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Voices of the Global Community


David Spight, NACADA President

President David Spight.jpgAs many of you know, every year on February 2nd Americans await the groundhog’s appearance to see whether we will have six more weeks of winter or an early spring.  The groundhog spent many months feasting so as to survive the winter by hibernating.  The groundhog then momentarily leaves its underground burrow.  If it sees its shadow, then winter will continue. If it does not, then it means an early spring.

Before the end of the calendar year, you were challenged to find ways to engage in this profession.  For many of you, that included coming together to “feast” on the knowledge and experiences of our advising colleagues while at the annual conference before the start of the winter.  You left with all sorts of ideas that might be implemented or adapted for your own students and institutions.  For others, you connected with other advising professionals, inquiring about their efforts at their institutions through emails, list serves, video meetings, etc.  Then the winter break came and with it a chance to take a break from our world of work to enjoy some much needed time away.  Unlike the groundhog, however, you get to choose what comes next.  Will you try to adapt, apply, or implement based on all you came away with?  Or will you go back into your underground burrow, bury your head, and return to doing what you were doing?

Being engaged in your profession means not simply gaining knowledge, but also finding ways to innovate and bring about new ideas based on what you took away from those interactions with colleagues from around the globe.  Yet transferring or adapting an idea from one institution to your own brings with it a set of challenges.  Reed (2015), in his blog “Confessions of a Community College Dean,” described some of the challenges that institutions of higher education must contend with when trying to innovate or even scale up programs and ideas, including “the ‘not invented here’ syndrome,” or the inherent tension that exists “between institutional academic freedom and individual academic freedom,” just to name a couple.  So, given these challenges and more, how do we take these great ideas we learn about and make them happen at our own institutions?

Rather than try to answer this question alone, and as part of our intention to make the NACADA leadership more accessible, I asked members of the Board of Directors for their thoughts.  Here is what some of them had to offer:

“The first thing that popped in my mind on this topic is the use of ‘pilots!’  We are constantly piloting a number of initiatives at any given time—setting goals, assessing the outcomes, tweaking this or that, and then launching the program, software, intervention, etc.  Using data to support the change is the only way we can get things done.  As the author stated—what works at one institution doesn’t necessarily work at another in the same fashion.  And, just because a software vendor provides evidence of something working at one institution doesn’t mean said software is going to have the same impact at ours!Sandy Waters, Old Dominion University

“Like many institutions, my institution often looks for initiatives and technologies that have proven to be successful at other institutions.  Some questions that are important for institutions to ask themselves when considering the adoption of an initiative or technology used successfully by another institution are:

  1. Was the initiative/technology successfully used at the other institution(s) used with students who have the same characteristics as students at our institution?  For example, if the other institution’s target student population was for students who are campus residents in a specific major like engineering, whereas the institution considering adopting the initiative/technology has a target student audience of first generation commuter students who do not qualify for admission to the major of their choice, the results could be very different.
  2. Is the advising structure similar?  If the other institution’s initiative or technology is used/implemented primarily by professional staff advisors whereas the institution considering the adoption will be implemented by faculty-only, is it realistic that the faculty-only advising structure would work if the faculty do not have the same amount of time or resources as professional staff advisors?
  3. What is the culture of student participation in new interventions or initiatives at the other institution?  Does the percentage of students (at the other institutions who use the new intervention/initiative/technology) tend to be high in comparison to our institution?  If unknown, how can you find out?
  4. What were the barriers to implementation of the new initiative/technology at the other institution and how did they overcome them?  Will our institution face the same barriers, and is it likely we could overcome them?  For example, do our campus partners understand the urgency or need to implement the new initiative/technology and what will it take to get them on board?” – Janet Spence, University of Louisville

“When we decided to implement a peer advising program here at FVTC, we saved a lot of time and resources by modeling a similar program at a neighboring college, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.  We visited their campus, spending several hours with their staff and watching their peer advisors in action.  They in turn shared their application, interviewing, and training materials so we didn’t have to start from scratch.  We were able to adapt all the materials to our college and, as a result, were able to develop and implement our own program in a very short time, all while saving staff time and labor.

My second piece of advice is to give credit where credit is due.  When I present on our peer-advising program at a conference or other platform, I make sure to mention that UW-Oshkosh shared their materials and we were able to adapt them.  This also encourages others to share their best practices, as they will see how helpful it can be to many other institutions.” – Dana Zahorik, Fox Valley Technical College

“Early on, Rich Robbins encouraged me to join NACADA.  My perception and ‘my truth’ for my institution were very different than many I listened to from other institutions.  The willingness to share and not reinvent the wheel in academic advising has served my institution well.  

Shared governance means different things during a period of institutional change.  The fear of that being taken away by the unknown can overcome many within higher education and create unrest.  When ideas come from other institutions and that is shared along with their experiences (good and bad) it informs the process.  Institutions have to be at the point that they consider and evaluate the other ideas to determine if it is a fit for their institution.” Patricia Griffin, Fort Hays State University

“I would go to the NACADA conferences and focus on one area that I wanted to develop, i.e. academic counseling, academic support, probation students, students admitted on warning status, etc.  I would go to all of the sessions on that specific topic and then I would take a combination of the ideas back to my institution and develop a proposal to implement at my institution.  Being able to note that other institutions where doing such and such helped me “sell” my ideas to our campus.  I never would have been able to build that center from a one-person shop that just provided academic counseling to probation students to the 5-person staffed office that provides advising, tutoring, probation counseling, and courses for students admitted on warning status without the ideas of other institutions.Amy Sannes, Minnesota State University Moorhead

I would also ask that you consider, if you are presenting a session at an upcoming conference or presenting a webinar online, how you can help others to understand ways they can bring your great ideas to their programs and institutions. 

I do hope that the Board members’ words and their recommendations help you with implementing or adapting ideas you have come away with.  By the time you read this, February 2nd will have already passed and we will all already know whether the famous groundhog Punxsutawny Phil saw his shadow or not.

I can state without a doubt, that where you are concerned, you did not see your shadow.  Get out there and start innovating and applying what you gained from being engaged in this profession we all care deeply about.  And continue to be engaged, keep seeking new ideas, approaches, knowledge, and experiences.  Doing so gives you the ability to change lives and change the world.  So, what are you waiting for?

David Spight, President, 2015-2016
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising
Assistant Dean, James W. Vick Center for Strategic Advising and Career Counseling
The University of Texas at Austin  ||  The School of Undergraduate Studies
[email protected]


Reed, M. (2015, December 14). Confessions of a community college dean: Innovation and scale. Inside Higher Ed.  Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/confessions-community-college-dean/innovation-and-scale

Cite this article using APA style as: Spight, D. (2016, March). From the president: Adapting great ideas. Academic Advising Today, 39(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2016 March 39:1


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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.