ayne Drake, NACADA President
Kathy Stockwell, NACADA Vice President
Every year at the Annual Conference, Kathy Stockwell and I are reminded why NACADA is such a warm, giving, smart, caring, thoughtful, committed, collaborative, professional, responsive organization (have we layered on enough adjectives yet?). This year, our reminder came in a very poignant way at the Friday morning plenary session when the NACADA Choir sang “For Good” from the musical Wicked.
Because the lyrics of this song seem to speak to the important, transformative work advisors engage in every day in our colleges and universities around the world, we would like to share a part of these lyrics with you.
I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn,
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return.
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true,
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you…
Because I knew you
I have been changed for good.
This double . . . no . . . triple entendre is a clever one when filtered through the prism of advising: students walk into our lives as they enter the academy in search of their academic goals and career aspirations. With our help, they shape an academic plan that sets them on a course that changes them inevitably—once and for all—for good. And with our help, they get connected with the academic, social, and cultural life of our institutions that then should inspire them to become life-long learners and bright, engaged members of society and thus changed for the better—for good. Advising is also a reciprocal arrangement because we, as professional and faculty advisors and advising administrators are, in turn, changed for good (once and for all and for the better) through the gratification that comes from having positively influenced others.
And in a larger sense, isn’t this what drives us to do what we do every day in our advising offices? Understanding that we change students’ lives for good—knowing that, while they may not always remember our names next week or many years hence, students have benefited from our time with them and that we have benefited from our contact with them.
The powerful and pivotal role that advisors assume on our campuses in helping students persist to graduation is also what leads us every year to NACADA’s many professional development opportunities, be they our Webcasts, Clearinghouse and other publications, or our hugely successful San Antonio Annual Conference, just passed, or our regional, state, and drive-in conferences, the Summer Institutes, the Assessment Institute, or the Administrators Institute. These venues draw hundreds of people every year from the U.S., Canada, and around the world to engage in constructing action plans that focus on key issues or concerns on their campuses that they want to develop or improve.
The theme we have adopted for our year as President and Vice President of NACADA is “Reaching and Retaining Students.” It is all about exploring the ways that professional advisors, faculty advisors, and advising administrators can proactively reach out to our students, to help them get connected and stay connected with our institutions, and to help ensure their persistence to graduation and even beyond. This theme has taken life in a number of ways. NACADA has developed an entire Webcast series around strategies for working with students. NACADA’s new professional development DVD, Scenes for Learning and Reflection, offers ten “typical” advising scenes, each followed by a series of questions calculated to engage viewers in thinking critically about and enhancing our own advising skills. Then, attached to the Assessment and Administrators Institutes in Clearwater Beach this coming February, is a seminar entitled “Strategies for Increasing Student Persistence and Retention,” which will help create change—for good—as participants devise strategies to build or augment campus cultures dedicated to student engagement, persistence, and success.
Of course, retention more than ever is the word of the realm. Institutions around the world have long since left in the dust the notion that opening our doors to students is enough, that once here, they can negotiate their own way through our often byzantine, labyrinthine curriculum, processes, and hallowed halls. With budget belt tightening an immediate reality, and with central administrators scouring their cost centers to slash if not mortally wound any perceived “non-essential” academic and support service, the drumbeat has intensified and quickened to improve retention numbers. Consultants are brought in; taskforces are formed; retention coordinators are hired, and interventions are put in place.
For nearly three decades, research about student persistence has pointed to the value of connecting students early on to the institution through learning support systems such as tutoring and supplemental instruction programs, as well as first-year programming such as learning communities and freshman seminar, and also with solid academic advising. These are the three elements deemed largely responsible for student persistence. George Kuh makes the point that just as important as the time and effort students put into their coursework is the way institutions support strategies that connect students to the campus environment and high impact learning experiences. And the way to bring all of these elements together is by embedding them within solid academic advising programs. Richard Light underscores the value of academic advising and its positive influence on student persistence through his assertion that “good academic advising may be the single most underestimated characteristic of a successful college experience.”
Pascarella and Terenzini tell us that regardless of institutional type or the composition of the student body, solid academic advising can influence student persistence. Students who are the happiest and academically the most successful have developed a solid relationship with an academic advisor, a faculty member, or an administrator who can help them navigate the academic and social shoals of the academy.
Several thoughts about our recent 30th Annual Conference—“Deep in the Heart of Student Success”: throughout the year, NACADA draws people together with the expressed purpose of “promoting and supporting quality academic advising in institutions of higher education” in order to “enhance the educational development of students.” This message was nowhere more clearly articulated than in San Antonio, where thousands of people gathered to share a vast sweep of knowledge in scores of presentations, poster sessions, workshops, meetings, and lively dinner discussions. A conference of this magnitude just does not spring full blown into existence. Many hats off to all the folks who every year culminate a year’s worth of exhaustive planning, with this year’s attendance reaching nearly 2,600: Rhonda Baker, Julia Wolf, Leigh Cunningham, Gary Cunningham, Marsha Miller, Maxine Coffey, Bobbie Flaherty, Judy Weyrauch, Bev Martin, Farrah Turner, Cara Wohler, Jenifer Scheibler, Diane Matteson, Michele Holaday, Jennifer Rush, and, of course, our redoubtable Executive Director, Charlie Nutt. Our thanks also go to JoAnne Huber, NACADA Past President and head of this year’s Annual Conference Program Committee, from the University of Texas at Austin and her team for an outstanding job in helping to make sure bells and whistles, levers and pulleys all worked just right at the Convention Center and Conference Hotels. Of course, we are especially grateful to Casey Self, Arizona State University, for his leadership as President this year. His wisdom, sound judgment, and steady vision characterize the best that is NACADA, and we thank him for guiding the Association into our bright future.
By now, the lights in the Convention Center shine on another conference; the meeting rooms are filled with other presentations, and the barges on the River Walk float countless others inspired by the beauty and history of San Antonio. It is our hope that all of us have returned to our campuses with a renewed sense of purpose and enthusiasm for what we hope gets us up every morning: student success in all its various iterations—changing students for good.
We encourage you to contact us at any time. With your continued support, we anticipate a great year ahead.
Jayne Drake, President
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising
Kathy Stockwell, Vice President
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising
Cite this article using APA style as: Darke, J., & Stockwell, K. (2009, December). From the president: Academic advising 'for good'. Academic Advising Today, 32(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]