Rafael R. Almanzar, Texas A&M University
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the academic advising profession—academic advisors quickly learned to adopt new methods of providing advising services and support to their students. The traditional in-person advising appointment shifted into a virtual platform where students and academic advisors utilize video telephony software programs such as Zoom and WebEx.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also shaped how academic advisors engage in training and professional development. For instance, the October 2020 NACADA Annual Conference scheduled for Puerto Rico transitioned into a virtual conference for the safety and health of NACADA members, and the spring 2021 Regional Conferences are being held virtually as well. In addition to training and professional development, on-boarding has also changed for new academic advisors hired in the amidst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The literature on developing orientation programs is scarce (Cho, 2012). Orientation programs are essential for the on-boarding process for new academic advisors. According to Almanzar et al. (2018), successful orientation programs outline expectations, provide relevant resources, and cultivate a smooth transition into the institution. The following article will address the development and establishment of a virtual orientation program that will position new academic advisors towards success in the advising profession. I will share strategies to apply to virtual orientation programs for new academic advisors.
The Importance of On-Boarding for New Advisors
Academic advisors come from a plethora of lived experiences, educational fields, and professional backgrounds. Due to the various avenues through which a person can enter the academic advising profession, on-boarding is integral in the socialization, retainment, and recruitment of new academic advisors (Poe & Almanzar, 2018). It is essential for institutions and advising administrators to be mindful that not all new academic advisors are equipped with knowledge of student development theories, advising theories, advising approaches, or have adequate cultural competence (Givans Voller, 2012).
NACADA Core Competencies as the Theoretical Framework
When planning a virtual orientation program, institutions should utilize the NACADA Core Competencies as the framework. According to NACADA (2017), exceptional academic advising programs incorporate all three components of the NACADA Core Competencies: conceptual, informational, and relational.
The conceptual component addresses academic advisors’ role, such as providing a brief overview of academic advising’s origin and function, going over the NACADA core values, and conceptualizing academic advising outcomes at the institution. Discussing the conceptual component during a new orientation is instrumental since academic advisors have different educational and professional backgrounds.
The informational component addresses what academic advisors need to know, such as an introduction of the institution’s historical context and how it shapes the current campus culture, norms, and climate. With the current climate and social unrest in our US society and higher education, this is pivotal for new advisors in understanding how an institution’s culture and climate can shape or perpetuate institutional norms, values, and beliefs that can cultivate an unwelcoming learning environment for historically marginalized and minoritized student groups. Since higher education is increasingly becoming more ethnically and racially diverse (Espinosa et al., 2019), this is integral to discuss at a new advisor orientation.
The relational component addresses the communication skills academic advisors need. Additionally, introducing the institution’s expectations for new academic advisors to reach during their first year is worth mentioning. It is important to note that the relational component is a continuous learning process that new academic advisors must develop after a new advisor orientation program. However, providing new advisors with the tools needed will expedite their growth and development in this area.
Goals and Objectives
Also, before establishing a new advisor orientation program, institutions must determine the goals and objectives. Below are objectives to consider for a new advisor orientation program:
- To provide a smooth transition into the institution and academic advising profession.
- To introduce the objectives and expectations of academic advising at the institution.
- To build community, fellowship, and support from other academic advisors.
- Equip new academic advisors with knowledge and resources to aid in their growth and development.
- To present other training and professional development opportunities on campus.
Strategies for Developing an Effective Virtual New Advisor Orientation Program
Delivery of Program. Academic advisors are experiencing online fatigue now more than ever. When establishing a virtual orientation program, it should be kept short. Instead of an all-day event, a half-day event is much more feasible to ingest. Providing an all-day event with too much information can be overwhelming and challenging to absorb. Murayama et al. (2015) argued that people are often exposed to more information than they can remember. Furthermore, short breaks throughout the program are encouraged. Short breaks will allow new academic advisors time to refresh themselves to avoid online fatigue.
Additionally, when coordinating a virtual orientation program, a co-host should be assigned to the virtual meeting to avoid the risk of slow internet or disconnection. For instance, Zoom has the capability of setting a host and a co-host. The co-host can serve as the contingency plan; the co-host can help monitor the chat feature and engage with new advisors. The host or co-host should enable closed captioning to allow for accessibility to those with hearing impairments.
