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Voices of the Global Community


From the President: A New Era of Academic Advising

Cecilia Olivares, NACADA President

Cecilia Olivares.jpg

I recently re-read about the historical foundations of academic advising from Terry Kuhn’s chapter in Academic Advising: A Comprehensive Handbook (2008). Kuhn described three eras of academic advising that were each shaped by the changing set of needs for students of changing demographics in a changing landscape of higher education. The current era of academic advising (1970s to now) is defined by examined activity and includes the establishment of NACADA, the NACADA Journal, and the first association conferences and events (Kuhn, 2008).

As I pondered each era and the transitions between them, I could not help but wonder if 2020 is the year that defines the start of the fourth era of academic advising. Accessibility, affordability, and accountability concerns in higher education are compounded by the rapid pace of technology and innovation and the state of racial inequities and disparities and marked by the COVID-19 global pandemic. This year, colleges and universities pivoted rapidly to deliver classes and services virtually to students, deliberating how to balance the health and safety of their communities and the financial stability of their institutions while maintaining the spirit of who they are, what they do, and what they strive to be. Adaptability and innovation are critical to institutional survival and for our roles as academic advisors and campus administrators.

The same is true for NACADA as an association. After cancelled events this past spring and summer and many conversations similar to those occurring on college campuses, in NACADA leadership, we made the difficult but necessary decision to convert the annual conference to a virtual platform with plans to do the same for our spring events. This shift has impacted how and when we conduct meetings and trainings within the association. Most of our association committees, advisory boards, and advising communities hold meetings in-person during the annual conference that are open to all members in attendance. This year, many meetings were spread throughout October and November via Zoom and continue to be accessible to all members, regardless of virtual conference participation.

Within the NACADA Board of Directors, we have also adjusted how and when we meet to fulfill our responsibilities around strategic planning and resource allocation for the association. As a Board, we typically would be together for meetings immediately before and after the annual conference and during mid-year meetings in the spring. Instead, our conversations are limited to two-hour time blocks to accommodate our nine board members in three countries across six different time zones—an interesting challenge, but also an incredible testament to the diversity and globalization of our association.

Whether or not we as advisors are on the cusp of a new advising era, we are moving forward with significant changes within NACADA. In her final Academic Advising Today column, past president Erin Justyna noted the work of the 2019–2020 Board to review and bring closure to many of the strategic goal benchmarks established in 2017 and the start of a review of NACADA’s mission, vision, and strategic goals. Shortly after the virtual conference at the beginning of October, the 2020–2021 Board of Directors met to review our role as a Board and to set the foundation for updating the mission, vision, and strategic goals, which will be a primary focus for the Board this year. The Board will also prioritize support and resources for the implementation of recommendations from the Region Review and Professional Development Committee’s gap analysis, as well as those anticipated from the Race, Ethnicity, and Inclusion Working Group. These are significant efforts that inform decisions as we navigate supporting advising professionals and the students we serve through this pandemic and prepare for a post-pandemic higher education experience.

It is an honor and privilege to be involved in these conversations within the association. I encourage you to continue to share your thoughts and suggestions for what NACADA and academic advising could and should look like in the next decade—and then let’s close the door on 2020 and usher in the exciting, necessary changes with the start of the new year.

Cecilia Olivares, President, 2020-2021
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising 
Director of Transfer Center & First Generation Student Initiatives
Interim Director of Discovery Center
University of Missouri-Columbia
[email protected]


Justyna, E. (2020, September). From the president: Opportunities in chaos. Academic Advising Today, 43(3). https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/From-the-President-Opportunities-in-Chaos.aspx

Kuhn, T. (2008). Historical foundations of academic advising. In V. N. Gordon, W. R. Habley, & T. J. Grites (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (p. 3–16). Jossey-Bass.

From the Executive Director: NACADA The Global Community for Academic Advising Goes Virtual for Spring 2020!

Charlie Nutt, NACADA Executive Director

Charlie Nutt.jpg2020 is a year none of us across the globe will forget. Our personal lives have been changed in so many ways, and our professional lives in higher education have changed so much as well. Therefore, it is important that NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising continues to look toward the future and provides the highest quality professional development and outstanding opportunities to connect with each other. Each of you have been doing amazing work with your students in this time of uncertainty in their lives, and NACADA is so appreciative for all you have done for both our students and our association. It is a great honor for NACADA to work with all of you to both provide support for you and recognize the health and safety of our members who look forward to our spring events each year.

Thus, for Spring 2020, NACADA will be hosting our spring events virtually, beginning with our Academic Advising Administrators’ Institute on Feb 9-11, 2020 and the Academic Advising Assessment Institute on Feb 17-19, 2020. The Advisory Boards and the Faculty for these two events have carefully organized a virtual event that will both provide the highest quality professional development and the opportunity to work with each other on planning for change on your campuses. These virtual events will be a great opportunity for you to attend in 2020 when in the past travel and other costs may have prohibited your attending the events. We encourage you to consider sending teams from your campuses as you look to gain knowledge and make changes on your campuses.

Following our advising institutes, our region conferences will follow virtually as well. In addition to our five combined conferences from March through May, we will host for the first time a week of region preconference workshops. For the first time, everyone will have a chance to become actively involved in preconference workshops from across all 10 of our region conferences. It will be an opportunity to attend workshops during the entire week at prices that are low cost to you and at times available for your schedule.

As with our highly successful annual conference in October, when you register for one of our five combined region conferences, you will have access to keynote speakers, live sessions, semi-live hybrid sessions, and video-recorded presenters which will be of great benefit. Opportunities to interact with your fellow participants also will be provided. We encourage you and all your colleagues to come and take advantage of these low cost virtual experiences!

In addition to learning from each other at these spring virtual conferences, attending will also allow you the chance to connect with and interact with your fellow academic advising professionals across the world! I want to thank all our NACADA Region Chairs and Region Conference Chairs for all their hard work with organizing these events! In addition, the NACADA Executive Office Staff will be so actively involved with the planning and implementation of our virtual events.

NACADA continues to value all our members and all of the academic advising community across the globe! It is only through all of your participation that we can continue to be one of the top associations for student success! Please join us for NACACDA Virtual Spring 2020!

Advising Generation Z Students During COVID19 and Beyond

Neena Fink, Southern New Hampshire University
Cindy Firestein, Simmons University

Cindy Firestein.jpgNeena Fink.jpgAcademic Advisors are seeing an increase in Generation Z students coming to campus with mental wellness struggles and concerns that intensify and become transformational with the transition to college. With the transition to remote and hybrid higher education learning models, mental wellness is the unseen and largely forgotten struggle for college students.  The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental wellness, “as a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community” (American Mental Wellness Association, n.d.). Students are changing, and with that, advising must adapt to best meet student needs. Advisors are learning that as part of their role they will need to offer emotional support while simultaneously identify, triage, connect, and refer students to supplemental support and resources. Advisors must help students tackle the normal and abnormal stressors of life, because advisors will be a student’s first point of contact.

Moreover, there is a ubiquitous and increasing distrust of higher education, which questions whether or not college is worth the investment. Individuals born between 1995 and 2015 are considered part of Generation Z, also referred to as the iGeneration. “Natives to the digital and online world, Generation Z will soon fully inhabit higher education and then the workplace, taking on roles that will influence the physical world beyond the screen” (Seemiller & Grace, 2016). Furthermore, Generation Z students care deeply about the state of the world while also, simultaneously, being hyper focused on financial stability and job security. A number of the topics that consume their everyday life include the cost of education, future employment, racial equality, financial security, personal freedom, and violence. Having this generation grow up in a social media-driven culture that highlights mass shootings, wars, post 9-11, violent virtual reality games, and the rising cost of higher education may explain this generation’s struggle with mental wellbeing, specifically anxiety (Seemiller& Grace, 2016). In the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, students now face a bleak job market, financial insecurity, rampant unemployment, and uncertain health concerns.  Each generation has their own unique culture and behaviors. To promote student success, advisors must seek to encourage mental wellness, helping students to unpack immediate concerns so that they can focus on the controllable, despite uncontrollable physical, economic, emotional, political, and personal circumstances.

New research around student bandwidth recognizes that students possess finite cognitive resources to take in new information and manage commitments such as classes, homework, health, family obligations, and/or a job (Verschelden, 2017). Young people whose cognitive bandwidth has been taxed even further by “economic insecurity, discrimination and hostility against non-majority groups based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and other aspects of difference” (Vershelden, 2017) experience vast and long-lasting challenges in their transition to college. The only difference between young people is the degree of depletion of cognitive resources; strategies around “growth mindset and self-efficacy” can help combat a diminished cognitive bandwidth (Vershelden, 2017). The concept of bandwidth is connected to new data that suggests that when the mind is overly burdened, decision-making is impaired, that spurs poor decision-making which engenders more poor decisions and thus, an increase in poor outcomes. This taxing of the mind increases the sense of busyness and feelings of incapacity. Planning and problem-solving go by the wayside because the mental energy needed for these tasks is too taxing. Furthermore, depletion of mental resources leads to tunneling and the prioritizing of less urgent and important simple tasks over more urgent and important, complex tasks and decisions that require too much or unavailable bandwidth (Mullainathan & Shafir, 2014).

The cyclical nature of mental bandwidth depletion and tunneling prevents students from deep-thinking, reflection, and considering long-term consequences. Students grappling with the transition to college are likely also contending with a number of other variables consuming their mental bandwidth. As advisors, we can seek to promote reflection, mindfulness, growth mindset, and self-efficacy by challenging students with open-ended questions, affirming them in their successes and doubts, and reframing failure. Intentional conversations can help students process decision-making, as well as provide them the tools to manage identity discovery, anxiety, and mental wellness struggles.

