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Insights from the Interns: The Value of CAS

The value of CAS in my graduate education; a post from Intern Noah Henry-Darwish.
A mentor once told me that working in student affairs, we often claim the successes of our students as our own. Indeed, when a student of mine who has experienced particular hardship or frustration during college finally graduates, it affirms my career and life choices to know that I have contributed to their success.

In the classroom of a student affairs graduate program, however, our focus necessarily takes a much more macro-level perspective. We examine theories and models of student development, critique systems and institutional structures, evaluate programs, and develop our capacity for inquiry and research. Our job as graduate students is to integrate theory and practice and attempt to understand the ways in which work on the macro level translates to what we do in our jobs on a daily basis. We are challenged to think not only about the impact that we can have for individuals or groups of students that we work with, but also about what we can do to effect change within higher education more broadly. As I consider my own professional development and how I hope to impact others throughout my career, I sometimes wonder how I will make a contribution to our field.

When examining the organizational chart for my graduate institution, I can measure my current position by assigning myself a number in the organizational hierarchy. If a president is #1 and a vice-president is #2, then as a graduate assistant I currently sit at an 8. From where I stand now at 25 years old and with a master's-in-progress, it is hard enough to imagine where I might be next year, better yet after 15, 25, or 40 more years in this field. I am excited by the opportunities, challenges, and conversations ahead, but I am also intimidated by the reality of institutional politics, demanding work schedules, and navigating professional networks. In class we talk about the high rates of burn-out in our field, and I wonder if I will end up being a committed student affairs lifer, or a statistic to show what could have been.

As I was navigating through these professional-existential questions in the midst of the first year of my master's program, my cohort took a field trip to the national office of the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS). There, I learned about the CAS standards and guidelines for practice in student affairs and higher education. Having worked in student affairs for two years prior to beginning graduate school, discovering CAS felt like I suddenly had the context and rationale to understand the duties, mission, and purpose of my previous job. The beautiful "Blue Book" was the answer I had been looking for to help me translate what I was learning in the classroom to meaningful professional practice. When I began looking for a summer internship a few months later, the possibility of being a fly on the wall for some of the conversations at the heart of CAS was an incredible opportunity.

I joined CAS as an intern just prior to the April CAS Board meeting, where I had the chance to watch and listen to experts from 41 professional associations across higher education in discussion about relevant issues and hot topics in the field. Board members at the semiannual CAS meetings represent over 120,000 professionals in student affairs and higher education, and they bring with them hundreds of years of collective experience in working with students, faculty, and professional staff in higher education. Many of them have contributed to scholarship or theory that serves as the foundation of my academic program, as well as the professional core of our field. The level of critical thought, creativity, and insight in these dialogues made my head spin with questions, new perspective, and excitement.

Over the six months that I have spent with CAS, I have had many incredible opportunities to not only observe, but also to participate in standards development and strategic planning. Working on the publication and distribution of CAS Professional Standards for Higher Education (9th edition) this summer, I was steeped in the historical contexts and standards for many of the functional areas in higher education. Through co-creating and executing a marketing plan for the book, I was forced to articulate for myself the value proposition of CAS for graduate students, practitioners, and higher level administrators. I was delegated significant responsibility throughout the redesign and development of the new CAS Self-Assessment Guides (SAGs), having the opportunity to actually create tools for program evaluation that I will likely use in future jobs. Whether it was in conference calls, editing chapters or contextual statements for the new book, or casual conversations, I was asked to collaborate and contribute to conversations and materials that guide the standards of practice in our field.

My experience with CAS has been both humbling and inspiring. Often caught up in my own life as a graduate student, I am regularly amazed by the generosity of the many individuals who volunteer their time, energy, and expertise to continue the important work that CAS is doing. Though I sometimes do not quite feel qualified to do the work I am doing, being asked to contribute my own knowledge and experience to the CAS process has also empowered me to think of myself as someone with valuable insight and perspective to offer to the field of higher education. Entering the student affairs profession during an era of increased expectations and accountability for colleges, it is exciting to be part of the CAS process and to have an intimate understanding of the development and implementation of standards. This community of higher education professionals, theorists, and scholars is not only stimulating and inspiring to be a part of, but it also provides me with a strong practical and theoretical grounding and with tangible skills as I move forward in my own career, navigating my passion and determining how I will ultimately make a contribution.
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Noah Henry-Darwish is an Intern for the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education, and a second-year Master's Student in the Higher Education, Student Affairs, and International Education Policy Program at the University of Maryland, College Park.

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