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Voices of the Global Community


Craig M. McGill, Florida International University

CraigMcGill.jpgThis spring, I had the honor of interviewing six of the association's leaders: original founder and past president Tom Grites, immediate past president Jennifer Joslin, current president Joshua Smith, incoming president Joanne Damminger, Executive Director Charlie Nutt, and Assistant Director of Resources and Services Marsha Miller. My task was to construct an oral history, identifying three key milestones in the association's history and development through the perspectives of living participants. The interviews built on the existing histories (Beatty, 1991; Gordon, 1998; Gordon & Grites, 2009; and Thurmond & Miller, 2006) and unveiled considerations for the future of the association and of advising in general.

One: The Formation

A chance elevator meeting in April 1977 between Grites and Toni Trombley was the legendary start of NACADA. The first conference surpassed all attendance expectations and a task force was convened to determine if forming a national association was possible. In the initial meetings, there was a discussion centered on the rhetorical meanings of the terms advisor, advising and advisement. “’Advisor’ was thought to narrow the purpose of the proposed association while ‘advising’ connotes a broader process and function, and advisement’ is a term closely associated with the legal profession” (NACADA, 2004, p. 4). Advisors were concerned about enrollment management, professional identity, and whether they would be responsible for retention. From the beginning, the spelling of ‘advisor’ was championed over ‘adviser’ to parallel the spelling of professor (C. Nutt, personal communication, March 4, 2013).

During the second national meeting, an organizational structure and bylaws were outlined along with a proposed name for the association: National Academic Advising Association, “rather than the National Association of Academic Advisors, because we knew most academic advisors at that time were faculty and they would not likely want to join such an organization” (T. Grites, personal communication, March 24, 2013). Grites recalled the deliberation about the name for the association:

Since every other organization had a recognizable acronym, we felt the need to identify ourselves in that brief fashion as well; we didn't like NAAA, since it was too close to NCAA, and NAAA might have been ‘taken’ by another one anyway, so we came up with National ACademic ADvising Association. Then came the pronunciation dilemma…I remember ‘NACKada’ and ‘NaCADEa’ as the other primary possibilities, but we finally settled on ‘NaCAHda’ which seemed easy enough to us at the time. 

At the third conference, the Board of Directors members were appointed, the association was divided into six regions, and a newsletter established. Trombley became the Association’s first president and NACADA became officially incorporated. Initial dues were set at $25 per year and $10 for student members (NACADA, 2004). For Smith, the development and the revisiting of the bylaws constitutes the first critical milestone of NACADA: “This really tied people together in a shared understanding of governance, which is a critical part of any organization, but particularly an academic organization which has such a long and storied history of faculty or participatory governance that helps guide decisions that are made” (J. Smith, personal communication, March 26, 2013).

Two: Establishing a Research Identity

A scholastic identity was critical for advising to be recognized as a field of study. Thus, the NACADA Journal was established in 1981. In that issue, Borgard (1981) stated, “we need something more if academic advising is to become a truly educative function rather than an adjunct to teaching, research, and service” (p. 1). In 1989, Virginia Gordon established the Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources at Ohio State University. The Clearinghouse became a centralized repository for the field literature until it closed in 1999. In 2002, the Clearinghouse reopened as the NACADA Clearinghouse when Miller joined the Executive Office and was tasked with putting the Clearinghouse online and accessible to all advisors. 

All interviewees spoke about the importance of research in advising: where it has been, where it is now, and where it needs to be. Joslin does not feel advising research has gained enough momentum and ventured into areas that are radicalized enough to move the field beyond its place in higher education literature: “We’re a practice and clinician-oriented field. Could we do it? Absolutely. Are we all working toward that? No…We’re not yet writing and developing and theorizing in the many different ways we could” (personal communication, March 28, 2013). Nutt agreed: “We don’t have a field of study yet…as long as the primary people that are being quoted in the literature are folks who are not in advising, then I don’t think we can say we have a field of study” (C. Nutt, personal communication, March 4, 2013).