Now more than ever, students will rely on advising for mental wellness and emotional support, guidance, resources, strategies, and human connection. Active Minds, a national mental-health advocacy group, surveyed 2,086 college students in April 2020, and found that 80 percent of college students say that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected their mental health. One-fifth say their mental health has significantly worsened (Brown & Kafka, 2020). With mental wellness concerns for college students on the rise, advisors will need to exercise empathy and resilience strategies when supporting students.

In the framework of mental wellness struggles and the COVID-19 pandemic, advisors can help by demonstrating empathy toward their learners, collectively recognizing and grieving the loss of time, experience, connection, and people. Creating space for frustration, anger, and grieving will be crucial. Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, recently shared that while college students will have real concerns: “health, housing and food insecurity, career prospects battered by the economic plunge” (Brown & Kafka, 2020). For students experiencing these hardships, “post-traumatic stress is one possible outcome,” but “there’s also the possibility of post-traumatic growth” (Brown & Kafka, 2020). This brings us to the second action step that advisors should take in supporting Generation Z college students amidst mental wellness turmoil, which is to foster resilience. It will be crucial for advisors to bring their authentic selves to their student meetings, sharing and receiving student challenges and frustrations as well as the incremental successes. Mark Patishnock, director of counseling and psychiatric services at Michigan State University, noted that, “it might appear that someone is less resilient when in fact they’re just trying to navigate things that other students don’t have to” (Brown & Kafka, 2020). Recognizing that learners have different bandwidths that will likely be taxed differently by remote study, a decrease in human interaction and physical activity, care for family members, work, and other responsibilities is not just important, but vital to student support.

In a recent article, Josh Miller (2018) highlighted the main characteristics of Generation Z, number three being “Gen Z is Financially Focused,” and number six being, “Gen Z Craves Human Interaction.” Both of these characteristics have been, in a sense, threatened by the recent pandemic resulting in social distancing, remote learning, and rampant unemployment. With one in five U.S. workers collecting unemployment, it is no wonder college students are questioning the investment in higher education and the financial security of their future, while simultaneously grappling with the effects of the absence of human connection (Cohen, 2020).

Even though the majority of online learners have historically been adult learners, traditional aged college students are part of a technology savvy generation. Simmons University is one institution that has noticed online learning is enticing to some Generation Z students who have social anxiety or who need to take a leave of absence from their traditional on-campus program for medical reasons but still want to earn transferable credits toward graduation.

Moreover, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, remote learning and working has become a part many people’s everyday life. In an April 2020 announcement, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) made the decision to have a fully remote learning experience for students in fall 2020. To meet the needs of learners while retaining staff and faculty, certain staff, in roles that would no longer exist for the fall, were repurposed to student support in the form of a Success Coach role. The Success Coach is an advisor, coach, mentor, and go-to-person. Because additional personnel could be added to student support from other departments, such as Residential Life, Success Coaches were given smaller caseloads than the average campus advisor, roughly 80 students per Success Coach as opposed to 200 students per Campus Academic Advisor. With this change, students are seeing increased access to a point-person with information that can address their questions and concerns quickly. Students can call, video-conference, text, or email with their Success Coach from the comfort of their place of work or study. The space and time for developmental conversations around motivation, goals, organization, time-management, frustrations, failures, and successes has increased with smaller caseloads, emphasizing that human interactions between learners, faculty, and staff matter.

Despite mental wellness struggles, Generation Z has shown itself to be a resilient generation, adapting to the changing landscape of work and school, while experiencing first-hand a global pandemic. Generation Z is developing new coping strategies through online platforms, connecting with resources, learning problem-solving skills, becoming more flexible in the wake of remote work and learning, testing their bandwidth, grappling with grief, exercising grit, and practicing resilience. As advisors, we have the privilege of supporting their journeys, both academically and personally.

Neena Fink
Senior Academic Advisor
Southern New Hampshire University
[email protected]

Cindy Firestein
Director of Undergraduate Advising
Simmons University
[email protected]


American Mental Wellness Association. (n.d.). Definitions. https://www.americanmentalwellness.org/intervention/definitions/

Brown, S., & Kafka, A. (2020, July 23). Covid-19 has worsened the student mental-health crisis. Can resilience training fix it? https://www.chronicle.com/article/covid-19-has-worsened-the-student-mental-health-crisis-can-resilience-training-fix-it/?cid2=gen_login_refresh

Cohen, P. (2020, July 24). Weekly unemployment claims rose to 1.4 million in U.S.: Live updates. Retrieved July 24, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/live/2020/07/23/business/stock-market-today-coronavirus

Miller, J. (2018, October 30). A 16-year-old explains 10 things you need to know about Generation Z. Retrieved July 24, 2020, from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/1118/pages/a-16-year-old-explains-10-things-you-need-to-know-about-generation-z.aspx

Mullainathan, S., & Shafir, E. (2014). Scarcity: The new science of having less and how it defines our lives. Picador/Henry Holt.

Seemiller, C., & Grace, M. (2016). Generation Z goes to college. Jossey-Bass

Verschelden, C. (2017). Bandwidth recovery: Helping students reclaim cognitive resources lost to poverty, racism, and social marginalization. Stylus.

Applying Practices of Diversity, Inclusivity, and Connectedness to Graduate Student Experiences

Jamie Heck, Chair, Advising Community on Graduate & Professional Students
Angie Cook, Member, Advising Community on Graduate & Professional Students

Angie Cook.jpgJamie Heck.jpgInitiatives focusing on diversity, inclusivity, and connectedness have been forefront at many institutions seeking to improve their accessibility and service for students. As educators have increasingly learned, student success extends well beyond representation and requires careful attention to institutional culture. Many higher education institutions offer graduate programs, but how diligently do these institutions pursue inclusive practices for their graduate students? How often do institutions offer services specifically designed with graduate students in mind? For example, as a way to reveal some of the underlying attitudes or approaches to graduate student support, consider institutions’ websites. In an institution’s mission and vision statements, are graduate students or graduate education mentioned? What services are listed specifically for graduate, professional, or adult students in university dining, student activities, housing, wellness, or tutoring? Does the institution provide career services for career changers, adults with significant work experience, or graduate student career fairs? What resources are available to students with children, caring for aging or ailing relatives or who provide the primary income for their families? At many institutions, graduate students represent a sizable student body with unique challenges and specific needs, but true efforts for inclusivity and connectedness would require increased, intentional consideration and planning.

When institutions strategize to positively impact the overall student experience, diversity, inclusivity, and connectedness feature prominently throughout these conversations and are factors that can influence engagement, belonging, and student success. As educators identify initiatives and develop associated programming, communication, and outreach, they must also ask the question: what role do higher education professionals have to fully embrace and purposefully create a culture in which diversity, inclusivity, and connectedness are pivotal components that positively impact the overall student experience, specifically as it relates to the graduate and professional student experience?

Although diversity, inclusivity, and connectedness can be discussed individually, inclusivity and connectedness are what propel diversity efforts to succeed and are the crucial elements to positively influence student success for diverse student populations (Fosslien & West Duffy, 2019). As mentioned by Fosslien and West Duffy (2019), “Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard” (p. 185). Higher education professionals have a responsibility to serve as a voice and advocate for students to ensure that diversity, inclusivity, and connectedness are components of the institutional culture and their student experience.

In considering efforts and initiatives to support the overall graduate and professional student experience, it is imperative to reflect on opportunities for collaboration throughout campus to promote a culture characterized by inclusivity and connectedness. As described by Bleich, MacWilliams, and Schmidt (2015):

Inclusion extends beyond the notion of diversity. Inclusion activities create organizational structures that advance communications, foster advanced decision making, and mitigate power differentiation between and among diverse individuals and groups. Inclusion results in enriched perspectives and creativity central to the purpose of becoming educated in a pluralistic academic culture. (p. 89)

Far too often, university initiatives are established from an undergraduate-centric lens without consideration or mention of graduate students. Consider, for example, a campus-wide student survey on topics of mental health. The survey was distributed by paper through student activities offices, residence halls, and the student center. While effective in gathering undergraduate student perspectives, this design neglected the graduate students who are online learners, live off campus with their families, or who do not have time or interest in traditional undergraduate student activities. Attempting to implement a canned approach to supporting all students eliminates the individuality of varying student populations and dismisses the relevant support required to address the specific needs and experiences of respective student populations. As advocates for graduate and professional students, graduate educators have a responsibility to question, “What about graduate and professional students?” Educators must ensure that graduate and professional students are included in the conversation related to institutional strategic planning and associated initiatives.

Connectedness and creating a sense of belonging are pivotal in shaping the overall student experience. Connectedness is not a linear process but is instead comprised of varying impactful circumstances woven together (Jorgenson et al., 2018). This culminates in the creation of the overall student experience, and the entire campus community must contribute. “University employees can increase students’ level of connectedness through both formal and informal means. A holistic approach focused on student connectedness and satisfaction should incorporate the student perspective rather than relying predominantly on institutional conceptualizations of structure and outreach” (Jorgenson et al. 2018, p. 90). Departments and employees should not work in isolation to support the overall graduate and professional student experience. Efforts and initiatives to support the overall graduate and professional student experience warrant a similar level of collaboration, consciousness, and commitment that is administered to shape the undergraduate student experience.

As institutions create initiatives and resources to support graduate and professional students, it is essential to identify institutional barriers and challenges that exist in supporting them. This is especially important when considering assumptions or omissions that are made as it relates to the needs of graduate and professional students. Even though graduate students have already had a college experience, they may still need assistance in navigating campus offices, understanding policy, or following university deadlines. Graduate students may be deeper into their professional careers, but they can still benefit from career coaching designed for career changers, for advancing within their organizations, or for leveraging their graduate education in interviews and resumes. Graduate students often appear disengaged when compared to their undergraduate counterparts, but institutions can do more to fully understand the existing pressures and commitments graduate students encounter alongside their academics. Striving for true inclusion will require educators to dismantle their undergraduate-centric lens and give intentional thought to their graduate students’ needs and circumstances.

