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Rachel Mars, Wesley R. Habley Summer Institute Scholarship Recipient

Rachel Mars.jpgIn July 2017, I attended the weeklong NACADA Summer Institute in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  This opportunity afforded a great deal of knowledge to an advisor who has only been in the world of advising for a little under three years.  I serve students at a small, private, 4-year, faith-based institution in Birmingham, Alabama named Samford University, where I am an advisor in the business school and oversee our first-year and business minor populations.

My journey to the institute began in the spring semester when I was looking into the professional development opportunities on the NACADA website and saw the glowing testimonials of previous attendees.  It was also appealing that this institute was occurring outside of our peak advising season and aimed at advisors from all levels of experience.  After discovering this opportunity, I was registering for the institute, applying for the scholarship offered, and eventually having the honor to receive it as well.

Once at the institute, I found the schedule to be well organized and consistent with the intensity the NACADA communications described.  The days of the institute began with a nutritious and conversational breakfast, and then advisors sat in a general assembly session to learn foundational advising principles together.  Following these sessions, attendees broke out into assigned work groups, comprised of colleagues from similar institutions and led by seasoned institute faculty who have many years of advising experience.  In these groups, attendees worked on actions plans for the specific goals of their institution, and what was very helpful was that each day we took a different part of the action plan to discuss as a group and then work on individually.  After lunch, attendees could participate in several different topical sessions or a longer workshop followed by social activities and personal work time in the evening.  One such social activity was touring the Green Bay Packers stadium, which was very interesting due to the amount of history shared by our guides and the tradition of cheering in the stadium, a tradition in which we participated.  This structure was conducive to not only achieving goals, but also creating strong connections with fellow institute members while enjoying each other’s company.

The amount of knowledge of advising as a whole one receives is vast and unique at the institute.  The foundational sessions were hugely beneficial for me as I was able to learn the why behind advising, the how of what advisors do, as well as identify what elements I could already see in my advising culture and what I could improve.  The topical session I gleaned the most from was one about the advising syllabus, a tool I had never heard of before this institute.  Through the wisdom of the faculty presenting on this topic and discussions with other session participants, I was able to create my own syllabus upon returning home to Alabama and used it successfully in our fall 2017 advising season as I handed every first-year advisee a copy during individual meetings.  Another session that had an impact on me was the workshop on diverse student populations.  The in-depth discussion and exercises in this gathering were eye opening and helped bring awareness about how I can serve the diverse populations in our student body at Samford.

In the breakout groups, the major benefit I found was the discussion, full of friendship as well commiseration on similar struggles as we were all from private, faith-based institutions.  Practically, I was able to hone in on what I needed to do first through the guidance of the faculty, which mainly focused on how to create a syllabus, and how to implement an idea I had learned about at the first NACADA conference I had attended in October 2016.  The idea was an event called Registration Refresh in which the advising staff at the University of Louisville had collaborated with residence life employees at their institution to engage their students in the halls by being physically present and presenting them with help and information for registration.  This idea had yet to come to fruition at my institution, but with the start of fall semester around the corner, I returned from the institute ready to collaborate and was able to work in partnership with our Residence Life department at Samford.  I am thankful to have been able to help over a third of the first-year class in the different residence halls get ready to register for courses and answer questions.  This supplemental event to student advising appointments was a huge success based upon attendance and the quality of conversations advisors had with students in the three sessions we did.  These results are also part of the action plan created at the institute, as part of the action plan is to set a timeline to accomplish these goals.

Other than creating and implementing the action plan and attending sessions, my greatest joy from the institute is the relationships formed with colleagues from across North America.  The pleasure of meeting fellow advisors from locally within Wisconsin, or from Canada, Las Vegas, or even my home state of Alabama was immense, and the bonds I made with the fellow advisors or supervisors of advisors is deep—verified by our continued conversations through the semester following the institute.  One of my faculty members, Elizabeth Jones, stated it well with the phrase, “We’re your tribe.”  This institute created my advising “tribe” and I am forever grateful because not only are these individuals professional contacts, but I consider them as friends and shoulders to lean on in the seasons of advising.

Rachel Mars at SI.jpgTo close, I would encourage those on the fence of attending a Summer Institute, to step out and do it. Especially if you are a new advisor, or just new to NACADA.  This institute not only educated me, but it also reawakened a passion for serving my students and connected me to numerous resources I had not known of before.  Overall, the care with which this institute is organized just shows the value that NACADA places on not only the information they are sharing, but on the attendees themselves.  From Alabama to Wisconsin, I will highly recommend this experience to anyone who will listen and hope others might experience the same authentic growth I did via the Summer Institute.

Rachel Mars
Academic Advisor
Office of Academic Programs
Brock School of Business at Samford University
rmars@samford.edu

Cite this article using APA style as: Mars, R. (2018, June). From Alabama to Wisconsin: One advisor’s summer institute experience. Academic Advising Today, 41(2). Retrieved from [insert url here] 

Posted in: 2018 June 41:2

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