Ryan Scheckel, Texas Tech University
Matt Markin, California State University San Bernardino
The authors would like to begin by noting that the style and format of this article may not be representative of works typically presented herein. Our aim is to situate the content of our writing in the context of the dialogue from which it arose. Whether it is a presentation, a video or podcast, or a conversation between colleagues: our preference is dialogue. We draw from Freire's argument, “without dialogue there is no communication, and without communication, there can be no true education” (1970, pp. 92–93). Further, Nguyen's (2019) summary of Freire captures our experience: "true dialogue cannot exist unless the partners engage in love, humility, faith, trust, hope, and critical thinking. This view shows that dialogue demonstrates not only the positive connection between people but also the constant drive to transform themselves as well as reality." As we explore Hansen's (2018) five rules for disciplined collaboration through the lens of our 2020 Annual Conference presentation mashing up Strengths-Based Advising and The Umbrella Academy, we do so in the mode by which we collaborated, by which we learned, and by which we hope to share a positive connection among advising professionals.
Ryan: It started with Matt’s Facebook post back in 2019. He was playing around with the ideas of academic advising and the graphic-novel-turned-Netflix-show, The Umbrella Academy. All Matt meant to do was post a fun mashup image for his Facebook friends. But I replied within minutes suggesting we collaborate.
Ryan: Okay, maybe it was a little more than a suggestion. ;-)
Matt: While I enthusiastically said “Yes,” here's where the intimidation comes into play. Ryan and I were Facebook friends, but I had never met him. The only things I knew were what others had told me and what kind of thinker and presenter he was.
Ryan: Matt only shared that he felt intimidated, underqualified, and full of impostor syndrome feelings when we started writing this, but he didn't know I felt the same way (surprise!). I also learned that Matt came to California State University San Bernardino as a student in 2002 and is now an advisor there. He's been in advising since 2013, but he also worked in admissions as a front counter supervisor, a counselor, and a recruiter. For the past eight years, Matt's been an academic advisor and part time lecturer at CSUSB, and he's always looking to incorporate his personal interests into his advising work and professional activities.
Matt: Ryan started his advising career in 2002, returning to Texas Tech University after graduating a few years earlier. His time at Tech has included stops in three different departments and various academic advising roles. For the past six years, Ryan has been an advising administrator and adjunct instructor. He says he found his professional center back in 2013 when he attended his first Theory, Philosophy, and History of Advising Community meeting, but his love for pop culture and unconventional thinking led him to combine those worlds in all sorts of interesting ways over the years. Which is why he was so excited about my Facebook post.
Ryan: In a 5-year study of workplace effectiveness, Hansen (2018) illustrates how collaboration can be a mixed bag. Matt and I tend to be open to collaboration in general, but we both also remember instances that lead to positively unique experiences, friendships, and future collaboration. So, we were already inclined to channel our resources and efforts in a way that the reward would be the result, not just the activity of collaborating (Hansen, 2018, p. 190).
Matt: The beginnings of collaborations can also be completely random, as in the case of a comment on social media posts that ends up spawning two conference presentations and all kinds of future project ideas. Social media can generate engagement, turning common interests and ideas into future partnerships. It can also spin differences downward toward less productive outcomes. Even though Ryan and I had never met, we knew we had a lot in common as advising professionals and as fans of The Umbrella Academy, a story of seven children with special powers adopted by a hard-nosed father figure, the mysterious Sir Reginald Hargreaves. We were both intrigued by how a story that deals with unresolved issues of rejection, trauma, insecurities, and isolation could be connected to the theme of the narrative: the hope and empowerment that comes from finding and embracing one's strengths.
Ryan: And in that spirit, we explored how The Umbrella Academy, a fictional graphic-novel-turned-Netflix-series could become an engaging NACADA presentation proposal that examines strengths-based advising. All of this satisfies Hansen’s (2018) first rule of disciplined collaboration: establish a compelling case for every proposed collaboration (p. 176). Like Matt said, we not only shared a love for the characters and ideas in The Umbrella Academy, we also shared a love for academic advising.
Matt: We met in person later that year at the annual conference in Louisville, KY. A brief conversation about possibilities led to the first rough outline and a potential angle to take with the idea. Over the next couple months, we met regularly on Zoom to begin the creative phase, listing every possible connection the graphic novel and Netflix show had with academic advising. It was also an opportunity to get to know and understand one another better.
Ryan: In this middle part of this collaboration though, we found that we wanted to do more than just explore connections between interesting ideas and collaborate with another advising professional. We wanted to contribute to the larger advisor training and development conversation. This meets Hansen’s (2018) second rule for disciplined collaboration: “craft a unifying goal that excites” (p. 179).
Matt: We also wanted to ground our efforts in theory and scholarship. The characters in The Umbrella Academy are so different, just as Matt and I are, but they have their own strengths. So, we found strengths-based advising as a good fit for our theoretical base. We felt the characters would provide an enjoyable, yet relatable, jumping-off point for a discussion of strengths discovery, the first step in strengths-based advising (Schreiner, 2013, p. 109).
