Chris Hubbard, University of North Texas
As children, we often imitate characters that we see on television or in movies. The thought of solving problems, protecting others, or triumphing over unforeseen obstacles often encourages us to subconsciously attribute those perceived traits to the actor's actual personhood. Much like actors are recognized based on the characters they play, academic advisors are remembered based on the person they are.
According to Elizabeth Wilcox (2021), general academic advising practice involves operating from a solid foundation of “givens” (p. 1): being knowledgeable, informed, accessible to students, fair, ethical, and timely in responding to students. However, great advising requires raising the bar. Great advising focuses more on relationship building, inclusivity, connection, and seeing advising interactions as a unique opportunity to adapt, adopt, or employ different strategies to best serve the needs of students at any given time. This is where being an original takes center stage.
Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant (2016) defines an original as “a person who is different from other people in an appealing or interesting way [or] a person of fresh initiative or inventive capacity” (p. 3). Originals renounce default ideas and concepts in favor of exploring if better alternatives exist. For advisors, this means more than simply thinking outside the box. However, it does not mean abandoning the core values that undergird the advising profession. In advising, being an original involves a complete paradigm shift from espoused values that limit the way we advocate for, support, and interact with students. It means taking what we know about the nuances of advising practice and leveraging ideas and resources to serve the needs of diverse student populations.
One advising approach that has gained traction over the past few years is Appreciative Advising, earmarked as the go-to framework for advising practitioners seeking to evolve “from providing good service to providing great service to students” (Collins, 2001). Advising as an original relies heavily on developing an in-depth understanding of the six tenets forming the appreciative advising model (disarm, discover, dream, design, deliver, and don’t settle) and using creativity to implement this framework. If demonstrated effectively, advisors increase their capacity to motivate students and support their self-efficacy, which is critical to helping students realize their potential.
Advising as an Original: Unlock the Potential of Students
It is important to see students beyond their GPAs and past academic performance. As times have changed in the higher education landscape, especially since the 2020 pandemic, supporting the intellectual development of students is imperative. Being an original can assist by challenging advisors to help lead these efforts. For example, author Stephen R. Covey (2020) posits that “leadership is communicating to another their worth and potential so clearly they are inspired to see it in themselves” (p. 161). However, leading in this capacity requires a change in how we assess student situations.
In his book titled Blink, author Malcolm Gladwell (2005) asserts that “human beings have a story-telling problem; we are quick to come up with explanations for things that we don’t really have an explanation for” (p. 69). Many outcomes from the interactions we have with others could be positively different if the time is taken to assess a situation accurately and not assume the behavior and intentions of others. What does this mean for advising as an original? It means showing less judgment and more care and empathy.
Walker et al. (2017) posit that showing care to students is one of the biggest contributors to developing strong advisor-advisee relationships. Similarly, Eaton (2020) suggests that “the prerequisite to facilitating a strong sense of belonging for students is caring about their success” (p. 3). Collectively, these ideas present the notion that students connect the most with advisors who see them, show genuine care, and accept their personhood as it is presented to the world. Students also connect well with advisors they can see themselves in—whether that’s from an ethical, socio-economical, or educational perspective. As such, students can develop an interdependent relationship with their advisors and view them as a trusted source of information and guidance. Advisor feedback and being able to establish a genuine relationship with advisors matters to students. Any disruptions to that advisor-advisee relationship can have profound consequences.
For example, certain aspects of “cancel culture” can exist in academic advising practices. A leading tenet of cancel culture ideology is that it involves a series of “actions taken to hold others accountable” (Vogels et al., 2021) which carries some significance in the context of advising interactions. According to Wallace (2007), a challenge for academic advisors seeking to aid students in their development as responsible advisees is attributed to lack of opportunity (time constraints) and student knowledge gaps in preparing for advising appointments, which malign the ability for meaningful developmental advising to take place and perpetuate a cycle of dependency rather than empowerment (pp. 1-–2).
