James Madison University

Two Psychological Sciences Students Win National Award for Assessment Practice

PHOTO: JMU Students

Jerusha Gerstner and Matthew Swain, both students in the Quantitative Psychology concentration in the Psychological Sciences M.A. program, were part of the assessment team for the Office of Orientation that was awarded the 2012 NASPA Grand Gold Excellence Award. Their submission was titled “Implementation Fidelity and Outcomes Assessment for Transfer Orientation: Making Empirically-Based Decisions about Program Effectiveness.” This award is shared with the following collaborators: Sarah Sunde, Associate Director of Orientation; Tisha McCoy-Ntiamoah, Director of Orientation; and Sara Finney, Associate Professor and Associate Assessment Specialist. This special honor is reserved for the top submission to this national student affairs organization (1 was chosen from 138 submissions) and is a testament to the excellent student affairs programming and assessment work at JMU.

Jerusha and Matthew’s training in assessment, measurement, and applied statistics prepared them to conduct this award-winning assessment work. “We could not have done this work without our strong training in assessment and measurement through the Psychological Sciences program,” says Matthew Swain, a second-year Psychological Sciences student and Assessment Graduate Assistant for Orientation. “Not only have we learned measurement and statistical techniques in our classes, but we are able to hone these skills as we assessed the improvements to orientation programing. Importantly, this work combined both outcomes assessment and implementation fidelity assessment to improve our student programs.”

Jerusha Gerstner, also a second-year Psychological Sciences student and Graduate Assistant in the Center for Assessment & Research Studies (CARS) commented, “It has been a great experience to travel around the country (e.g., NV, VA, KY, AZ) presenting this award-winning assessment research at regional and national conferences (Virginia Assessment Group, ACPA, NASPA). Conversing with higher education assessment practitioners from across the nation has further emphasized the utility of implementation fidelity assessment. Moreover, it has highlighted for me the exceptional nature of the assessment work conducted at JMU. It has been exciting to see the profound impact our work, as master’s students, has had on university programming and the quality of assessment accomplished at our university.”

A strong aspect of the award-winning submission was the integration of outcomes assessment and implementation fidelity results. “Implementation fidelity details how the actual program aligned with the planned program. Programs often drift from what was planned; thus, interpretations of outcomes assessment results may be incorrect when the actual program is unknown,” says Matthew. To collect these data, Jerusha and Matthew audited the Orientation programs as students. “We actually attended the Orientation programs in the summer to assess whether the features of the programs were implemented as they were planned. The fidelity data made the process of interpreting the outcomes assessment results much more precise and helpful for the Orientation staff, and it bolstered the entire assessment cycle,” explains Jerusha.

Jerusha and Matt will travel to the NASPA Annual Conference in Phoenix, Arizona in March 2012 to accept the Grand Gold award along with Orientation staff. NASPA’s Forum newsletter outlining the 2012 Excellence Award honorees may be found here: http://www.naspa.org/pubs/newsletters/forum/forum.cfm?cid=1&fid=1378