There is a debate in the community as to whether advising has achieved the status of a profession. Shaffer, Zalewski, and Leveille (2010) concluded that advising “has not met the typical sociological standards that accompany societal recognition for a profession” (p. 66). The authors argue that a satisfactory disciplinary base of research and literature has not yet been achieved. Although having a graduate program is one of the hallmarks of a field, Miller noted that there are just a few graduate-level courses that exist in advising and only two master’s degree programs in the field. More will exist only when we “develop a comprehensive curriculum that can be studied. To do this we must have a broad and deep literature base from which courses can be drawn. In the last 10 years we have made great strides towards achieving this goal, but more must be done before a comprehensive base will exist.” (M. Miller, personal communication, June 12, 2013).

While some of the leaders focused on the research and literature as primary indicators, Joslin believes advising has become a profession based on alternative benchmarks:

We have carved out an identity distinct from counseling, career advising, even from private coaching…though we are bringing in those elements into advising...It has its identifiable exemplars...with standards, its professional organization and ability to be adopted by new institutions or new leaders…I don’t feel any different about it than any other profession that you could name. We may be young, but we have as much validity (personal communication, March 28, 2013).

Three: Formation of the Executive Office

On February 15, 1990, NACADA’s Executive Office was established in Manhattan, KS. Prior to that, “the Association had operated out of dozens of people’s and institutions’ back pockets, but the volume of work could not be sustained that way for much longer, especially as it tended to rotate to where the national conferences were held” (T. Grites, personal communication, March 24, 2013). The burden of running a national organization simply became too great for volunteers to do alone (Thurmond & Miller, 2006).

The office has expanded from two people in 1990 to a staff of 16, but the exponential rate of organizational growth has created challenges. Unlike other associations of its size and caliber, NACADA does not outsource its conference planning and implementation. Nutt said, “One of the things our members talk about hugely is the personal attention they get at conferences and when they call the office…they don’t get a recorder that says ‘push 1 for this, 2 for that’…they like that. But those are staff costs” (C. Nutt, personal communication, March 4, 2013). Nutt likened his office to a campus of 12,000 run by 16 people. But he used the same phrase as he does when he visits with advisors across the country: “Folks, it’s impossible to do more with less. You’ve got to do differently with less.”


At the heart of any discussion of a premier organization for a profession in search of an identity is the issue of where it needs to go. The conversations with these leaders centered on technology, globalization, and the possibility of field-specific doctoral programs.

In 2009, NACADA added the tagline “The Global Community for Academic Advising” to its banner (Self, 2009). The interviewees emphasized the need to determine precisely what that means and what implications come from the association laying roots around the globe. Nutt wonders what those advisors working in the Americas can learn from the “really good things happening in Germany, Netherlands and the UK, Middle East, Japan” (C. Nutt, personal communication, March 4, 2013). Joslin noted her deliberate study of the issues prior to assuming the presidency to determine: “do we want a NACADA in every region in the world? Do we want to start by having NACADA conferences in critical places?” (J. Joslin, personal communication, March 28, 2013). International conferences such as the one in The Netherlands in 2013 are ways for NACADA to explore and address the long-standing questions that Nutt and Joslin raise.

Technology can aid in forging global relationships. For Smith, a strong social network built by NACADA members—such as webinars—is vital to the outreach of globalization efforts: “The emphasis on technology at this moment in time will become a milestone that is remembered in the future of the organization” (J. Smith, personal communication, March 26, 2013). Grites argues that while concerns exist that technology will make advisors expendable (because of the online availability of degree requirements, course offerings, etc.), conversely, as competency based education continues to grow, more advisors may be called upon in the future to assess such outcomes (T. Grites, personal communication, March 24, 2013).

