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Voices of the Global Community


From the President: Pathways for NACADA Involvement

Teri Farr, NACADA President

Teri Farr.jpgArriving in Portland a couple of days before the 2022 Annual NACADA conference began allowed for me to spend some time thinking and planning for how I wanted the week to go for me. Having missed 2021, and coming into the President Elect role, I held great anticipation of what to expect at this year’s annual conference, and friends, it did not disappoint. 

Congratulations and kudos to the 2022 Portland organizing team who brought to over 3000 participants, both in person and virtually, a fantastic lineup of invigorating and meaningful sessions and opportunities for friends and colleagues to connect and learn from each other. I can honestly say that I returned home with a full heart and a mind full of ideas and excitement for the profession and NACADA. 

Leadership in NACADA provides me and other NACADA leaders with the professional focus that we need and rely upon to help us be excellent academic advisors and administrators. I hope because of your NACADA involvement, you too have been rewarded through your leadership activities. 

For those members reading this, if you are considering getting more involved in NACADA, you will never regret that decision. NACADA and the profession need your ideas, enthusiasm, and commitment to student success now more than ever. As I reminded the membership attending the opening session, we have over the last few years been stretched and pushed more than ever. We have relied upon each other more than ever and problem solved our way through the challenges, growing and learning all the way. I promise that you will never regret involvement in NACADA and can get involved at whatever level you are comfortable with. Leadership in NACADA is a personal decision and can be defined in many ways. No matter where your interests and talents lie, there is a pathway for involvement for you. We are committed as an organization to growing and thriving and staying relevant. We are your advocates, and we are at the table with decision makers in many ways. 

Your NACADA Board of Directors will be active this year. We have recently begun the process of taking our strategic goals and putting them into actionable items for the benefit of the organization and the membership that we serve. Be looking for exciting and timely initiatives that will directly impact you. We are hyper focused on removing barriers for involvement; expanding access to and developing innovative professional development opportunities for all members; increasing our understanding of our global members; and acting on the needs of our global members, just to name a few. If there is one term we learned over the last few years, it is to pivot. We learned that we must move quickly and efficiently to meet the needs of our membership, and NACADA is answering that call. 

I hope you will join me in supporting our organization and answering the call on your campuses to make advising central to your student success initiatives. Quality and effective academic advising is relevant and necessary now more than ever. Join me in moving our profession forward and supporting academic advising everywhere. 

Teri Farr, President, 2022-2023
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising Success
Division of General Studies
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Champaign, IL  61820
[email protected]

Fostering Students' Autonomy: A Relational Approach

Maurice Kinsella, John Wyatt, Niamh Nestor, Jason Last, and Sue Rackard, University College Dublin

Maurice Kinsella.jpgHigher education is a journey full of opportunities and challenges. While it offers students numerous avenues for personal and professional growth, this also means confronting demanding situations, tasks, and interactions. These challenges are more than a test of students’ abilities; they are a test of character. For example, students face environmental hurdles such as “independent learning, living and navigating new social environments” (Thompson et al, 2021). Similarly, there are challenges with building skills and qualities for self-regulated learning and multiple modes of engagement, e.g., cognitive, behavioural, and social. To overcome potential obstacles and progress through higher education, students must develop a sense of personal responsibility and self-determination (Ryan & Deci, 2017). This means asking questions of themselves about their education ambitions, what they hope to accomplish personally and professionally, how they plan on achieving their goals, and being motivated to pursue them (Kinsella et al, 2022).

John Wyatt.jpgIn this context, autonomy helps students meet the demands of higher education and fosters psychological well-being and a sense of meaning (Deci & Ryan, 1987; Miller & Rollnick, 2012; Rollnick et al, 2008). Rather than viewing autonomy as synonymous with complete independence, i.e., separation from others, it is more appropriate and productive to think of it as relational. In this context, autonomy is a capacity navigated among and nurtured within relationships. Academic advisors can best appreciate the role of autonomy in students’ lives and their responsibility in fostering it when they recognise how personal connections can provide students with the psychosocial resources they need to become autonomous learners. Here, actively encouraging the co-directional nature of the support relationship is vital, where the student and advisor are active participants in building pathways toward success.

Relational Autonomy and Academic Advising

Niamh Nestor.jpgAs “self-law” (auto-nomos), autonomy is the “self-endorsement of one’s behaviour and the accompanying sense of volition or willingness” (Ryan & Deci, 2008). It encompasses decisional and volitional components, the ability to choose what one thinks and does consistent with personal values and interests (Sheldon & Kasser, 1995). Within higher education, it’s about more than the ability to perform specific actions such as completing assignments or attending classes. It also conveys students’ capacity to assume ownership over their holistic growth, determining who they are and how they want to live (Rössler, 2002).

Jason Last.jpgAs mentioned, the paradox of autonomy is that it is inherently relational. Interactions aren’t just external events; they shape one’s qualities and abilities (Christman, 2014; Deranty & Renault, 2007; Taylor, 1992). Personal agency and interpersonal engagement, thus, go hand in hand, with autonomy necessitating healthy engagement fuelled by feelings of acceptance and relatedness (Guay, 2022; Guay et al, 2008). Students' capacity to navigate and manage the demands of higher education varies based on their academic and personal circumstances.  Here, the role of academic advisors isn’t to impart autonomy but to create an environment in which students can recognise and affirm their capabilities, to help them discover and develop their, sometimes dormant,  powers of self-determination.

Autonomous Pillars: Self-Governance and Self-Direction

Sue Rackard.jpgThrough autonomy, students can navigate their higher education journey with greater self-determination, practically in figuring out what their goals are and how to achieve them, and existentially in understanding why they are journeying on this path. Students must use various skills to achieve a sense of self-directedness, which manifests in planning, initiating, and evaluating learning activities (Duong & Seepho, 2014; Gamble et al., 2018; Merriam & Baumgartner, 2020; Wilcox, 1996; Zakime, 2020). We discuss two related capabilities that can underpin autonomy: self-governance and self-direction. Fostering these capabilities means tackling internal and external obstacles that can obstruct autonomy and identifying and applying resources that can enhance it.

Self-governance is the capacity for critical self-appraisal, turning one's gaze inwards and examining one’s strengths and weaknesses, values and goals, needs and wants. From this process comes self-acquaintance, which helps students to understand how their programme relates to their broader life and sense of self. To practice self-governance, students have to be aware of their internal problems and conflicts, to be able to deal with them and remain connected to the value and application of education. This sense of self lays the foundation for students to orientate their role and responsibilities as a student, and do the work of acquiring, comprehending, and applying the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.

Self-direction is the capacity to engage with and respond to one’s external environment. This ability is exercised when students exhibit freedom not necessarily from external conditions and forces but in fashioning a personal response to these. Students can exercise self-direction through engagement with their institution, negotiating and responding with the necessary independence of mind informed by their unique perspectives. It can be expressed by seeking out and using the various resources at one’s disposal to optimise growth and collaborating with peers and staff to make the education experience more rewarding.

Ultimately, it’s about developing a sense of personal clarity and coherence, and owning one’s actions. In applying these capacities, students can enrich and personalise their educational experience to meet their individual needs and wants.

Fostering Autonomy: Strategies and Approaches

Drawing on the Developmental Approach (Crookston, 1994; Lema & Agrusa, 2019), the student experience is a holistic endeavour, both cultivated and hindered within relationships. Recognising this reality requires a support system that enables self-determination through both internal growth, e.g., critical and decisional capacities, and interpersonal growth, e.g., collaboration (Crookston, 1994; Hessenauer & Guthrie, 2018; Molina & Abelman, 2000). Here, academic advisors can foster students’ autonomy in several ways. We outline three approaches to student support, grounded in students’ capacities for self-governance and self-direction: nurturing a collaborative relationship, developing change strategies, and utilising environmental resources. These approaches enable academic advising to move beyond solely providing information and solutions, towards empowering students to deal with issues and concerns for themselves, i.e., from a problem-centric to a person-centric model.

Nurturing a Collaborative Relationship

Healthy social interaction can help foster the abilities and characteristics that underpin both psychosocial development and autonomous growth (Christman, 2014). Student supports are thus inherently relational; Vianden (2016) notes that positively-perceived advisor-student interactions positively influence student satisfaction and their attitude to their institution. While academic advisors’ knowledge, skills, and experience can contribute substantially to the student support process, their effectiveness is often mediated by the strength of the dynamic they inhabit with the student. Due to their wide range of academic, administrative, and pastoral responsibilities, academic advisors are well-positioned to offer students opportunities to control the content and tone of the support relationship (Reeve & Jang, 2006). They can attend to the relational underpinnings of autonomy by building a co-directive, collaborative alliance, helping students apply their psychosocial and environmental resources in defining and delivering goals. For this to happen, students need to understand their role in the alliance and be motivated to take part in it—empowering them to take ownership of and responsibility for their academic success.

Developing Change Strategies

In addition to the supportive relationship, students can rely on their decision-making and volitional abilities. This self-reliance steers the alliance away from prescriptivism and towards dialogue and reciprocal decision-making—from the student being a passive recipient to an active participant. Different strategies and exercises can be employed here. For example, in cases of disengagement, fostering change-orientation enables students to self-appraise and self-direct their education journey through activities like decisional balance sheets and goal setting. Decisional balance sheets encourage students to reflect upon behaviour(s) that may negatively impact their programme engagement and consider the process and benefits of implementing changes. Goal identification strategies can assist students in recognising and realising specific objectives by helping them establish both broader developmental aims and particular goals. For example, based on students’ understanding of a need to change their integration with their programme, they can identify objectives such as making new personal connections and participating in class more frequently. They can then examine how relevant, realistic, and sustainable their goals are and work with their academic advisor to formulate a plan to achieve them. Here academic advisors ensure that such changes are consistent with students' needs and aligned with curriculum standards and academic expectations.