Institutions have an ethical obligation to offer the necessary support for graduate and professional students as is provided to undergraduate students to promote success and persistence. If institutions are committing to the concept of lifelong learning, then systems must be established to offer support after their undergraduate career has concluded. They must create an environment of inclusion for all students—undergraduate, graduate, and professional—when identifying programs, resources, and institutional priorities related to student success. While many institutions are welcoming increased diversity within their student profiles because of graduate enrollment, that increased diversity also warrants an examination of how they can best support graduate and professional students as they pursue their educational goals. Educators must create a framework and environment to support graduate and professional students with the same level of time, effort, and commitment provided to the educational journey of undergraduate students. To achieve the optimal level of support for all students, conversations and efforts associated with creating the framework of student support and fostering an environment that manifests diversity, inclusivity, and connectedness should involve members throughout the campus community. For institutions to establish a common voice and create a culture that promotes diversity, inclusivity, and connectedness for all students, it should be a campus-wide initiative and supported at all levels throughout the institution. If not already involved in conversations related to the overall student experience of the population advised, it is imperative that graduate educators become actively involved in these conversations. As Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm previously stated, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair” (Carr, 2017).

Angie Cook
Associate Director, Graduate Retention Services
College of Nursing Office of Student Affairs
University of Cincinnati
[email protected]

Jamie Heck
Director of Academic Affairs
College of Nursing Academic Affairs
University of Cincinnati
[email protected]


Bleich, M. R., MacWilliams, B. R., & Schmidt, B. J. (2015). Advancing diversity through inclusive excellence in nursing education. Journal of Professional Nursing, 31(2), 89–94. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.profnurs.2014.09.003

Carr, G. (2017, November 30). Unbought and unbossed, Shirley Chisholm stands as a timely lesson on claiming a seat at the table. Huffington Post. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/unbought-and-unbossed-shirley-chisholm-stands-as-a_b_5a200c23e4b02edd56c6d71d

Fosslien, L., & West Duffy, M. (2019). No hard feelings: Emotions at work and how they help us succeed. Penguin UK.

Jorgenson, D., Farrell, L. C., Fudge, J., & Pritchard, A. (2018). College connectedness: The student perspective. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 18(1), 75–95. https://doi.org/10.14434/josotl.v18i1.22371 

Beyond Articulation: A Guide to Incorporating Transfer Guides

Tony Lazarowicz, Jessica Davis, Marko Delic, Holly Herrera, & Jacqui Rogers, Advising Community on Transfer Students members

Tony Lazarowicz.jpgTransfer articulation agreements have been critical to assisting students in the transition between two- and four-year institutions. While some institutions have transfer centers or transfer-specific programs, many use pre-admission advising and articulation agreements to assist students in planning their transfer. A guide, however, can go a step further than an agreement by providing more robust information than course-to-course articulations alone. By highlighting the roadmap between institutions, transfer guides can increase two-year degree completion and positively impact the transition, retention, and persistence of transfer students. Staff at both the transfer-sending and transfer-receiving schools should collaborate on creating the transfer guide, making it a strong foundation for student success.

Jessica Davis.jpgCreating a success plan requires transparency in the process. Transparency often begins with clear definitions of terms and parts of such a process. The following definitions can aid the reading process and implementation of the transfer guide at your institution, regardless of its role in the implementation process:

  • Transfer-Sending School: The institution at which a student’s academic journey begins. After completing a set of courses, students transition to another school. Generally speaking, this is a two-year institution partnering with a four-year institution.
  • Transfer-Receiving School: The institution that the student would transfer to from another institution. Generally speaking, this is a four-year institution from which students intend to receive a bachelor’s degree.
  • Mark Delic.jpgArticulation Agreements: The documents that outline a pre-set curriculum at a transfer-sending school in a program of study that seamlessly transfers to a transfer-receiving school.
  • Transfer Guide: The written roadmap students use to clarify their transfer intent, goals, and use this space to proceed in their academic journey. Individual student transfer guides are provided by transfer-sending-school advisors at the time of students clarifying their intent to transfer.
  • Campus Champions: The staff and faculty members at each school involved in the process. The champions communicate the purpose of a transfer guide to students, ensuring students’ successful retention at transfer-sending and furthermore their retention and matriculation at the transfer-receiving school.

Holly Herrera..jpgTransition Theory

Originally developed as a counseling theory, Schlossberg’s Transition Theory (1984) emphasizes the key aspects to the experience of transitions, which are defined as “any event, or non-event, that results in changed relationships, routines, assumptions, and roles” (Goodman et al., 2006, p. 33). Transitions can be perceived both positively and negatively depending on the individual and the holistic context in that moment in time (McGill & Lazarowicz, 2012). 

The three major parts of this theory are: approaching transitions, taking stock of coping resources, and taking charge (Schlossberg et al., 1995).  

  • Jacqui Rogers.jpgApproaching Transitions explores whether the transition is an event or lack of an event that relies upon a change occurring. The key factors include the type, context, and impact of the transition. Understanding the underlying nature of the transition allows an advisor to best understand how students experience similar transitions differently. 
  • Taking Stock of coping resources allows an advisor to leverage resources based on students' perceptions. Students may perceive resources as both liabilities (negatives) and assets (positives) within each of the four categories (4 Ss) of self, support, strategies, and situation. The students’ perspective (referred to as appraisal) can assist the advisor in understanding how the student feels about and copes with the transition and the level of optimism for success. 
  • In the Taking Charge stage, “the person experiencing the change begins to use new strategies to manage her or her personal evolution” (McGill & Lazarowicz, 2012, p. 131).   

Guides can begin to help a student approach a transition with confidence and provide understanding of available supports. As Transition Theory posits, transitions are individualized. Guides can provide strong support but should also be designed to allow for individualized customization, whether that includes reflection, a convoy of supports, or a variety of strategies that students can employ to navigate the transition successfully.  

Why Should Institutions Incorporate the Transfer Guide?

Using a transfer guide can help students create a sense of belonging at not only their transfer-sending institution, but also the transfer-receiving institution they plan on attending. First, these create an institutional effort in normalizing the transfer function to those who seek to transfer. Additionally, creating it in tandem with the transfer-receiving institution supports and validates students as they work with both institutions toward their educational transition. 

This guide complements both the transfer-sending and transfer-receiving institutions’ missions by sharing information and resources specific to transfer students. It acknowledges and incorporates the lived experiences of students who come to campus as they create a roadmap of goals and objectives to work towards at the transfer-sending institution and know what they need to complete for the transfer-receiving institution. Finally, establishing a transfer guide allows the student to focus on course material and completion, not course selection and requirements. 

Who Creates Transfer Guides?

Four-year institutions must play an active role in creating meaningful transfer guides through collaborations with their two-year partners as it is the starting point for information exchange. First, it is an opportunity for faculty from both institutions to discuss curricular content and alignment. Inter-institutional faculty collaboration can dig deeper into the full course sequence beginning at the community college and ending with the final course at the college or university. This interrogation of course content and learning outcomes can result in more effective course-to-course transfer equivalencies in addition to a deeper understanding of student preparation. 

Second, admissions and student affairs professionals from both the transfer-sending and transfer-receiving institutions should also work to create the roadmap to a successful transfer. Admissions representatives can indicate required courses, standardized test scores, as well as deadlines for applications and related materials. Student affairs professionals can share how to demonstrate leadership pre-transfer and tie that to post-transfer opportunities. The guide could also direct students when to update their resumes and create a portfolio so that they can gain internships and other professional experiences at several stops along the way. 

What are the Transfer Guide Components?

The transfer-sending campus champion will identify a student’s program of study and institution they intend to transfer to in order to proceed with the appropriate transfer guide. Components of that guide should include:

  • The student’s intended timeline for completion (e.g. 2+2 or 2+3 academic year plan). 
  • Outline of transferable credits per transfer equivalencies or an articulation agreement. 
  • If there is an agreement allowing a transfer of an Associate’s degree to a four-year institution, the transfer guide will show a two-year timeline during the student's journey at the transfer-sending school, as well as a two-year timeline following their transfer, that the transfer-receiving campus champion will use to further guide the student. 
  • Degree plan that individualizes a student’s term-by-term timeline based on personal goals.
  • A questionnaire about the student’s goals, tips to ensure the student’s preparedness to transfer (e.g. budgeting or transportation), information about supportive services, and co-curricular interests to be aligned with transfer-receiving school’s offerings.
  • Motivational exercises to encourage persistence and mindfulness. Each school will be responsible to include this information based on their resources and understanding of their student population.

When seeking out examples, it became clear that most institutions focus on points 2 and 3 above. Some go beyond baseline articulation agreements and have used other terminology such as Transfer Maps (See an example at Virginia Commonwealth University at https://majormaps.vcu.edu/transfer). However, these examples still lack some of the components, particularly those that encourage personalized reflection and planning. One of the authors of this current manuscript completed a graduate project focusing on transfer guides, which outlines a number of the key concepts discussed in this section and can be found at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nGMEMfYsM9JA7--yFTTFYHZiJhB70z6b/view?usp=sharing.

When Should Advisors Incorporate the Transfer Guide?

The earlier a student maps out their transfer process, the more time the student will have to prepare. There are factors for the student to consider that will impact their first semester at the community college: Do I need to earn my associate degree before I transfer? Are there gateway requirements for my desired institution/major that I must meet in order to transfer? What should I look for in a desired transfer institution/major? Using reverse engineering, the clearer idea students have for their end goals (transfer and career), the more easily students can work their way backwards to figure out what steps need to be taken. A transfer guide can assist them in navigating these steps.

