Student Learning Assessment Conference Showcases Staff Research

At Northwestern’s Fifth Annual Student Learning Assessment Conference, staff leaders from numerous departments within the Division of Student Affairs gathered in the Norris University Center. During the conference, they shared posters, presentations, and panels detailing their efforts to research, test, and improve the ways that co-curricular organizations can add to the Northwestern student experience.

On Tuesday morning, the second floor lobby of Norris was lined with posters showcasing staff research. One study, conducted by Student Organizations & Activities (SOA) during the Winter Student Organization Fair, measured student awareness of Northwestern’s WildcatConnection interface by asking students to indicate which methods they use to find extracurricular organizations to join (WildcatConnection was listed alongside the nonexistent “PurpleConnect” and “WildcatLink”). Another study detailed the overwhelmingly positive student response to Leadership Development and Community Engagement’s “Books & Breakfast” program, in which Northwestern undergraduates bring food and homework help to local K-5 students.

The poster session was sandwiched in between numerous presentations on topics as diverse as wellbeing programming, student employment, and health services. Presenters touched on topics both light and heavy-- Nancy Cambron Perez’s presentation measuring student development throughout a quarter-long ceramics mini-course was immediately followed by Carrie Wachter and Kanika Wadhwa’s presentation assessing the impact of a trauma support group on campus. Attendees then ate lunch while listening to a keynote panel of speakers from Northwestern, Depaul, University of Illinois-Chicago, and Loyola University Chicago.

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Visiting the conference as a recent graduate, I was impressed by the depth of the research-- I definitely felt like I had gained a new perspective on how much planning and attention to detail goes into the day-to-day operations of any given department within Student Affairs. What struck me even more, though, was the enthusiasm with which staff members of diverse departments listened to presentations from departments different from their own. Presentations were well attended, and staff jumped from room to room to make sure they got to hear as many perspectives as possible.

The overall goal of the conference was to dive deeper into the meaningful work being done by organizations across the Division of Student Affairs, and to use empirical research to provide guidance for staff leaders on how to best fulfill the missions of their departments. By giving leaders a platform to share their research, the Student Learning Assessment Conference sets the stage for an improved student learning experience.