The question of a doctoral degree in advising was discussed by most of the interviewees as a necessary means for the field and profession moving forward. According to Nutt, “We’ve got to have doctoral programs… The key is going to be finding faculty to run these programs when we haven’t had these programs for faculty to get graduate training in” (C. Nutt, personal communication, March 4, 2013). Joslin and Smith concur, but qualify their responses saying that the discipline is not yet ready for it. Pointing to the success of the masters degree program in academic advising at Kansas State University, Smith agrees that while there is enthusiasm for such a field of study, currently there are no high-profile doctoral programs in higher education that offer even a cognate concentration in advising. To have a discipline-specific doctoral program, many more courses would have to be designed and developed within advising, and Smith is skeptical: “I’m just not sure what that would look like right now.” Indeed, cynics have interrogated: “where is the knowledge base on advising that warrants as a stand-alone field?” Smith disagrees: “I am arguing that it just hasn’t been articulated, that it’s out there,” but there is not “enough scholarly work to document and demonstrate that we are there” (J. Smith, personal communication, March 26, 2013).

Where does a field in search of an identity need to go and what is the association’s role? Where is the place of advising in the vast terrain of higher education? Some of the interviewees indicated that the relative youth of the profession and the lack of professional credentials that are specific to advising can make it difficult for the profession to be seen as a profession. According to incoming president Damminger, “there’s certain entrance criteria in order to be a part of that profession. And advising doesn’t have that firmly established like we would like it to. And I think that ‘yes we can do that,’ but my experience is that’s only going to be as strong as the institutions who are going to put that into place” (J. Damminger, personal communication, April 2, 2013). Smith indicated that NACADA needs to be more active in that process:

The organization needs to step into the conversation about higher education in a more intentional way…reaching into the political and public debate on the value of higher education, and specifically, what advising contributes to a high-quality education in terms of both access and student success. We play a huge role in that equation, and yet I don’t believe we have the credibility from the public and from within institutions that see the value of high-quality academic advising (J. Smith, personal communication, March 26, 2013).

Without NACADA, it is hard to imagine what the field of advising would look like today. Indeed, the association and the profession/field/discipline are so inextricably linked, they are nearly synonymous. Beatty (1991) recalled former NACADA president Wes Habley’s anecdote: “Advisors spell relief: N-A-C-A-D-A (p. 74). But according to the key players in this analysis, to continue to shape the field we must 1) place ourselves in the center of the retention discussion, 2) build a cohesive body of scholarship, and 3) forge ahead with the creation of graduate programs that include the dedicated scholarship of advising.

Craig M. McGill
Academic Advisor, Department of English
College of Arts and Sciences
Florida International University
[email protected] 


Beatty, J. D. (1991). The National Academic Advising Association: A brief history. NACADA Journal 11(1): 5-25.


Borgard, J.H. (1981) Toward a pragmatic philosophy of academic advising. NACADA Journal, 1 (1), 1-6.  

Gordon,V. (1998). New horizons: Learning from the past and preparing for the future. NACADA Journal 18(2): 5-12.

Gordon, V., & Grites, T.  (1998). NACADA Journal: fulfilling its purpose? NACADA Journal, 18(1), 6-14.

National Academic Advising Association. (2004). Lighting Student Pathways for 25 years. Manhattan, KS: National Academic Advising Association.

Self, C. (2009, September). From the president: NACADA, the global community for academic advising. Academic Advising Today, 32(2). Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/From-the-President-NACADA--The-Global-Community-for-Academic-Advising.aspx

Shaffer, L.  S., Zalewski, J.  M., & Leveille, J.  (2010). The professionalization of academic advising: Where are we in 2010? NACADA Journal30(1), 66-77.

Thurmond, K. C. & Miller, M. A. (2006).  The history of National Academic Advising Association: An update. Retrieved March 24, 2013 from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/History-of-NACADA.aspx   

Cite this article using APA style as: McGill, C.M. (2013, September). Conversations with NACADA leaders: Perspectives on the development and status of the association and the field. Academic Advising Today, 36(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.