David Spight, NACADA President
Nearly a year ago, as your president I challenged you to get engaged in your profession, to get engaged in your association, to become a scholar-practitioner, and to learn multiple approaches to advising. I was asking you to consider these challenges through a lens focused on improving our profession. The end goal of course being that through improving our profession, we would positively affect the lives of our students. Some of the association’s efforts, (i.e. developing a research center) are a reflection of the priority being placed on research and leadership sustainability these past few years as part of that same end goal of improving our profession.
In addition to research and leadership sustainability, NACADA has also been focused on diversity and inclusivity. Some of the tragic events from the past year, the statements from candidates running for office, and a variety of other news stories can sometimes make it feel like we have so far to go to achieving our desired results. It seemed timely for us to consider why the four challenges I asked of you are a necessary part of how we strive for diversity and inclusivity.
Get engaged in this profession. Getting engaged in your profession includes becoming culturally competent. It means learning more about the variety of student populations you advise so that you might provide the appropriate levels of support and challenge to help them be successful. Getting engaged in your profession also means making connections with others from different backgrounds. Those backgrounds may be based in race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, or nationality, but also may be based on geographical location, institutional type, and even role in advising (staff, faculty, administrator, etc.). Getting engaged in your profession also means learning more about how your personal experiences and biases might be affecting your students. Getting engaged in your profession also means sharing, presenting, writing about what you have learned or experienced so that others may learn too. Imagine how by engaging in your profession we all can better connect with our students, support and challenge them in purposeful and intentional ways, and create an environment where they feel welcome and understood.
Get involved in this association. If we wish to create environments at our institutions that are inclusive, then we must consider how we collectively develop such an environment in our association. NACADA is not simply the Board of Directors and the Council, or the chairs of committees, commissions, and interest groups. NACADA is each and every member. As a minority, I have been asked so many times how I managed to make my way into leadership opportunities, including the presidency, by other members who are from underrepresented groups. The simple answer: I volunteered, I ran for a position, and I did the work expected of those opportunities. There has never been a barrier to my involvement in this association because of my ethnicity. So I challenge you, if you want to see more diversity in the leadership, then get involved, nominate others, and most importantly come together to support each other as we continue to move this association forward. I do also want to remind everyone that diversity is not just what we see and that we are made of an intersectionality of identities that go beyond the visible.
Become a scholar-practitioner. Have you been reading the literature about advising? Why not read about how students from a variety of diverse backgrounds are affected by programs, practices, policies, and institutional environments? Consider this, if students are coming to our institutions from K-12 systems that not resourced equitably, how do our advising practices affect their path through our institutions and through particular programs of study? There might be some scholarly work out there to help inform us, or quite possibly you could engage in research to find out. Our practice of advising only gets better with increasing our scholarship of advising and student success, especially for our students who come from lower socioeconomic areas, underrepresented populations, and educational systems in other countries.
Learn another approach. When we consider that each student has an intersectionality of identities, often still developing identities, it only makes sense that no one advising approach works with every student. Every approach has value with some students but not others. Utilizing an intrusive approach can help get some students connected to the campus, but in some cultures, being intrusive may lead to a student avoiding their advisor. Increasing your cultural competence in combination with having a toolbox with multiple approaches available only increases the odds of finding an approach that maximizes each student’s success.
With challenges must come support. There is the Diversity Committee that considers issues of diversity for the association and the Multicultural Concerns Commission that focuses on issues of advising and student success. Both of these groups, as well as many other Commissions and Interest Groups, focus on a variety of student populations. All of these groups are available to you and can provide support and resources to assist you with engaging in your profession and your association. They can connect you with some of the scholarship and practices to assist students from different populations. Other members from your region may also be able to provide support based in having experience working with similar populations that may be more common in your region. And finally, the Board and Council members are always willing to take time to provide the support you need, so do not hesitate to reach out to us.
We, as a profession, are not just about student success. We have the ability as a profession to change society. Finding ways to help students from under resourced K-12 systems successfully navigate their way through our institutions is not just about getting more students to graduate. For example, when we advise students away from STEM fields because their high school did not prepare them for calculus, we run the risk of creating the majors for the haves and the have nots. As a result, we widen the gap that has existed for a long time. But, if we learn more about different advising approaches, become more culturally competent, and examine the scholarship about students from these under resourced areas, we may just develop institutional environments that enable these students to graduate in any field, including STEM fields, and in turn, change society. We can change our institutional environments, affect policies, and level the playing field. The effect we can have is immeasurable—but only if we engage in our profession and our association, become scholar-practitioners, and learn multiple approaches. If we want to make the world a better place, then we have to be a part of that change.
I do hope, as my year as president comes to a close, that you continue to challenge yourself and your colleagues to never stop being engaged, to never stop learning, and to seek continuous improvement in what you do, long after I step down. Thank you for taking a gamble on me this year, and for all that you each do every day for the sake of all of our students.
David B. Spight, President, 2015-2016
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising
Director of Undergraduate Affairs, College of Engineering
The University of California, Davis
Cite this article using APA style as: Spight, D. (2016, September). From the president: Revisiting the four challenges. Academic Advising Today, 39(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]