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Higher Ed Institute completes second successful Student Affairs Certificate Program

July 10, 2017

By John Baker Brown, Campus Life Communications

Last spring when her boss suggested that she attend the Student Affairs Certificate Program offered by the Emory Higher Education Institute, Amy Palder was not sure how much if any of the five-day program’s content would be useful in her role as assistant dean of students at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta.

“I was neutral in terms of expectations,” said Palder. But, by the last of three sessions leading to certification in student affairs, she was more than pleased with her decision to attend.

“I loved the speakers and the participants,” said Palder. “And the presentations were engaging, informative, accessible – and very relevant to my work at Oglethorpe.”

Group discussion

Established in 2015 by Campus Life, the Emory Higher Education Institute offers seminars that bring together campus leaders across the nation to share experiences and insights on critical issues in higher education. Seminars are led by Campus Life senior staff and highly regarded outside presenters, according to institute leader Dona Yarbrough, senior director of learning and innovation.

“The certificate program leverages the outstanding talent and expertise of Campus Life’s senior and executive staff and that of colleagues at Emory and nationwide to prepare student affairs professionals to lead campuses through challenge and change,” said Yarbrough.

The Student Affairs Certificate Program debuted in June 2016 as the institute’s second annual seminar. The program is designed for professionals who aspire to senior leadership roles in student affairs and for other university leaders seeking collaboration with their institutions’ student affairs units.

The Higher Education Institute also offers a Summit on Race. Conducted in spring 2016 and again that fall, the two seminars collectively drew 149 participants from colleges and universities across the country.

“We have our challenges, including finding staff time to design and teach seminars and finding space for programs on campus,” Yarbrough said. “The institute highlights Emory Campus Life as a leader in student affairs, provides a platform to share our talent and expertise nationwide, and engages our staff in critical conversations with others across and beyond the profession.”

This summer’s certificate program participants numbered 19, with others on a waiting list due to limited space. The participants represented a range of institutions as far north as New York and south to Florida: Clayton State, Eastern Shore, Emory, Florida A&M, Florida International, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Mary Washington, Maryland, Mississippi, Oglethorpe, Rutgers, Stony Brook, and Tulane.

Eduardo “Eddie” Díaz had high expectations for the institute’s certificate program when he arrived on campus from Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, NY, where he serves as associate director for apartment living.

“I was looking for opportunities to network and insights into best practices at other institutions – and that’s what I found,” said Díaz, who also wears hats as interim assistant director of residential conduct and interim director for university community standards.

“Too often we get stuck in our own institutional cultures,” Díaz said. “This certificate program gave me space to ponder and reflect and to speak out and be vulnerable about professional challenges that I face along with the other participants.”

According to Yarbrough, the Higher Education Institute hopes to include additional programs, such as an assessment conference, in the near future.

The Student Affairs Certificate Program offers two scholarships annually to Emory Campus Life staff only. This year’s recipients were Raphael Coleman and DeLa Sweeney. For more information, contact

Photo credits: Tina Chang, Campus Life Communications