In a 2010 NACADA web event, Jose Rodriguez and Susan Kolls first addressed the topic of Breaking Bad News to students in the webinar venue, sharing their thoughts on delivery techniques that help students make good alternative choices. This early online event drew a large audience and was well received by participants in the live venue, was a top seller for five years on CD, and has garnered over 1,600 hits since it was placed on the NACADA YouTube channel.
At NACADA’s 2018 Annual Conference in Phoenix, a presentation team from Brigham Young University took a fresh look at this topic with a presentation entitled Blunt Empathy: Delivering Unwanted News Doesn’t have to be an Awkward Middle School Dance. This presentation drew a large audience of conference attendees, who rated it highly and recommended that it be brought into other association venues.
The high level of interest in this topic over time is not surprising. Delivering unwanted news to students in a clear, effective, and supportive manner weighs heavily on the minds of advisors in higher education. It can be difficult to clearly communicate consequences, obstacles, realities, and options while maintaining trusting relationships. Although models for this process exist in areas such as healthcare and human resources, what about in academic advising situations? How can advisors convey necessary information in ways that don’t cause students to turn away?
Drawing from their varied experiences in academic standards, limited enrollment programs, international services, and admissions, this BYU presentation team will share personal experiences with delivering unwanted news and will model and explore techniques for delivering this news effectively. Tools such as empathy, helping skills, and confrontation skills will be considered. Finally, the presenters will consider what to do if these techniques and tools do not help a particular advisor/student relationship.
Academic Advising Core Competencies that will be addressed in this presentation include:
C3: Theory relevant to academic advising
C4: Academic advising approaches and strategies
R2: Create rapport and build academic advising relationships
R3: Communicate in an inclusive and respectful manner
Nathan F. Walch, Academic Advisor, Academic Support Office, Brigham Young University
Nathan Walch works with students who are struggling academically. Due to intensity of these struggles, his work with students often goes beyond help with study skills, where he is often the “first responder” for significant psychological concerns or other trauma. Part of his responsibilities also include working with students as they contemplate mandatory suspension from the university. With almost nine years of experience in this office, Nathan has had countless opportunities to deliver unwanted news. He is currently a doctoral candidate in higher education administration from the University of Utah and has received a Master of Science degree in academic advising from Kansas State University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in public relations from Brigham Young University.
Melanie Burton, Academic Advisor, Academic Support Office, Brigham Young University
Melanie Burton is an Academic & Career advisor for the Academic Support Office and has worked at BYU for 22 years. She works closely with at-risk students, those on academic standing as well as other marginalized groups. She is passionate about helping students reflect, progress, and succeed. Throughout her career, she has taught four different student development courses: Effective Studying and Learning, Test Preparation and Testing Strategies, Career Exploration, and Thriving at BYU for new freshman students. Melanie received bachelor and masters’ degrees from Brigham Young University in Elementary Education and Counseling & Guidance, earned her Global Career Facilitator certification, and finished an additional graduate certificate in advising from Kansas State University. She served as the Advisor In-Service training Co-Chair on campus for 5 years and is currently an outreach coordinator working with LGBTQ students on campus.
Julee Braithwaite, Director, Fine Arts and Communications Advisement Center, Brigham Young University
Julee Braithwaite graduated with a BFA in Interior Design and a minor in English in 1986. She also studied Art History as a graduate student and participated in a semester abroad to London. From 1984 to 1988, Julee worked in the Advisement Center as a part-time student employee. She has worked as a full-time academic advisor since 1988. In 1994, she was the College of Fine Arts and Communications recipient of the Staff Excellence Award. In 2009, she became the supervisor of the Advisement Center. Julee’s involvement at the university has also included teaching an introductory course in Interior Design. In Julee’s 23 years of teaching, she found fulfillment and satisfaction in associating with students from that perspective as well as from an advising point of view. In completing her Graduate Certificate in Academic Advising from Kansas State University in 2014, Julee was once again reminded of the rigors of academic pursuits. Julee values her association with students and has described her dedication to student advisement in the following statement: “In my work, I try to approach each day with patience, kindness, accuracy, wisdom, and insight. As an academic advisor, I recognize that I am in a position to interact with and perhaps influence many people, including office staff, faculty, university employees, administrators, and most importantly: students. In daily practice, my responsibilities are most specifically directed to students’ academic success and overall experience at BYU. Having been a student myself, I understand just how frustrating and frightening college can be at times, yet it can also be stimulating and rewarding. In my dealings with students, I honestly try to contribute to these positive attributes. If I can become a friend and advocate in the advisement center, I know students will come to see me time after time and hopefully save themselves time and heartache as they pursue their academic goals.”
Sam Brown, Director, International Student and Scholar Services, Brigham Young University
Sam Brown is the Director of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) at Brigham Young University (BYU). He serves as the Principal Designated School Official and Responsible Officer at BYU on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State, respectively. Sam leads the ISSS office in assisting international students and scholars in maintaining their lawful status, and in providing holistic support for the international student and scholar community. Dr. Brown received his EdD from Brigham Young University in Educational Leadership and Administration. His research focus is intercultural trust and propensity to trust, and he has conducted research and published in this area both in the U.S. and abroad. He has also earned a BA and MPA from BYU, and an MS degree from Kansas State University. Dr. Brown has lived overseas and loves working with students and scholars from all backgrounds. He has served as a Regional Liaison for NAFSA Association of International Educators, as the National Chair of the International Student and Scholar Services Knowledge Community, and currently as the Region II Chair for NAFSA.
Lisa M. Parkinson, Academic Advisor, University Advisement Center, Brigham Young University
Lisa M. Parkinson currently works as an Academic and Career Advisor at Brigham Young University (BYU) in the University Advisement Center. She served as the Director of the BYU Multicultural Student Services office for 10 years and has a soft spot in her heart for underrepresented populations. She also served on the BYU Admissions Committee and Undergraduate Scholarship Committees for over 21 years where she frequently discussed with students and parents unwanted news and potential future options. Dr. Parkinson received her Ph.D. from BYU in Educational Leadership and Administration and has focused her research on helping first-generation college students succeed. She recently completed her master’s degree in academic advising from Kansas State University and appreciates the opportunity to continue to learn and grow. Dr. Parkinson loves students and education and feels it is an honor to be part of the developmental process in the lives of so many students.
Scott D. Hosford, Licensed Psychologist/Associate Clinical Professor and Director, Academic Support Office, Brigham Young University
Scott Hosford is a licensed psychologist and assistant clinical professor at Brigham Young University (BYU). He currently serves as the director of the Academic Support Office where he works primarily with students struggling academically. He also provides psychotherapy to students at BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services and owns a small private practice. He was previously a senior staff psychologist at Washington State University (WSU) Counseling and Testing Services for six years where he served as the testing coordinator, supervising and training doctoral students in the assessment of learning disabilities and psychological disorders. He has previous clinical experience working with veterans, older adults, children and adolescents in various settings. He holds advanced degrees from the University of Texas at Austin (Ph.D., Counseling Psychology) and Brigham Young University (M.S., School Counseling Psychology; B.S. Psychology).