September-October 2008 Issue • Volume 36 • Issue 7

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Building on the Strengths of the Department Resources Group

by Margaret Weigers Vitullo, ASA Academic and Professional Affairs Program

"If it’s not broken, don’t fix it." Contrary to this popular sentiment, ASA’s Department Resources Group (DRG) has been helping sociology departments identify and build upon their strengths since its founding in 1995.

Over the past 13 years, the DRG has conducted more than 200 site visits and consultations at colleges and universities across the United States, assisting departments by developing assessment plans, conducting external reviews, negotiating with administrators, and providing workshops on topics ranging from capstone courses to conflict management to the scholarship of teaching and learning. ASA matches departments in need with consultants from similar institutions with relevant expertise. DRG members hold a wide variety of titles in their home institutions, from full professor to assistant to the provost, and they work in departments that vary in size from 20 to 300 majors.

ASA covers the costs of training and maintaining the DRG program, and charges no fee for the matching service. Departments hosting site visits are expected to cover the DRG consultants’ travel expenses and provide an honorarium.

For the past year, the more than 50 sociologist-consultants who comprise the DRG have been turning the microscope inward to identify the DRG’s own strengths and opportunities for building on the program’s successes.

During the 2007 ASA Annual Meeting, DRG consultants organized themselves into five working groups, each charged with exploring an area that could enhance and build upon the strengths of the DRG program itself.

This year-long effort resulted in 49 specific recommendations that fall into four broad categories: marketing, training, tracking, and assessment.

Marketing. As departments work to meet the challenges of higher education in the 21st century, it is important that they know there is a place to turn for advice and consultation. Increased marketing will be aimed at raising awareness of DRG within the sociological community.

Training. While DRG consultants have always received training, the working groups identified a need for a more systematic and developmental training program. A more formalized training curriculum is being planned to help all DRG consultants stay abreast of cutting-edge issues in higher education as well as to ensure that new DRG consultants have all the skills they need to assist the departments they visit.

Tracking. The DRG is highly dispersed, with consultants and the departments they serve located in every corner of the nation. Therefore, the working groups identified a need for a transparent and effective tracking system to help manage the needs and the results of the program.

Assessment. Finally, the DRG will model the concept of assessment in its own practices. Moving beyond the basic feedback systems of the past, the program will create a more robust DRG self-assessment plan that feeds back into training.

In developing these recommendations the DRG program has used the same assets-based approach that its consultants use with departments. The basic operating principle of the DRG—let’s work together to identify the strengths, and make them stronger—is now being applied to the program itself. For more information about the DRG program, contact Margaret Weigers Vitullo, Director, Academic and Professional Affairs Program, (202) 383-9005 x323 or small_green


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