Student Affairs

Using Residence Life Staff to Assess Engagement and Aid in Student Retention

Duration: 1 hour
Facilitator: Curt Naser and Karen Donoghue
Price: $98.00

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Understanding the importance of assessing student learning and engagement outside the classroom, the Office of Residence Life at Fairfield University developed a nine trait assessment rubric that asks the Resident Assistant to evaluate resident engagement in academics and co-curricular life. Initial results over the last four years from Resident Assistant assessments show strong correlations to grades, retention and resident engagement. This session will explain the assessment rubric, highlight the results and explore opportunities for growth at your institution.


Within the last ten years of higher education, much attention has been placed on the role that students affairs professionals and Para-Professionals can play in the educational experience of a student. Learning Reconsidered: A Campus Wide focus on the student experience, suggests that the work of Student Affairs Professional and Para-Professionals play a significant role in creating and educating students on the broader campus curriculum, bridging the gap between the classroom and out of classroom experiences of our students. In particular, the role of a live in professional and Resident assistant has the potential to positively influence a student’s classroom and social success, if the Residence hall community engages students in smaller dialogues, through formal programming and mentoring opportunities.

Fairfield University over the last four years has tried to create small intentional communities, managed by a professional and para-professional staff. Through daily interactions, we believe the professional and para-professional has the ability to assess a student’s engagement level within the community. According to George Kuh, if students are engaged in life outside of the classroom (in mentoring communities or floor programs) they are more invested in their educational experience which will positively affect their academic life. It is also proven that if students are engaged in programs outside of the classroom, students will more likely than not be invested in their classroom activities.

Understanding the research and influence of a para-professional, Fairfield University in 2008 sought for a new, innovative way to measure student engagement. While more traditional national surveys such as the NSSE provide a onetime snapshot of student engagement in co-curricular and academic life, Fairfield University was looking for real time assessment of student experience within the Residence Halls. We were also looking for an instrument that could provide timely feedback on individual students that might be used to improve their experience or address specific needs. Working with the Facilitator for Academic Assessment, Fairfield University developed a 9 trait assessment rubric that emphasizes both resident engagement and the relationship of the residents to their RA. The assessment rubric has five traits to assess resident engagement and four traits for relationship to the RA. The traits (questions) contained in this rubric target specific outcomes that the Residence Life in particular developed in their programming and in response to the strategic initiative of integrating living and learning. We initiated this RA assessment project in the spring semester of 2008.


  • Participants will be introduced to an assessment rubric that captures large amounts of significant data that overtimes has shown a strong correlation between grades and levels of engagement.
  • Participants will understand how to use the data to identify students who may be at an increased risk for poor academic performance, discipline problems and/or leaving the University.
  • Participants will be given tools to bring a similar assessment rubric back to their institution. Large quantities of data are produced at a very low cost, which is beneficial to all colleges and Universities.


  • Residence Life Professionals
  • Retention Professionals
  • Deans of Students
  • Academic Advisors


Curt Naser is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Applied Ethics and serves as the Facilitator for Academic Assessment at Fairfield University. He is also the CEO and co-founder of Axiom Education which created the Mentor course management and assessment system. Mentor features the only fully integrated course management, e-m,m,m,m,lportfolio and assessment system. Professor Naser is a practicing bioethicist specializing in the ethics of research involving human subjects and serves Institutional Review Board and Ethics Committee of Bridgeport Hospital. He also serves on the Ethics Committee at the Visiting Nurse Service of Connecticut and the Human Embryonic Stem Cell Oversight Committee at Yale University.

Karen Donoghue is Dean of Students at Fairfield University and oversees the Department of Residence Life, Student Programs and Leadership Development and Student Code of Conduct. She serves has a member of the Institutional Retention Committee. Through her various work assignments; she has used the Mentor Course management system in non-traditional ways to engage residents outside of the classroom and to measure their engagement. Karen is a trained Conflict Resolution Mediator, RAD certified instructor and a TIPs Trainer.

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