Community colleges have the opportunity to introduce students to their transfer guide during their orientation or first year seminar course. While the community colleges are orienting students to college, they can orient students to utilizing their transfer guide. Transfer guides can also be incorporated into coaching or advising appointments. Coaches or advisors can utilize concepts in the transfer guide to navigate their appointments with students.


Transfer guides must be individualized depending on the two institutions creating the guide. All parties that support a student in their transition should be involved in the creation of the guide to create the best resource that connects to their student population. They must also challenge students to take ownership of their own academic goals and dreams. 

Articulation agreements are a great first step in helping students navigate the pathway from one institution to the next. The guide expands upon the role of the articulation agreement to encompass the full transition experience of a student beyond credit transfer. Taking into consideration the students’ experiences and long-term goal setting, a transfer guide more thoroughly sets up transfer students for a successful transition.

Tony Lazarowicz, Ph.D.
Associate Director for Academic Advising
College of Arts and Sciences
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
[email protected]

Jessica Davis, MA.Ed.
Senior College Advisor/MAC Supervisor
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
California State University, San Bernardino
[email protected]

Marko Delic, MA
Director of Admissions
Kellogg Community College
[email protected]

Holly Herrera, PhD
Associate Provost for Transfer Initiatives and Academic Partnerships
Columbia College Chicago
[email protected]

Jacqui Rogers, MA
Coordinator of Transfer & Articulation
College of Southern Maryland
[email protected]


Anderson, M. L., Goodman, J., & Schlossberg, N. K. (2012). Counseling adults in transition: Linking practice with theory (4th ed.). Springer.

Goodman, J., Schlossberg, N. K., & Anderson, M. L. (2006). Counseling adults in transition: Linking practice with theory (3rd ed.). Springer.

McGill, C. M., & Lazarowicz, T. (2012). Advising transfer students: Implications of Schlossberg’s transition theory. In T. J. Grites & C. Duncan (Eds.), Advising transfer students: Strategies for today's realities and tomorrow's challenges (pp. 131–133). National Academic Advising Association.

Schlossberg, N. K. (1984). Counseling adults in transition. Springer.

Schlossberg, N. K., Waters, E. B., & Goodman, J. (1995). Counseling adults in transition (2nd ed.). Springer.

Advising International Students Using Intercultural Communication Competence

Tara Pylate, University of Memphis
Donna Menke, Mid-Plains Community College

Donna Menke.jpgTara Pylate.jpgThe number of international students in the United States has grown tremendously over the years, from around 145,000 in 1970–71 to over a million in the 2018–19 academic year (Enrollment Trends, 2019). This increase is partly due to globalization as well as other social and political efforts to internationalize U.S. higher education. This substantial increase has far-reaching implications for advising professionals who are often among the first college representatives welcoming international students.

The continued influx of international students at American higher education institutions demands a better understanding of the motivation, background, needs, expectations, and challenges of these students which can only be achieved through adequate training for academic advisors. Academic advisors play a vital role in international students’ studies (Bista, 2015; Charles & Stewart, 1991). They serve as an overall support system for students, familiarizing them with both institutional and governmental policies and procedures as well as degree requirements, introducing them to academic and cultural norms, assisting them in defining their academic and professional goals, helping them choose degree plans and courses, providing emotional support, and linking them with other resources and networks as needed (Bista, 2015; Saha, 2018; Weill, 1982; Zhang, 2018).

International student advisors go beyond simply fulfilling routine functions and often serve as both friends and allies to their advisees (Weill, 1982; Zhang, 2016). They are seen by international students as crucial supporters, ranking closely behind family and friends and international support offices (Zhai, 2004). In addition, advisors play a valuable role in the lives of their international advisees by motivating and empowering them, aiding in their transition from their home countries (Saha, 2018). Consequently, students’ relationships with their advisors are frequently seen as critical to their academic success. In fact, research has shown that closer advisor-advisee relationships resulted in higher persistence and a greater sense of belonging among international students (Mataczynski, 2013; Saha, 2018; Zhai, 2004; Zhang, 2016, 2018). 

Despite these important aspects of academic advising, the literature suggests that many advisors still lack sufficient knowledge and skills for effective advising. For instance, studies have found that advisors were not only unknowledgeable about educational requirements in foreign students’ home countries and basic immigration rules and regulations, but also had little support from their institutions with no opportunities to advance their own intercultural literacy (Zhang, 2015, 2016). Identifying the right theoretical foundation is a good starting point for improving academic advising. Intercultural Communication Competence (ICC) Theory is appropriate for helping academic advisors lay the groundwork for their time with international students.

Intercultural Communication Competence

Building from the work of Zhang (Zhang, 2015; Zhang & Dinh, 2017), ICC can serve as a framework for academic advisors working with international students. Chen and Starosta (1996) define ICC as the ability to “interact effectively, appropriately, and meaningfully across different cultures” (Zhang, 2015, p. 49). ICC consists of three main domains: Intercultural Sensitivity (affective domain), Intercultural Awareness (cognitive domain), and Intercultural Adroitness (behavioral domain) (Chen & Starosta, 1998, 1999). A successful training program will include each of the three areas.

Intercultural Sensitivity. The affective domain focuses on one’s motivation toward intercultural communication. According to Dai & Chen (2014), the “willingness to learn, appreciate, and even accept cultural differences . . . to bring forth a positive outcome of interaction” is inherent in intercultural sensitivity (pp. 20–21). Academic advisors must be welcoming of students with different cultural and religious backgrounds. Intercultural sensitivity is perhaps the greatest quality that international advisors should display. The Intercultural Sensitivity Scale (ISS) can help advisors develop a baseline for their readiness to learn about and embrace students from other cultures (Chen & Starosta, 2000). This includes undertaking an honest examination of one’s personal biases. Intolerance to different sociocultural backgrounds and/or ethnocentric views are extremely counterproductive to international academic advising and could even cause irreparable damage to the advisor-advisee relationship (Charles & Stewart, 1991; Zhang & Dinh, 2017).

Empathy is also a key component of intercultural sensitivity (Chen & Starosta, 1997). Zhang (2015) found that international students required more patience and understanding from their advisors than domestic students. Similarly, Kim (2007) recognized that compassion was necessary for advisors to display when working with South Korean students. Effective advisor training will allow advisors to develop empathy and safely examine their own prejudices as well as put them in their advisees’ shoes to better understand their challenges and needs (Zhang, 2015).

Intercultural Awareness. An understanding of international students’ unique needs falls under the cognitive area of ICC. In this domain, advisors must show patience, cultural understanding, and consideration to students’ distinctive needs (Charles & Stewart, 1991; Zhang, 2015). Cultural dissimilarities can make the advisor-advisee relationship more difficult and can be one of the biggest hurdles advisors face (Charles & Stewart, 1991; Zhang, 2015). Advisors should not only be aware of their advisees’ culture but possess a self-awareness of their own culture and the differences which exist between the two (Dai & Chen, 2014). Here, Hofstede’s (2010) national culture score can be a useful tool to understand the cultural dimensions of an advisees’ country and minimize confusion.

Zhang and Dinh (2017) found that students’ different communication styles, unfamiliarity with American academia, and unrealistic expectations of advisors were major obstacles for the advisor-advisee relationship, emphasizing a need for developing a deeper and more holistic approach to international advising. Advisors must acknowledge that each of their foreign students have a unique background which requires individualized advising (Chow, 2015). Students attribute bad advising experiences to their advisor’s lack of understanding of their cultural backgrounds and past experiences (Zhang, 2016, 2018). Therefore, opportunities to expand on this knowledge are imperative. Additionally, stereotypical generalizations of students from certain countries and/or regions must be pushed aside (Weill, 1982). Congruent to this is the notion that the advisor-advisee relationship is not a one-way street but requires the engagement of both parties. As the integration of students in their new social environment demands curiosity and broadmindedness, advisors can contribute to the advising experience with hospitality, impartiality, and respect (Zhang, 2015; Zhang & Dinh, 2017).

Intercultural Adroitness. Proficiency in intercultural communication is addressed in the behavioral aspect of ICC. Advisors must often deal with students using a variety of techniques to facilitate clear communication (Zhang, 2015). When one can successfully communicate with an individual from a different cultural background using accurate messaging, interaction, and flexibility as well as suitable levels of self-disclosure, they have achieved effective intercultural communication (Chen & Starosta, 1996). Chen & Starosta (1996) described this domain as “the ability to get the job done” (p. 367).

According to Zhang and Dinh (2017), “[Intercultural communication] skills take on increased importance when academic advisors interact with students who come from different cultural backgrounds, speak nonnative languages, or transfer from overseas education systems” (p. 33). One of the earliest studies to look at both international advisor and advisee perceptions found that the greatest problem pinpointed by both students and advisors as a hindrance to effective communication was insufficient English language skills (Hart, 1974). More recent studies have confirmed this observation. The significance of English language barriers on the advisor-advisee bond should not be underestimated, as good communication is a critical component of this relationship (Harrison, 2009; Heisserer & Parette, 2002). This observation highlights the need for better communication. For instance, to overcome language barriers, advisors are directed to keep their language simple and clear, exercise caution with humor which could easily be misunderstood, and utilize more open-ended questions which require more elaboration and help better understand the perspective of the advisee (Saha, 2018; Zhang, 2016; Zhang & Dinh, 2017). Advisors should ask thoughtful questions and be mindful of differing cultural customs and beliefs (Lowell, 2016).

Nonverbal communication may also be misinterpreted due to cultural differences. Cases of nonverbal miscommunication have been shown to be high among student populations from Southeast Asian countries such as China, Korea, and Japan, impacting students’ perception of acceptance (Alexander et al., 1976; Zhang & Rentz, 1996). Advisors can improve their relationships with their advisees by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of their own communication style (Zhang & Dinh, 2017). Communication skills can be enhanced through role playing common scenarios. Furthermore, senior international students can provide additional assistance and information for advisors on culture-specific communication behaviors.


