
Matt Skoy and Zack Ford SAGAS Co-Chairs
SAGAS Saga 29 Appendix B
Please respond to the following items with Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Agree, or Strongly Agree. You may also select N/A if the item does not at apply to your assistantship experience (for example, an assistantship that does not have “on call” duties). After each set of items, please feel free to use the comment space to share any additional thoughts you have related to those items.
Preparation, Expectations 1. I was provided adequate orientation when I began my assistantship. 2. I understand how to carry out the expectations set forth in my assistantship’s job description. 3. My supervisor worked with me to develop a learning contract that accurately outlines the goals of my assistantship. 4. My supervisor refers to my learning contract on a regular basis. 5. I feel like my learning contract has helped guide my work in my assistantship. 6. I felt like I was overall prepared on my first day at work.
Workload and Flexibility 7. I have been afforded flexibility in my workload to accommodate my studies. 8. My supervisor checks in with me about my academic progress.
SAGAS Saga 30 9. My hours are allowed to be flexible to accommodate my academic responsibilities. 10. My hours are allowed to be flexible to accommodate my practicum experience(s). 11. My supervisor understands that my assistantship hours can be measured in different ways (such as time spent in the office, student contact outside of the office, preparation and implementation time for special assignments, etc.). 12. My “on call” duties do not exceed the equivalent of two weekends per month. 13. I receive ample notice when I will need to dedicate more than my weekly number of hours for specific assistantship-related circumstances. 14. My supervisor appreciates the time I dedicate to my assistantship. 15. I feel like I am able to maintain a balance between my assistantship and other life activities.
Feedback and Learning 16. My supervisor regularly sets aside time to meet one-on-one with me to discuss my performance in my assistantship. 17. I meet with my supervisor every week for at least 30 minutes. 18. My supervisor regularly offers me critical feedback regarding my job performance. 19. I feel like my supervisor offers me the support I need to learn and grow in my assistantship. 20. My supervisor has encouraged me to reflect on my assistantship experiences.
SAGAS Saga 31 21. I feel comfortable talking to my supervisor about questions I have about the work that I am doing. 22. I feel comfortable talking to my supervisor about concerns I have regarding the workplace environment, or other professional concerns. 23. I feel I am able to explore different opportunities to further my knowledge within in my assistantship area. 24. My supervisor provides me with a written evaluation at the end of every semester. 25. My supervisor’s evaluations provide critical feedback that assists me in my professional growth and development.
Learning Outcomes 26. My supervisor discusses developmental theory in relation to the expectations of my assistantship’s job description. 27. My supervisor encourages me to apply developmental theory in the work that I do for my assistantship. 28. My supervisor encourages me to demonstrate effective oral communication skills. 29. My supervisor encourages me to demonstrate effective written communication skills. 30. My supervisor encourages me to create, design, and implement programs and interventions.
SAGAS Saga 32
Workspace and Resources 31. My assistantship includes a physical space that is conducive to productive work. 32. My workspace includes a desk with enough room to work efficiently. 33. My workspace includes access to a telephone. 34. My workspace includes access to a computer with internet access. 35. I can depend on my technological resources being available for my usage at all times. 36. The provided technology is conducive for allowing me to complete my job responsibilities efficiently and effectively. 37. I have ready access to a space that permits me to meet privately with staff or students. 38. There is adequate clerical support to carry out the duties of my assistantship. 39. I have access to various office supplies I need to carry out the duties of my assistantship.
Supervisor Relations 40. My supervisor respected that I explored different assistantship opportunities for my second year. 41. My supervisor respects me both as a person and as a professional in training. 42. My supervisor accepts me as both a student and as a colleague. 43. My supervisor maintains informal, friendly working relations with me. 44. My supervisor encourages me to express my opinions.
SAGAS Saga 33 45. My supervisor encourages me to make independent decisions, based on defensible standards. 46. My supervisor offers positive feedback and encouragement. 47. My supervisor has created opportunities for me to engage in the staff culture. 48. My supervisor has supported my job search efforts.
Work Environment 49. The other professional staff members in the office respect me as a professional. 50. The other professional staff members in the office are friendly with me. 51. The other professional staff members invite me to participate in staff social activities. 52. The other professional staff members have taken the time to get to know me better. 53. The other professional staff members create a working environment in which I can comfortably and productively work. 54. The staff members in my office are encouraged to express new ideas, questions, and concerns.
Student Contact 55. The amount of interaction I have with students meets the expectations I had entering this assistantship.
SAGAS Saga 34 56. My office is easily found when students are looking to meet with me. 57. I am able to provide the support and resources my students are seeking. 58. I am prepared to assist students who are dealing with crisis situations.
59. I am overall satisfied with my graduate assistantship experience. 60. I felt like my assistantship was a positive learning experience. 61. I would recommend this assistantship experience to others.
62. What was the most significant learning experience you had during your assistantship?
Gender: Age: Ethnicity: Degree Program: (Master’s/Doctoral) How many years have you been in your program? How many years have you been in your assistantship?
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