Oh no, it’s an assessment blog – FIRST of April, FIRST post, FIRSTS


Hi, I’m Mark. When we first started fleshing out this blog, Abby and I laid down ideas for how often we’d post and what we’d write about. As I now sit on my living room couch, typing my first entry, constantly deleting paragraphs, I realize that no amount of preparation would make writing any easier. Frankly, I wish I understood just how difficult it is to get your thoughts into words a decade ago when I was an undergraduate. In the few papers I had to write, I spent so much time trying to get them to the minimum page length that I hardly put any effort into whatever I was writing.

The plan for this entry was to jot down stories about some of the firsts of our lives. I had a paragraph or two about the time in eighth grade when I calculated my age in seconds. Or another one about how I spent the first weeks of my first real job as a design engineer creating a mediocre model of the Batmobile:


Why on earth did I save that screen shot?

The paragraphs felt forced, so I decided to ditch the plan all together (apologies Abby).

Most decisions I made in my life up to my early twenties were made by the people around me. I went to college because that’s what I thought everyone did. I chose Mechanical Engineering as a major because I was good at math and science and everyone kept telling me it was a good job and that it paid well. Not until six months into my first real job did it hit me that I hadn’t put much thought into what I wanted to do with my life. After some reflection, I remembered the only job I had that I truly enjoyed — I was an orientation leader before my senior year of college. I researched graduate programs and landed at Miami University. The experience introduced me to an academic world I didn’t even know existed. It was one of those leaps where you jump first and worry about the end point later. Like that scene in Divergent where Shailene Woodley jumps off the building before knowing what’s at the bottom of the dark hole. Somewhere around the second year of the program, I decided it was a good decision.

For the last five years I’ve advised first-year students in Michigan’s College of Engineering. Over time I’ve noticed that the same problems arise with each new cohort of students: like me, most of these students struggle to connect their skills and talents with callings important to them. They want to see all of the options, and choose. As student development fans might say, they’re not yet capable of identifying their values and crafting a future. Isn’t that partly our (i.e., student affairs folks) job? And if so, isn’t it important that we continue to refine the way we measure that development? Or at least, have an idea of how well we’re doing?


Hi, I’m Abby, the other half of the blog.

And, I, unlike Mark (!!), stuck with the FIRSTS theme in honor of our first blog post. As a higher ed professional, I remember fondly (and some, not so fondly) my notable “firsts” in college:

  1. First (and last) time sharing a cell phone – My mom and I shared a Nextel flip phone my freshman year of college — and she lived in another town. WHO’S IDEA WAS THAT?!
  2. First time writing on an online journal – I poured my heart out daily on a lesser known cousin of Live Journal. I’m CERTAIN it was boring reading. I printed a copy of it for when I write my one woman stand up show entitled: Boyfriends, Early Lactose-Intolerance, and Me: Musings on Harry Potter. Which leads me to my next item…
  3. First time realizing information freely published on the internet is not private (duh…but hey, it was early 2000s and people didn’t understand) – Let’s just say I was mad about something and ran my mouth off. Mistake.
  4. First time living in another country – France will always hold a piece of my heart (see below photo of me on the Eiffel Tower). So will: [a] eating wheels of camembert, and [b] drinking lots of wine in the midday and then having pseudo life epiphanies in St. Jean’s Cathedral (sorry, God).
  5. First time eating Jello Poke Cake (yes, this is a “notable” first) – Thank GOD for the Midwest and her obsession with putting gelatin in EVERYTHING. Loved it so much I later served it at my wedding. Yum!
  6. First (and only) time speaking fluent, beautiful French – A French native asked me which part of Normandy I was from and I thought I was going to die and go to camembert heaven.


You may be saying, “Hey! I thought I was reading an assessment blog!” (::angry face::) I promise these are related to assessment in higher education.

Walk with me here.

What all of these firsts represent is a walk through one (former) student’s account of her development. If colleges and students partner together effectively, the result can be deeply meaningful moments in college that leave a lasting (and Mark and I would argue, necessary) impact on graduates. And it’s hard to track something as non-linear as human development but it is a worthy cause and the reason I love my job in the Career Center at Carleton College.

I was a French major, and I, like many of you, didn’t get into student affairs for the data crunching. But the complex nature of the 21st century and increasing conversations about college return on investment require that we pick up our Excel spreadsheets and care for our students, and assess their learning. This will capture a more complete picture of a college’s return on investment. This former French teacher is up for the task. Are you?

It seems every time the topic of assessment is brought up, there’s a running joke that you’re not supposed to enjoy it. That really grinds  our gears. We need a space where we can poke and prod at assessment — a space where folks can weigh in and present ideas. We decided to start this blog because we have thoughts! We believe that assessment in higher education needs development, and the only way to move us forward as an industry is to get a conversation going. Oh no, it’s an assessment blog.