Academic advising will remain an important area as the internationalization of higher education persists, drawing students globally to institutions in the U.S. and further diversifying American academia. This article advocates for thorough and continued professional development for academic advisors working with international students, because true cultural competence is rarely obtained through a one-day training. When applied effectively, ICC can enrich the practice of international academic advising.

Tara Pylate
Graduate Student, Higher & Adult Education
University of Memphis
[email protected]

Donna Menke
Area Director of Advising
Mid-Plains Community College
[email protected]


Alexander, A. A., Klein, M. H, Workneh, F., & Miller, M. H. (1976). Psychotherapy and the foreign student. In P. B. Pedersen, J. G. Draguns, W. J. Lonner, & J. E. Trimble (Eds.), Counseling across cultures (pp. 227–243). University of Hawaii Press.

Bista, K. (2015). Roles of international student advisors: Literature and practice in American higher education. International Education, 44(2), 87–101.

Charles, H., & Stewart, M. A. (1991). Academic advising of international students. Journal of Multicultural Counseling & Development, 19(4), 173–181. http://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-1912.1991.tb00554.x

Chen, G.M., & Starosta, W.J. (1996). Intercultural communication competence: A synthesis. In B. Burleson (Ed.), Communication Yearbook, 19, 353–383.

Chen, G. M., & Starosta, W. J. (1997). A review of the concept of intercultural sensitivity. Human Communication, 1(1997), 1–16.

Chen, G. M., & Starosta, W. J. (1998). A review of the concept of intercultural awareness. Human Communication, 2(1998-1999), 27–54.

Chen, G. M., & Starosta, W. J. (2000). The development and validation of the intercultural communication sensitivity scale. Human Communication, 3(2000), 1–15.

Chow, Y.-H. A. (2015). Voices from the field: Advising international students. In P. Folsom, F. Yoder, & J. E. Joslin (Eds.), The new advisor guidebook: Mastering the art of academic advising. (pp. 203–209). Jossey-Bass.

Dai, X., & Chen, G. (2014). Intercultural communication competence: Conceptualization and its development in cultural contexts and interactions. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Enrollment Trends. (2019).   https://opendoorsdata.org/data/international-students/enrollment-trends/

Harrison, E. (2009). Faculty perceptions of academic advising: ‘‘I don’t get no respect.” Nursing Education Perspectives, 30(4), 229–233. http://www.nln.org

Hart, R. H. (1974). Problems of international students enrolled in Texas public community colleges as perceived by international students and international student advisors. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED096599

Heisserer, D. L., & Parette, P. (2002). Advising at-risk students in college and university settings. College Student Journal, 36(1), 69.

Hofstede, G. H., Hofstede, G. J., & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind. New York City, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Kim, Y. (2007). Difficulties in quality doctoral academic advising: Experiences of Korean students. Journal of Research in International Education, 6(2), 171–193. http://doi.org/10.1177/1475240907078613

Lowell, K. (2016). Cultural competence: Elements, developments, and emerging trends. Nova Science Publishers Inc.

Mataczynski, L. (2013, January 1). Advising and acculturation variables as predictors of satisfaction, sense of belonging, and persistence among international undergraduates [Unpublished dissertation]. University of Southern California. 

Saha, N. (2018, January 1). International students’ experiences with academic advising at a mid-western public research university (Publication No. ED587024) [Doctoral dissertation, Kent State University]. ProQuest.

Weill, L. V. (1982). Advising international students at small colleges. NACADA Journal, 2(1), 52–56. http://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-2.1.52

Zhai, L. (2004). Studying international students: Adjustment issues and social support. Journal of International Agricultural and Extension Education, 11(1), 97–104. http://doi.org/10.5191/jiaee.2004.11111

Zhang, Y. (2015). Intercultural communication competence: Advising international students in a Texas community college. NACADA Journal, 35(2), 48–59. http://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-15-007

Zhang, Y. (2016). An overlooked population in community college: International students’ (in)validation experiences with academic advising. Community College Review, 44(2), 153–170. http://doi.org/10.1177/0091552116633293 

Zhang, Y. L. (2018). Using Bronfenbrenner’s ecological approach to understand academic advising with international community college students. Journal of International Students, (4), 1764. http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1468084

Zhang, Y. L., & Dinh, T. V. (2017). Advising international students in engineering programs: Academic advisors’ perceptions of intercultural communication competence. NACADA Journal, 37(2), 33–43. http://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-15-028

Zhang, N., & Rentz, A. L. (1996). Intercultural adaptation among graduate students from the People’s Republic of China. College Student Journal, 30(3), 321–328.

Academic Early Alert and Intervention: Why Academic Advisors Are Best Suited to Intervene with At-Risk Students

Mike Dial, University of South Carolina
Paige McKeown, University of South Carolina

Paige McKeown.jpgMike Dial.jpgEarly intervention programs, also referred to as early alert or early warning programs, are in use at a majority of two- and four-year campuses as means of improving retention and institutional persistence rates. According to Cuseo (n.d.), early intervention programs are “formal, proactive, feedback system through which students and student-support agents are alerted to early red flags” (p. 1). Karp (2014) cautions though that sending up a red flag in and of itself is not a student retention panacea. If that warning indicator causes an institutional helping agent to engage in outreach and intervention with the student, that may lead to greater student success outcomes.

On campus, student retention is everyone’s responsibility, and over the last decade, early alert initiatives have become incredibly buzzworthy. The explosion of interest in and facilitation of early alert initiatives is likely due in no small part to the profusion of consulting services and tech firms purporting to offer the next big solution for student retention. As such, disparate campus units have engaged in the early intervention space. Recent scholarship suggests that at about 90% of responding institutions, faculty and advisors are consistently engaged in early intervention (Barefoot et al., 2012; Estrada & Latino, 2019). Figure 1 below showcases that other institutional personnel engage in this work at lower rates nationwide.

Figure 1
Types of Professional Staff Engaged in Early Intervention

Dial & McKeown graphic1.JPG

Note. Data from the JNGI 2012 Enhancing Student Success and Retention throughout Undergraduate Education: A National Survey Report (Barefoot et al., 2012) and the 2017 National Survey of the First-Year Experience (NSFYE) (Estrada & Latino, 2019)


There are many reasons that academic advisors are tapped for this role at most institutions. In Dial and McKeown (2019), several interventions are recommended that advisors can facilitate beyond faculty referrals or traditional early alert initiatives. Herein, in addition to these additional interventions, we as authors offer several reasons why academic advisors are best suited to respond to early alert notifications with at-risk students.

Preexisting Relationships

Where academic advising is appropriately resourced, including funding, staffing, and appropriate student information systems, beginning at new student orientation, advisors form 1:1 relationships with their advisees. It can reasonably be assumed that students are more likely to respond to emails, calls, and text messages from an individual on campus with whom they have a relationship than they would be to respond to outreach in the form of cold calls from a central retention office. Additionally, advisors get to know their advisees as whole persons and can co-design strategic and student-specific plans of action.

Tiered Intervention

Advisors are also optimally suited for the work of intervention due to the caseload-centric nature of the role. Advisors may be the only full-time professional staff members on campus to whom students have a formal, assigned relationship, rather than serving as one-off or walk-in practitioners. Because a team of advisors are doing the work of intervention, rather than a central coordinator (or even two or three), the idea of whether or not advisors have the capacity to include early intervention in their work shifts from “one person doing the work” to “one person doing the work for a finite, defined group,” and others doing the same work on their own populations across the institution. Often, a major challenge to early alert is follow-up—critical so not only can staff gauge additional student need, but also be able to assess whether an intervention was effective. Advisors managing a caseload with a finite number of at-risk students can follow up with individual referring faculty in a way that a central office cannot.

When advisor caseloads are appropriately sized, 300:1 according to national best practice, advisors can stratify these groups early on using campus technologies and 1:1 appointments. Advisors are well-positioned to excel in caseload management in their day-to-day work—they know who they are responsible for and can therefore structure tiered interventions effectively, ensuring that all students get what they need when they need it.

Tiered intervention via academic advisors is adapted from the Response to Intervention (RTI) model, common in K-12 education for both behavioral and academic purposes (The IRIS Center, 2008). This model uses a pyramid visual to separate three categories of students in need of support: the base, often colored green, represents about 80% of a given student population, who will be successful when provided with universal supports that are preventative and proactive.

Dial & McKeown graphic2.JPG

Advisors are uniquely positioned specifically to support this population due to students being in their assigned caseload. The second tier, usually represented in yellow, comprises an additional 15% of the student group and would be students who are classically at-risk and will be benefitted by monitoring and targeted intervention. Finally, the top tier, represented in red and making up about 5% of a population, would be those students who are actively struggling and will benefit from reactive, individual intervention. The aforementioned 300:1 caseload size allows advisors to give ample time to students (approximately four hours per year per student) and using the RTI tiers advisors can allocate this time effectively. Not every student in a caseload will need the four hours per academic year, and the time left over from those students is reinvested into time supporting students who need more than four hours.

Positioning Within Academic Units

The issues on which advisors are best able to intervene are naturally tied into their work—supporting the student with curricular advice and as a central source for guidance on decision making that will impact degree completion and time to degree. Often there are underlying causes that contribute to poor academic performance, such as mental and physical health concerns, serving as a primary caregiver to children or elders, or lack of access to basic needs. However, classroom factors, such as attendance issues and poor grades, are prone to appear as the red flags that alert professionals to these distal causes. When advisors are the central conduits of early alert and intervention, they are better primed than nearly any other higher education professionals to act quickly and effectively on the most visible academic red flags. Because advisors are, by the nature of their roles, embedded in the academic units and curricula where they advise, they are positioned to act as a one-stop shop for students’ needs when the issues that arise manifest as academic.

