Cecilia Olivares, University of Missouri – Columbia
Susan Tyler, University of Mississippi
Chris Hubbard, University of North Texas
Solarz (2017) posits that collaboration allows us to know more than we are capable of knowing by ourselves. This notion is paramount in the context of higher education today. From facilitating operations through a global pandemic to championing the academic progress and wellbeing of students, advisors are invaluable resources across colleges and universities. As such, finding a means for networking and connecting with others through hardship and trials is critical to career longevity as an advising practitioner.
For organizations such as NACADA, opportunities such as these are realized through the development of advising communities, conferences, workshops, and webinars for the professional development of advising practitioners across the world. However, for the authors of this article, we found community through a unique opportunity offered by the organization: NACADA Writes. Over a four-year period, we walked together through the stages of the writing group process: idea generation, idea development, and drafting and revising a short group exposition. In addition, we supported each other through personal and professional growth experiences—completing a graduate degree, changing jobs, and entering the final stages of a doctoral program. To simply call this experience a rewarding one is an understatement.
Reason and Purpose
The intention of the writing groups was to provide an avenue for advising practitioners to find community through scholarship and assist in long-term professional development. This presented a promising challenge. For example, Cecilia shared the following thoughts regarding signing up for the program:
I signed up for NACADA Writes in the first year of my doctoral program. I wanted to have a set of colleagues in the academic advising field to discuss ideas and share drafts to supplement and complement the feedback of my doctoral program peers and faculty, knowing that my writing interests and dissertation topic would likely be related to academic advising.
As with any new professional endeavor, we set expectations for what we hoped to achieve or accomplish by participating in a new, collaborative project. We wrestled with thoughts, ideas, and reservations in hopes of identifying how we could achieve maximum value from the writing group. For Susan and Chris, this manifested in thoughts of how the experience could assist in developing stronger writing skills:
Susan: I've always considered myself a good writer. Over time, I have felt the urge to articulate my thoughts about connecting the college experience with career goals/aspirations. While I like to have written something once it is finished, I'm not great at getting started and completing it. My thinking was that I could create some accountability in my writing process by being part of a group.
Chris: I signed up for the NACADA Writing Group with an expectation of meeting new people across the global advising community and developing stronger skills as a writer. In addition, I felt that I could best contribute to the advising community through scholarship rather than a presentation or public speaking engagement.
Similarly, we looked forward to using the writing group as a vehicle for idea sharing and connecting with other advising practitioners. This aligns with the NACADA relational core competency, which emphasizes creating rapport and building advising relationships. With this mindset each of us were able to transition into the writing group and work effectively with the nuances of fully online collaboration, which served us well when challenges related to the pandemic arose.
Finding Community and Collaboration
According to Wicks (2018), questions surrounding relational core competencies are not a matter of whether advisors should focus on building rapport but how it can be achieved (p. 1). At the onset of our writing journey, we faced this challenge when our group quickly dwindled from seven to three before we scheduled the first meeting. This could have caused our group to disband altogether. However, we proceeded.
None of us anticipated the support we would draw from each other, especially when the pandemic hit. As we continued to meet while navigating the tides of the pandemic, we each found that balancing personal and professional responsibilities required perseverance. Isolation took its toll across the higher education landscape. During those moments, our writing group provided an outlet. Susan shared:
Sharing my COVID experiences with Cecilia and Chris, and asking for their perspective, reinforced the advice that I had been giving students for months. I was encouraging them to ask for help. I needed to ask for help, too! And it is ok to ask for validation of your experience. No one needed to go through the pandemic alone (emotionally), even if we were alone (physically, geographically).
Chris echoed Susan’s sentiment by adding the following:
By being able to have my NACADA Writing Group as a sounding board for not only collaborating but also dealing with the day-to-day nuances of pre and post-pandemic life, I was able to maintain a sense of pride in the work I contributed and support students more equitably than I probably would have thought I could before, which in turn has translated to both personal and professional growth in many ways (e.g., promotions, improved mental and physical health, etc.).
Evaluating our performance against the purpose of the NACADA Writes, we strategically navigated each writing stage and made strides towards creating this manuscript. We also found the essence of community to be stronger than our collective writing effort and our meetings to be a place of refuge to collaborate professionally and discuss life intimately. This laid the foundation for an authentic sense of community, which was necessary at various points in our journey. As Chris expresses:
Finding community through scholarship has helped me step outside of my comfort zone and develop confidence in my writing abilities. The members of my writing group have provided some of the best feedback I could ask for in terms of writing and I have truly enjoyed sharing ideas with them while also hearing different perspectives over various topics I share or we discuss as a group.
Our ability to combat the negative effects of the pandemic was fortified by fostering community. In addition, it challenged us as advising practitioners to engage and utilize relational aspects of the NACADA core competencies, which call for facilitating problem solving, meaning-making, goal setting, and engaging in ongoing assessment (NACADA, 2017). These efforts helped alleviate the exhaustion we experienced in our own ways and reflect on the positive scholarly impact of our individual contributions.
Reflections From Our Experience
Kolb’s (1984) experiential learning theory presents the process of learning as a four-stage cycle where knowledge is created through the transformation of experience (p. 38). Reflecting on our journey, we encountered experiences that both transformed our views of writing scholarship and produced relational rewards. Two of our greatest accomplishments were an ability to push through feelings of writing skill insecurity to produce our first group publication and the friendship we developed and nurtured. As Cecilia expressed:
If you had told me in Fall 2019 that I would still be meeting regularly with Chris and Susan, who I have never met in person, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. The trust and friendship we have built is awesome, and it’s a side effect I never anticipated when I thought this experience would only be about generating ideas for writing and sharing our writing. It has been the best surprise, and one of my favorite NACADA experiences.
Additionally, we experienced individual growth during our participation in the group, thus making the work we produced together even more rewarding. Whether it was learning to write more intentionally, immersing ourselves in new literature, or understanding the importance of approaching the writing process with patience, participating in a writing group was mutually beneficial.
Susan: I currently feel as though I am thriving professionally. I owe much to both of my group members for this. The safety I feel when we talk has helped me evaluate my role as an advisor and colleague with a comparative lens based on your experiences at other institutions.
Cecilia: This experience has been about support and friendship in the field and external to my campus. As I mentioned earlier, Chris, Susan, and I have never met in person, but we have known each other for about four years. I never would have expected this, and it has shown me how I can cultivate my professional network in spaces that aren’t on my campus or in the traditional NACADA setting, like annual or regional conferences.
Our experience reiterates the value collaboration and community can have in professional spaces and the importance of sharing growth experiences with others. By participating in opportunities such as NACADA Writes, we took an active position in championing our own growth and can use these experiences as conversation points when connecting with others in our personal and professional lives. Our hope is that this article provides the encouragement and motivation for advisors and other higher education professionals to begin exploring more of these opportunities for themselves.
Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Prentice-Hall.
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx
Solarz, P. [@PaulSolarz]. (2017, December 11). A1 – Two brains are better than one! Collaboration allows us to know more than we are capable of knowing by ourselves. It empowers us to think differently, access information we wouldn’t have otherwise, and combine ideas as we work together towards a shared goal [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/PaulSolarz/status/940373553710583809
Wicks, J. (2018, June). Using collaboration theory to address the “how” of relational core competencies. Academic Advising Today, 41(2). https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Using-Collaboration-Theory-to-Address-the-How-of-Relational-Core-Competencies.aspx