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Sarah Howe, Wesley R. Habley NACADA Summer Institute scholarship recipient

Sarah Howe,.jpgI was sitting in the audience of a keynote speaker at a mini advising institute, a collaboration between Kansas State University and NACADA, wondering if a graduate degree in student development was even what I wanted; maybe I would rather be a teacher in K–12.  “Advising is teaching” said the speaker, Charlie Nutt, NACADA Executive Director, and it was almost as if he was speaking to me.  Nutt continued explaining all the ways advising is not course enrollment, but teaching and developing students.  It was that day that I realized advising was my path.  I added a graduate certificate in academic advising to my Master’s program, quit my full-time job in study abroad, and went to work as a graduate research assistant for NACADA. 

Years later, I found my niche as an academic advisor and began attending NACADA annual and state advising conferences.  The conferences inspired me and exposed me to all the things advising could be.  I wanted to take my position as sole advisor in my department and create an advising program, but I needed more help.  With the support of my department and university, I applied for and received one of the Wesley R. Habley Scholarships to the 2016 NACADA Summer Institute.  Not only was this institute a powerful professional development experience for me, but it was a turning point in the student experience in my department.

Unlike a conference, where one attends to take in all the information and then return to campus to apply it, the institute requires analyzing the program’s needs first and attending with an action plan.  Initially, I felt like I was in over my head; what was I doing, a first-year advisor, making an action plan for a whole department?  The department needed an advising program, not just an academic advisor, but I felt unequipped to make such a change.  I submitted a draft action plan to my workgroup leaders that consisted of fragmented ideas, far too many of them.

During the opening session, the group was polled about how long they had been advisors, and I suddenly felt like a fraud.  Judging by the show of hands, there were probably no more than five of us who were first-year advisors.  All these advisors, with all this experience and knowledge to contribute, and then me, now feeling like I was only there to listen.  Once we moved into our small work groups and spent time talking about professional backgrounds and ideas for our action plans, I became more confident.  It does not take years of experience to identify a need and have the ambition to fix it; I had been selling myself short.  I was exactly where I was supposed to be, surrounded by a wealth of knowledge and ideas to help me develop my vision.

The week was filled with sessions by the advising “big wigs” like Charlie Nutt, George Steele, Jennifer Joslin, and my work group leaders, Karen Sullivan-Vance and Nancy Roadruck, among others.  Between our work group meetings, I attended conference sessions about development and assessment of learning outcomes, advisor evaluation and leadership, research in advising, and advisor training and development.  All these sessions directly applied to my action plan goals and allowed me to enhance and focus these goals.

Work groups were a place to brainstorm and work with each other on our ideas and objectives.  We came from different types of schools and programs, but we could provide inspiration to each other and, most importantly, support.  Every advisor at this institute was there to make their advising program better in some way.  My work group included two advisors from different international universities; one of these advisors was creating an advising program from scratch.  This was a remarkable opportunity for the rest of us to reflect on advising practices from the bottom up.  I believe that one of the biggest advantages to the NACADA Summer Institute is the opportunity to devote dedicated time to working on a project among peers.  At home, we get interrupted for a million reasons or must wait for feedback by email.  When at the summer institute, that is it – a full focus on the project at hand!

My action plan for the institute, through the help of my new colleagues and friends, was to replace faculty advising with professional advising for my department and establish a faculty mentoring program in its place.  This proposal was submitted to the department head upon my return to campus.  Without the summer institute, I do not believe I could have submitted such a sound proposal that included implementation steps in such a short time.  My action plan was approved by my department and was then implemented in October 2016.  In November 2016, the Dean’s office granted permission to hire a second full-time advisor to begin in January 2017.  The last step of my implementation plan of creating advising programs should be in place by summer 2017.

I opened by saying that this was a turning point for our student experience, and it was no exaggeration.  Since the implementation of my action plan, I have received an incredible amount of feedback from my students (current caseload of 450) on how happy they are to have professional advising with faculty mentorship opportunities.  Because I am the only advisor, I can meet with students individually and in newly developed, optional, group advising sessions and ensure that all students in our department are receiving the same message.  It has also allowed me to start tracking at-risk students and providing interventions when possible.  This is something that I plan to increase and formalize once we have a second advisor in place.  Each fall our university requires an advising survey be completed before students can enroll for spring.  Advisors receive the survey results in April, and I look forward to seeing the data collected about the change in advising within our department.

The NACADA Summer Institute is an incredible experience for any advisor, new or seasoned, from any type of institution.  I could never say enough about how much the program benefitted me, my department, and my institution.  The program feels comparable to getting an advanced degree in advising in one very intense, powerful, gratifying week.  I would encourage all advisors to attend and all institutions to find the money to send their advisors!

Sarah Howe
Academic Advisor
Journalism & Mass Communications
Kansas State University

Cite this article using APA style as: Howe, S. (2017, June). How focusing for one week can lead to major changes: A review of the NACADA summer institute. Academic Advising Today, 40(2). Retrieved from [insert url here] 

Posted in: 2017 June 40:2


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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.