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Heather D.S. Anderson, NACADA Assessment Institute Scholarship Recipient

Editor’s Note: Readers interested in learning more about available Assessment Institute scholarships can find information here.

Heather Anderson.jpgAttending the NACADA Assessment Institute in Daytona Beach, Florida, this year was an excellent time to pause, take a breath, and take a break from the everyday rigmarole to focus on the macro view of advising.  Coming from George Mason University (Mason), a large public research institution in Northern Virginia with a decentralized advising model, the institute gave me the opportunity to learn how other institutions practice, assess, and improve their advising processes.

My journey to advising is unique but not unusual.  My educational background is in fine arts and design and, much like other advisors I know, I came to the field with a desire to support students in their learning and in achieving their educational and career goals.  Similar to the general decentralized structure of advising at Mason, my unit, the Honors College, also has a decentralized structure, which can make assessment of advising fairly complicated.  This is especially true as the college continues to grow and the academic departments take on the more prescriptive aspects of advising.  What the Assessment Institute offered me is the understanding that laying the groundwork for a solid advising process and sticking with what you can assess is the way to begin when you are not able to implement comprehensive advising assessment all at once.  That, and a reminder that marketing matters (one would think that coming from a design field I would have already figured that one out).

The Assessment Institute, in its new format, offered a choose-your-own-adventure type structure which allowed me to tackle different assessment topics as I better came to understand what was possible in assessment and, in turn, what was then possible at my institution and in my unit.  Assessment is clearly an essential function of an educational institution and advising assessment is a clear process to reinforce sound advising practices and processes and to identify areas of improvement.  However, you can assess advising all you want but without articulating the findings out to the university, or the even the advising community at the institution, the assessment process does not reach its full usefulness.  I also have a hunch this is especially important at a large institution with a decentralized advising structure (thus my interest in the topic).  Because each college and department runs their advising process a little differently, from who advises to how advising is practiced, assessment does become a challenge.  However, the advantage to this process is that each of the units and advisors have the opportunity to learn from the successes and challenges of others.  The university as a whole can become a microcosm of the national advising community, but that is only true if we are communicating our findings to each other at the university.  This is where marketing comes in.

Marketing the information gained through assessment (such as successes and planned improvements) is something I do not see very often in an advising assessment cycle.  However, this was included in multiple sessions that I attended at the Institute.  Marketing assessment results range from the basics of just making sure that the information has a home (i.e. a website) that is easily accessible to designing and disseminating engaging information handouts for carefully identified stakeholders and constituents.  The marketing of assessment results and future improvements is an integral part of the assessment process.  It solidifies the results of an assessment cycle, but it also keeps the advising and university community aware of how advising is working and how it is going to continue to grow to support student success, which is really what this is all about. 

Returning from the institute, my fellow Directors of Advising and I plan to revisit our advising student learning outcomes to make sure they are clear, assessable, and developmentally scaffolded to meet students’ needs at critical times during their educational experience at Mason.  My goal in this process is to make sure we are communicating our successes and improvements to the wider Mason community as we implement advising assessment and to leverage our diverse advising structures as a way to learn from each other.  The NACADA Assessment Institute experience will inform every aspect of this process.

My time at the NACADA Assessment Institute solidified my understanding of the process of advising assessment and added nuance and depth to aspects of assessment that I had not previously considered. The faculty’s engagement with each attendee was especially useful as we worked through some of the more unique challenges of individual institutions.  I appreciated the opportunity to learn from the faculty and from the experiences of other attendees as they worked through their assessment plans.  The institute was a really great opportunity for individuals working at institutions, no matter the level or point in the assessment process they are.    

Heather D.S. Anderson
Honors College
Director of Academic Affairs & Advising
George Mason University
[email protected]

Cite this article using APA style as: Anderson, H.D.S. (2017, September). Assessment: It is a process. Academic Advising Today, 40(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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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.