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After my morning coffee on Wednesday September 9th I had the opportunity to test out Google Hangout with American College Personnel Association president, Gavin Henning. Gavin and I spoke for about 28 minutes about some topics that I thought were relevant to graduate students. Gavin had a great many of insights that he shared and I wanted to share these with the world!

Gavin and I talked about three main topics: Future Trends in Higher Education and Grad Students, Grad Students and Professional Organization Involvement, and the Job Search and Marketing.

Future Trends in Higher Education and Grad Students

Gavin sees several trends for the future of higher education. In the next five years, he believes the financial aid process will become easier. Lamar Alexander, chair of the U.S.  Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions is working to do just that Gavin says. And it seems like it is happening. Below you will see several Tweets regarding potential changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that support Gavin’s hypothesis.

Gavin, however, did note that he does not believe that there will be a deregulation of Higher Education overall “because the current Congress, actually a lot of folks are concerned about the cost of higher education and the return on investment on taxpayer dollars. I think there will be the continued push for accountability, but I’m not sure how that process is going to look.”

Gavin is unsure of what its eventual impact will be, but believes that technology will continue to be a trend in higher education. We already do quite a lot with technology, Gavin admits. “Right now we’re able to identify students who may be at risk based on their coursework, incoming GPA and variables”, but points that there is more to come. [Students] can customize their phones and Spotify accounts; everything that they do they customize in the way they want” and higher education will need to do this. What’s the catch? We need to be able to do this without a significant stress on human resources.

Connected to the trend regarding accountability, higher education is going to need to demonstrate the return on investment for student services. There have been instances of student affairs being dismantled and relabeled as a student service under the supervision of Business and Finance. In connection with the increasing push towards accountability there needs to be an equally effective push to assessment and ensuring that student affairs can demonstrate our positive effect on retention, graduation, and persistence.

Gavin Henning also has some ideas on how graduate programs and students can begin preparing for that future he described. Odds are that graduate programs may be more likely to use the ACPA/NASPA Professional Competencies, which have been recently updated, to craft their curriculum and as competencies for the programs. “When I look back at my grad program that I was in 91-93 and all the content that I learned then is not applicable today. The theories I learned are not applicable today” Gavin admits. In the New England College program, Gavin focuses on developing skills such as critical and reflective thinking, problem solving, and team skills with his students by using content as a vehicle.

Overall, President Henning is very positive about the future of higher education and student affairs. There are some challenges ahead and the field may need to make some changes, but we are heading in the right direction.

Grad Students and Professional Organization Involvement


Networking and professional development are the two main reasons that Gavin believes graduate students should become involved in professional organizations. Gavin recalled his initial involvement in ACPA stating “When I think back to my involvement in ACPA, I got involved in order to meet assessment professionals. This was at the beginning of the assessment movement. Now I feel like I know everyone in assessment because I got connected to a few people who were connected to others.” Through his engagement with professional organizations Gavin has met many close personal and professional friends. By being involved we are making connections with people who have similar interests of know persons with similar interests. Later in the interview Gavin mentions how it can help with the job search too, so stay tuned for my next section of this post on the Search!

When it comes to professional development there is no better way to obtain and develop skills than through practical application, right? That’s what Gavin has done in his years as a professional and he is still learning today. Right now, because of the ACPA 2016 Montréal conference Gavin is learning more about First Nation people, international travel for Trans identified persons, and undocumented students and professionals. In his work as a commission chair, Gavin has developed skills in motivating volunteers, and coordinating difficult schedules (five time zones!).

Ultimately, President Henning recommends that graduate students and their mentors or supervisors have the conversation about professional development and plan for how to become involved. The supervisors have a lot of knowledge just waiting to be shared with someone, but maybe they need a catalyst- an eager graduate student asking “What opportunities exist here?” And do not forget the impact of technology too! On the ACPA website, there are ample resources for professionals across the country that can be used to find other ways to become involved, even if it is just as a volunteer at a national conference.

Job Search and Marketing

job search image

Brandi Hoffman, a colleague of mine and another student in my program, gets credit for this question, but I was intensely curious about being split between different interests when job searching. I know that I have passions for a lot of different function areas (See the header image on my website? That’s a VERY narrow list) and I always struggle wondering if I have to pick one when I do my upcoming search. Gavin was 100% supporting of applying for multiple functional areas, but with one caveat: you have to have passion! “If you’re passionate about Residence Life it will show through when you apply for Residence Life jobs. But if you’re not passionate about Academic Advising and you apply to Academic Advising jobs- it won’t come through” Gavin explains.

I knew some of what Gavin was going to say due to having a collateral assignment in Career Services last year, but he spoke about the need of new professionals and graduate students to customize their application materials.  Gavin’s advises to make sure that each cover letter and resume is designed to complement the type of position one is applying for. Even deeper, he would recommend adding another level of customization based on the institution. If you have experience in an area, such as living learning communities, and the institution has a focus on those then it would be a good way to demonstrate that you would be a good fit. If the institution has different strengths- try to find ways to demonstrate that you have similar or complementary abilities and skills.

Gavin had recently spoken to his graduate students about the job search so it was fresh on his mind! He advises that graduate students find ways to differentiate themselves from other candidates. Blogging, being active on Twitter, doing an extra practicum, or helping with a research project, and otherwise creating content that can be shared with the world and potential employers.

Other advice that Gavin has for those about to or already engaged in the job search included being willing to go out of your geographic comfort zone. Narrowing your search area too much can be negative because you could experience a lot of competition in a densely college populated area or missing out on great opportunities elsewhere. He advises us to remember that our first job is not the one we are going to have for the rest of our lives, but maybe three to five years at the most. Once the first job is over, there is nothing to bar a professional from returning to their roots.

It is also possible that we may not find a job, but we should not let that defeat us. Gavin details his frustrations in his job search in his blog post From Serendipity to Intentionality in Student Learning, but he had a backup plan. He was going to work at J. Crew as a manger and there is nothing wrong with that. If his goal was to get into higher education, he would have to have found ways to continue his skill development in the meantime to ensure success in his next search process. What does that look like? Well, involvement in professional development organizations is one way or even taking additional classes.

The last piece of the job search puzzle is networking! Knowing someone may not get guarantee you an interview or a job, but the more people you know, the more you can learn about a job that you are interested in. Having these connections will help getting to know the institution one is applying for a lot easier than any Google search. Networking now also helps prepare for the future. Gavin’s recommendation for moving into the mid and senior level position is connected to who you know and who might recommend you to their hiring manager or supervisor when a job becomes available. I personally think these are good things to keep in mind for the future!

Overall I had a lot of fun speaking with Gavin Henning about lots of topics that graduate students might be interested. It was a wonderful opportunity for me professionally to help spread the wise words awesome and successful student affairs professionals! You can definitely look forward to me interview more student affairs professionals and sharing their insights! Thanks for reading!

A full transcript of my interview with Gavin can be found here.