Ryan: Both of us had been introduced to strengths-based advising before, and we definitely felt its connection with The Umbrella Academy, but we both knew we had to learn more about strengths-based advising. By beginning our developing presentation outside of the typical higher education or academic advising setting—by drawing on "the power of story," as Hagen (2018) puts it—we hoped to open advisors’ hearts and minds to both the notion that understanding their own strengths makes them better advisors and the idea that employing a strengths-based approach to their practice is an effective route to examining the master narratives at play in their work.
Matt: Ryan mentioned it above, but Hansen’s (2018) pivotal third rule for disciplined collaboration is that the reward is the results, not just the activity of collaborating itself (p. 182). Ryan and I definitely enjoyed the collaborative process, but our result was overwhelmingly positive feedback after our Annual Conference presentation.
Ryan: And we had already received the exciting news that we would reprise the talk at the 2021 International Conference, but we started to wonder what else we could do with the fascinating topics we had come across along the way. Was there another project, more results awaiting our collaborative efforts? Could we publish any of this?
Matt: Wendy Troxel, Director of NACADA’s Research Center, shared the fantastic advice that if you record and transcribe your presentation, your first draft is already done (personal communication, November 3, 2020). So, we started there.
Ryan: Yeah, shout out to the otter.ai app for that part! Our collaboration also continued the use of multiple technical technology tools. Going back to the original Facebook post to sharing impromptu ideas over Facebook Messenger, to creating Google Docs and organizing strategies in Google Drive. And in a very 2020 move, we kept meeting regularly via Zoom.
Matt: Hansen’s (2018) fourth rule for disciplined collaboration is the expectation that resources be fully committed to the effort, including time and skills (p. 184). We felt like we were putting in the time and that we knew plenty about The Umbrella Academy and how it relates to academic advising, but we had never done this before; neither of us had published. We knew we had lots of opportunities, we just weren’t sure which would be the right fit or what the best approach would be to take with our work.
Ryan: So, we leveraged another resource and reached out to some of the scholar practitioners we knew and respected. These fine folks gave us so much useful feedback, and Craig McGill specifically helped us refine our thinking during this new stage of our collaboration. We decided Academic Advising Today would be a great place to just talk about our approach, share lessons we've learned, and encourage other advisors to give disciplined collaboration a try.
Matt: As our collaboration shifts focus, our lines of inquiry are now taking us to unanticipated places. Recently, we’ve been combing through past conference programs for references to popular culture and narrative approaches appearing in our field.
Ryan: And we’re looking more into the fascinating worlds of narrative theory, theory of mind research, and the scholarship of adult learning and popular culture. This collaboration has significantly expanded our perspectives and our possibilities. We also realized that the many outlets for scholar practitioners to share their work, perspectives, and writing, while overwhelming, can also be encouraging.
Matt: Exactly! We want to return the support we received by helping others do what we’ve done. This collaboration has repeatedly reinforced the theme that it’s okay to be different. Just as with the characters in The Umbrella Academy, there are so many strengths that come from our differences, whether they are differences in perspectives, skills, reach, voice, etc.
Ryan: That’s right. Hansen’s (2018) fifth and final rule is significant here: build trust to solve specific problems (p. 185). Along the way, Matt and I learned about each other and ourselves. We negotiated changes in our collaboration by drawing on our similarities, our differences, and by building trust. So, whoever is reading this, we want you to think about how your differences can benefit your colleagues, the advising profession, and students across our many campuses.
Matt: Similarities can be starting points, certainly. For Ryan and I, that was The Umbrella Academy and a love for pop culture in general, but we also found we shared an interest in expanding the envelope, trying different approaches, and doing things that we had not seen done before in academic advising.
Ryan: And as starting points go, those are pretty solid. Instead of doing things we had seen done before, we thought maybe we could do things a little differently. We also wanted to prioritize engagement. It was not enough for us that we were interested in this project. We wanted to make sure that others would be interested and that they would engage in the conversation.
Matt: We also learned along the way that scholar practitioners need each other. We need to be open to the many possibilities that exist, and we need to be creative before being critical.
Ryan: We need to embrace our differences and, yes, the multitude of opportunities to share our voices, and we need to find the excitement in that.
Matt: So that's why we wrote this. We hope you find something interesting and valuable in it.
Ryan: And we want you to know that we're here to help. You're not alone. Embrace your differences. Collaborate and share your differences and contribute to the field of academic advising as you do!
Pre-Professional Health Careers
Texas Tech University
Advising and Academic Services
California State University, San Bernardino
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed (M. Bergman Ramos, Trans.). Continuum.
Hagen, P. L. (2018). The power of story: Narrative theory in academic advising. NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising.
Hansen, M. (2018). Great at work: How top performers do less, work better, and achieve more. Simon & Schuster.
Schreiner, L. A. (2013). Strengths-based advising. In J. K. Drake, P. Jordan, & M. A. Miller (Eds.), Academic advising approaches: Strategies that teach students to make the most of college (pp. 105–120). Jossey-Bass.
Cite this article using APA style as: Scheckel, R. & Markin, M. (2021, September). It is okay to be different. Academic Advising Today, 44(3). [insert url here]