#ATTI80: Bronfenbrenner

So to continue the theory travels I checked out Bronfenbrenner this week.Now, as I mentioned in the kickoff post of the #ATTI80 Project, this is just my personal analysis and application of theory for me, and I believe that we each should do theory and application as we see and understand it best. But hopefully it helps you come to either a better understanding of some of the Student Development theories we use or come to your own understanding and analysis of it. (And who doesn’t love to see my weird quirky drawings?)

IMG_3625Now, why Bronfenbrenner?

The short answer is that I wanted to be able to see the ecology of students under age versus 21+. In our office its frequent that our student leaders turn 21 while a member of our organization, and it’s always becomes that type of advising of “where is the line” for me as an advisor. So, I thought that it might help to lay it out with the help of Bronfenbrenner’s components.

But first, as always, a little history! Bronfenbrenner’s Developmental Ecology Theory evolved from his theories on human ecology. While applied to many components, it is most frequently used in early childhood work. However, the Developmental Ecology Theory is most used in higher education within the context of the individual, and not on the entire organization. Also, he’s a fellow Michigan Wolverine graduate who was conferred his PhD. in 1942 in developmental psychology (Go Blue!).

Now, there are four major components of the Developmental Ecology Theory, and they are:

Process which is the interaction between an individual and its environment.

Person which is composed of 4 attributes which helps to steer the individuals course through its development. The 4 attributes are:

  1. Act to invite or inhibit responses
  2. Explore or react to surroundings
  3. Engage and persist in activities
  4. Experience agency in relation to environments

Context which takes a look at the macrosystem, exosystem, mesosystem and microsystems surrounding an individual and how they interact with each other to form the environments of the development.

Time which is the length and continuity in an individuals life.

Now, how did this help me put into context the ecology of my under the drinking age students and over and how to adjust my advising?

Well for one, it helped me to visualize the different environments that the students are in.

Now, with only spending one day breaking it all down, it was easy to see underage students find themselves in environments where temptation and the “cool factor” rule. Students who are 21+, still deal with those components, but also are burdened with more laws, rules, regulations and decisions of balancing their new found “freedom” to drink with responsibilities.

So how do I adjust and improve my advising? Well first, to acknowledge the shift in environments they are navigating in. They are vastly different environments and a universal “make good life choices” type of advising will not be productive and ignoring it won’t help at all.

Second, acknowledge similarities such as continued peer pressure, a Student Code of Conduct, job and class responsibilities and expectations that have not changed because of the age change and legal ability to drink.

Third, talk about the inter-playing components and moving environmental pieces that are influencing the student’s actions and decisions. The better they understand how each environment and component impacts the other the better they can make decisions for themselves.

Finally, lay out expectations for the student. Let them know that there are additional expectations that will come in “coming of age” to drink. Such as, not drinking before attending an event they may be staffing, don’t invite the staff for drinks, and that hang overs are not acceptable reasons to call into work.

There is such depth to Bronfenbrenner and the ability for application, I know I’ll be playing around with this one for awhile, but this is the start I wanted to share with you! I knew there were differences but really seeing it laid out and applying Bronfenbrenner’s components has already helped me map out some changes I can make to my advising.

Until next time!

Peace, Love and Pandas!



Evans, Nancy J., et al. (2010). Chapter nine: Ecological approaches to college student development. Student development in college: theory, research and practice (ed. 2, pp.157-175). San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (2016). Retreived from https://www.bctr.cornell.edu/

Published by Brian

I am currently the Assistant Director of Student Life for Registered Student Organizations and Late-Night Programming at Michigan State University. After earning my B.A. from the University of Michigan-Flint, I entered the Student Affairs profession. After a few years in the field, I returned to school and earned my M.A. in Educational Leadership-Higher Education Student Affairs from Eastern Michigan University. In my spare time I blog about my thoughts and musings on current issues in higher education, student affairs, digital worlds, identity development and general life inspirations and observations. I also volunteer a lot for my fraternity and multiple regional and national professional associations.

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