What’s in an Institution?

Right now, I’m working on reading a book called, Becoming Socialized in Student Affairs Administration. I was introduced to the book through a session for grad students and new professionals I attended at last year’s ACPA conference. I found the book while walking through the conference expo and purchased it immediately. I even started reading it on the plane ride home. I was that excited about it! Fast forward to 10 months later, and I’m still reading it (I’m not even half done). That’s what finishing grad school, moving, starting a new job, and wanting to read “fun books” will do to the progress of professional development reading. I’m hoping to get it done before heading to this year’s ACPA conference at the end of March…because I’m sure that I’ll find more books I want to purchase.

(source)

One of the chapters I’ve connected with so far is, “The Influence of Institutional Type on Socialization,” by Joan B. Hirt who wrote an entire book on this topic (which I also own and have not read yet). Basically, the author talks about how institutions can be categorized by different factors, and how these factors influence how you do your job. A main factor is the institutional mission statement. An institution’s mission is “public pronouncement about a campus.” This statement tells people outside of the institution what it is all about and is used as a guide for the people who work at the institution. This “guide” influences values, strategic plans and resource allocation that all help achieve the mission. Here’s an example of a mission statement (it’s UMD’s): “The University of Minnesota Duluth integrates liberal education, research, creative activity, and public engagement and prepares students to thrive as lifelong learners and globally engaged citizens,” (source). Our mission gets a little complicated in that we also serve the main University of Minnesota mission (found here) which has the three main tenants of research & discovery, teaching & learning, and outreach & service. Have I confused you yet? If so, I promise I have a point to make!

In this chapter of the book, the author talks about the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching classification of institutions based on mission. Categories include: “doctoral/research universities, master’s colleges and universities, baccalaureate colleges, associate’s colleges, specialized institutions (e.g. seminaries, schools of art), and tribal colleges and universities.” The institutions I’ve attended or worked at fall into either the doctoral/research or master’s universities categories.

  • UW-Eau Claire (Master’s)
  • UW-Whitewater (Master’s)
  • UW-Madison (Doctoral/Research)
  • Eastern Oregon University (Master’s – though drastically smaller than other schools I’ve been at)
  • University of Minnesota Duluth (Master’s – with the caveat that the degrees for the master’s and doctoral programs at our institution come from University of Minnesota – which technically is in the Twin Cities. So, we’re probably a Master’s/Research hybrid.)

Ultimately, the chapter explains that people working in similar positions at different types of universities can have different experiences in their roles. Now, here’s the point of this whole post: I can tell you from my experiences, this statement is completely true! With the exception of EOU, I have worked in Career Services at all of the institutions I listed above. UW-Madison is the only institution where my office was housed within a specific college (Letters & Science). We served only students from that college. While I expanded my knowledge of working with students in the hard sciences (biology, chemistry, etc) and liberal arts (english, history, etc.), I learned that I missed working with students from programs across the university. Apparently at this point in my young career, doctoral/research universities just aren’t for me. I love that I could have students from theater, education, history, engineering, pharmacy, and management all in the same day or week here at UMD. The variety helps me from becoming complacent in my work.

Here’s my advice for those who are job hunting (even if you’re not in higher education), pay attention to the mission because it will be a key indicator for what will guide the work in your role.

What has your experience been with a mission statement influencing how you do your work? I’d love to hear about it!

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