Identifying Environmental Resources

To meet students' needs, academic advisors are equipped with a range of resources and responsibilities. For students to avail of appropriate resources, advisors need to understand institutional policies and procedures, such as curriculum content and academic regulations, as well as student issues centred on psychosocial development (Grites & Gordon, 2000). When advisors combine these two spheres, they empower and enable students to find, use, and seek out the resources to which they have access. In this context, the advisor’s role is to help students develop meaningful relationships with peers, faculty, and resources that support their programme progress (Fergy et al, 2011). Accomplishing these tasks can entail advisors being embedded within or networked across institutional resources, e.g., counselling, health services, disability supports, career guidance, and academic assistance—ensuring autonomy enhancement is available across numerous domains and stages of the student journey.


Academic advisors' understanding and expression of relational autonomy can help students decipher a sense of healthy self-determination. This process entails students collaborating with advisory services to think and act for themselves and take responsibility for their journey through higher education. In this context, academic advisors' role is to help students to understand and meet their individual needs and goals, providing opportunities for them to exercise autonomy to enrich their personal and professional development. It is all part of a complex, ongoing, and inherently relational process in which a student becomes more fully themselves, expressing this sense of self in how they choose to engage with their programme. This relational perspective on autonomy can offer a rationale for building a collaborative student-adviser alliance and a framework for developing and delivering autonomy-centred supports.

Maurice Kinsella
Research Assistant
University College Dublin
[email protected]

John Wyatt
Project Manager
University College Dublin

Niamh Nestor
Academic Advisor
UCD School of Veterinary Medicine 
University College Dublin

Jason Last
Dean of Students
University College Dublin

Sue Rackard
Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning
UCD School of Veterinary Medicine 
University College Dublin


Christman, J. (2014). Relational autonomy and the social dynamics of paternalism. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 17(3), 369–382. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10677-013-9449-9

Crookston, B. B. (1994). A developmental view of academic advising as teaching. NACADA Journal, 14(2), 5–9. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-14.2.5

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1987). The support of autonomy and the control of behaviour. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53(6), 1024–1037. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.53.6.1024

Deranty, J. P., & Renault, E. (2007). Politicizing Honneth's ethics of recognition. Thesis Eleven, 88(1), 19. https://doi.org/10.1177/0725513607072459

Duong, T., & Seepho, S. (2014, June 12–14). Promoting learner autonomy: A qualitative study on EFL teachers' perceptions and their teaching practices [Paper presentation]. Doing Research in Applied Linguistics 2 / Independent Learning Association Conference, Bangkok, Thailand.

Fergy, S., Marks‐Maran, D., Ooms, A., Shapcott, J., & Burke, L. (2011). Promoting social and academic integration into higher education by first‐year student nurses: The APPL project. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 35(1), 107–130. https://10.1080/0309877X.2010.540318

Gamble, C., Wilkins, M., Aliponga, J., Koshiyama, Y., Yoshida, K., & Ando, S. (2018). Learner autonomy dimensions: What motivated and unmotivated EFL students think. Lingua Posnaniensis, 60(1), 33–47. https://doi.org/10.2478/linpo-2018-0003

Grites, T., & Gordon, V. N. (2000). Developmental academic advising revisited. NACADA Journal, 20(1), 12–15. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-20.1.12

Guay, F. (2022). Applying self-determination theory to education: Regulations types, psychological needs, and autonomy supporting behaviors. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 37(1), 75–92. https://doi.org/10.1177/08295735211055355

Guay, F., Marsh, H. W., Senécal, C., & Dowson, M. (2008). Representations of relatedness with parents and friends and autonomous academic motivation during the late adolescence–early adulthood period: Reciprocal or unidirectional effects? British Journal of Educational Psychology, 78(4), 621–637. https://doi.org/10.1348/000709908X280971

Hessenauer, S., & Guthrie, D. D. A. (2018). Advising in social work education: Student and faculty perceptions. The Journal of Baccalaureate Social Work, 23, 11–30.

Lema, J., & Agrusa, J. (2019). Augmented advising. NACADA Journal, 39(1), 22–33. https://doi.org/10.12930/nacada-17-018

Merriam, S. B., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2020). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide: John Wiley & Sons.

Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2012). Motivational Interviewing, Helping People Change. Guilford Press.

Molina, A., & Abelman, R. (2000). Style over substance in interventions for at-risk students: The impact of intrusiveness. NACADA Journal, 20(2), 5–15. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-20.2.5

Reeve, J., & Jang, H. (2006). What teachers say and do to support students' autonomy during a learning activity. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), 209–218. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.98.1.209

Rollnick, S., Miller, W. R., & Butler, C. C. (2008). Motivational interviewing in health care: Helping patients change behavior. Guilford Press.

Rössler, B. (2002). Problems with autonomy. Hypatia, 17(4), 143–162. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1527-2001.2002.tb01077.x

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2008). A self-determination theory approach to psychotherapy: The motivational basis for effective change. Canadian Psychology, 49(3), 186–193. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0012753

Sheldon, K. M., & Kasser, T. (1995). Coherence and congruence: Two aspects of personality integration. J Pers Soc Psychol, 68(3), 531–543. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-3514.68.3.531

Taylor, C. (1992). The politics of recognition. In A. Gutmann (Ed.), Multiculturalism and the Politics of Recognition (pp. 25–74). Princeton University Press.

Thompson, M., Pawson, C., & Evans, B. (2021). Navigating entry into higher education: The transition to independent learning and living. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 45(10), 1398–1410. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2021.1933400

Vianden, J. (2016). Ties that bind: Academic advisors as agents of student relationship management. NACADA Journal, 36(1), 19–29. https://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-15-026a

Wilcox, S. (1996). Fostering self-directed learning in the university setting. Studies in Higher Education, 21(2), 165–176. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079612331381338

Zakime, A. (2020). What is learner autonomy? https://www.whatiselt.com/single-post/2020/04/01/what-is-learner-autonomy

Humanized Online Education: A Conceptual Framework for Academic Advising

Charles Liu, Michigan State University
Robert Cermak, University of Louisville

Charles Liu-150.jpgRobert Cermak.jpgThe Covid-19 pandemic exacerbates the need for academic advisors to meet students where they are through whatever technological means necessary. Several years into the pandemic, academic advising work has entered a new phase of utilizing virtual meetings and other online platforms to communicate with students while maintaining a work-life balance for advisors (LeDonne-Smith & Keith, 2022). Yet, important components were left unaddressed in this transition—cultural nuances and socio-emotional disconnection—to fully humanize students’ academic advising experience and guide them to where they are supposed to be. To address this emergent issue, tenets of the humanized advising approach can (re)focus online advising on caring for each student’s well-being to sustain their motivation to persist in college (Liu & Ammigan, 2021). Situated at the nexus of the entire curriculum (academic affairs) and co-curricular college experiences (student affairs), academic advisors play a central role in humanizing the college experience—academic pursuits, networks of resources, and community belongingness—for students in online learning environments. This article provides a conceptual framework, grounded in humanized academic advising, to guide practitioners in utilizing online communicative technologies with students.

Humanized Advising

Humanized, or humanistic, advising is rooted in “cultivating meaningful relationships that allow students to view advisors as real human beings or even friends” (Museus, 2021, p. 26). In such relationships the student, as well as the advisor, is viewed as a complete person—more than their education or role, bringing their unique identities, cultures, backgrounds, aspirations, and emotions to interactions. Therefore, humanized advising is prefaced on mutual and authentic trust and empathy (Bermea, 2022). While the conceptual framework that follows is grounded in humanized advising, the common thread in all academic advising approaches (developmental, proactive, appreciative, etc.) is “building relationships and encouraging students’ holistic development” (Kelly, 2018) making the framework broadly applicable.

Online Advising and Communication

Communicative technologies, when used effectively, can serve as a bridge for a human-to-human connection online. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the use of such technologies dramatically increased across all higher education sectors and altered the academic advising profession (Habley et al., 2016). While academic advisors are used to emailing, calling, and texting students for advising-related information, now academic advisors are using Zoom, Google suite applications, and other virtual platforms to dialog with students in online and virtual spaces. Developing tools for effective online advising is of particular importance given the heightened student anxieties during the recent shift to online learning across higher education. Academic advisors play a pivotal role in communicating with students and helping them use emergent communicative technologies, leveraging students’ unique experiential resources and lowering their stress (Liu & Ammigan, 2021; Steele, 2016).

Conceptual Framework: Humanizing Online Advising Connections

Researchers have offered definitions of humanized advising (Museus, 2021) and even models for its application in in-person interactions (Bermea, 2022), but the following conceptual framework is uniquely formulated to guide practitioners in humanizing their communication with students in the online environment. The framework combines insights from the scholarly literature on both humanistic and online advising as well as decades of combined professional experience advising postsecondary students virtually and in person. This conceptual framework consists of three interconnected, stepwise phases:

  1. Cultivating authentic empathy and trust,
  2. Facilitating technological readiness, and
  3. Purposefully engaging students online.

The humanistic elements of authenticity and empathy cultivate the advisor-advisee trust needed to work toward students’ technological readiness. Comfort, or readiness, with communicative technologies, in turn, empowers academic advisors to purposefully engage students in the emergent online advising environment. In combination, these phases leverage technology to foster student learning, development, and growth throughout each learner’s entire academic and personal journey. A visualization of the framework is pictured below (Figure 1).

Figure 1.
Humanized Online Communication

Figure 1.jpg

Authentic Empathy and Trust

Authentic empathy is defined as a genuine interest in and care for students as whole human beings. Empathy is a strong neural indicator of how human beings thrive in society, including institutions of higher education (Riess, 2018). When advisees feel that their advisor is an authentic person who empathizes with them, trust is not only given, it is earned. In online academic advising, authentically empathic and trusting communication is critically important. Empathy and trust create human safety; safety creates authentic dialogues; authentic dialogues create deeper online learning; and deeper learning creates dignity for every human being in both virtual and physical spaces.

