Michael Harper and Andrew Smith, INTO University of South Florida
Editor’s Note: Readers interested in advisor professional development may want to consider joining NACADA Advisor Training & Development Commission and Professional Development Committee members as they discuss Building Advisor Competency in this season’s Webinars.
Three years ago, the authors started a committee (and became its co-chairs) to fill a gap for the lack of professional development opportunities available to the academic advisors at INTO University of South Florida (USF). INTO is a partner institute consisting of an English language program (ELP) and a university bridge program (Pathway) for international students on the campus of USF. The Council on Academic Advising (CAA) helps cultivate professional development and growth of academic advisors at the university; however, since INTO is an auxiliary unit, its employees are not usually included in the notification of events. Because of this, the above-mentioned committee was created to allow academic advisors in the auxiliary unit the opportunity to share experiences and learn from each other to hone their craft. Givans Voller (2012) posits that the “development of academic advisors is important because all students, regardless of major or luck of the draw, deserve to have access to advisors who are knowledgeable and up-to-date on the policies, procedures, theories, and resources that help them succeed” (para. 3).
The premise is simple. Following a model by Bryant, Changi, Endres, and Galvin (2006) in which they suggest that, “formalized staff development can be structured into regular one or two hour brown bag sessions” (para. 7), the academic advisors of both the ELP and Pathway programs come together as a unit once a month for two hours to discuss topics directly related to academic advising, with one member having previously volunteered to be the leader. Since this was a new project, we as co-chairs sent a Qualtrics survey to gain interest and gather topics on what the advisors at INTO were interested in learning more about or where they felt that their own professional development was lacking. Knowing that a group needs structure, we then designed a sample lesson plan that outlined the format that the meetings would follow. We tried to be very careful when giving this guidance because, while we knew that structure was important, it was important for the meetings to have an organic feel, allowing each leader to structure the session in a way that suited them best. Then a sign-up list was created for members to volunteer to lead and provided a list of suggested topics gathered from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources that volunteers could choose from if they could not come up with anything on their own. Of course, as the creators of the committee, it was only appropriate that we led the first presentation as co-chairs.
According to NACADA Executive Director Charlie Nutt (2010), professional development allows academic advisors to “build collaborative partnerships across campus to support student success” (para. 2). Collaborating among colleagues has been one of the most positive aspects of the entire process, allowing advisors to share knowledge from their areas of interest and personal experiences. Each advisor has come to the table with a different educational background and schema from which they approach advising. The diversity of the committee has allowed for members to be flexible and adaptable when selecting the topics they want to present on instead of being assigned a topic or having to focus on a certain area. For example, one advisor presented her master’s thesis entitled Negotiating Muslim Womanhood, appropriate since a large percentage of INTO students are Muslim. Another advisor with training in neuro-linguistic programming led a session on stress reduction and conducted a group guided meditation. There was also a session about building rapport with our students as advisors. During our time together as a committee, we have valued the knowledge that each member has, allowing us to broaden our own knowledge.
On a daily level, each department is separate, managing different students, each enforcing its own policies. Bryant et al. (2006) believe that “joint meetings across offices build effective networks” (para. 9). Creating this professional development opportunity has allowed INTO committee members to bridge the gap between the ELP and Pathway programs. From day to day, we may chat between programs while getting coffee, but once a month we become respected colleagues, appreciating what we have to offer the profession. Even though we represent different departments on the committee, our commonality is that we are all advisors. We have endeavored to instill a sense of collaboration among colleagues, making everyone feel equally responsible for adding value to the committee. As founders, we have kept the committee open and not forced anyone to participate. The goal of the committee has been every month to have one advisor volunteer to be presenter. There have been times when we have had to ask several times for a volunteer. At times, one of us co-chairs has volunteered to present because no one else has. A couple of times, we have had to cancel the meeting due to lack of participation.