As academic challenges can be visible evidence of underlying challenges and can also have far ranging effects on degree progression, it is vital for students that advisors are engaged in this work and are not an afterthought or a referral agent only if a responding office thinks they may need to be. Where the matter of a student’s success or failure in courses may naturally necessitate course specific services, success in the course is inextricable from progress towards degree. Therefore, if a student needs support that involves a change to the degree plan because of this, the advisor is already involved, because they initiated the outreach. Because advisors are housed in their academic units and not a central retention-focused space, advisors can present assistance to the student that is focused on their curriculum and path to degree. Where faculty members are the purveyors of their subject matter, advisors are the purveyors of the curricula as a unit—so where faculty are the expert guides in their material, advisors are experts in guiding students through curricular complexity, and therefore intervening when there are adjacent factors of the college experience that disrupt the student’s path through the curriculum. Marc Lowenstein says,

An excellent advisor does the same for the student’s entire curriculum that the excellent teacher does for one course (Lowenstein, 2000). The entire curriculum refers both to the student’s major and to the courses taken to meet general education requirements . . . whereas the individual course is the domain of the professor, the overall curriculum is most often the domain of the academic advisor, and the excellent advisor coaches the student through the process of learning the curriculum. (2009)

Implications for Practice

Early alert initiatives are relatively new to higher education in comparison to pillars such as, first-year seminars, orientation, and academic advising itself. When facilitated well and by staff who can have the quickest and largest scale impact for at-risk students, early warning programs have the potential to benefit both students and institutions. Academic advisors responding to early alerts benefit students by connecting them to resources; ensuring they are in majors and courses that align with their strengths, values, and goals; and showcasing an institutional ethic of care for students and their success. Institutions stand to benefit financially from the tuition dollars saved as a result of advisor outreach and intervention preventing dropout and dismissal. Student success and retention are of course everyone’s responsibility; however, when academic advising is good, a special relationship forms between students and their assigned advisors. According to King and Kerr (2005), “academic advising is perhaps the most important way that first-year students interact with a representative of the institution” (p. 320). Due to the relational nature of their role, expertise in their curricula, university resources, and campus policies and procedures, and the finite number of students in their assigned caseloads, academic advisors are the most apt campus representatives to perform outreach and intervention following faculty referral.

Mike Dial
Assistant Director of First-Year Advising
University Advising Center, Office of the Provost
University of South Carolina
[email protected]

Paige McKeown
Coordinator of First-Year Advising and Academic Intervention
University Advising Center, Office of the Provost
University of South Carolina
[email protected]


Barefoot, B. O., Griffin, B. Q., & Koch, A. K. (2012). Enhancing student success and retention throughout undergraduate education: A national survey. John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/59b0c486d2b857fc86d09aee/t/59bad33412abd988ad84d697/1505415990531/JNGInational_survey_web.pdf

Cuseo, J. (n.d.). Red flags: Behavioral indicators of potential student intervention. https://docplayer.net/17519395-Red-flags-behavioral-indicators-of-potential-student-attrition.html

Dial, M., & McKeown, P. (2019, December). Beyond faculty referrals: Advisory facilitated early intervention. Academic Advising Today, 42(4). https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Beyond-Faculty-Referrals-Advisor-Facilitated-Early-Intervention.aspx

Estrada, S., & Latino, J. (2019). Early-alert programs. In D. Young (Ed.), 2017 national survey on the first-year experience: Creating and coordinating structures to support student success (pp. 53–61). University of South Carolina, National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience & Students in Transition.

The IRIS Center. (2008). RTI (part 5): A closer look at tier 3. https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/module/rti05-tier3/

Karp, M. (2014, January 13). Tech alone won't cut it. Insider Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2014/01/13/essay-looks-how-early-warning-systems-can-better-boost-retention

King, M. C., & Kerr, T. J. (2005). Academic advising. In M. L. Upcraft, J. N. Gardner, & B. O. Barefoot, Challenging and Suppporting the First-Year Student (p. 320). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lowenstein, M. (2009). If advising is teaching, what do advisors teach? NACADA Journal, 29(1), 123–131. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-29.1.123

Is E-portfolio in Advising the Next Big Thing? The Role of Big Data in Student Learning

Amani Al-Nassar, American University of Sharjah, UAE
Amani M. GharibQueen’s University Belfast, UK

Big Data and E-Portfolios

Amani M. Gharib.jpgAmani Al-Nassar.jpgAs technological advancements continue to disrupt the education sector, institutions are in a race to employ varying technological measures to adapt accordingly. Being in an information era full of velocity and variety (Elgendy & Elragal, 2014), it is essential for such institutions to manage and engage with big data to address student learning journeys. One way an institution can manage big data is by analyzing and rafting through student performance details and behaviors (Pelletier, 2015). This can be done by introducing and focusing on electronic portfolios (e-portfolios).

E-portfolios are “powerful tools to realize individualized learning in formal education” (Dorninger & Schrack, 2008, p. 4063). Unlike a learning management system, e-portfolios are controlled and managed by the student. Students decide “who can view the e-portfolio, what artifacts get added, how it is designed, and so on” (Eportfolios explained, 2020, p.1). Through e-portfolios, institutional insights can be gathered and generated to document a student’s learning journey. This encompasses a collection of student work, thereby demonstrating their skills, accomplishments, and progress throughout their learning journeys. Through e-portfolios, students share their own content, competency areas, and the identity being reviewed. This becomes a data source for reviewers to learn more about the student and his/her learning journey. It can also be further utilized in the generation of learning analytics.  

The application of e-portfolios has paramount benefits if steered appropriately and can be conducted, stored, and accessed online to fit with the deployment of technology and distance learning. E-portfolios can further provide students with the mindset and the skill set of planning and developing their overall journeys. In this case, students are displayed as individualized figures, showing their work, self-reflecting on it, and recording their overall growth. Students will also be able to receive feedback on their solo activities, to learn more deeply about their journeys (Eportfolios explained, 2020). If conducted correctly, and by selecting the appropriate content, students will be more committed to the e-portfolio process of making and sharing their journeys - ultimately leading towards a successful path.

Academic Advisor Application of E-Portfolios

Students face a number of challenges in their individualized journeys, specifically in the beginning stages of higher education. These challenges can include academic difficulties, inability to transition into new environments, concerns with stress and mental health, as well as an incapability of belonging to an institution’s community (Evans & Morrison, 2011). Such matters can be addressed by the institution accordingly, and academic advisors can introduce the application of e-portfolios.

In institutional advising departments, the access and use of e-portfolios is significant and can be beneficial. This provides advisors with the essential data to engage with students effectively.  Academic advisors conduct frequent and structured one-to-one sessions with students. Therefore, they can design strategies via e-portfolios to support students in meeting their academic, personal, and/or professional goals. At the level of advising, e-portfolios can further be utilized as a directive measure of progress while building and generating data and analytics. Advisors can also deliver a high level of customized services, providing students with their own plans—building an effective communication engagement strategy.

Advisors can utilize e-portfolios to learn about their students’ overall development, which will ultimately support in building their: (1) growth mindsets; (2) academic ownerships; (3) honest self-evaluations—so that they can be influenced to becoming lifelong learners. In this case, e-portfolios act as proactive method that assists advisors in the early detection of student challenges, specifically those who face unclear issues. 

Focused E-Portfolios (Pareto E-Portfolios)

While there are many approaches to e-portfolios, this article introduces the concept of a focused e-portfolio institutional application, a concept labelled as Pareto E-portfolios. The Pareto principle was coined by Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto, when he discovered that “80% of production typically came from 20% of the companies” in different industries (Kruse, 2016, p.2). This imbalance has now become the Pareto principle whereby 20% of certain work efforts can drive approximately 80% of varying outcomes (Kruse, 2016). The Pareto principle is introduced in this particular context of e-portfolios by the same means, where the content of a student’s e-portfolio can target 20% of his/her specific needs, challenges, and growth areas. This can drive 80% of the results students and their advisors are seeking. The targeted 20% in this case can differ from one student to another depending on the complexity of the challenges faced and students’ capabilities to adapt and grow. Advisors can assist such targeted students in developing their own e-portfolios to progress in certain areas, thereby having a higher impact on their lives. Such areas of focus can range from strengthening foundation levels, finding the right major, or engaging in extra-curricular activities, etc.  

Pareto E-portfolios in Undeclared Majors

The process of selecting an institutional study major is complex and requires clear guidance, direction, and consistent follow-up. Given many students face the difficult excursion of selecting a major, figuring out their strengths, weaknesses, and interests can pose as a foundation to make such decisions. Students may also find it difficult to learn about majors, career opportunities after graduation, or their educational passion, and may not have access to speak to the right people. In addition, undeclared students are generally going through a race against time, as they may lack clarity around their futures, and need a solution in an urgent and timely manner. E-portfolios in this case can address such challenges in selecting majors, and thereafter progress their journeys, by providing them with a quick major discovery phase that ultimately helps them find their fit. Pareto E-portfolios can therefore specifically assist students with undeclared majors and act as a tool for advisors to utilize accordingly.

Application of E-Portfolios in Educational Institutions

This is a great time for institutions to consider the significance of e-portfolios. The utilization of e-portfolios is key given that online learning and educational technologies are booming and institutions are continuing to strive for data-driven resources (Dorninger & Schrack, 2008). By doing so, e-portfolios will play a role in enhancing institutional retention rates by providing learning analytics that captures a student’s learning journey. “Learning Analytics is focused at the level of the individual learner and on giving learners actionable information to make their decisions about study within a given course or set of courses” (Pelletier, 2015, p. 2). One way to apply learning analytics is by “monitoring and predicting students’ learning performances and spotting potential issues early so that interventions can be provided to identify students at risk of failing a course or program of study” (Bienkowski et al., 2012, p. 26). The application of e-portfolios in educational institutions is therefore essential for early intervention.