Technological Readiness

Technological readiness in hardware (i.e., computer) and software (e.g., virtual communication platforms) must be instilled in learners if they are to operate in an effective and timely fashion as higher education pivots to digital learning. This is especially important in communication with minoritized learners who often lack the same levels of access to and experience with online technologies and smart devices as their peers (Kimble-Hill et al., 2020). By starting with tools students are comfortable with, advisors can iteratively work with advisees toward a greater digital facility. For example, Mei (2019), in a study of international students, suggested that utilizing a familiar online platform (i.e., a micro-chat app) that students are already using can serve as a bridge to these students, engendering a sense of belonging and care. Such approaches are a first step in purposefully engaging students online and connecting them with additional technological and community resources.

Purposeful Online Engagement

Once trust has been established and advisees are technologically ready to engage online, the final phase of the framework concerns how advisors engage with students online. Purposeful online engagement is the ability to scaffold a generalized group academic advising setting and to sustain a community environment of support and care in virtual spaces. Examples of purposeful online engagement include

  • Cass and Hammond (2015) found that using virtual group advising fostered a sense of community among military-connected commuter students and helped them to interact with affinity groups in a more efficient manner.
  • Zhang (2016) found that when advisors provided online spaces through social media channels for international students to communicate and interact with one another, these learners felt more supported.

The use of communication technologies must be purposeful to engage students with their advisors and others by placing the student, the whole person, in the middle while technology is the bridge to that engagement. Purposeful online engagement requires that advisors maintain a strong online presence to support and care for their advisees.


Today’s college students are ever more diverse and bring their intersecting identities with them to their learning—such as outside work or military service, parenting while learning, and serving as caregivers—all of which compels higher education to embrace humanized advising, particularly given the challenges of relating with learners in online and virtual spaces. Hence, online communication with each student needs to put the person, the human being, at the center while technology serves as the bridge to meet and engage the learner. While the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant feelings of disconnection persist, the novel humanized online communication framework offered here has the potential to help academic advisors enhance students’ success and sense of belonging in the virtual advising milieu.

Charles Liu, J.D.
Advising Director
Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative
Michigan State University
[email protected]

Robert Cermak, Ph.D.
Clinical Assistant Professor
College of Education and Human Development
University of Louisville
[email protected]


Bermea, G. O. (2022). Humanistic advising: Applying humanistic theory to the practice of academic advising. NACADA Review, 3(1), 3–20. https://doi.org/10.12930/nacr-20-07

Cass, D., & Hammond, S. (2015). Bridging the gap: Technology and veteran academic success. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Network, 19(1), 83–91. https://doi.org/10.24059/olj.v19i1.517

Habley, W. R., Bloom, J. L., Robbins, S., & Gore, P. A. (2016). Academic advising. In Increasing Persistence: Research-Based Strategies for College Student Success (1st ed., pp. 283–309). John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.

Kelly, J. (2018). Academic advising approaches [Conference session]. NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising Summer Institute. https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Portals/0/Events/SummerInst/2018/PowerPoints/T11-AdvApproach-JK%20-%20PPT.pdf 

Kimble-Hill, A. C., Rivera-Figueroa, A., Chan, B. C., Lawal, W. A., Gonzalez, S., Adams, M. R., Heard, G. L., Gazley, J. L., & Fiore-Walker, B. (2020). Insights gained into marginalized students’ access challenges during the COVID-19 academic response. Journal of Chemical Education, 97(9), 3391–3395. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jchemed.0c00774

LeDonne-Smith, T., & Keith, J. (2022, June). Academic advising in a virtual environment: The pros & cons from an advising and student perspective. Academic Advising Today, 45(2). https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Academic-Advising-in-a-Virtual-Environment-The-Pros-Cons-From-an-Advising-and-Student-Perspective.aspx

Liu, C., & Ammigan, R. (2021). Humanizing the academic advising experience with technology: An integrative review. In R. Ammigan, R. Y. Chan, & K. Bista (Eds.), COVID-19 and higher education in the global context: Exploring contemporary issues and challenges (pp. 185–202). STAR Scholars.

Mei, J. (2019). Lost or found: Experiences of first-year Chinese international students who are on academic probation after their first semester (Publication No. 22617727) [Doctoral dissertation, Michigan State University]. ProQuest Dissertations and These Global.

Museus, S. D. (2021). Revisiting the role of academic advising in equitably serving diverse college students. NACADA Journal, 41(1), 26–32. https://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-21-06  

Riess, H. (2018). The empathy effect: 7 neuroscience-based keys for transforming the way we live, love, work, and connect across differences. Sounds True.

Steele, G. E. (2016). Technology and academic advising. In T. J. Grites, M. A. Miller, & J. G. Voller (Eds.), Beyond foundations: Developing as a master academic advisor (pp. 305–326). John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.

Zhang, Y. (Leaf). (2016). An overlooked population in community college. Community College Review, 44(2), 153–170. https://doi.org/10.1177/0091552116633293  

Best Practices in Advising First-Year Students: Identifying and Addressing the Needs of the At-Risk First-Year Student Population

Kelci Kosin, Chair, Advising First-Year Students Community
Comfort Sumida, Steering Committee Member, Advising First-Year Students Community
David Henriques, Steering Committee Member, Advising First-Year students Community
Micalena Sallavanti, Steering Committee Member, Advising First-Year students Community
Wendy Yoder, Steering Committee Member, Advising First-Year students Community
Crystal Walline, Member, Advising First-Year students Community
Megan Hurley, Member, Advising First-Year students Community

In February of 2022, over 125 members of the Advising First-Year Students (AFYS) Advising Community gathered to discuss best practices in advising first-year students. During the discussion, the needs of three different student populations were considered:

  • At-risk first-year students
  • Persisting first-year students
  • High-achieving first-year students

Kelci Kosin.jpgFor each population, several themes arose regarding student needs, and further discussion revealed exciting ideas and inspiration for how we as advisors can meet the needs of these students. It is our hope to encourage and inspire academic advisors globally to consider the needs of first-year students, develop an understanding of the three populations, and adopt best practices when seeking to meet the needs of students during their first year of college.

Comfort Sumida.jpgThe AFYS community has defined the three first-year populations based on the GPA established after their first semester and subsequent academic standing. The at-risk first-year population refers to students whose GPA is below a 2.0, thus at-risk for academic probation. The persisting first-year student population refers to students whose GPA is in the range of 2.0 to 2.9, falling into a broad spectrum of varying levels of successes and challenges while being categorized as being in good academic standing. The high-achieving first-year population refers to students whose GPA is 3.0 and higher, thus indicating that the student excels academically. In this article, we, the authors, will focus on exploring the at- risk first-year student population, identifying their need, and best practices to meet those needs according to feedback gathered at the February AFYS Community Gathering guided discussion on best practices in advising first-year students.

Characteristics of At-Risk First-Year Students

David Henriques.jpgThe term at-risk is commonly used to depict individual students or groups of students “who are considered to have a higher probability of failing academically or dropping out of school” (Abbott, 2013). At-risk first-year students often begin college without the tools necessary to be college ready. This cohort of students lacks a foundation in knowing how to engage academically and miss out on significant academic opportunities (Horton, 2015).

Michalena Sallavanti.jpgThe ability to be academically successful and persist in a college setting is multifaceted, and students are frequently subjected to multiple risk factors. Horton (2015) summarizes key risk factors into three categories: background, individual, and environmental. Background risk factors include identifying as a first-generation college student, coming from a low-income household, or identifying as a member of a minority population, to name a few. These background factors can impact the resources, information, and support a student has access to and is aware of, prior to setting foot on campus. Individual characteristics, both behavioral and psycho-social, influence a student’s ability to successfully recognize, interpret, and follow-through on behaviors and tasks to meet college expectations. These may include learning or physical disabilities and a lack of self-efficacy or goal-setting abilities. Environmental factors include the existence of campus support programs and services, financial costs, and the campus environment (all items that students may not be aware of, make use of, or fully understand).

Wendy Yoder.jpgIn recent years, learning analytics and early alert platforms have become more prevalent, thus enabling campuses to proactively and intrusively offer support to students who are indicated by data as being at-risk of failing or dropping out (Selwyn, 2019). Such analytics generally combine academic data, background characteristics, and student/instructor submitted information to identify students experiencing multiple risk factors. It is important to remember, however, that risk is not applied evenly to all student cohorts, as risk factors can change from institution to institution and from student to student. Consequently, it can be challenging to identify at-risk first-year students before a GPA has been established. Due to these challenges, we, the AFYS community, define at-risk first-year students as individuals who earned GPAs below 2.0 after their first term in college.

Identifying and Meeting the Needs of At-Risk First-Year students

Crystal Walline.jpgAdvisors who attended the AFYS community gathering in February 2022 discussed how to best support at-risk first-year students by identifying their needs and brainstorming strategies to meet them. While the needs were diverse in nature, three overarching themes were identified:

  • Advisor-initiated interactions
  • Basic needs
  • Success skills

By considering these themes, advisors can begin to gain a better understanding of the challenges at-risk first-year students may encounter. Such knowledge can help advisors create thoughtful, intentional, and comprehensive strategies that meet students where they are to promote their success.

Advisor-Initiated Interactions

Megan Hurley.jpgSince Crookston first differentiated between prescriptive advising and developmental advising in 1972 (Crookston, 1994), there have been many proposed advising approaches based on perceived student needs. More recent approaches, such as strengths-based and appreciative advising, recommend that advisors take a proactive role in communicating with students and highlighting student strengths in advising sessions. Many of the needs identified at the AFYS community gathering related to utilizing such intentional advising approaches. Several members suggested that at-risk first-year students benefit from proactive advising via regular check-in meetings. Other named needs aligned more with an appreciative advising or academic coaching model, such as advisors facilitating discussions related to realistic goal setting, motivation, and accountability. Through utilizing an intentional advising approach, advisors can gain a better sense of students' individualized needs and make referrals to other student services on and off campus as necessary.  