The format of the meetings has proven to be useful: first is the presentation (usually based on NACADA or other professional resources, which has allowed committee members to become more familiar with the organization), then group discussion, role play, or group work on how advisors at the meeting can apply the topic to daily advising sessions. The conversations that arise organically are stimulating and thought-provoking. Having a stimulating session once a month on quality topics was educational and valuable, but we as committee participants realized that we needed more than this once-a-month meeting. We needed some type of takeaway—something concrete to show for our time. We knew that it was important to demonstrate to our supervisors that our time spent on the committee was productive. It took a while, but we finally got into the rhythm of writing takeaways from each presentation to be used as a resource for advisors. We decided to meet weekly to write summaries of each presentation and work on our list of takeaway resources. These summaries are added to a Google Docs folder created specifically for this committee and shared with all participating academic advisors and supervisors.
Scheduling, finding time for all members to attend, and maintaining motivation have proven to be our biggest challenges as a committee. Working with two understaffed teams occasionally has made it somewhat difficult to find a time when all members were free from team meetings and other obligations, such as student appointments and administrative tasks. During peak times, advisors had to shift priorities to more pertinent and time sensitive issues and put this committee on the back burner. That made it challenging to not only find time for everyone to come together, but also to find volunteers to present. The use of the Doodle online scheduling software proved quite valuable in finding available times. The use of a sign-up sheet helped keep the group on track as well. The co-chairs also provided topics and ideas to help create jumping off points when advisors had difficulty deciding on topics and were not as willing to volunteer to present.
It has been extremely beneficial to have both ELP and Pathway management give positive feedback and encouragement to us as co-chairs. They have continuously pushed us to develop this into a respected training and professional development opportunity for future advisors. When the idea was first conceived, as the founding co-chairs, we had to approach our managers and sell them on the idea. They had to be convinced of the value and importance, since they were allowing us to take the time to develop a new initiative. Further, Bryant, et al. (2006) believe that “leaders need to see how supporting advising networks will relate to educational outcomes such as greater diversity, improved graduation rates, and institutional excellence” (para. 16). The managers were excited that we were showing initiative and a desire for self-improvement. While we were able to design the layout of the committee, our managers subtly hinted at ways we could implement what they saw as improvements to our original idea. Everyone finally agreed that we could do it our way as long as they were included in the distribution list for the monthly meeting minutes. Being able to design our own professional development experience from the ground up was a very liberating feeling that has helped us feel trusted, believed in, and cared about by both the Pathway and ELP management.
Having attended many professional development opportunities previously, the idea behind this committee was to bridge the gap by bringing two teams together to create organic learning opportunities. While the road was bumpy at the start, over time, the validity of this committee illuminated the importance of having an in-house opportunity for advisors to share their experiences and learn from one another. Getting buy-in from management and being able to show the fruits of the partnerships which were created proved extremely beneficial in allowing the committee members to continue to expand their horizons.
English Language Program
INTO University of South Florida
Pathway Program and Study Abroad with English Program
INTO University of South Florida
Bryant, R., Chagani, A., Endres, J. and Galvin. J. (2006). Professional growth for advisors: Strategies for building professional advising networks. Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Building-professional-advising-networks.aspx
Givans Voller, J. (2012). Advisor training and development: Why it matters and how to get started. Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Advisor-training-and-development-Why-it-matters-and-how-to-get-started.aspx
Nutt, C. (2010, March). From the executive director: Your professional development is the key to your students' success. Academic Advising Today, 33(1). Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/From-the-Executive-Director-Your-Professional-Development-is-the-Key-to-Your-Students-Success.aspx
Doodle Scheduling Tool http://doodle.com/
NACADA Clearinghouse http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse.aspx
Qualtrics Surveys https://www.qualtrics.com/
Cite this article using APA style as: Harper, M., & Smith, A. (2017, September). From the ground up: Creating in-house professional development opportunities. Academic Advising Today, 40(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]