Optimizing student support

The inaugural Student Affairs Professional Development Summit brought together staff for networking and learning.

Photo credit: Michelle Rossman

3 min read

The first Student Affairs Professional Development Summit took place on Thursday, June 6 in Harvard’s Northwest Building. The summit, which welcomed 115 attendees, offered a chance for student affairs professionals across the University to come together to network, share stories and tips and build on their skills.  

“I was delighted to participate in our inaugural Student Affairs Professional Development Summit,” said Robin Glover, associate provost for student affairs. “The summit offered participants valuable networking opportunities and the chance to practice crucial job-related skills. So much hard work goes into working in the student affairs field, and the Office of the Associate Provost for Student Affairs looks forward to supporting many more professional development opportunities for our staff across Harvard in the years to come.”  

The summit represents the latest step in Glover’s ongoing efforts to facilitate connections between student affairs staff across the University, enabling them to share best practices, gain new professional skills and build community across crucial student support teams.  

Soon after stepping into the newly created role of associate provost for student affairs, Glover, along with support from the University’s Council of Deans of Students, convened the Student Affairs Professional Development Committee co-chaired by Mary Beaulieu, assistant dean and director of OCA at Harvard Kennedy School and Lakshmi Clark, senior director of Student Affairs at Harvard Law School. The committee includes representatives from all of Harvard’s schools, and is charged with examining professional development needs for student affairs staff and providing recommendations for developing the many competencies they need to best support the student community.  

“As student affairs professionals, there are so many areas we need to gain expertise in to do our job effectively — student learning and development, student mental health, law and policy, technology, advising and more,” said Clark. “This summit represents the first in a series of events allowing student affairs staff to meet, network and enhance these skills to help them support students across the University.” 

The summit opened with a panel conversation on the joys and challenges of student affairs, moderated by Beaulieu and Clark and featuring leadership in student affairs from across the University, including Maritza Hernandez, associate dean for student services at the Chan School; Katie O’Dair, university marshal and former dean of students at Harvard College; Bill Stackman, GSAS dean of students and Nekesa Straker, senior assistant dean for residential life and first year students.  

Following a networking lunch, Sheila Heen, the Thaddeus R. Beal Professor of Practice at Harvard Law School, led attendees in an exercise in what can be one of the most challenging aspects of student affairs — difficult conversations.  

Participants were eager to sharpen their skills in this area, as well as to participate in the panel discussion. Of the themes covered during the day, one raised by the panelists stood out — the importance of hiring good staff, providing professional development opportunities for them and relying on one another for expertise across offices and units.