I have served in higher education for 24 years, and I love it. Every bit of it. Counseling students about financial aid, helping them understand and complete the FAFSA and its corresponding verification forms, planning activities with them and for them, advising them about classes and careers, teaching them to at least appreciate English since much of our society communicates via English—even if only to write a note excusing their future and/or current children from class so that the instructors clearly know the note came from them, not the kid(s)—and seeing their excitement while walking around England, Ireland and France as they connect their literature studies to real life.
As a professor, I so very much wanted to do what was right and good for students that I embraced assessing the teaching and learning in my own classroom. Whatever the task, I want to know I’m doing it right so that I can feel successful and realize I’m doing my job. If I’m doing something wrong, I want to know that, too, so I can use all my experiences and degrees to do better.
This passion becomes even stronger when the institution for which I work provides a Christian higher education. Now, not only do I want to do my personal best as unto the Lord, but I know what it is for a church, for a community, to love the Lord with its corporate heart, soul, mind and strength, and to do unto others as it would have them do to it. I know what it is to develop “students for leadership and service through excellence in Christian higher education,” which is FPU’s mission.
But just as we have the Bible to show us where it is written to help hold us accountable to living out our faith in Jesus so that our outside selves mirror our inside selves, we have assessment initiatives to help hold us accountable to our professional calling, to FPU’s mission, so that our tangible teaching and learning efforts mirror our intended teaching and learning efforts.
I’m fairly certain that all of us have experienced the consequences of poor assessment—the uncomfortable intersection of our intentions with our results—be it ordering the special dinner at a favorite restaurant only to receive the actual menu item called The Special Dinner, not the deliciously described daily special written on the sidewalk board greeting us at the restaurant’s door, or intending to introduce the student activities coordinator at freshman orientation only to introduce the “SAC Head” instead.
My position at FPU as the director of assessment combines my passion with the mission and vision of this Christ-centered university. I am tasked with helping FPU determine how well it is fulfilling its mission and achieving its five thematic goals (i.e., GROW Strategically, ENGAGE Collectively, INNOVATE Creatively, SERVE Courageously, TRANSFORM Purposefully). I am responsible for helping the university equip itself for improvement, for helping us understand student experiences by inviting them to tell us about said experiences. Not to cheapen the beauty and instruction of scripture, but assessment allows us to clearly and persuasively communicate with those inside and outside the university what it means and what it looks like to develop students for leadership and service through excellence in Christian higher education. Assessment allows the university to define its nature and acknowledge the fruits of its labor.
I know that not everyone is passionate about assessment, just like I know not everyone is passionate about diagramming sentences. I once had a colleague tell me that if he had to do my job that he’d hasten his entry into heaven. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s perfect: we are the body of Christ and the body of the university. Some of us are the hands, some of us are the feet, and I’m quite certain that many of my colleagues would say that assessment is the university’s backside, which is fine with me. I’m honored to help provide stability and balance, as well as to help support movement, be it forward or backward, as together we join in the university’s ongoing cycle of inquiry into doing what is right and good for the students of Fresno Pacific University.