When considering ways to meet this need, advisors at the AFYS community gathering highlighted the importance of developing rapport with students. It can be challenging to connect with students once they are facing academic challenges, as the students may feel embarrassed, disappointed, anxious, and/or fearful, which can impact their willingness to reach out for support. Advisors can address this challenge by normalizing help-seeking behavior and educating students about advising practices through an advising syllabus that delineates expectations, expresses personal advising philosophies, and explains the benefits of developing an advising relationship. In addition, advisors can proactively schedule group or individual advising appointments. Advising meetings provide an opportunity for advisors to create a judgment-free space for students by using active listening, asking open-ended questions, checking their own personal biases, and allowing students an opportunity to share their perspectives and experiences. Creating such an environment can help students feel heard, safe, and supported, which can enable them to begin working through the emotions they experience as a result of facing academic challenges.

It is important to recognize that, while face-to-face advising is ideal, it is not always plausible for students. In order to provide more access and connection to this population of students, advisors should consider making resources available that are easily accessible and regularly updated, as well as considering other communications platforms if students prefer texting to calls or emails. Advisors can maximize the effectiveness of communications by following an intentional schedule that coincides with semester events or by sending follow-up messages after meetings to ensure the desired outcome of the one-on-one advising sessions.

Basic Needs

Regardless of the theory informing an advising approach, advisors at the AFYS gathering indicated that at-risk first-year students must first have their basic needs met in order to improve their academic performance. A sense of belonging in the campus community has been well-established in higher education research as positively related to student academic performance and retention (Gopalan & Brady, 2020; Strayhorn, 2018). Furthermore, Maslow (1943) suggested that basic needs, such as food, shelter, and clothing, are foundational to feelings of belongingness and self-esteem. In accordance with Maslow’s theory, advisors at the AFYS gathering noted that students cannot focus on their academic performance until their basic needs are addressed. In a 2021 study, the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice found that 52 percent of students at two-year colleges and 43 percent of students at four-year colleges experienced housing insecurity. Additionally, Feeding America (n.d.) reportedly operates 316 food pantries on American college campuses thus confirming the reality that many students face food and housing insecurities during their academic studies.

To help students meet their basic needs, advisors can develop partnerships with local service providers and food pantries in order to seamlessly provide referrals and promote awareness of accessible resources. Further, advisors can take time to become aware of institutional programs that are available to assist students who encounter food, housing, or financial insecurities. As institutional ambassadors, advisors are in a unique position to share their knowledge of campus resources, such as housing or textbook grants. To address the basic need of belonging, advisors can organize major-specific study groups and connect students with upperclassmen—peer mentors—who faced academic challenges during their first year. By communicating regularly, following up on referrals, and creating an environment in which students feel comfortable asking for help, advisors can potentially connect students to necessary resources that will help address their basic needs and support their academic progress.

Success Skills

A third theme that emerged in the AFYS community discussion of academically at-risk students was the need for students to develop metacognitive skills. Livingston (2003) defines metacognitive knowledge as “general knowledge about how human beings learn and process information, as well as individual knowledge of one’s own learning processes” (p. 3). For students who did not learn these skills in high school or did not need to exert much effort to achieve their desired results academically, advising can entail teaching them study skills, time management, note-taking skills, and how to prioritize conflicting obligations. In addition, at-risk first-year students may also need support in promoting their resiliency and self-efficacy and in learning how to ask for help.

This need can be met by providing academic coaching or connecting the student with an academic support center on campus. Furthermore, advisors can consider hosting academic workshops each semester to assist students in developing the necessary skills needed to navigate their academic path. For at-risk first-year students, these workshops could serve as training opportunities and guided discussions on topics relevant to developing metacognitive skills: time-management discussions, academic planning exercises, and group discussions on developing study habits that work best for each student, to name a few. These practices would hopefully facilitate unified campus-wide conversations on how students end up on academic probation and recommended steps for academic recovery.

Continuing the Conversation

When discussing best practices in advising first-year students, categorizing students into populations based on GPA is just one way in which advisors can focus on acknowledging students’ diverse needs. By considering each population, advisors can better understand characteristics that depict the strengths and challenges of a student’s academic profile while also creating an advising practice that is holistic, intentional, and transformative. The Advising First-Year Students community hopes that these discussions on best practices inspire future conversations on how we can best serve students in their first year of college while exploring the unique needs associated with each student on their academic journey.

Special thanks to each AFYS community member who attended and contributed to the discussion on best practices in advising at-risk first-year students.

Kelci Kosin
Academic Advisor
Music Department
Columbia College Chicago
[email protected]

Comfort Sumida
Senior Academic Advisor
University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo
[email protected]

Crystal Walline
Associate Professor of Biology
University of North Carolina at Pembroke
[email protected]

David Henriques
Assistant Professor
Chair, Department of Academic Advisement and Student Development
Millersville University
[email protected]

Megan Hurley
Academic Advisor
Penn State Hazleton
[email protected]

Micalena Sallavanti
Senior Academic Advisor
College of Engineering
Drexel University
[email protected]

Wendy Yoder
Dean of Students
Southwestern Oklahoma State University
[email protected]


Abbott, S. (Ed.). (2013, August 29). At-risk. The glossary of education reform. https://www.edglossary.org/at-risk/

Crookston, B. B. (1994). A developmental view of academic advising as teaching. NACADA Journal, 14(2), 5–9. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-14.2.5

Feeding America. (n.d.). College student hunger statistics and research. https://www.feedingamerica.org/research/college-hunger-research

Gopalan, M., & Brady, S. T. (2020). College students’ sense of belonging: A national perspective. Educational Researcher, 49(2), 134–137. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X19897622

Horton, J. (2015). Identifying at-risk factors that affect college student success. International Journal of Process Education, 7(1), 83–102.

Livingston, J. A. (2003). Metacognition: An overview. Psychology, 13, 259–266.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–396. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0054346

Selwyn, N. (2019). What’s the problem with learning analytics? Journal of Learning Analytics, 6(3), 11–19. https://doi.org/10.18608/jla.2019.63.3

Strayhorn, T. L. (2018). College students’ sense of belonging: A key to educational success for all students. Routledge.

The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice. (2021). #RealCollege 2021: Basic needs insecurity during the ongoing pandemic. https://doi.org/10.34944/dspace/6934

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Parents of First-Year Students: Expectations of Academic Advising

Allison Ewing-Cooper and Kami Merrifield, University of Arizona

Allison Ewing-Cooper.jpgKami Merrifield.jpgParents of Generation Z students can be supportive, nurturing, and appropriately involved. At the same time, they have been described as helicopters, snowplows, and lawnmowers. However parents are perceived, it’s important to understand that some level of parental involvement is part of most college students’ experiences—and that this involvement can be positive. In a pair of studies, Ewing-Cooper and Merrifield (2016, 2018) found that 68% of advisors reported that the majority of their interactions with parents were positive or very positive and 90.3% of students reported satisfaction with the level of their parents’ involvement.       

Wartman and Savage (2008) offer four reasons for the increase in parental involvement over the 21st century. First, with the ease of communication through technology, parents can always be informed. Second, with the increase in the cost of college and the decrease in state and federal aid, there has been a dramatic increase in the financial investment from parents; from 2000 to 2016, Parent Plus loans tripled (Granville, 2022). Third, changes in expectations around parenting call for greater parental involvement at all stages of children’s lives. Fourth, with more students in higher SES groups attending college at greater rates, parents are more likely to have attended college themselves (Higher Education Research Institute, 2019) and are able to offer advice based on their own college experiences.

Theory and Involvement 

Despite its sometimes bad reputation, parental involvement doesn’t have to be viewed negatively. In fact, from a developmental perspective, parental involvement is not only appropriate but can be beneficial. While individuation is still an important task of adolescence and early adulthood (Chickering, 1969), healthy attachment and emotional connection between a young adult and parent can lead to positive adjustment and healthy individuation (Schwartz & Buboltz, 2004). When viewing parental involvement through an attachment theory perspective, parents provide an important role for students.

Students can use their parents as secure bases from which to explore their new collegiate environments and check back in with their parents when they encounter trouble (Ainsworth et al., 1978). Also, parents can use scaffolding over the course of their student’s academic career, providing a lot of help in the beginning and less as they transition into their junior and senior years (Wood et al., 1976).

Parental Expectations About Academic Advising

As advisors, it’s important to understand parents’ expectations about academic advising and use this information to create better relationships. To gain insight into the perceptions of parents regarding academic advising and their involvement in students’ college careers, 330 parents completed an IRB-approved online survey during an optional family essentials program at new student orientation at a four-year public university. The family essentials program cost a small fee.  A “parent” was defined as a biological, adopted, or stepparent or legal guardian. The majority of parents reported belonging to Generation X (87.5%), identified as female (81.2%), and reported having a bachelor’s degree or higher (86.9%). Twenty-five percent of parents were launching their first child to college and their average number of children was 2.5. 

Parents identified responsibilities of academic advisors from a provided list of possible tasks. Most parents indicated they thought advisors should help students pick classes (94.2%), help students with career exploration and future planning (90.9%), and help students learn about and find internships (78.8%). Less popular, but interesting, answers included 25% of parents indicating that advisors should notify them if something is going on with their student and 20% said advisors should monitor students’ grades. When asked how often students should see their advisors, parents were split between once a month (47.6%) and once a semester (47.9%). Eighty percent of parents said they were aware of FERPA. 

Additionally, parents indicated their plans for involvement with their students’ education. Seventy percent reported that they plan to talk to their student about their education once a week while 20% said they would communicate once a month. Most indicated they would be involved via financial (97.6%) and emotional (98.8%) support. Furthermore, 37.6% indicated they would support their student by helping them pick a major and 40% would help them choose classes. Only 19.7% said they’d help with social activities.  

There was also an open-ended question that asked, what is the most important thing your student’s academic advisor can do for them? Some common themes emerged, including providing care and help. One parent wrote, “be personable, relatable, caring. Engage and inspire.” Another common theme was keeping students on track for graduation. One participant wrote, “guide them to graduate in four years.” Other parents wanted advisors to “provide a ‘one stop shop’ for student’s academic needs to minimize being bounced from office to office” and another wrote, “notice him! Feel as if he has a relationship with someone who cares about and is invested in his academic experience.” 

