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Octavia Lawrence, Wesley R. Habley NACADA Summer Institute Scholarship Recipient

Octavia Lawrence.jpgI have been an academic advisor since 2011, and during that time I have had the opportunity to attend a NACADA Annual Conference in Nashville, Tennessee and a Region III Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. NACADA has been a wonderful resource for me as a new advisor. My attendance at these conferences motivated me to learn more about the advising field and how to become a skilled advisor.  The conferences were high quality, but I wanted more. I wanted to be able to create a plan that would help my students and would serve as a guide for successful advising.  Fortunately, in June of 2014 I was given the opportunity to attend the NACADA Summer Institute in Portland, Oregon as an SI Scholarship recipient. The experience that I had at the Summer Institute has been the highlight of my academic advising career.

My institution was very supportive when I told them that I would apply for the scholarship, and they said that they would cover all of my other expenses. Two of my colleagues had participated in a Summer Institute several years ago, and they encouraged me to go. I saw their action plan implemented, and I saw the difference that it made on our campus.

My colleagues spoke highly of their SI experience, and they warned me to expect a fast pace. The intensity of the Institute is high, but I never felt overwhelmed. We hit the ground running on the first day, and the pace was consistent for the remainder of my time there. Each day we had a foundational session, workshops, topical sessions, and small group discussion sessions.

The foundational sessions were instrumental in understanding academic advising theory and current trends in advising. The Foundational Session that resonated most with me was titled Academic Advising and the Campus Environment. The session was led by NACADA Associate Director Jennifer Joslin, and she talked about the changing demographics within our institutions and building partnerships for student success. Jennifer used a quote by NACADA Past President Jayne Drake in her presentation that read, “Actually seeing the student in front of you means understanding and responding to student diversity and difference and it means adapting advising approaches from a foundation built on an understanding of student development theory.” This particular quote reminded me of how intentional I have to be about advising the students that I serve. It is impossible to advise all of my students in the same manner. Jennifer challenged us to think about how our experiences are similar and dissimilar to our student’s experiences.

As an academic advisor, I sometimes have the tendency to forget about my experience as an undergraduate student. The majority of the students that I work with are on academic probation, and I often forget that I was once a student on academic probation. Prior to my time at Institute, I separated my experience from the experience of my students. I now understand that I must share that experience with my students. It is important for them to see me as much more than an academic advisor; they need to know my story.  

The Summer Institute constantly reminded me that I am responsible for the change on my campus. It is important for me to influence and lead change from my current position. It is impossible for advising to be an isolated unit. In order for advising to be effective, it has to be connected to other resources and programs on campus.

My small group sessions were led by NACADA Assistant Director, Marsha Miller, and NACADA Past President Kathy Stockwell. They were dynamic leaders, and they initiated wonderful conversations amongst our group members. Everyone had something valuable to contribute, and I learned so much from my colleagues. The input that we gave to each other throughout the course of the week enhanced and strengthened our action plans. It was so good to hear from my group members, and I respected their input.  We were all on similar paths and everyone was so willing to share.

Lawrence SI SmallGroup.jpg

Initially, I was concerned that I would not meet many people at the Summer Institute. I was traveling from Madisonville, KY to Portland, OR, and I was a bit concerned about who I would connect with. On the first day of the Institute, I met a group of colleagues who I instantly connected with. We worked with the same population of students, many of us were first generation college students, and we were all passionate about our careers. We uplifted each other, we experienced Portland together, we shared our thoughts about advising, and we shared much laughter.

One of those colleagues I met at the Summer Institute was Cristy Reynolds from Patrick Henry Community College. She was the glue that kept our group together that week. She collected all of our numbers and made sure that we met for dinner and other outings. Her passion for advising was evident and her spirit and her smile were contagious. Cristy talked about her students and how much they meant to her. She also talked about her family and her two sons who were the joys of her life.

When I returned to Kentucky, I started reflecting on my experiences at the Summer Institute in Portland. I decided to reach out to Cristy and others in our group to see how everyone’s semester was going. I had misplaced Cristy’s information, so I decided to find her contact information on her institution’s website. Instead of finding her contact information, I found out that Cristy had been killed in a car accident. The news was shocking, and I immediately thought about all the lives that she had touched in her 37 years on this planet. The advising community has lost someone who possessed the qualities and the skills that makes an advisor excellent. Cristy was compassionate, empathetic, and resilient.  Her smile and her welcoming attitude made us feel at ease. She will truly be missed.

The Summer Institute taught me so much about myself as an advisor and as a human being. It was a refreshing reminder of how important relationships are to what I do. In our daily grind, it can be easy to forget that relationship building is essential to becoming an effective advisor. We have to reach out to people within our institutions and those outside of our institutions. Each day that I spent at the Summer Institute taught me more about myself and assured me that academic advising is the profession for me. I vow to be intentional with the relationships that I build with my students. It doesn’t take a lifetime to have an impact on someone’s life. In less than seven days my life was touched and forever changed. The opportunity to attend the Summer Institute in Portland, Oregon has forever changed my life and it has renewed my spirit. Thank you NACADA for making it possible. 

Octavia Lawrence
Academic Advisor
Madisonville Community College
[email protected]

Cite this article using APA style as: Lawrence, O. (2015, June). I wanted more: NACADA summer institute. Academic Advising Today, 38(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2015 June 38:2


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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.