Posted November 5, 2010 by Zack Wahlquist 

Why I Love Theory

I can always remember responding favorably when new theories were introduced to me as a young learner. Theories in science always made sense to me: they explained the ways the world worked, even if not 100 percent of the time. Theories in mathematics helped me solve equations; they organized knowledge in my young mind and gave me security in knowing there was something (relatively) constant I could maintain.

My reliance on theory changed in graduate school. As I was introduced to “student development theory,” I began to understand that there were patterns as students progressed through college and understanding those patterns could help us create even more meaningful growth opportunities for students. Even though they aren’t formulaic for every student and some theories might better suit certain types of students, I still rely on the ways they inform my thinking about student affairs practice.

If you haven’t already done so, there’s a primer for student development theory you should check out. Now in its second edition, “Student Development in College: Theory, Research, and Practice” gives the basics of foundational student development theory and supplements it with new theory designed to understand the development of 21st century students. Authors Nancy J. Evans, Deanna S. Forney, Florence M. Guido, Lori D. Patton, and Kristen A. Renn are extremely comprehensive in the types of theories explored. While consulting the original texts is always important, their summaries of student development theory are accessible and fit well in the context of modern student affairs work.

I know theory isn’t for everyone. And theory should never be something we consider a “rule” or absolute truth. But it can make us better professionals and provide us insight into the journeys our students have entrusted us with guiding.
Zack Wahlquist

Zack Wahlquist is the Director of Education at ACUI.

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