Identify Important and Necessary Content. The content of a virtual orientation program is integral in the on-boarding process of new academic advisors. Orientation programs should include a representative from campus units that experience high student interactions, such as the tutoring center, career services, disability resources, and counseling services. Representatives can provide a 20 minute overview of the services offered to students. The last five minutes should be allocated for new academic advisors to ask questions.
Additionally, representatives from the Title IX office and the diversity office are strongly encouraged to provide an overview for new academic advisors. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sexual harassment, sexual violence, and discrimination based on sex. Depending on the institution, academic advisors are mandated reporters if a student discloses any Title IX violation. New academic advisors should be exposed to the institution’s diversity office to learn about resources and training on cultural competency. Discussion on diversity and inclusion is essential with the racial divide higher education institutions continue to face with historically marginalized and minoritized student groups.
Other campus units that require more virtual time for their overview can provide a one-page summary highlighting the top three to five things new academic advisors should know about their office. The one-page summary should contain the contact information for new academic advisors to reach for additional questions. The one-page summary will honor the short half-day virtual orientation. These one-page summaries can be disseminated to new academic advisors after the virtual orientation program as an additional resource. Another option is to have these campus units provide a short video recording of their presentation to be shared with the new academic advisors who can view it at their own time. The NACADA Core Competencies pocket guide or Folsom’s (2015) New Advisor Guidebook: Mastering the Art of Academic Advising are additional resources to introduce to new academic advisors at virtual orientation programs.
Engagement Throughout the Virtual Orientation Program. One can argue that it is difficult to be engaging in a virtual orientation program. However, it is just as easy to be engaging virtually as it is to be in person. It requires creativity and innovation. For instance, institutions can enact engagement throughout the virtual orientation program by quizzing new academic advisors about their institutional knowledge.
Additionally, implementing a panel of academic advisors into the virtual orientation program can be instrumental for new academic advisors. A panel discussion is an opportunity for new academic advisors to ask questions and for the panelist to provide suggestions to be successful in the profession. Panelists should be diverse in the number of years advising, gender, department or college housed in, and student populations worked with. Ideally, adding a panelist who just completed their first year in the advising profession can share a different perspective from seasoned academic advisors. Furthermore, inviting a seasoned academic advisor and an advising administrator to the panel can provide additional diverse perspectives.
Assessment for Effectiveness. To measure effectiveness and implement improvements, assessing the new advisor virtual orientation program is critical. Creating a short anonymous survey that captures new academic advisors’ feedback can provide direction to improve your virtual orientation program. The survey should be framed with the goals of the orientation program in mind. Institutions can disseminate the survey right before the end of the virtual orientation program and afterwards by email. Also, institutions must include a deadline and a gentle reminder the day before the deadline to yield more responses. Being open to feedback will enhance future new advisor virtual orientation programs.
Whether in person or online, a new advisor orientation program is the first step in on-boarding and transitioning new academic advisors into the profession and institution. If done well, new academic advisors will be equipped with the tools needed to be effective, which then cultivates student success.
Rafael R. Almanzar
Academic Advisor III
Office for Student Success
Texas A&M University
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Espinosa, L. L., Turk, J. M., Taylor, M., & Chessman, H. M. (2019). Race and ethnicity in higher education: A status report. https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/89187
Folsom, P. (2015). The new advisor guidebook: Mastering the art of advising (P. Folsom, F. Yoder, & J. E. Joslin, Eds.). Jossey-Bass.
Givans Voller, J. (2012). Advisor training and development: Why it matters and how to get started. NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources. https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Advisor-training-and-development-Why-it-matters-and-how-to-get-started.aspx
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx
Murayama, K., Blake, A., Kerr, T., & Castel, A. D. (2015). When enough is not enough: Information overload and metacognitive decisions to stop studying information. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 42(6), 914–924. https://doi.org/10.1037/xlm0000213
Poe, K., & Almanzar, R. R. (2018). Supporting and retaining new academic advisors. Academic Advising Today, 42(2). https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Supporting-and-Retaining-New-Academic-Advisors.aspx
Cite this article using APA style as: Almanzar, R. (2021, March). Creating a new advisor orientation program on a virtual platform. Academic Advising Today, 44(1). [insert url here]