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Interview: Trent Pinto

Savannah E. Matherly

Western Carolina University


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Interview: Trent Pinto

“While assessment has not always been a central activity in student affairs practice in

higher education, it is becoming an institutional imperative in contemporary times,” as

practitioners need to understand the importance of accountability and telling their story through

data and met learning outcomes (Schuh, Biddix, Dean, & Kinzie, 2016, p. 1). Assessment can

inform practitioners how their programs are impacting students by measuring students’ learning

and success, as well as what areas need improvement. Assessment can also aid offices and

institutions in presenting their successes to key stakeholders or alumni to seek more funding and

donations for their programs or future projects. To understand this significance, I interviewed Dr.

Trent Pinto, the Director of Resident Education and Development at the University of Cincinnati,

to learn of assessment endeavors first-hand, as well as gaining advice on conducting program

evaluations and improvements. This paper will recount the interview with Dr. Trent Pinto,

congruent lessons learned from both Pinto and course content, and further reflection on my

understanding of assessment in the context of higher education.

According to Dr. Trent Pinto, assessment is growing in our field, and there is a lot of

room for creativity and to push outside of the box to find different solutions to our current issues.

Pinto has currently been serving as the Director of Resident Education and Development at the

University of Cincinnati for a little over four years. His professional background is exclusively in

residence life with such positions as, Assistant Director, Director, and Residence Hall Director.

Pinto’s assessment experience is pretty extensive, as he has searched for opportunities to learn

and created space for growth in his work, particularly through evaluating and assessing his

programs and initiatives. On the macro-level, Pinto assisted with the development of an

assessment council for the Division of Student Affairs at the University of Cincinnati. Within
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this role, Pinto was able to gain experience with project management and leading full CAS (the

Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education) reviews of the department. He

successfully was able to revise programming guidelines for resident assistants (RA’s) in

compliance with the CAS standards. Pinto understands the importance of assessment within

student affairs, especially within his “direct assessment efforts of [the] department in an effort to

demonstrate a culture of evidence within the division.” To demonstrate that his office has a

culture of evidence, Pinto spent two to three years on his office’s residential curriculum model to

make it more extensive and make their intentional conversations between RA’s and residents

more trends-based and easier to assess. Pinto added prompting questions, a new system of

documenting discussions, and tied the system with OrgSync so that trends could be assessed and

the overall student experience could be highlighted. These changes allowed for the department to

establish core values and sequence them throughout the semester within their residential

curriculum.

Similarly, as I learned from one of the class speakers, Lucas Schalweski from the

University of Arizona, Pinto discussed the myths and lack of assessment in the field of student

affairs. Both Schalweski and Pinto spoke of how practitioners are afraid or intimidated by

assessment; they think assessment is all statistics and a full-on research project that only should

be handled by institutional departments. However, that is not the case. From what I have learned

in class and interviewing Pinto, practitioners can make any program, initiative, or instrument in

their office assessable. Pinto made it known that there are multiple ways for practitioners to

assess something that is not just an average survey. It is imperative for our assessment techniques

to not just only be accessible, but also creative and fun so that we are not afraid of assessment as

practitioners and that our students will also feel inclined to partake in them. Something I also
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learned from Schalweski’s guest lecture, and what Pinto also touched on in his interview, is

closing the loop in assessment. This is often a part of the process that many practitioners forget

to do, which can leave students feeling their opinions or participation in assessment did not truly

matter. Pinto says that all of his committees in the department are required to conduct one

assessment project a year, as well as close the loop with the students before deeming the project

complete. On his recognition committee, Pinto had to help shift his colleague’s mindset around

the fears mentioned earlier regarding assessment. The committee began collecting and assessing

the National Residence Hall Honorary (NRHH) “Of-the-Month” (OTM) data to track which

programs in the department were doing well and which areas called for improvement, such as

academic and social justice-centered programs. Once this assessment data was collected and

analyzed, an infographic was created and an action plan was developed to present to students

through social media and email to show that they the department took note of what the residents

needed via programming and how they were going to meet those needs.

Something else I have learned from both course content and my interview with Pinto is

that assessment can be easily done, as long as a plan and purpose are put into place. In the

textbook, Assessment in Student Affairs, there are nine steps outlined for guiding the assessment

process (Schuh, Biddix, Dean, & Kinzie, 2016). For the first two steps, practitioners should

frame the purpose of the assessment by defining clearly what issue needs to be answered within

their department and bringing a clear focus to the particular assessment activity. Next, student

affairs professionals should determine who needs to be studied for the purpose of the assessment

and then with what particular assessment method should be utilized. Once the method is chosen,

practitioners should determine how they would like to collect data and then what instrument

should be employed to collect that data. Next, student affairs professionals should decide how
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they would like to analyze their data once collected and then how they would like to report the

data. Finally, data should be used for improvement, as a bunch of data lying around is not useful

if not utilized for creating positive change within the department. These assessment steps echoed

how Pinto worked through his assessment project with the Veterans’ Affairs office on his

campus, as well as the steps reiterated the points Pinto cautioned me to remember when trying to

effectively assess in the future. Pinto said that successful assessment projects have a clearly

defined purpose and plan so that they are able to be done correctly and easily while collecting

data that can actually be utilized within the department. Also, if a plan is set, then the data can be

more accountable and have more of a chance to be employed for improvements instead of just

lying around the office with other useless, collected data.

This paper recapped the interview with Dr. Trent Pinto, congruent lessons learned from

both Pinto and course content and detailed a further reflection on my understanding of

assessment in the context of higher education. After interviewing Pinto and learning about

assessment in class, I have discovered that assessment is an integral part of higher education, for

practitioners and offices need to be able to tell their story. Simply stating that a student learned

from your program does not cut it anymore, because how does that truly illustrate what the

student grasped or took away from your program? Assessment is able to help practitioners

develop clear plans and learning outcomes to further measure students’ learning and success so

that their offices can improve and continue to meet the ever-changing needs of students.

Assessment helps me within my current graduate assistantship understand how my building-wide

programs within my residence hall impact my residents. I am able to continue making changes

based on their feedback, which can help me create programs that meet their needs and interest to

foster growth and development within them. Pinto left me with the following advice, he said to
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schedule genuine thinking time each day within your calendar, as your day-to-day work tasks

will always be there, but free time for authentic thinking and learning will not be. Having these

times built into your schedule can allow for new thoughts and ideas to grow, as you are able to

research, read, and can further assessing your initiatives for the future.
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References

Schuh, J. H., Biddix, J. P., Dean, L. A., & Kinzie, J. (2016). Assessment in Student Affairs (2nd

ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.