In the CHAE Report (Spring 2016), Dr. Porter describes her vision to transform the practica selection process for graduate students with an emphasis on the development of professional competencies.

Written by Christa Porter, Assistant professor

In her role as coordinator for the Student Affairs Administration (SAA) master’s program at Michigan State University, Assistant Professor Christa Porter is leading the way students and site supervisors envision, develop, and implement practical experiences on and off campus. She is using the joint American College Personnel Association (ACPA) and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) professional competencies (2015). She believes these competencies provide a framework to students and supervisors to track students’ professional development, help to intentionally create space for placement supervisors to articulate their opportunities, and provide students more opportunity to align their core and elective coursework with their assistantship, practica, internship, and/or other professional development experiences while in the program. The restructured practicum process serves to maximize students’ experiences translating theory-to-practice and using practice to inform theory. It also aids students’ in articulating how their professional preparation equips them for high-quality work in the field.  

As Porter explains, the SAA program’s partnerships within MSU and throughout the state of Michigan are strong and wide. This provides opportunity to offer students experiences in a multitude of functional areas and institutional types. In previous years, students selected sites through a database housed within the program or identified their own experiences. While many students enjoyed rich opportunities in their practica, not all experiences leant themselves to enhancing students’ professional competencies. Consequently, Porter is working to restructure the process in order to:  

  1. ensure quality across practica experiences, 
  2. align assessment of tasks with the ACPA and NASPA professional competencies, and 
  3. create an intentional plan for students to progress through their M.A. degree – ascertaining skills, knowledge, and abilities across their experiences.  

Recruiting sites 

Phase One of the restructuring process involved changing the way practica sites were recruited to participate in the selection process. First, Porter gathered feedback for program improvement from past placement sites and students. She then communicated program updates and changes to the practica process, namely alignment with the ACPA and NASPA (2015) professional competencies, to placement sites. Next, Porter narrowed the list of potential placements to those who could provide the most robust experiences in theory-to-practice and competency development to SAA students. She then sent out a Call for Practica form to existing and potential site supervisors in which they created learning outcomes and articulated how they would develop or enhance intentional experiences for SAA students to make gains in the professional competencies.

Matching students

Phase Two involved matching practica sites and students. Porter provided students a list of practicum opportunities and created a timeline for both students and site supervisors that included: when students could contact sites, when sites could hold interviews, and when sites could offer placements. Once a match was made, the student and the site supervisor reviewed the site’s completed Call for Practica form in order to add to and/or reframe outcomes and projects based on the students’ prior and desired competencies. Revised forms were signed by the student and site supervisor to indicate a shared agreement on the structure of the experience. Spring semester 2016 marked the initial implementation of the new process. Porter has received positive feedback from both site supervisors and students. She also plans to track the outcomes of this new process after the semester has concluded. The revision of this process is part of a larger effort on Porter’s part to ensure students have a seamless experience of theory-to-practice across their coursework and experiential placements.  


ACPA & NASPA (2015). Professional competency areas for student affairs educators. Retrieved from http://www. Competencies_FINAL.pdf