Building Better Understanding

Parents plan to be involved, so involve them (to an extent)!  

Most parents reported planning to be involved with financial and emotional support—both of which are vital for student retention. Parents’ financial support can make all the difference in a student staying or leaving (Olbrech et al., 2016). Past studies have found a relationship between parental emotional support and university success (e.g., Strom & Savage, 2014), so parental support can play an important role in retention and graduation.    

Advisors may get nervous when parents plan to be involved beyond emotional and financial assistance, such as helping choose a major (37.6%) and helping choose classes (40%). However, it is difficult to know, without talking to these parents, how they define “help.” Help could mean picking classes or listening to the student discuss several options and then guiding the student to a decision. Also, the study was conducted with first-year students’ parents. Would these numbers remain as high for fourth-year students? Likely not. Again, parents might provide scaffolding as students move through their academic journey. If advisors meet with parents and students, they could model appropriate methods of helping students pick majors and classes by using the “I advise, you decide” model.  

Some Education Around Advising is Necessary

Not surprisingly, parents don’t know exactly what academic advisors do. Perhaps their own college experience with an advisor was very minimal or they didn’t attend college at all. Maybe all they know is their student’s high school guidance counselor (perhaps why some parents indicated they believed advisors should monitor student grades or notify them when something is going on). This is where parental education is important. Advisors could provide information on websites, at new student orientation, or through electronic parent newsletters. If an advisor is meeting with a parent, they could take a few minutes to explain what they do. Instead of just saying what an advisor doesn’t do, word things positively, speak directly to the student, reminding them that, unlike in high school, the responsibility for reaching out is on the student, but that you, as the advisor, are accessible and ready to help! This helps reinforce to the parent that they should encourage their student to reach out to their advisor if they have questions.  

Parents Want the Same Thing as Advisors

All parties want the student to succeed, so work together! Instead of viewing parents as the enemy (which they are not), parents and advisors can work as a team to mutually support the student. Even in a difficult conversation with a parent, establish common ground: helping the student successfully navigate college and graduate. Parents understand the needs of their children and can offer resources the institution cannot. Advisors are experts in what is needed for students to graduate. Working together can best help the student. Instead of wasting energy trying to remove parental influence, advisors can provide guidance to both parents and students during this critical transition and establish themselves as a trusted resource.  

Allison Ewing-Cooper
Director of Academic Advising and Student Success
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
University of Arizona
[email protected]

Kami Merrifield
Student Success and Retention Specialist
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
University of Arizona
[email protected]


Ainsworth, M., Blehar, M., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment. Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates.

Chickering, A. W. (1969). Education and identity. Jossey-Bass. 

Ewing-Cooper, A., & Merrifield, K. A. (2016). Parental involvement in students’ academic experiences [Conference session]. Region 10 National Academic Advising Conference, Santa Fe, NM, United States.  

Ewing-Cooper, A., & Merrifield, K. (2018, March). Advisors’ perceptions, attitudes, and suggestions for working with parents. Academic Advising Today, 41(1). https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Advisors-Perceptions-Attitudes-and-Suggestions-for-Working-with-Parents.aspx

Granville, P. (2022). Parent PLUS borrowers: The hidden casualties of the student debt crisis. The Century Foundation. https://tcf.org/content/report/parent-plus-borrowers-the-hidden-casualties-of-the-student-debt-crisis/?agreed=1

Higher Education Research Institute. (2019). The American freshmen: National norms for Fall 2017. https://heri.ucla.edu/publications-tfs/ 

Olbrecht, A. M., Romano, C., & Teigen, J. (2016). How money helps keep students in college: The relationship between family finances, merit-based aid, and retention in higher education. Journal of Student Financial Aid, 46(1). https://ir.library.louisville.edu/jsfa/vol46/iss1/2/

Schwartz, J. P., & Buboltz, W. C., Jr. (2004). The relationship between attachment to parents and psychological separation in college students. Journal of College Student Development, 45(5), 566–577. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.2004.0062

Strom, R. E., & Savage, M. W. (2014). Assessing the relationships between perceived supports from close others, goal commitment, and persistence decisions at the college level. Journal of College Student Development, 55(6), 531–547. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.2014.0064

Wartman, K. L., & Savage, M. (2008). Parental involvement in higher education: Understanding the relationship among students, parents, and the institution. ASHE Higher Education Report, 33(6). 

Wood, D., Bruner, J., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Child Psychiatry, 17(2), 89−100. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.1976.tb00381.x

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What Educators Might Learn from Behavioral Economics: Revisiting Nudges

Isaiah D. Vance, The Texas A&M University System

Isaiah Vance.jpgWhy don’t students do what we want—what we believe to be best—for them?

As educators, our first collective concern is teaching and learning. This includes faculty and staff. Naturally, staff are generally concerned with creating co-curricular learning experiences, and much has been written about what students learn outside of the classroom. I have not found nearly as much writing and research about what higher education professionals should not be teaching, what ought not be a student learning outcome (SLO). This should not be construed as meaning that some topics are off-limits; perhaps some issues and student needs are simply out of the scope of the normal role of faculty and staff, but certainly not disallowed. What is meant by those things that educators ought not to teach are those behaviors and bits of knowledge that may not be worth learning at all. Certainly, students do not need to undertake all activity and obtain all knowledge currently needed to progress through an academic program.

To move from the abstract to the concrete, consider those basic activities that students undergo to move into and through the academic program. To engage in the curriculum, students are presented with a series of common tasks they must complete. These are likely germane to most academic programs: scheduling an appointment to meet with an advisor; selecting a curriculum and becoming familiar with the course requirements; registering for classes; and, then repeating this cycle until, finally, the student completes all requirements. While these activities may be necessary from a process perspective, how many of those actions do we really believe should be learned? Is learning to navigate the school’s registration system truly an essential skill?

It seems the activities are driving the learning rather than learning outcomes driving the activity. But why? There are two prevalent reasons: institutions have not figured out a way to successfully move students through the programs without this type of process and there persists a sort of patronizing, unspoken mode of thinking that learning to navigate this process somehow demonstrates ownership of one’s education and is how responsible students behave. To justify this, SLOs are formulated, such as this basic example: “Students will know how to read their degree audit.” Corresponding measures are then developed and a whole system for assessing this learning is implemented. This is not an isolated example. Beyond navigating the system that the institution has designed, is there really a justifiable reason that students should learn to read a degree audit?

I do not enjoy paying medical bills. I also do not find delight in doing my taxes. Why? Because I do not—really—understand either one (not to mention the price I pay!). I don’t work in the healthcare field, and I am not a CPA. In short, I am not an expert in these realms, nor do I care to be. My use of these fields is quite limited, and so my knowledge and understanding can be similarly narrow. Why do we as higher education professionals believe students should know how to navigate higher education? More specifically, why do we believe students should learn to navigate the processes of higher education? Maybe some of us believe learning the process of higher education is a proxy (or indicator?) of becoming a lifelong learner. Regardless, this approach—our current approach—seems indefensible. Yet we collectively wonder why many students do not enter higher education or leave before completing a credential.

How can academic advisors limit our student learning outcomes to what we (truly) want students to know, do, and value, while acknowledging that there are also less important behaviors and knowledge essential to get them through the wickets of their education?

I suggest that we start by examining the defaults of our current operational structures. Here are three simple (and common) examples of such defaults and corresponding results:

  • Student/advisor meeting: If a student fails to schedule an advising appoint, then they do not meet with an advisor.
  • Course registration: If a student fails to select courses for the subsequent semester, then they are not enrolled in coursework (meaning they do not attend, considered a stop out)
  • Course substitution: If a student does not request a course substitution, then the course is not applied to the degree/graduation requirements (and the student will take another course to satisfy that requirement).

Do advisors think students want this? Do educators—and the institutions—desire these situations? If these default conditions are not our desired outcomes, why have we set up our structures this way so that the default is failure? In other words, these models make it incumbent for the student to take an action to achieve our desired outcome. What if we flipped the model?

For roughly the last decade, pockets of higher education have sought to implement a concept called nudging. An Inside Higher Ed article explains nudging as “low-cost, low-touch interventions aimed at driving people toward particular behaviors without mandating action or restricting options” (Burdick & Peeler, 2021). While this definition adequately explains and defines the way nudging has been interpreted and implemented in higher education, it misses the mark and is only partially accurate. “[W]ithout mandating action or restricting options” certainly captures the libertarian spirit of nudges, but this freedom of choice is only part of nudging.

A vast number of colleges and universities, and even the FAFSA (Bird et al., 2021) have implemented activities using—what they have termed—nudge campaigns, such as text or email reminders, phone calls, and the like. These initiatives have reportedly had minimal success (Anderson, 2019). Yet those efforts are more accurately termed “reminders” or “exhortations” and not nudges.

Richard Thaler, widely recognized as the father (or, at least, the popularizer) of nudging within behavioral economics, describes a nudge this way: “any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives” (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). Choice architecture then becomes the central point of concern, addressing how various choices and processes are constructed.

Behavioral economics is concerned with studying both the choices humans have made and how to help us make better choices. These approaches to ‘better choices’ take the form of choice architecture. Choice architecture is all around us, and all individuals encounter it every day. The well-designed ones engage us without our even realizing it. Choice architecture is meant to lead us to something. A common example is the arrangement of shelves in stores. Those products at eye level are the ones that we see, and, therefore, purchase more frequently. The Coca-Cola or Doritos are placed on eye-level shelves—not because that is what customers frequently buy (though it is)—but to affect our purchasing behavior. Often, however, our institutions do not give much thought to how we are constructing our processes and what those structures and systems may communicate to students. Unfortunately, many of these decision and action points are (unintentionally) designed to move students out of our schools rather than through the programs. For this reason, by and large, nudge efforts in higher education have been unsuccessful: the nudges have been reminders, but the onus has remained on the student to take action to avoid an adverse event.