With the competitiveness of the higher education industry, it is necessary for institutions to continue to apply and utilize advanced technologies that capture student behavior. By focusing on learning/academic analytics, the data gathered will support the institution’s operational and financial directions, and ultimately decrease overall attrition (Pelletier, 2015). More specifically, the world is moving towards customization, creativity, and technological reliance, which is why institutions need to continue to be agile. This will emphasize on developing life-long learners and will support in being proactive. The utilization of e-portfolios can also turn into a more popular platform with a high number of users, such as social media platforms.

E-portfolios require a high level of commitment, as they require continuous updates and feedback. In order for an institution to successfully implement e-portfolios, it is important to ensure commitment by both staff and students. An internal desire to utilize such a platform needs to be approved and fostered by all departments of the institution. For students, this internal desire can center on e-portfolios representing: (1) their own individual self and previewing to the audience what they desire; (2) their progress, accomplishments, and overall creative achievements; (3) their prospective career areas and advancements. This will create synergies between internal departments and students, to collaborate effectively and professionally.

By creating an e-portfolio structure, students will be able to establish a deeper sense of belonging to their institution, and can positively engage on campus. They will also view their institution and campus as a place of growth, development, and achievement. With the deployment of such a platform, institutions can continue to adapt to the changing forces of technology and compete in an industry that requires effective data analytics for overall student success.

Amani Al-Nassar
Academic Advisor & Higher Education Entrepreneur
Academic Support Center
American University of Sharjah, UAE
[email protected]

Amani M. Gharib
Innovation Expert & Management Consultant
Queen’s Management School
Queen’s University Belfast, UK
[email protected]


Bienkowski, M., Feng, M., & Means, B. (2012). Enhancing Teaching and Learning Through Educational Data Mining and Learning Analytics. US Department of Education - Office of Educational Technology, 1-77.

Dorninger, C., & Schrack, C. (2008, June 30). Future learning strategy and eportfolios in education [Conference session]. World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications (pp. 4063-4067), Vienna, Austria.

Elgendy, N., & Elragal, A. (2014). Big data analytics: A literature review paper. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 8557, 214–227. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-08976-8_16, 214-227

Evans, S., & Morrison, B. (2011). Meeting the challenges of English-medium higher education: The first-year experience in Hong Kong. English for Specific Purposes, 30(3), 198–208. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esp.2011.01.001

Kruse, K. (2016, March 7). The 80/20 rule and how it can change your life. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2016/03/07/80-20-rule/#5b9c84383814

Pelletier, S. G. (2015). Taming "big data": Using data analytics for student success and institutional intelligence. Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, 23(7), 1–8.

Eportfolios explained: Theory and practice. (2020). University of Waterloo. https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/educational-technologies/all/eportfolios

Etiquette of Advising by E-mail

Shahid Bux, American University of Sharjah

Shahid Bux.jpgThis article seeks to pick up the theme of a piece written by Sue Ohrablo in 2016: “Advising online students: Replicating best practices of face-to-face advising,” with a specific focus on advising through email and its related etiquette. The unanticipated yet necessary shift to online learning undertaken by many educational institutions worldwide makes Ohrablo’s article perhaps even more relevant today than when it was originally published.

The benefits of a supportive and cordial relationship between advisors and students come into sharper focus when working with distant learners, who may experience more intense feelings of alienation, disorientation, and anxiety than on-campus students (Ohrablo, 2016). Although the temporary and necessary shift to online-learning prompted by a global pandemic for otherwise campus-based students cannot be compared to full-time distant learners, many factors may overlap given that this learning environment may be new to many students. In order to meet the needs of atypical online students, institutions are required to utilize a variety of electronic resources to ensure the continuation of quality on-campus service provision or as close as possible. Email continues to be the most dominant means for communicating with students (Gaines, 2014; Junco et al., 2016) and for advisors is indispensable in not only giving advise but scheduling advising appointments, sending important reminders, and providing information about events and resources to name but a few.

As Ohrabolo (2016) explains, however, this medium is rife with challenges given students “do not have the opportunity to develop the contextual framework associated with buildings, faces, and in-person referrals.” They lack the visual cues available to on-campus students if there is a delay in advisor-response time which may cause frustration and disengagement (Ohrablo, 2016). Students are unable to discern if the advisor is caring, competent, and sincere. It is important in this regard that advisors are able to employ effective written communications to help such students feel connected and engaged which can positively impact their temporary experience in the online environment, while also enhancing their desire to continue after on-campus classes resume.

The importance of advising through email must be realigned to understand its importance—that is to say when a student sends an email asking their advisor a question, this is advising in its purest sense, as students now have a need and seek out the relevant person to respond to this need (Ohrablo, 2016), unlike when students have to attend an advising session to fulfill a hold requirement to be able to register for classes. When we as advisors understand this, we appreciate that responding to a concern or question by email is true advising that must not and cannot be relegated to a mere administrative hindrance, nor should students simply be directed to other resources unless absolutely necessary. As Ohrablo (2016) rightly cautions: “Advisors should take the time to respond to emails in the same thoughtful, comprehensive manner as they would an in-person advisee. . . . In the student’s eyes, the advisor is the resource, while the links and catalogs are the tools.” How an advisor responds to a student email could determine whether the student comes back later for further support and guidance, and subsequently may influence engagement, satisfaction and retention. In short, what may seem an inconvenient digression for advisors, may be a critical concern for students that influences their decision to stay enrolled in the college.

Following Ohrablo’s call to treat email communication (and indeed online advising in general) with the same rigor, care, and attention as a face-to-face advising session, what follows is an attempt to provide some guidelines about advising through email:

Respond in a timely manner. Providing prompt and punctual communication is an important component of student satisfaction with online learning helping avoid student frustration and stress (Cross, 2018; Morris & Miller, 2007; Schroeder & Terras, 2015). It is important that if an advisor senses that the student is in some panic and is seeking a quick response that cannot be provided at that moment due to other commitments, to reply and inform the student that a more detailed response will be forthcoming.

Open the email with a courtesy statement. For example, “nice to hear from you”, “I hope you are well” provides a personal touch that shows care. Advisors can demonstrate to students that they actually remember them by sharing a piece of information previously disclosed or inquiring about a student’s personal interest (e.g. “how is your team getting on now?” or “how is the website coming along?” referring to their favorite football team or a personal project they may have been working on) all of which has the effect of making students feel valued.

Provide context. If the student has a specific question, answer the question in summary in the opening part of the email and then provide details, explanations, and justifications. Not only is this akin to good teaching, but it also helps students stay engaged with the email, find what they are looking for quickly, then understand the logic after.

Provide the student more than they request by anticipating what is behind their question, sharing other relevant and important information, and opening up other lines of inquiry relating to the student’s progress. This again shows students care and commitment to their academic progress. Providing the student with a simple answer or a link is not a replication of in-person advising and does not help the student think deeper about academic planning and progress. As Ohrablo (2016) notes, this may be particularly important with new students who may not anticipate future obstacles such as registration holds, registration dates, class schedule etc. A proactive approach can help avoid future problems and confusion, while quelling any negative repercussions that may result such as drop-out (Morris & Miller, 2007).

Ensure that the information shared is accurate, clear, accessible, and in line with best practices for online students (Cross, 2018; Schroeder & Terras, 2015). At times, this may involve consultation with other staff/faculty, checking the university catalog, and then providing a thorough but informed response to students. As Morris and Miller (2007) highlight: “The essential activity for powerful advising is that the student experiences an environment where there is real care and attention directed toward all students and that there is an effort to communicate important information about the entire program.”

Proofread the response to ensure that the tone is professional and the language appropriate for an advisor/advisee exchange. 

Provide students options. For example, if students want course recommendations to offer multiple plans, or if students request advise about dropping a course to provide a thorough explanation of the pros and cons, or if a student is thinking about changing major to open up conversation that invites exploration of student’s strengths and interests.

Offer opportunities for follow-up by closing with: “Please follow-up if you have any further questions,” “Please update me on how your mid-terms went,” or “don’t hesitate to contact me if you need any further assistance.” All show concern and commitment to developing relationships and nurturing students.

Treat each email as a trust. Give each communication the care, attention, and respect it deserves in line with NACADA’s core values.

Look for the teaching moment in an email by demonstrating appropriate etiquette, a professional manner, accurate and clear information, all with the goal of nurturing students not only for academic success but with qualities that will serve them well beyond the university milieu.

Although our conventional idea of advising (on-campus) students involves sitting with them and engaging in conversation relating to their progress, goals, and aspirations, advisors are also encouraged to treat email communication as an advising moment and trust that is held with veneration and given the same care and attention as in-person communication. Doing so is not only good practice and important to student retention, but it speaks to the holistic nature of advising and its role in student development.

Shahid Bux
Academic Advisor
Academic Support Center
American University of Sharjah
[email protected]


Cross, L. K. (2018). Graduate student perceptions of online advising. NACADA Journal, 38(2), 72–80. https://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-17-015

Gaines, T. (2014). Technology and academic advising: Student usage and preferences. NACADA Journal, 34(1), 43–49. https://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-13-011

Junco, R., Mastrodicasa, J. M., Aguiar, A. V., Longnecker, E. M., & Rokkum, J. (2016). Impact of technology-mediated communication on student evaluations of advising. NACADA Journal, 36(2), 54–66. https://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-16-014

Morris, A., & Miller, M. (2007, Winter). Advising practices of undergraduate online students in private higher education. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, X(IV). https://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/winter104/morris104.html

Ohrablo, S. (2016). Advising online students: Replicating best practices of face-to-face advising. NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources. http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Advising-Online-Students-Replicating-Best-Practices-of-Face-to-Face-Advising.aspx

Schroeder, S. M., & Terras, K. L. (2015). Advising experiences and needs of online, cohort, and classroom adult graduate learners. NACADA Journal, 35(1), 42–55. https://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-13-044

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10 Steps to Building a Fulbright Community

Susan Vdovichenko, Washington & Jefferson College

Susan Vdovichenko.jpgIn 2015, I was appointed the Fulbright Program Advisor (FPA) for Washington & Jefferson College (W&J), a small liberal arts college in Washington, PA. Between 1949 and 2014, W&J students had received 14 Fulbright awards, a number that did not make a lot of sense. Our students are global-minded, active in the community, well-rounded, and high achieving. Fulbright seems like a perfect fit.

