(Re)imagining Theory-to-Practice in Residential Education

ACPA Commission for Housing and Residence Life Sponsored Program
Tuesday, March 28| 10:00a-12:15p | Convention Center B234
Presenters: Reginald Blockett, Arian Bryant, Kelly Hennessy

Enjoy learning about theory? Are you always looking for ways to incorporate theory into your practice? Do you want to learn about how student development theory has evolved over time? Research encourages incorporating theory into higher education and student affairs practice and as educators we are always examining how this is actually occurring on campuses. Using residence life as a context and by bringing together graduate students, scholar-practitioners, and faculty, ACPA will offer a session that will (Re)imagine theory-to-practice in residential education. This session will generate new insights into how a diverse group of educators actively foster a theory-to-practice culture across multiple institutional contexts.

Several scholars have written about the importance of understanding theory and using it in student affairs practice. Understanding theories of student learning and development is commonly cited as a goal for masters’ students in student affairs preparation programs across the country. In order to achieve this goal, educators create intentional opportunities within the curriculum and co-curriculum for masters’ students to make these connections.

However, very few theory-to-practice models exist within higher education textbooks used to train student affairs professionals. Even less is known about how educators conceptualize and use theory in their practice after graduate school.

A scan of residence life websites revealed a host of information about how theory is used in training sessions, staff development, curriculum design, and programmatic initiatives. Although evidence supports that residence life programs embed theory into their practice, the question of how educators are staying up to date with the evolution of theory is of practical importance and warrants further investigation. Based on this premise, the purpose of this interactive session is to explore how a diverse group of individuals with residential life backgrounds across multiple institutional contexts use theory in their role as graduate students, scholar-practitioners, and faculty. This session is particularly of importance with greater attention given to contemporary thinking about theory-to-practice, we are better positioned to understand and form meaningful connections with students on our respective campuses. By sharing our stories, we aim to incorporate the professional competencies of student learning and development within this program session.

If you are a novice to theory, this session will help you become more familiar with the types of theories shaping our field while learning about the evolution of theory. Everyone’s voice is important to the conversation, as our goal is for all participants (graduate, scholar-practitioners, and faculty) to acquire strategies that will help to create a larger plan of how theory can inform individual or unit practice. Attendees will gain valuable tools, reflect on their own practice, as well as expand their professional network with other colleagues that are looking to use theory to inform their practice. Panelists consisting of graduate students, scholar-practitioners, and faculty will address the abovementioned concepts in their narratives and attendees will have an opportunity to discuss how they can continue to and/or begin fostering a culture of theory-to-practice in line with contemporary thinking of theory. Diverse groups of participants will have opportunities to learn from each other on how to use theory when creating new initiatives, solving campus-wide problems, and while reflecting on their own practice.



Reginald Blockett is a doctoral candidate in higher education. His professional experiences in residence life aimed to cultivate student learning and development through a theory-to-practice approach. Reginald’s research examines the sociocultural conditions of marginalized populations, specifically queer and trans* students of color in postsecondary settings.



Arian Bryant is an associate director of residence life and has over 14 years of residence life experience. Arian’s research interests live at the intersection of student development theory and social psychology research specifically looking to better understand the experiences of students and professionals through the research around implicit social cognition.


Kelly Hennessy is an interim assistant vice president for student affairs/associate dean of students who utilizes student development theory in daily practice while training professional, graduate, and undergraduate students. Kelly has spent over 15 years working in residential life departments utilizing CAS Standards, theory, and best practices to enhance the learning experience within residence halls.

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