What would our structures look like if we designed them so that retaining students—and student success, in general—was the default? Before we can address that question, the preferred path or action needs to be determined. Frequently, in situations with binary outcomes, the answer is evident: we don’t want a student to stop out; we want the student to persist. In other instances, there may be a host of options, and the preferred outcome may be a bit more difficult to determine. I would assert that most outcomes staff support are of the first sort—quite straightforward—though the work required of staff to set up a positive, default outcome may not be as simple.

Returning to the three examples and the negative default results of student inaction, here are potential alternative structures and processes that could be enacted that would lead to a positive outcome, while keeping the same level of freedom for students:

  • Student/advisor meeting: What if the student is automatically assigned an appointment slot with an advisor? The student could cancel, change this meeting time, or, as we would hope, confirm, and attend.
  • Course registration: What if the student is automatically enrolled in the subsequent semester? This, admittedly, is a bit more difficult, but can easily be accomplished: the student would need to have a semester-by-semester graduation plan in place. The student could change the courses or class sections but would continue from term-to-term without needing to take any other action.
  • Course substitution: What if a faculty or staff advisor reviews all unused coursework for potential application to the degree? The advisor is much more knowledgeable and qualified to know what might and might not be considered. The process could allow students to opt out of the substitution, and there could be good reason why they might do so.

These are basic examples. The nudges could become much more refined, and commonplace as other student choices are considered.

As faculty and staff work to create greater equity and a level playing field for all students, could nudges help our institutions accomplish this? Nudges do not create new choices; nudging defaults to the desired behavior but still allows flexibility. We should ask ourselves which students are likely skipping or misunderstanding these requirements right now, and who could benefit most from these redesigns. First generation? Low income? Minorities? Other marginalized groups? We probably don’t need a full-fledged assessment to know the answer.

Isaiah D. Vance
Assistant Provost
Academic Affairs
The Texas A&M University System
[email protected]


Anderson, G. (2019, August 26). Nudging doesn't scale nationally. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2019/08/26/national-nudging-campaign-failed-produce-results

Bird, K., Castleman, B., Denning, J., Goodman, J., Lamberton, C., & Rosinger, K. (2021). Nudging at scale: Experimental evidence from FAFSA completion campaigns. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 183(C), 105–128. https://doi.org/10.3386/w26158

Burdick, J., & Peeler, E. (2021, February 23). The value of effective nudging during COVID. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2021/02/23/how-strong-nudge-campaign-can-improve-student-outcomes-during-covid-opinion

Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2009). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. Penguin Books.

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From Self- to Student-Centered: Promoting Student-Centeredness in an Advising Office

James Wicks, Collin College

James Wicks.jpgToday’s models of successful academic advising suggest that advisors are most effective when they take a student-centered approach, meaning that they prioritize students’ needs and experiences above all else. NACADA (2017) has responded to these models by developing their own Academic Advising Core Competencies, which include conceptual, informational, and relational areas. However, learning to be competent in these areas does not necessitate a student-centered approach to advising. For example, it is possible to demonstrate relational competency by communicating in an inclusive and respectful manner but also conduct advising sessions in an entirely self-centered way. In what follows, I present actual examples of well-intentioned advisor/student interactions from my eleven years in higher education, most of which have been spent in academic advising in some form or another. These examples are not meant to disparage or criticize, rather they are meant to spark critical examination and discussion of how to promote student-centeredness at times when self-centeredness often prevails.  

Example 1

A student enters the office five minutes to closing. Instead of calling the student to a private office or advising space, an advisor comes to the front to see what questions the student has. The student needs help choosing classes and mentions that he took off work early to be able to make it in time. The advisor tells the student to wait in the lobby and goes to her office. She returns to the student with two sheets: one with instructions on how to access their degree audit and the other with instructions on how to register for courses. The advisor says, “just use these instructions, and you should be fine.” The student reluctantly says okay and leaves the office only a few minutes after arriving. The advisor then closes the office doors, satisfied with the resources she provided to the student and happy to be able to leave at closing time.

In this example, it is not exactly obvious that the advisor has erred. It is true that the advisor has provided the student with key resources, and it is true that the student can use these resources to answer their questions. On its face, this could be interpreted as demonstrating the relational competency for encouraging student problem solving and decision-making. It is also true in this case that the advisor has taken a distinctly self-centered approach rather than a student-centered one. The fact that the office was about to close informed this advisor’s approach more so than any other factor. As a result, the student left, likely feeling disappointed and dejected and discouraged from seeking help from an academic advisor in the future. Additionally, the advisor in the scenario has now contributed to an office culture where students are treated as obstacles to personal convenience, which is antithetical to the mission of serving students.

Instead, this advisor should have demonstrated empathy towards the student by considering that they left work early, something that is not always easy to do and rushed to meet with someone. This could have come at considerable cost to the student and should have played a more deciding factor in the advisor’s approach than getting the student out the door right at closing time. As a caveat, there are times when it is appropriate to usher the student out at closing, e.g., if no one else is in the office and an advisor does not feel safe meeting with a student alone. But even then, it would still be imperative for an advisor to provide the student with follow-up contact information or schedule an advising appointment during hours that the student would be able to meet without having to leave work and rush to fit into a time window. This makes all the difference between a self- and student-centered approach.

Example 2

A new advisor is speaking with a student who plans to transfer from a two-year college to a four-year university to pursue a mechanical engineering degree. The student does not yet know what university they wish to transfer to, and so they do not know what the degree plan looks like. The student says, however, that cost will be a factor and that they wish to stay close to home if possible. The advisor tells the student that without knowing what university they wish to transfer to, it will be impossible to advise them for the degree they want. Instead, the advisor recommends that the student take all general education courses and come back to advising once they know what university they wish to attend.

In this example, the advisor is encouraging the student to do more research about their long-term goals before recommending a concrete path, which is not a bad recommendation. Furthermore, rather than commit to a plan with little information, the advisor recommends general education or core courses that will likely work with any degree plan. This might seem like a safe thing to do while the student researches universities. However, this advising approach lacks the sort of guidance that would truly characterize a student-centered approach.

To be student-centered, advisors must listen intently to their students and seriously consider all the information that is being provided. In this example, the student has an idea of what major they wish to pursue, and they have indicated that cost and distance will be a factor in choosing a university. At this point, the advisor could recommend affordable universities in the area that have the student’s major program. It is entirely possible that the student could narrow down their decision right there during the advising session. The advisor could also explore what the student’s major pathway looks like at one of these universities even if the student does not end up choosing it. In so doing, the advisor would notice that a major like mechanical engineering requires advanced math and physics, and so advising on just core classes may create problems for the student down the line. Regardless of which university this student chooses, they will want to start working on math as soon as possible. While it is tempting as an advisor to take the easy route of asking the student to come back when they have a better idea of what they want to do, it doesn’t always serve them to do so.

Example 3

A student attends an advising session on Monday and learns about the courses he needs for the next semester. He also learns about the special pre-req requirements for his major and who he needs to contact to get special permission for course registration. During this session, the advisor makes sure to give him notes and handouts about everything they discussed. The next day, the student returns and sees the same advisor. He tells the advisor that he lost all the notes he was given and that he doesn’t remember what they talked about. He says he would like the advisor to provide all the same handouts with the same information. With few words, the advisor quickly prints out all of the same materials and sends the now satisfied student on his way.

In this example, the advisor is providing the student with key information and resources, even when the student has confessed to losing them once before. Indeed, providing information to students is essential for successful advising interactions. However, it isn’t always enough to merely provide the student with information. It is also important, no matter how inconvenient, to take the time to show and explain how students can access the information as well. Had this advisor been out of the office when the student came searching for additional handouts, the student would be at a loss. This is why student-centered advising explains how students can access the information for themselves rather than just provide it. Additionally, the student in the example betrays several other shortcomings that ought to be addressed by an advisor. After hearing that the student lost all of the information from the previous day and cannot remember what was discussed, the advisor ought to take the time to discuss the student’s organization and planning. After all, if a student cannot remember what was discussed in a brief advising session or keep track of a few handouts or notes, what are they forgetting or losing from an entire class? At the very least, the student in this example would have been well served with a discussion on how to find and keep track of valuable information moving forward.

These examples are but three in a vast pool of scenarios that advisors encounter each day, and each day advisors must choose to serve students in a self- or student-centered way. Now more than ever, students are able to identify when college and university officials act against student interests, and it has an impact on how students choose to engage with their campus’ resources. Successful advising interactions depend on a student-centered approach, and with examples like these, advisors can start to incorporate student-centeredness as tools to complement their core competencies.

James Wicks, Ed.D.
District College and Career Counselor
Collin College
[email protected]


NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx


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Creating a Community of Practice through Adventures in Podcasting

Matthew Markin, California State University, San Bernardino

Matt Markin.jpgHagen (2018) said, “Stories provide structure and coherence to events, processes, and motivations that may lack for viable interpretations unless we impose narrative structure on them” (p. 7).

Narrative structure can be created through shared stories in the academic advising field. Examples of shared stories could include student populations, job responsibilities, positive and negative work experiences, etc. Storytelling is adaptive and facilitates social cohesion as it becomes “an increasingly sophisticated array of cognitive abilities oriented toward sociality” (Bietti et al., 2018, p. 717). The storytelling can even create a shared reality that develops feelings of community (Bietti et al., 2018).

Each narrative involves four master elements: context, plot, style, and theme (Hagen, 2018, p. 25). The context is the background and setting of the narrative. Plot is the foundation of the narrative through a series of events, while style is the way the story is told. The theme is the meaning of the story.

Hagen describes examples of the master elements in various advising settings:

  • Context: advisor and student communicating in the advisor’s office
  • Plot: student inquires with advisor about adding two more degrees, faces stressful situations, and finally graduates with all three degrees
  • Style: student relays their meaning by blaming others for their situation
  • Theme: advisor tries to motivate the student, but student misinterprets the theme and changes their major

These narrative elements are also present in podcasts.