For the first two years, I did what seemed reasonable: helped students fill out the application in the fall, read the FPA handbook, held a couple of large information sessions in the weeks leading up to the deadline. It didn’t really get me anywhere; W&J got one grant in 2015, and one grant in 2016.

Since the 2017–2018 cycle, our students have received 16 grants (an average of four per year). When I first started, if I asked students what Fulbright was, they stared at me blankly. Now, though, everybody knows somebody who has applied, or won one, or is currently finishing out their grant. In just a few years, we have created that elusive Fulbright community.

It takes a lot of work, and support from the administration, but it isn’t complicated. The following steps made it possible for our college to increase the number of Fulbright awards from an average of one every 4.5 years to an average of four per year:

Get administrative support, if possible. I have been given a course reduction, which frees up some time to concentrate on Fulbright. This is critical to being able to devote the necessary time to the goal. Additional support—in the form of a dedicated position, staff, additional salary, etc.—would of course be welcome. However, at least being given some extra time to focus on this type of advising is vital for success.

Use Fulbright resources. The best support for me has been the webinars, emails to Fulbright itself (they are exceptionally responsive), and the FPA handbook. Everything you need to know is available through those avenues and for free.

Attend the National Screening Committee (NSC) Observation in December. There are six possible locations (New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Houston, Denver, and San Francisco). Priority is given to those FPAs who haven’t observed in the past two years. This is the single most important thing I have done in building the Fulbright community on our campus. At the observation, you watch as the NSC chooses that year’s semi-finalists. As professors, best practice is to give students a rubric before a paper to clarify your expectations. Observing as the committee deliberates allows you to understand the imaginary rubric behind their selections; thus, as you advise students on their essays, you can help them to highlight the aspects of their experiences that the NSC most wants to know about.

Start early. If a student comes to me in September, I have to work with what they give me. What can we stretch to show that they have research capabilities or English teaching experience? How can we show that they are going to be able to learn Polish or Arabic? If I talk to a student in the spring of their freshman year, though, the possibilities are wide open. Can they take a summer course in Arabic? Volunteer at a literacy center to teach ESL? I always tell the students not to create upheavals in their lives, because in the end, you can’t control what the committee decides—but it’s fairly easy to tweak summer plans to lay the groundwork for a great application.

Make a spreadsheet. Our students typically apply for the open research grants or the English Teaching Assistant grants. Good candidates are those who have studied abroad, are interested in research, are majors in English, foreign languages, or communications, have won on-campus grants for research projects, or have learned a language. In the spring, I create a list of certain majors (education, foreign languages, English, communications, sciences), and contact the study abroad office and the committee that grants our on-campus research/international grants for their lists of students. Excel works great (columns: name, year of graduation, major, study abroad, if they won an on-campus grant, if they have attended an info session, if they have started an application, which grant they are applying for, if they have sent me their essays, if they have gotten letters of recommendation, if they have completed the application). Each year, I remove the seniors from the previous year and start a new worksheet, adding in new candidates.

Cast a wide net. In the spring, I write an e-mail to each person on the list (mostly copy/paste, with tweaks depending on their experiences; addressing students individually gets better responses than a mass email). We have a small campus; the email typically goes out to about 250 students. I set up small group information sessions, with 2–5 students per group. Historically, these have been done in my office, but these info sessions are easily adapted to Zoom.

Information sessions. At the sessions, I cover the grant basics, go over the NSC expectations, give the students a timeline, and answer questions. I make sure they know I’m available if something comes up. The main point here is that a student who knows nothing about Fulbright won’t apply. A student who knows something about Fulbright might start an application and then hit me up with questions when they stumble.

E-mail rising seniors in the summer; now it’s time to start the application. By then, they’re well versed in what I’m selling. A nudge at this time is important.

Feedback. I ask the students to give me their essays by the beginning of September so that I can constructively rip them apart and have them write 3–4 more drafts. This takes up the bulk of the time, both for me and for them.

On-campus deadline. Our on-campus deadline is September 15, about three weeks before the national deadline. This gives me time to check all of the uploaded documents, chase down any late recommendations, hold on-campus interviews, and write the campus endorsement.

In short, there are three main ways to get the Fulbright ball rolling: educate yourself (most importantly from the NSC observation), start early and cast a wide net, and offer constructive feedback to students. While I like to think our students are exceptional, most colleges likely have a large number of highly qualified candidates that are simply not being set up for success.

The best part is that, now that we have had some success, students are coming to me before I can come to them. The culture builds upon itself. Much like laying the groundwork for a good Fulbright grant application helps immensely with earning an award, laying the groundwork for a Fulbright culture makes it much easier to find the most qualified students, leading to increased success.

Susan Vdovichenko
Assistant Professor of Russian
Washington & Jefferson College
[email protected]

The NACADA Assessment Institute: What a Rush!

Karen Hauschild, NACADA Assessment Institute Scholarship Recipient, College of Charleston

Karen Hauschild,jpgI attended the 2020 NACADA Assessment Institute alongside two colleagues, and it did not disappoint. I came to the institute with a solid grounding in assessment practices thanks mostly to NACADA concurrent sessions on assessment at the annual conferences over the years, sessions facilitated by Rich Robbins and other esteemed advising colleagues that have helped shape my understanding of not only why assessment is important, but of equal importance, how to do it and do it well. I remember very clearly when the lightbulb went off in my head years ago, and everything I learned up to that point came together. I remember thinking, “I now know what to do and how to go about doing it.” But I’ve learned since that time that learning about assessment never stops, and you can always get better at assessment.

Over the last five years or so, our advising office at the College of Charleston has done some really great assessment work. We have closed the loop on one of our student learning outcomes (SLOs) after a three-year cycle at the end of the 2018–19 academic year. I have to say, it feels good to say that. We also won a first-place assessment Administrative Unit Award on our campus in spring 2019. Over time, our assessment practices have just gotten better, and our foundation is very strong for continued work to inform our advising practices. With that in mind, I wanted to attend the Assessment Institute, in particular with colleagues from my office, so that we could take our assessment practices to the next level and develop a plan as a team. I specifically wanted to focus on advisor assessment. My hypothesis is that if advisors are achieving their learning outcomes, then our SLOs would improve as well. Our assessment results have confirmed we were reaching assessment performance targets and students were learning because of their interactions with our office, but I wondered how do we know for sure what the advisors do and do not know? How do we know how and what to improve in our new advisor training or professional development activities? How is advisor assessment connected to advisor evaluation?

While all of the plenary and concurrent sessions offered useful and meaningful information and food for thought, the two concurrent sessions that had the greatest impact on my thinking relative to my office’s current assessment practices, outside of the work group sessions, were Assessment: Part of your Daily Life facilitated by Dan Chandler, Heather Doyle, and Isiah Vance and Advisor Evaluation—Beyond the Student Satisfaction Survey facilitated by Heather Doyle. The first session introduced me to the fact that advisor assessment is not evaluation. What? “I don’t know how it couldn’t be,” I thought. I had more questions than I had answers at that point, which led me to attend the Advisor Evaluation concurrent session, where many of my questions were answered, yet new ones were generated. Thankfully, I was able to consult with Heather alongside my colleagues on the last day during open office hours to ask more questions and consider a future process for out office.

The work group sessions were also especially meaningful. The Assessment Institute schedule was such that participants initially attended work groups driven by various assessment-related topics such as assessment cycle; vision, mission, and goals; student learning outcomes; advisor outcomes; etc. Participants arrived at their room based on these more global assessment topics and then selected a table in the room that focused on a specific topic within the larger context. As the Institute progressed, we as participants were able to move from larger group conversations to more focused independent work time and consult with specific Institute faculty on our questions and the crafting of our action plan. Having these independent working sessions knowing an assessment expert was just steps away was instrumental in applying our new knowledge in the development of our assessment plans moving forward. 

By the end of the Institute, the two biggest lesson I learned while at the Institute were:

  • Advisor assessment is not evaluation. To be honest, I have struggled with getting my mind around separating these two practices and, of course, doing them both well without creating a whirlwind of advisor anxiety. While there is accountability in our work, the key to advisor assessment is grounding the advisor outcomes in their defined job duties. What is written in the advisor job description is directly related to what informs the learning outcomes. WOW! Thank you, Dan Chandler for helping us connect those dots.  That made all the difference in our planning conversations.
  • Advisor assessment helps not only clarify what, how, and why advisors teach, but also creates clearer expectations for a defined advisor role. This allows for more formative and improved learning practices for advisors. Improving advisor performance helps drive our advising program improvement. My hypothesis in action.

As I reflect upon my career in higher education over the last twenty years, I must admit the first time I heard the word “Assessment,” I cringed a little bit: Assessment felt like a four-letter word. I thought to myself as a relatively new advisor at the time, “oh no, just another thing I have to do,” but I must admit that I’ve turned into an assessment geek. As my roles and responsibilities have increased, so has my understanding of the importance of assessing our work as advisors. Not only does it inform our campus communities about the incredible work we do, work that is grounded in formalized and systematic data collection and reporting, it also continues to take our work to the next level on each of our campuses, which impact students. Assessment provides an opportunity to take a critical look at our advising programs through the lens of continuous improvement and driven by data. It’s not just a feeling that we’re doing good work. We know we’re doing good work. After all, students are what it is all about.

Karen Hauschild
Academic Advising and Planning Center
College of Charleston
[email protected]


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