Living in the always unpredictable New England climate, I always have the right tools in my car year-round: a snow shovel and an ice scraper, even on the hottest summer days; a large rain umbrella; a beach blanket for impromptu picnics; a soccer ball, that annoyingly rolls around the back seat; a spare pair of winter gloves; and a large bottle of water – only half filled to reduce freezing pressure in winter – to wash off sand from the beach.
Depending on the weather, I bring out a particular set of tools from the back of that trunk.
There are some professional conferences that I attend in which I must choose between being a scholar-practitioner or a practitioner-scholar. At places like ASHE (Association for the Study of Higher Education), I am a scholar, an intellectually and theoretically minded researcher and writer on the quest to uncover higher education’s biggest challenge. When I am at Student Affairs related conferences, I’m a practitioner, sharing best practices for programs, the ways in which I build capacity using student development theory, and discuss the latest crisis management efforts on my home campus.
But, where is the room to be both? Where are the other practitioner-scholars/scholar-practitioners?
I met with half a dozen other people who were thinking the same types of questions. We all entered the field through the practice – traditional masters programs, graduate assistantships in student affairs, and professional positions in academic and student affairs. At some point in our careers, we felt that pull to engage in scholarship that better informed our practice. So, we enrolled in doctoral programs, continued to push our existing notions of theory and scholarship, and some of us even began publishing and co-publishing in journals. Many of us are focusing our dissertations on the student affairs experience, student leadership, and the practice of engagement, all rooted in our professional experiences as administrators.
In his remarks at the Council on Ethnic Participation at ASHE, Dr. Shaun Harper, asked us to reflect on the differences that we are making – or think we are making – in higher education. Is our research actually impacting lives in higher education? After years of scholarship on issues affecting marginalized communities, what has changed? What have we done to actually change the landscape in higher education?
This is the space in which the practicing-scholar fits. As a scholar, we must seek to understand the relationships of problematic conditions and research findings. As practitioners, we need to put those findings into action. Both roles must be interconnected.
Though the umbrella shields me from the rain, it also protects me from the blaze of the hot sun. A beach blanket in the sand is also effective as a wrap that dries me off after a rainstorm. We must see integrate roles as scholars, practitioners — and, more importantly, the combination of both — to change conditions in higher education.
I’m thankful that a few of us found each other at ASHE. We have already begun a conversation about our roles, reflecting particularly on these two questions: 1) how will you combine your scholarship with your practice and 2) how will you inform your practice with scholarship?
Liza A. Talusan is the Director of Intercultural Affairs at Stonehill College in Easton, MA and a third year doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She earned her BA in Psychology from Connecticut College and her MA from New York University in Higher Education Administration. Her research interests include issues impacting Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, doctoral student socialization, institutional inclusion and social change, and experiences of faculty of color.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and twitter @ltalusan