Pierce College at Joint Base Lewis – McChord (PCJBLM) is a community college extension campus that is challenged with complying with multiple policies while serving a transient student population amid budget constraints. Through multiple cycles of research, entry-level student services staff expressed concern about their professional development and their ability to contribute meaningfully to initiatives around student success. Student services staff were also concerned with their connection to colleagues and leaders within the unit. Research shows that leaders may need to be more flexible and creative in staff development to appreciate the diverse values and talents of their teams. Research also identifies professional development as essential to solidifying student affairs as a profession and meeting the demands of today’s educational environment.
Through multiple cycles of research, peer-to-peer mentoring was identified as the innovation to address the problem of practice at PCJBLM. The program was evaluated as part of an action research study. The theoretical perspectives guiding of the study were wicked problems, theory of structural empowerment, theory of psychological empowerment, and social learning theory and communities of practice. Peer-to-peer mentoring was evaluated over eight-weeks. Participants were selected via purposeful sampling. Key artifacts produced by participants were reflective journals and an individual development plan (IDP). Multiple qualitative data sources were used to triangulate the results. The quantitative instrument, Conditions of Work Empowerment Questionnaire – II (CWEQ-II), was administered to support learning about the participants’ feelings and perceptions about empowerment. The pre- and post-test (CWEQ-II) measures were used in conjunction with the qualitative sources. Credibility and rigor were addressed through triangulation, prolonged engagement, and member checking.
Results indicate more investigation is needed to address the identified wicked problem. Peer-to-peer mentoring supported a broadened view of the problem practice. The peer-to-peer mentoring program was structurally empowering while not completely psychologically empowering. The participants’ conflicts related to psychological empowerment were identified and will support continued learning in this area. Additionally, through multiple cycles of qualitative analysis, the values of this unit were identified. These values were essential to the developing community of practice. Continued research in empowerment and wicked problems is needed to support the future growth of the community of practice.