A podcast is a series of spoken word, audio episodes, all focused on a particular topic or theme (The Podcast Host, n.d.). These episodes are available through digital audio files that can be downloaded or listened to via the internet (MasterClass, 2021). More specifically, podcasts are published through streaming applications (e.g., Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher). Streaming applications use a Really Simple Syndication, known as an RSS Feed, which allows for listeners to not only stream podcast episodes, but subscribe and be notified when a new episode is published (MasterClass, 2021).

The popularity of podcasts has increased steadily since the early 2000’s (Buzzsprout, 2022). Statistica’s July 2021 study predicts that podcast listeners will reach 504.9 million worldwide by 2024 (Statistica, 2022). Currently, 177 million people in the United States have listened to a podcast and 38% ages 12+ are considered monthly podcast listeners (Edison Research, 2022).

Podcasts range in topics and allow listeners to hear from multiple perspectives. Podcasts are a form of professional development. Professional development is typically conducted via in person workshops or webinar formats. However, podcasts embrace a technological approach with a narrative style to provide similar knowledge to a wider audience through a phone, computer, or tablet.

Examples of podcasts geared toward professional and higher education issues include EdTechPodcast and Teaching in Higher Ed. Colleges. Academic institutions have also developed podcasts to connect with various populations to share ideas. These include Boston University’s The Crux of the Story, which is targeted toward communication students, California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office Podcast, made for the community college community, and Northwestern University’s Breakthroughs, developed for those interested in the medical field (Dotchel, 2020).

The following sections describe the Adventures in Advising podcast and how it has built community in academic advising.

Adventures in Advising Podcast

The Adventures in Advising podcast was created in January 2019 to give numerous voices to the field of academic advising. These personal voices yield emotional connections to academic advising professionals within a global community. The stories shared a link to the humanities:

We are narratologists every day of our working lives: We're telling stories. We're hearing stories. We're interpreting stories. We engage in rhetoric. We engage in literature insofar as we help to create Bildungsroman, the stories of education and acculturation that come out right. (Hagen et al., 2018, p. 20)

Each podcast episode provides insight integral to professional development and student success. This is provided through the various lenses of the guests interviewed. This directly connects with the premise of the podcast, which is to bring together the global academic advising community to share knowledge, best practices, and their own advising stories. These stories are aimed to supply advising practitioners with real world experiences that can be easily relatable through the personal narratives of the interview guests. Overall, the goals of the podcast are to contribute to the professional development of advising practitioners at all levels and create a community of hope.

The Adventures in Advising podcast has published over 60 episodes with two episodes published each month and two to three guests per episode. The podcast has garnered over 26,000 downloads as of June 7, 2022, from 75 countries/territories and 2,967 cities. Each episode highlights the backgrounds of each guest along with discussing their expertise in academic advising.

Guests are from different areas within higher education (e.g., faculty, deans, assistant deans, directors, study abroad coordinators, undergraduate and graduate students, graduate coordinators, housing and residential life coordinators, and NACADA Executive Office staff). Topics include advising approaches, underrepresented students, student equity, racism, academic probation, retention, first generation college students, mentorship, advisor wellness, advising administration, narrative theory, graduate advising, impacts of COVID, international students, NACADA Advising Communities, scholarly research, technology, social media, creativity, and the professionalization of advising.

Community of Practice

This podcast not only has allowed for professional development and personal growth, but also engages with the concept of communities of practice. Communities of practice are “formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor” (Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner, 2015). In essence, these groups have a shared interest or passion for something they do and desire to do better.

“Life storytelling gives us direction, validates our own experience, restores value to living, and strengthens community bonds” (Atkinson, 2022, p. 122). The Adventures in Advising podcast cultivates a virtual community of practice in academic advising within higher education through the characteristics of domain, community, and practice.

The domain is the shared interest within the community and “guides their learning” (Learning for All, 2016). The shared community is distinguished by its members (Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner, 2015). The Adventures in Advising podcast domain is the higher education academic advising community with each topic discussed on the podcast related to academic advising.

Community is created through relationships and connections made, along with the interests, sharing of information (Learning for All, 2016). Community members do not necessarily work together in the same space but are still able to learn from one another (Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner, 2015). Community is built through podcast guests represented on each podcast episode and the stories they share with podcast listeners.

The practice characteristic represents the main focus of the community (Learning for All, 2016). The community members are the practitioners who develop a shared practice. The shared practice generates shared resources (Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner, 2015). The published episodes of the Adventures in Advising podcast are a repository of shared practices.


Adventures in Advising Podcast

  1. Domain

Podcast topics

  1. Community

Podcast guests and listeners

  1. Practice

Repository of shared practices: stories, experiences, lessons learned, and networking


Over 140 unique guests have been interviewed for the Adventures in Advising podcast, which have included all ten regions within NACADA and 14% international guest perspectives.

The podcast is made available through various technological devices. The most used app to access the podcast is Apple Podcasts. 72% of episodes are listened to using a mobile device followed by 22% using a desktop computer. Tablets, smart tvs, and Apple watches have also been used to listen to podcast episodes.

Listeners have praised the podcast for its community building and academic advising content:

  • “Today I want to express my appreciation for the @advisingpodcast! A ‘next level’ idea that has been tremendous in building community for advising professionals across the globe. This @NACADA resource has been instrumental in the growth & development of so many advisors!” - Michael Geroux, University at Albany
  • “I am so glad I found this podcast. I’m currently in a master’s program for academic advising and just love listening. So much valuable content on both the advising practice and the world of higher education.” - @mcG206 Apple Podcast review
  • “Adventures in Advising is truly a must listen to regardless of your role in advising and student success. Tips for growth, power of connection, and a familiarity of colleagues that you would like to see more often!” - @RacerFanForever Apple Podcast review
  • “This podcast is giving some much needed perspective on advising! Thanks so much for taking the time to make this! So good to hear other advisor voices in this unique time.” - Rachel Mars, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Through the guests interviewed and stories shared on the Adventures in Advising podcast, listeners are given context, plots, styles, and themes to interpret and draw meaning from. The various podcast topics related to academic advising and higher education give timely and relevant knowledge and direction. Whether a new or seasoned academic advising professional, each episode and interview produce several jumping-on points to continue their journey in the advising field. 

Matthew Markin
Academic Advisor
Advising and Academic Services
California State University, San Bernardino
[email protected]

Acknowledgements: The author thanks Craig McGill (Kansas State University) for providing the suggestion and support for this topic and Ryan Scheckel (Texas Tech University) for assisting with the podcast data collection.


Atkinson, R. (2002). The life story interview. In J. F. Gubrium & J. A. Holstein (Eds.), Handbook of Interview research: Context and method (pp. 121–140). Sage Publications. https://marcuse.faculty.history.ucsb.edu/projects/oralhistory/2002AtkinsonLifeStoryInterview.pdf

Bietti, L., Tilston, O., & Bangerter, A. (2018). Storytelling as adaptive collective sensemaking. Topics in Cognitive Science, 11(4), 710–732. https://doi.org/10.1111/tops.12358

Buzzsprout. (2022, May 4). Podcast statistics and data [May 2022]. https://www.buzzsprout.com/blog/podcast-statistics

Dotchel, H. (2020, June 24). 11 must-see higher ed podcasts. Volt. https://voltedu.com/marketing-branding/11-must-listen-higher-ed-podcasts/

Edison Research (2022, March 3). the infinite dial 2022. https://www.edisonresearch.com/the-infinite-dial-2022/

Hagen, P. L. (2018). The power of story: Narrative theory in academic advising. NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising.

Hagen, P. L., Schulenberg, J. K., & Wei, J. (2018). On the value of the humanities in academic advising: A conversation with Peter Hagen. The Mentor: Innovative Scholarship on Academic Advising, 20(2018), 12–25. https://doi.org/ 10.18113/P8MJ2060909

Learning for All. (2016). What is a community of practice? Creating Communities of Practice. https://www.communityofpractice.ca/background/what-is-a-community-of-practice/

MasterClass. (2021, November 5). How do podcasts work? How to create a podcast in 13 steps. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-do-podcasts-work

The Podcast Host. (n.d.). What is a podcast? An explanation in plain English. https://www.thepodcasthost.com/listening/what-is-a-podcast/

Statistica. (2022, February 18). Number of podcast listeners worldwide from 2019-2024. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1291360/podcast-listeners-worldwide/#:~:text=In%202020%2C%20the%20number%20of,grown%20to%20383.7%20in%202021

Wenger-Trayner, E., & Wenger-Trayner, B. (2015, April 15). Introduction to communities of practice: A brief overview of the concept and its uses. Wenger-Trayner. https://wenger-trayner.com/introduction-to-communities-of-practice/           

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Reflections from a New D.Ed.

April E. Belback, University of Pittsburgh

April Belback.jpgFifteen years ago, during my M.S.Ed. graduation ceremony, I remember seeing (for the first time) doctoral graduates being hooded by their advisors. I was a young mother of two boys at the time and had decided to pivot my profession ten years after receiving my baccalaureate degree. Since then, my career has taken many different paths. But that moment was the inspiration for me say to myself, “I will do this someday. I will be Dr. Belback.” As a first-generation college student and working professional, the journey to obtain my doctorate was not an easy one. However, with a strong support system, I am proud to say that I did it! Please allow me to share my experiences and some small nuggets of advice in the hopes that it may help others, particularly those in the field of higher education student success.

It is never the right time. When talking with colleagues about their desire to attend graduate school, I often hear that it just is not the right time, either professionally or personally. In fact, I put off pursuing my doctoral degree for quite some time. Like many other working professionals, I have a full plate. While I envisioned myself being hooded, factors such as imposter syndrome held me back and gave me the excuse to continually say to myself that it just was not the right time. My first-generation and working-class roots provided me with resilience and an unmatched work ethic. But, when it comes to confronting my own success, I feel uncomfortable and would rather over prepare and over work to prove my own fears (Long et al., 2000). For some time, these actions played a part in hindering the pursuit of my dreams in academia. It took a friend’s wisdom to give me the push I needed when he said, “It is never going to be the right time; you will always have other priorities, and you have to decide when to make this a priority in your life.” These words changed my mindset and gave me a framework for many decisions in my life since that time.

