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Voices of the Global Community


Thomas Beckwith, Santa Fe College

The Start of the Journey

For the past six years, I have been a member of NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. I initially became a member of the association because of one of my best friends; he shared some of experiences and discussed some of the work he was doing within NACADA. At this point, I had never been to a NACADA event, much less submitted a presentation proposal despite having a few years of experience as an academic advisor. Within my first year as a member, I submitted a presentation proposal for the Annual Conference, but it was not accepted. Although I was disappointed, I was determined to try again. I brainstormed different possible presentation topics with my friend who had encouraged me to join the organization; we collaborated and submitted a presentation proposal for the Region 4 Conference. Our presentation was accepted, and this helped kickstart my journey within NACADA. I presented at the Region 4 Conference, and I volunteered as a room attendant to count the number of attendees for a session and distribute and collect session evaluations.

While other members’ journeys in the association might be similar, it was the kind act of my friend being there and introducing me to other members within the region that helped cement my connection to NACADA. Joining a large association can be daunting, but this simple act of kindness allowed me to explore other ways I could get involved. I gained confidence, which is something that I lacked at the time due to personal circumstances and professional challenges that occurred early on in my career.  Rediscovering my confidence as a professional led to me wanting to get more involved, and I applied for the NACADA Region 4 Travel Grant for the Annual Conference. This led to me attending my first annual conference. Since attending my first two NACADA events, I have been to four region conferences, three institutes, attended various virtual advising communities’ webinars, participated in the Emerging Leaders Program, joined an advisory board and a committee, and became a Region 4 steering committee member.

Growing Pains

Each person’s journey in NACADA is unique based on their experiences and sometimes even their identity. As a Black male in an advising administrator role, more times than not I have to possess a quiet strength while being able to advocate for myself and others; I also balance remaining authentic and overcoming the stereotypes about Black males and societal expectations. Prior to accepting a new position in January 2020, I did not have any leadership experience in an official capacity in academic advising, even though I had been a full-time advisor for five years at that point. While advising students was second nature for me, my position was different. I was in a new place—surrounded by new people, enhancing my knowledge, and just simply trying to learn the lay of the land. The learning curve was not too steep as far as learning the ins and outs of a new advising software system and college, institutional, and departmental policies. However, supervising people and holding them accountable are vastly different from being the designated leader for student escalations for a day.

Then of course, the COVID-19 pandemic only complicated matters even more for me as a new supervisor in academic advising. Shifting advising services to be held remotely and attempting to build relationships within the department were challenges. Not to mention, I was a first-year doctoral student at the time. As time progressed during my first year in my current role, I became emotionally distressed after the murder of George Floyd. I also became the Acting Director of the Academic Advisement Center for a few months. I felt even more pressure to excel as a leader. I played an integral role in launching an advising software system. I oversaw all the daily operations for the Academic Advisement Center. In addition, new advising practices were implemented due to declining student enrollment. Also, I made some mistakes as a supervisor. I experienced bouts of imposter syndrome. In other words, there was nothing normal about my transition into an advising leadership role. Throughout my professional career, I have had the privilege to work at a few different institutions. With that being said, I have not always had the opportunity to attend conferences due to budget restrictions. This led to me seeking out conference scholarship opportunities—I was the recipient of the 2022 NACADA Region 4 Administrators’ Institute Scholarship. By being granted this scholarship, I was able to attend the Administrators Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico which was a reflective worthwhile experience for me.

Reflecting on the Value of Attending NACADA Institutes

Over the past two years, I have attended the NACADA Administrators Institute twice and the Summer Institute once. The first time I attended a NACADA Institute was the 2022 NACADA Administrators Institute. I did not know what to expect because I had only ever been to conferences. NACADA institutes are about learning, communicating, sharing, developing a work-based action plan, and receiving constructive criticism.

The 2022 NACADA Administrators Institute was eye-opening to me as a newer leader in academic advising. By attending the institute, I was able to realize I needed to shift my mindset and trust the process. The opportunity to interact with other advising professionals and administrators from different types of institutions was refreshing due to the intimacy of this event since it is a fraction of the number of people that would attend a NACADA Annual Conference. The plenary and concurrent sessions addressed topics that can help to guide the required work-based action plan for the institute. An institute helps one to lay the foundations to implement a plan. Also, it allows attendees to interact with other attendees, including their workgroup members and respective institute faculty member.

The first time I attended the Administrators Institute as an individual, and the focus of the work-based action plan I created was on restructuring academic advising. I received constructive criticism from my fellow work group members and my work group faculty member. Consultation about the work-based action plan created with other institute faculty members was integral to my experience at the institute. It provided me with a different perspective.

The second time I attended the Administrators Institute in February 2023, it was with a team of people. While attending with a team is rewarding and might be ideal depending upon the focus of the action plan that is developed, it can be overwhelming. The selection of concurrent sessions offered was just as informative as my first institute. The consultation session was valuable as my team embarked on the vision of re-imaging the campus advising program based on its current state.

I attended the 2023 Summer Institute in Madison, Wisconsin as one of the scholarship recipients for the Summer Institute Scholarship. Although there are similarities between the Summer Institute and Administrators Institute, there are a few differences. The Summer Institute is a weeklong intensive experience which includes a lot more work group sessions that are guided organically by the needs of the members within the workgroup. For the Summer Institute, I focused on the development and reframing of an advising service was previously offered in the advising unit I oversee. Also, I felt like I was able to contribute to other work group members’ action plans by providing feedback due to working at a similar institution type. One of the most rewarding things about attending the Summer Institute was when I was able to share some of the work, we did on my campus to help with another workgroup member’s work-based action plan.

Attending a NACADA Institute should be on the bucket list of advising professionals, especially for those that are in advising administrator roles or oversee advising programs. It is an engaging learning opportunity to connect with advising colleagues from other regions and other types of institutions that might have encountered similar issues or have best practices that can be adapted to fit the needs of an advising program at another institution. There are rare moments where a person gets to engage with people who do the same work. This is why I would encourage anyone who is interested in attending an institute to see if it is possible—request campus professional development funds or apply for one of NACADA Institute Scholarships depending on the institute you are interested in attending.


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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.