RETHINK: preparation

I have been in a professional full time position for four+ years now. My perspective and comprehensive understanding of things like student development theory, assessment, cultural pluralism and higher education has not only helped me do my job but helped me build a niche. I  thank the IUP faculty and my mentors for preparing me to enter this field. This post is not about IUP or Rutgers or any other graduate program in particular. The problem I am identifying with graduate preparation programs is a result of a bigger issue related to innovation and change in general. So here it goes…


In the last 4+ years I have spent as a professional I have been expected to be a “micro-entrepreneur” each and every semester. My first job was part of a two person office, creating from scratch, a brand new summer orientation program. I have had to create new training programs, unified departmental initiatives, new recognition programs, a new professional development committee, and the list goes on and on and on. I am not alone, if your in higher ed and reading this, you too can list pages of new programs and initiatives you have had to build from scratch. We as Student Affairs educators are “micro-entrepreneurs” working in higher education.

If you’re not creating new things, you’re not doing it right.

Which brings me to my call to action….

slide.002 We need entrepreneurship courses in Student Affairs graduate programs. Student Affairs educators cannot rely on just hoping that people entering this field are self starters. We need to teach core entrepreneurship principles like the art of the pitch, fundraising your ideas, marketing a concept and creativity. These skills are imperative to our success as educators.

As always, I love a good lively discussion so I look forward to hearing from readers about why this would or would not work.

Courtney O’Connell

President, The Jersey Alliance



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11 responses to “RETHINK: preparation

  1. Anonymous

    What a great idea! I often think back on my graduate school days and wonder how much practical knowledge I gained that I actually utilize now. It’s not a lot. Yes, theories are important, but practical knowledge is also important, maybe even vital. There have been many times these past few years (in my first professional position) where I needed knowledge of business, assessment, or innovation- none of which I learned in my graduate school program. Maybe you should propose teaching a course? =D

  2. Thanks! It’s good to hear others say they feel it would be applicable. Would love to get this conversation going on a national level and really push the idea as far as it can go!


  3. Robyn Kaplan

    I couldn’t agree with you more. My most fulfilling achievements in student affairs have been programs,initiatives, and policies that I’ve started from scratch and developed over the years. I am fortunate to have that drive and vision but I wish graduate programs were even more intentional about incorporating the value of other industry’s skills. We vouch for a holistic experience for our students … same should be true for our professionals. Thanks for sharing.

    • Robyn,
      Thanks for your comment. I sit and wonder what would stand in the way of programs starting to incorporate this. An allegiance to theory/research? I currently teach a leadership course at RU and use readings from Drive, Delivering Happiness, Linchpin, etc. Besides Drive (by Dan Pink) few of these concepts are grounded in research per-say, but these perspectives and new concepts represent whats working right now in a global and much more progressive society than the days of many of the theorists and researchers we study in grad school.


  4. Courtney, I’ve thought a lot lately about what could be done to improve graduate preparation, and I feel like many aspects of business (entrepreneurship, supervision, efficiency principles) have something to teach student affairs. This is a great observation and speaks to the need for a shift in what our field deems “prepared”. Well said!

  5. Courtney, I often consider myself (a marketing pro and student affairs grad student in higher ed) as an entrepreneur. I am not creating a start up company or inventing a tangible product, but intangible yet meaningful programs and campaigns. I second your call for an entrepreneurship and business ethics course within SA grad programs. My program encourages Individual Study, so I have considered working with the MBA program to take a similar course; however, it would be nice to have one specifically centered to higher education. Great article! – @SheriLehman

  6. I agree that our preparation programs should pay close attention to innovation. I believe that we have opportunities to do this in existing coursework and that doing so might benefit students more than business prep work. My program emphasizes this through required applied projects that must be developed with a learning focus. I agree we all have room to learn about the “art of the sale” but not at the cost of understanding the heart of the programs we develop, the student’s learning. We often lose sight of these goals when the innovation happens in the walls of our offices and in the cold daylight of politics and business. Let’s also consider what we might lose through what we gain.

    • Ryan I have to respectfully disagree. Innovation is imperative to connect with one of the most diverse and complex generations in history. I would also argue that in order to sustain important programs and services for students on campus we have to enhance our ability to “tell our story” and think creatively about funding, resources and new networks. We could start with infusing ideas of innovation and entrepreneurship into current coursework, but it feels like a watered down compromise in comparison to what is possible. I am not suggesting this as a replacement to student development theory, but I am suggesting a review of current curriculum. There is a need always be evaluating and making changes as society progresses and higher ed faces new challenges.


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