Find your support system. When I returned to graduate school, I was fortunate to have the support of my family. My husband and I made a plan. I knew that for the next few years, scholarship would need to be a priority for me if I was to be successful. During graduate school, there were plenty of times when I would have loved to (insert something fun) instead of going to class or writing. But my whole family knew the importance of my endeavor and their support meant that I did not have to explain when these types of situations arose. My support system also includes the doctoral student cohort of colleagues from my program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania College of Education and Communications. I have friends for life because we have shared experiences which include long class weekends and pivoting to remote learning during a pandemic. Wherever you are able to find your support system, whether through colleagues, mentors, friends, or family, do not be afraid to show vulnerability and share the experiences of graduate school with them to make the weight just a bit lighter.

Find clear ties to your current (or future) work. When I started my program, I knew I wanted to study advising and student success. I was worried that I needed to figure out my research plan right away. Rather, I learned to allow myself to be open to exploration and new ideas. I did this by digging into the assignments as a path for current and future successes. Each project was an opportunity for me to delve into something I was thinking about at my institution and quite often I asked to present my work (both informally and formally) to stakeholders and leadership. For example, one of my program projects was a proposal for building an institutional infrastructure of supports for first-generation college students, the fruits of which I am seeing play out today. Not only can these assignments help you to set goals for yourself but also to begin collecting literature for a final dissertation.

Set goals for yourself. Speaking of goals, I am often asked about motivation and how I was able to finish writing my dissertation. I am finding that there is honestly no one perfect answer to this question. Instead, you must figure out what drives you and stive toward understanding how to make that impactful for your journey. For me, goal setting was a driving force towards finishing my degree. I started at the end and worked backwards to set both long- and short-term goals. I wanted to graduate by December, so how would I get there? I figured out the timeline of events for university processes which would enable me to reach that milestone. Then, I created a Gantt chart to mark monthly goals. I continuously updated and revised the chart as I worked toward my goal. Each week, I had a goal that would align with the month, and I was able to break the weekly goals into daily tasks. The chart became my daily check in to ensure I was on-track. When I was able to work each day, even if it was just an hour, I grew to understand that I was more connected to the work.

It is what you make of it. This last one was a hard lesson for me to learn. I first envisioned that graduate school would lead me to the perfect research topic with some guiding light moment. That never happened! The process, however, is much more transformational if you allow it to be. I experienced being able to sit in the driver’s seat and define my own scholarship in a way that I could not have imagined. I truly believe that you can find your own voice as a scholar if you are open to this possibility and constantly seek diverse feedback. I grew to love the research process and writing my dissertation. My journey was not linear, but like most good things in life, full of some major ups and a few downs, as well.

My hope is that if you are thinking about a similar journey, but have some reservations, sharing my story may help you consider your own doctoral path. In higher education today, more scholarship is needed in the space of advising and student success. For me, the mantra to never stop learning drives me to continue research in my field as I strive to innovate and succeed. What is your inspiration?

April E. Belback, D.Ed.
Director of Undergraduate Advising and Mentoring
Office of the Provost
University of Pittsburgh
[email protected]


Long, M. L., Jenkins, G. R., & Bracken, S. (2000). Imposters in the sacred grove: Working-class women in the academe. The Qualitative Report, 5(3/4). http://www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/QR5-3/long.html

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The Perspective of Emerging Leaders: Leadership, Representation, and Challenges

Thomas Beckwith, Santa Fe College
Jen Berry, Indiana University Bloomington
Carlota Deseda-Coon, Syracuse University
Winnie Tang, University of California-Santa Cruz

Brown (2004) explains the significance of diversity issues and how they moved to the forefront in higher education. While diversity is a broad topic that expands across many themes and groups, it is important to discuss these issues (Grissom, 2018). This article shares some of our experiences, our perspectives, and the impact of the NACADA Emerging Leaders Program (ELP). The relevancy of diversity, equity, and inclusion and the existing challenges allowed four Emerging leaders in the 2021–2023 class to come together to write this article.

Thomas Beckwith.jpgThomas: As a leader in academic advising at the institutional level, I have had a unique journey. Before my current leadership position, screening committees at different institutions overlooked me despite being a finalist for respective positions. In addition, several people have told me, “You interview well, but you’re not the right fit.” When these things occur, it leaves you doubting yourself as a person. Furthermore, you are exposed and vulnerable. There is immense pressure to become that one person this exclusive group accepts. It becomes a stressor, especially when you’re a person from a historically marginalized group. Even when you become a member of this exclusive group, there is still trepidation.

Few Black male professionals are in higher education, much less in academic advisor or advising leadership roles (Turner & Grauerholz, 2017). I have held my current position as the Coordinator for the Advisement Center since January 2020. I am the only Black male to hold my position at this institution. It is essential to have representation because it provides a diverse voice and experiences. Also, representation offers hope for the next generation of advisors or advising leaders. However, I believe individuals must unapologetically be authentic—this is sometimes difficult due to bureaucratic constraints and societal views. My involvement in NACADA has given me credibility at the institutional level and among my peers.

NACADA must continue to offer opportunities for historically marginalized groups to become involved. For me, the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) has been a great opportunity that has allowed me to have insightful conversations and interactions globally. While I worry about the future involvement of certain marginalized groups, I understand the significance of visibility and interpersonal communication. 

Jen Berry.jpgJen: Academic advising may not yet be as diverse as we hope. Still, there are certainly advisors from many different identities and diverse perspectives, objectives, and needs, just like the students we serve. And just as we, as agents of our institutions, position ourselves to support our diverse students, it is the hope that our professional organization, NACADA, also positions itself to support us as advising professionals. Thankfully, NACADA intentionally increases the support, representation, and participation of advisors with diverse identities. The association is focused on cultivating the next generation of leaders who have various backgrounds. Additionally, NACADA participated in a self-review to ensure that the association is accommodating but also encouraging an increase in diversity at all levels of leadership. 

In creating the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP), in which I am happy to participate, NACADA is showing its commitment to supporting historically marginalized populations within academic advising. For example, ELP has allowed me to grow as a leader in a safe and supportive space. I am learning the “hidden curriculum” of professional organizations as it relates to advising and my professional journey. I am encouraged to represent the growing diverse population within NACADA leadership. I hope this encourages others from diverse backgrounds to feel safe and supported within the organization and, as a result, engage more in some of the available opportunities. Engagement is important to retain diverse advisors who can increase the retention of some of our most vulnerable student populations because they see themselves in their advisor (institutional agent), who sees themselves as mattering within their profession. 

Carlota Deseda-Coon.jpgCarlota: Traditionally, leadership does not come in various colors, especially in academia. However, as time has changed and people have become more vocal, it seems that the color of academia is becoming just a tad less uniform. In my opinion, many in the profession now acknowledge and recognize new hues, including skin color, background, and less salient differences.

It has been 20 years since I became a professional in higher education. Every step of the ascent in leadership has been difficult. Nevertheless, sometimes in my professional journey, I was reminded that I must prove to others that I was selected for opportunities based on my merits due to hard work, perseverance, and dedication and not because of the need for diversity in leadership.

Over time, I have learned to be unapologetic and my authentic self. I realize I only need to prove to myself that I can achieve the goals I’ve set by putting my mind, heart, and values of fairness and care ahead of titles, skin color, backgrounds and abilities, and to give everyone the opportunity to be themselves and positively impact processes, procedures, colleagues, and most importantly, students. The great thing about academic advising is that it impacts all student populations across an institution and provides me the opportunity to foster a sense of belonging for students with similar characteristics and views and those who are different from me.

The Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) has been a breath of fresh air, an opportunity where I have found a community of people fighting for equity and inclusion in various ways. In this program, differences are celebrated, goals are supported, and we push each other to do better to become the leaders we want to see. ELP is a program that allows all emerging leaders to be themselves, receive the support they need, and learn about the organization.  

Winnie Tang.jpgWinnie: When I think about the importance of representation in leadership roles in academic advising, I think of my students. Diversity in leadership from underrepresented populations makes an important statement about who is accepted in the academic advising profession. My students need to see me in a leadership role, because I want them to think of higher education as a space that belongs to them and demonstrate a culture of care, resulting in the sense of belonging.

With NACADA as a premier global professional association for academic advising, I think it is essential that its leaders come from diverse backgrounds because this speaks to who belongs in the space of academic advising. An intentional choice I have made in my professional career has been to remain in a primary role as an academic advisor. This decision allowed me to seek out opportunities in academic advising administration at the institutional level instead of looking for positions in ethnic or cultural resource centers or counseling in student services programs designed to provide services for students from minoritized disadvantaged backgrounds. It has been such a privilege to participate in the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) because I am simultaneously contributing to the diversification of leadership in NACADA and the field of academic advising. And the support I receive from my mentor and fellow Emerging Leaders has also had trickle-down effects on my professional career. As a result, I feel like I belong in academic advising and higher education administration, and I hope this will positively impact my students’ sense of belonging in higher education.

Thomas Beckwith
Santa Fe College
[email protected]

Jen Berry
Indiana University Bloomington
[email protected]

Carlota Deseda-Coon
Syracuse University
[email protected]

Winnie Tang
University of California-Santa Cruz
[email protected]


Brown, L. I. (2004). Diversity: The challenge for higher education. Race Ethnicity and Education7(1), 21–34. https://doi.org/10.1080/1361332042000187289

Grissom, A. R. (2018). Workplace diversity and inclusion. Reference & User Services Quarterly57(4), 242–247.

Turner, C., & Grauerholz, L. (2017). Introducing the invisible man: Black male professionals in higher education. Humboldt Journal of Social Relations39, 212–227.


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