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Voices of the Global Community


Marsha A. Miller, NACADA Journal and NACADA Review Managing Editor
Craig M. McGill, NACADA Journal Editorial Board

Craig McGill.jpgMarsha Miller.jpgIn August 2017, the field of academic advising lost a champion with the passing of recent NACADA Journal co-editor Leigh S. Shaffer.  Leigh, a recognized scholar in his field of social psychology, authored or co-authored 11 peer-reviewed articles for the NACADA Journal, more than any other author in the Journal’s history.  His first NACADA Journal article was “A Human Capital Approach to Academic Advising” (1997).  It was chosen by then Journal co-editors Terry Kuhn and Gary Padak for inclusion in the edition celebrating the association’s 30th anniversary, because they deemed it as one of the most influential articles published in the Journal during its first 25 years.

Before retiring from West Chester University in 2009, Leigh wrote several follow-up articles addressing career advising issues.  When Leigh and his wife Barbara moved to Columbia, MO to be near their grandchildren, he became co-editor of the NACADA Journal, a position he shared with his former advisee Rich Robbins.  “It was a highlight of my career to work again with Leigh as co-editor of the NACADA Journal,” comments Rich.  “I consider him a teacher, a mentor, an advisor, a colleague, and most of all, a friend” (R. Robbins, personal communication, November 29, 2017).  “Long story-short, if it were not for our numerous conversations and his guidance, I likely would not have pursued and obtained my PhD in social psychology” (Robbins, p. 5).  

Leigh’s new duties as co-editor did not put a damper on his academic writing.  Another of Leigh’s influential articles was “The Professionalization of Academic Advising: Where Are We in 2010?” with co-authors Jacqueline M. Zalewski and John Leveille.  The three authors, all sociology faculty at West Chester University, examined the history of academic advising from a sociological perspective.  They determined that advising was short one key indicator of a profession: the broad, deep, and strong literature base needed for advisor education.  Discussion generated by this article changed the trajectory of the advising field and played an important role in the opening of the NACADA Research Center at Kansas State University and the forthcoming (2019) PhD program in academic advising.

As the Journal’s co-editor, Leigh spent many hours mentoring new authors.  Co-author of this article, Craig McGill, stated that Leigh “became not only an important academic mentor to me, but also a cheerleader and friend. . . . On a few occasions, we enjoyed three-hour phone calls talking about life and research.  My dissertation study is based on his work, and I couldn’t wait to ultimately share the findings with him and perhaps write with him one day.  This man has done so much for the field of academic advising and for me, personally” (personal communication, October 8, 2014).  McGill’s study investigated NACADA leaders’ perspectives about the professionalization of academic advising. Leigh’s mentorship was critical in the early design discussions of the study.  For me (Craig), Leigh helped shape my understanding of what it meant to be a researcher, a faculty member, a mentor for students, and a gracious human being.  He was endlessly generous in his counsel to me, going way above the call of duty.  He has even reached out to me when I have faced personal or family tragedies, just to make sure I was “okay.”

Leigh’s dedication to mentoring extended into all areas of his academic and personal life.  Psychologist Gregg Henriques (2017) noted that when he was referred to Leigh for the first time he “encountered one of the most humble, likeable, and knowledgeable individuals I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.  In what I would come to realize is typical, he at first expressed some surprise that [he had been recommended] and he humbly wondered if he would have anything to contribute to a project” (para. 3).  

A humble student of theology, Leigh always arrived for Bible Study with a variety of sources he had reviewed in preparation for class.  During the discussion, he listened quietly and consulted his sources as others shared their insights.  When Leigh chose to talk, he had an uncanny way of zeroing in on points others could not quite grasp.  He used references from his various sources to help the group look at issues in a whole new light (C. Cozette, personal communication, August 9, 2017).  In short, he did for them what he did for Journal authors.

A campus minister shared that Leigh regularly joined his daughter, Victoria (a faculty member at the University of Missouri), at their weekly faculty sessions prior to Mizzou’s 2015–2016 racial unrest.  During that troubled time, Leigh did an extensive literature review of not just the written word but traveled (sometimes hundreds of miles) to discuss issues with theologians and scholars.  Then Leigh shared his insights with session participants and led them in discussions that helped not just those in the group but all who they interacted with on campus.  One noted theologian Leigh visited told the campus minister that he considered Leigh (who had no formal theological training) to be one of the most knowledgeable theologians he had ever met (N. Tiemeyer, personal communication, August 9, 2017).Leigh Shaffer.jpg

A true Renaissance man, Leigh was proficient in a wide range of fields.  He was a student athlete, attending Wichita State University on a golf scholarship, and remained an avid golfer throughout his life. Leigh also was a music historian with a wealth of knowledge about pop music, including garage bands.  In his pop music historian role, he was a frequent guest DJ on KOPN Public Radio’s Power Pop Hour.  And, of course, there was his love of the underdog, including the Cleveland Browns football team.  Maybe that is what drew Leigh to helping advisors become scholars.    

