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Voices of the Global Community


Carol Antill, Angelo State University

Carol Antill.jpg“We seek the finest natural and organic foods available, maintain the strictest quality standards in the industry, and have an unshakeable commitment to sustainable agriculture” (Whole Foods Market, Inc.).

The mission statement behind a company that grew from one grocery store in Austin, Texas in 1980 to over 300 stores in the United States and United Kingdom is analogous to the goals of academic advising. Light (2001) noted that results from a Harvard Assessment Project that spanned ten years and surveyed faculty and students at more than 90 colleges showed that “good academic advising may be the single most underestimated characteristic of a successful college experience (p. 81). Whether serving students at a community college of 5,000 or a regional university of 25,000, good advising can be defined by a model that mirrors the approach of Whole Foods Market: seek the best path, maintain quality of contact, and commit to an attainable goal for each student we advise.

Best Path

Key to advising students at the start of their college matriculation is identifying strengths and weaknesses.  In order to point each student down the most relevant path toward a degree, the intake process must help us articulate these strengths and weaknesses for the student.  Allowing adequate time for advising the student during the intake process builds rapport between advisee and advisor and can help pinpoint significant elements in the student’s life that will help determine the best academic path. Identifying lifestyle factors, such as job and family commitments, is vital to scheduling a realistic course load and recommending support services such as tutoring and workshops.

With an increasingly diverse student population, the best path is one that meets the needs of the individual.  Identifying an advisee’s outlook as predominantly positive or negative can provide valuable insight. Understanding the basic principles of positive psychology and defensive pessimism can help advisors “promote excellence by building on students’ natural talents to increase confidence and self-efficacy” (Schreiner et al, 2009).  Defensive pessimism, coined by Nancy Cantor, President of Syracuse University, defines an individual’s worry about outcomes and the future in a constructive paradigm. Julie Norem, an early proponent of defensive pessimism as a healthy coping mechanism, differentiates between the strategic optimist—a term for one who subscribes to positive psychology—and the defensive pessimist according to the way they achieve their goals: “A strategic optimist’s unconscious goal is not to become anxious.  A defensive pessimist’s unconscious goal is not to run away” (Stewart, 2002, ¶13).  An interactive questionnaire for differentiating between strategic optimists and defensive pessimists (Quiz, n.d.) is one of many tools available online to assist the advisor in building an advisee profile.

Maintain Quality

To maintain quality of contact with the advisee, academic advisors can take a cue from Whole Foods’ emphasis on a “decentralized, self-directed team culture” (About Whole Foods Market, n.d.).  The nature of the third era of advising (Frost, 2000) lends itself to a decentralized structure, where each phase of the student’s academic progress, from declaring a major to seeking a graduate degree, is carefully handled by an advisor who specializes in that phase. Such a flexible environment encourages advisors to be intuitive and enterprising yet always mindful of being part of a team in guiding the student through the college experience.  To some extent, intuition drives the advisor to devise enterprising ways to meet with the advisee after the first advising session.  Presenting interactive workshops relevant to the student’s stage of matriculation and attending student-centered events on campus complement the advisor’s intuitive process.

Like most successful enterprises, interactive workshops require careful planning and inventive marketing strategies.  Advisors must be creative, not only from the standpoint of attracting students to a workshop, but working within limited budgets.  Again, the team effort is advantageous on many fronts:  when advisors collaborate, their shared resources and ideas often result in a more polished and deeply-explored presentation and ultimately increased participation, due to word of mouth among students.

Attending campus-sponsored events allows the advisor to observe students in a more relaxed environment and project a support identity outside that of advisor. The student who enters work in a campus art exhibit appreciates recognition from a familiar face showing up at the event and is more likely to initiate future contact with the advisor. Scanning campus news sources for articles by or about advisees and sending a congratulatory note when the student is cited for an award likewise strengthens the connection between advisor and advisee.


Finally, whether associated with Whole Foods or academic advising, the word commitment evokes trust.  No matter what phase of the student’s college experience, the advisor’s commitment to the student’s short-term and long-term goals fosters trust from the student and ultimately a realization of attaining these goals. Networking is essential to building the advisor’s resource cache and strengthening commitment.  Emails channeling pertinent information between colleagues, student surveys from software programs such as MAP-Works® and Blackboard©, and internet sites like www.testtakingtips.com exemplify just a few of the networking opportunities;  the challenge for advisors today is not as much what to use as how to use it.  With the current generation of students often referred to as digital natives for their immersion in technological media, advisors can also benefit from instructional technology webinars and workshops.

In the world of retail groceries, Whole Foods takes the tenets of its mission statement beyond simply being a quality market; it strives to create a respectful workplace (Whole People) and a support structure for sustainable agriculture (Whole Planet).  In the academic world, advisors should strive to do no less.

Carol Antill
Academic Advisor
Center for Academic Excellence
Angelo State University
[email protected]


About Whole Foods Market (n.d.).  Retrieved from www.wholefoodsmarket.com/company

Frost, Susan H. (2000). Historical and philosophical foundations for academic advising.  In Gordon, Habley, and Associates (Eds.) Academic Advising A Comprehensive Handbook(pp. 11-13).   San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass, Inc.

Light, Richard J. (2001). Good mentoring and advising. Making the Most of College:  Students Speak Their Minds (pp. 84-85).  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press.

Quiz (n.d.).  Retrieved from www.wellesley.edu/Psychology/Norem/Quiz/quiz.html

Shreiner, Laurie A., Hulme, Eileen, Hetzel, Roderick, and Lopez, Shane J. (2009).  Positive psychology on campus, In C.R. Snyder and Shane J. Lopez (Eds.) Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology (p. 573).  New York:  Oxford University Press, Inc.

Stewart, Sharla. (2002). The worst of all possible worlds [Electronic version]. University of Chicago Magazine, 95(1).  Retrieved  from http://magazine.uchicago.edu/0210/features/worst.html.

Cite this article using APA style as: Antill. C. (2011, June). Academic advising in the third era: The whole foods market® approach. Academic Advising Today, 34(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]
Posted in: 2011 June 34:2


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