Next, advisors often try to save time understanding the reason why students have scheduled an appointment by relying on case notes and degree audits as a point of reference for guiding an upcoming meeting. However, this can lead to a negative advising experience for a student if pre-judgments are made based solely on prior academic performance and minimal effort has been put forth to get to know a student beyond their degree program needs. Even more so, this can inadvertently “cancel” the potential of students who want to succeed but may be experiencing challenges in the present moment and didn’t find resolve from meeting with their advisor. In this instance, advising as an original requires using non-traditional approaches (when warranted) to meet students where they are at, removing judgment as a measure of success, and seeking to understand the depth of story behind their current academic state. This creates the opportunity to integrate the advising approaches, methods, and resources for unlocking students’ potential and championing their development as originals.
Nurturing the intellectual potential and uniqueness of students is often not an easy task. However, leading by example in an advising role can help. When advisors have a thorough understanding of who they are as originals, they can champion and celebrate students in the same way. In short, to advise as an original, one must:
- Understand and embrace their own identity as an original
- Transition from using traditional advising methods to great advising practices
- Invest in the potential of students by showing care and empathy
- Utilize creativity and personal uniqueness to connect authentically with students
- Champion the development of students as originals
Advising as an original is best illustrated by practitioners working in the field. For example, I had the pleasure of connecting with a colleague named Shante to discuss what being an original meant to her. She expressed that being an original means utilizing her skills and professional position to bridge the gap between academic affairs and student affairs for students. “From my experience in higher education, I have noticed a disconnect between the academic and student service sides of university campuses—and this directly impacts students in many ways,” says Shante. “As an advisor, I have found (through practice) that respecting students as young adults and supporting their development in responsible decision-making, taking accountability, and taking ownership of their academic careers has the greatest influence on their future success.” When asked about ways to champion the development of students as originals, Shante suggests creating opportunities for students to connect with advisors through seminars that focus on assisting students with academic readiness, encouraging autonomous decision-making, and helping students learn self-advocacy strategies to facilitate their success.
In summation, being an original allows advisors to make a lasting impression on students by setting an example of what it means to embrace originality while also supporting this characteristic in others. With the rise in advisor burnout and the ever-changing environment of higher education, leaning into an identity as an original also provides motivation and encouragement to keep pressing forward and present our authentic selves to the world. The question to ask yourself now is: what does being an original look like for you?
Chris Hubbard, M.S.
Assistant Director of Advising
University of North Texas
Collins, J. (2001). Good to great. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Covey, S. R. (2020). Principles of interpersonal leadership. In The 7 habits of highly effective people: Powerful lessons in personal change (pp. 110–166). Simon & Schuster. (Originally published 1989)
Eaton, T. (2020, March). Why should academic advisors care about students’ sense of belonging? Academic Advising Today, 43(1). https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Why-Should-Academic-Advisors-Care-About-Students-Sense-of-Belonging.aspx
Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink: The power of thinking without thinking. Little, Brown and Co.
Grant, A. (2016). Originals: How non-conformists move the world. Penguin Books.
Vogels, E. A., Anderson, M., Porteus, M., Baronavski, C., Atske, S., McClain, C., Auxier, B., Perrin, A., & Ramshankar, M. (2021). Americans and 'cancel culture': Where some see calls for accountability, others see censorship, punishment. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2021/05/19/americans-and-cancel-culture-where-some-see-calls-for-accountability-others-see-censorship-punishment/
Walker, R. V., Zelin, A. I., Behrman, C., & Strnad, R. (2017). Qualitative analysis of student perceptions: “Some advisors care. Some don't.” NACADA Journal, 37(2), 44–54. https://doi.org/10.12930/nacada-15-027
Wallace, S. (2007, September). Teaching students to become responsible advisees. Academic Advising Today, 30(3). https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Teaching-Students-to-Become-Responsible-Advisees.aspx
Wilcox, E. (2022). https://advisingmatters.berkeley.edu/great-advising#:~:text=Great%20advisors%20are%20expert%20listeners,verbal%20and%20non%2Dverbal%20cues
Cite this article using APA style as: Hubbard, C. (2022, June). Advisors as originals: Unlocking the potential in yourself and students. Academic Advising Today, 45(2). [insert url here]