As a field, academic advising continues to build the knowledgebase.  Advising is a field of practitioners who seek acceptance as equals with academic scholars.  Sometimes it seems we as advisors do not know the scholar’s “secret handshake.”  On numerous occasions, Leigh told Marsha Miller, co-author of this article, that the secret handshake is how we approach our practice.  Scholars read everything about a topic, know how to do a lit review, and then do one before starting to write.  His mantra: “Scholars read.  Scholars do their homework.  They know the literature and draw from it to ground their practice” (M. Miller, personal communication, 2013).  In Leigh’s view, it was impossible to come up with research topics without being well-read.  Although some research problems emerge from problems of practice, most emerge from gaps in the literature.

We, as advisors, by our very nature, “do.”  That is why we are drawn to advising.  Many of us simply do not read enough; we often do not do a sufficient amount of homework before diving into scholarly tasks.  As such, while Leigh’s scholarly dives always were precise, our contributions sometimes are more like cannon balls. Leigh maintained that when we as advisors consistently read everything we can about a topic before writing an initial draft, then we will be welcomed as equals in the scholarly community.  In an interview, Leigh expressed his view of how one becomes a scholar and how such an apprenticeship can shape the field of academic advising:

That’s the thing about scholarly work.  You go study with somebody who’s doing it, not somebody who’s just teaching a course in it.  You see how they do it.  You listen to their thought process, and how this all goes together.  All the zillions of stories academic people have about all the things they’ve done in their career.  It begins to soak in, and it begins to change you.  Some things are conscious enough that you can articulate them, and others are more unconscious that you unpack later on in your life.  That’s what folks really need.  When we are thinking about growing the field—whether we think in disciplinary terms or growing as a profession—Somebody has got to grow the knowledgebase, and what we are dealing with now is that we have lots and lots of folks who are interested in advising, but they don’t have the background that you really need over a career to grow the base.  I don’t think there is just one background that is appropriate to that, but we need to get people to recognize that, then to conduct the research and to do scholarly things. (L. Shaffer, personal communication, October 8, 2014)

With practitioners with disciplinary backgrounds from all walks of academic life, we as advisors may not always agree on the best way to approach a research question or problem.  But we work together, and the diversity in the researchers in our field is also what makes it so wonderfully rich.  The authors of this article can think of no other person who was more welcoming of (and knowledgeable about!) various approaches than Leigh.

The NACADA Research Center is helping advisors become the scholars Leigh envisioned.  The efforts of the NACADA members working on various Research Center projects will help advising practitioners become practitioner scholars who walk in Leigh Shaffer’s footsteps.  The NACADA Research Committee is partnering with the new NACADA Center for Research at Kansas State University to help advisors become the scholars Leigh envisioned.  Wendy Troxel, Director, notes, “Leigh Shaffer knew early on that while it’s important to support new and veteran researchers to gain skills and confidence to analyze theory and to conduct research, it’s just as vital for all advisors to become critical consumers of research to advance their role as professional educators” (personal communication, 2017).     

NACADA Executive Director, Charlie Nutt, reflected on Leigh’s contributions to the field:

While Leigh Shaffer was an advisor and mentor to many thousands of students in his career, he brought his advising and mentoring skills with him to NACADA in regard to his work with the NACADA Journal.  Along with Rich Robbins, Leigh took the NACADA Journal to new heights during his time as co-editor through his commitment to expanding research in the field by his continual and consistent mentoring of potential authors for the Journal.  He was always so approachable and made even the most novice advisors and authors feel valued and respected. There was never a time that any potential author or researcher felt incapable of reaching his expectations due to his careful personal approach to working with someone.  He epitomized the qualities of excellence in teaching and advising and NACADA benefited from his involvement in ways that will impact our association forever. . . . There is simply no way to adequately describe the full impact that Leigh had on our profession, our association, and the NACADA Journal. (C. Nutt, personal communication, December 1, 2017)

Leigh worked hard during his tenure as co-editor of the Journal to shepherd manuscripts of different scholarly and theoretical orientations and did a splendid job of nurturing novice and even experienced researchers.  In short, he is invaluable to the field of academic advising not only for building the knowledgebase, but more importantly, for building people.  To honor Leigh’s legacy, the Journal’s Editorial Board spearheaded the establishment of the Leigh S. Shaffer Journal Writing Award.  What a legacy it honors!

Leigh is survived by his wife, daughter Victoria, son-in-law Ed Merkle, and two grandchildren.  He is deeply missed by family, friends, and the advising community who will keep his spirit alive by honoring advising scholars who make significant contributions to our literature.

Marsha A. Miller
NACADA Journal and NACADA Review Managing Editor
Kansas State University
[email protected]

Craig M. McGill
NACADA Journal Editorial Board
Florida International University
[email protected]


Henriques, G. (2017, July 17). A note of gratitude for my friend: A letter of deep appreciation for my friend, Dr. Leigh Shaffer. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/theory-knowledge/201706/note-gratitude-my-friend 

Robbins, R. (2017). In Memory of Leigh S. Shaffer. NACADA Journal 37(1). Retrieved from http://www.nacadajournal.org/doi/pdf/10.12930/0271-9517-37.2.5

Cite this article using APA style as: Miller, M.A. & McGill, C.M. (2018, March). Advisor, teacher, mentor, scholar: How the legacy of Leigh Schaffer impacts advising practice. Academic Advising Today, 41(1). Retrieved from [insert url here] 

Posted in: 2018 March 41:1


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