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Fang Du, 2017 NACADA Assessment Institute Scholarship Recipient

Fang Du.jpgThe 2017 NACADA Assessment Institute Scholarship came to my attention when I had just switched career track within higher education from student learning outcome assessment to academic advising.  I jumped at the opportunity to apply for the scholarship, hoping that the institute could help me establish some connections between assessment and advising. 

I am not a newcomer to either of the fields because I had done academic advising for six years and then worked as a Director of Assessment for another six years.  Still, I had a lot of questions for the specifics of academic advising assessment.  For example, how does advising assessment differ from student learning outcome assessment?  How is advising related to teaching and learning in both theory and practice?  The office I am working at just completed a satisfaction survey of advising services; Can the results of a satisfaction survey be used for assessment?  Can advising assessment be done without clearly articulated goals, objectives, and outcomes?  The list of questions on how to connect the two fields grew longer and longer.   

The institute turned out to be a wonderful opportunity to guide me in searching for answers to all my questions.  I benefited so much from learning its curriculum, being guided by faculty members, and networking with like-minded colleagues from across the country and abroad.   Eventually, it all comes down to making meaningful connections.   

The Curriculum

The curriculum of the institute is well structured, yet flexible enough to fit the needs of the many attendees with diverse backgrounds.  There are presentations and materials regarding key concepts and theories, such as the NACADA Pillar Documents and the NACADA vision, mission, and strategic goals.  There are also concurrent sessions and work group sessions about best practices and key components of assessment processes.  Depending on their needs for either theoretical instructions or pragmatic guidance, the attendees could choose from a wide variety of sessions in which to participate.  During the institute, I benefited the most from the work group session on advisor process and delivery outcomes, which I think, covered a key difference between student learning outcome assessment and academic advising assessment. 

I brought back a thick package of materials from the institute and found myself applying the various materials in the packet very often in my daily work.  For example, the office I work at is in the process of creating our own advising mission, vision, and goals.  Naturally, I have been using the materials in the packet as guidelines and handouts.

Faculty Members and the NACADA Leadership Team

The faculty members I worked with were all well versed in both advising assessment theories and practices.  More importantly, they were very friendly to work with.  I asked many questions and always got good answers from them.  Beth Higgins even sent me follow-up materials after she went back to her campus. 

The institute set up was also very conducive for attendees to have easy access to all the faculty members and the NACADA leadership team.  I remembered that during the annual conference, I could only watch the leadership team from afar as a newcomer.  But at the institute, I got to chat with quite a few members of the leadership team at the various receptions, luncheons, and even during coffee breaks in the hallway.  As a very new NACADA member, I learned about the career paths of several senior, distinguished NACADA members and got to know several new NACADA initiatives.

Fellow Institute Attendees

Another highlight of the Institute was the networking opportunities with like-minded colleagues from across the country and even abroad.  The setting of the institute was such that it enabled the participants to have meaningful interactions among ourselves.  Each session was small enough that I could have an in-depth discussion with other attendees regarding the best practices on our campuses and exchange information on everything advising.  At one time, I asked a question to the whole room, and most of the fellow attendees in the room offered some advice, which was useful and insightful.

An unexpected and yet very interesting encounter was meeting a delegation from the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (UESTC) in Sichuan, China. From them, I learned about the recent development of academic advising in China and exchanged ideas of promoting some NACADA literature there. 

Lasting Impact on My Daily Work

The biggest challenge of assessing academic advising outcomes, in my opinion, is the front loading of time and energy spent doing research, setting up the theoretical framework, and collecting data.  As a field, we are used to just being busy doing things and then getting feedback from students, usually one at a time.  When there is a need for evidence of outcomes, it is also very tempting to say “Let’s just collect some data and see what the data says.”

NACADA Executive Director Charlie Nutt (2004) stated that, “The first and often overlooked step in assessing academic advising is the development of an institutional mission for academic advising.”  If intuitions are not intentional and systematic in articulating the overall mission and goals of academic advising, both the process and the outcome of advising assessment will be fragmented or inconsistent.  The investment of time and energy in clarifying the overall purpose that the whole advising team agrees upon will result in renewed focus and concerted efforts by the team.

It has been several months since I came back to Rutgers University with all the inspirations, notes, and materials from the Assessment Institute.  The exposure to the rich NACADA literature gave me a solid foundation in starting some assessment initiatives on my campus.  My proposal of establishing a new vision/mission/goal statement for our office, a complex structure with multiple campus locations, was already adopted and even the funding for the initiative is in place!   I am also using some of the information I learned from the institute in my programming initiatives, such as the handouts on how to create an advising syllabus.  The steps taken were small, but my colleagues were very enthusiastic and believed that given some time, there would be concrete assessment results.  

The Assessment Institute has been a pivotal moment for me to make meaningful connections between assessment of student learning outcome and assessment of academic advising.  The networking opportunities with colleagues were invaluable.  I am confident that I will have more long-term impact to report back in a few years’ time. 

Fang Du
Assistant Dean, Office of Academic Advising and Services
School of Arts and Sciences
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
[email protected]


Nutt, C. (2004, December). Assessing student learning in academic advising. Academic Advising Today, 27(4). Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Assessing-Student-Learning-in-Academic-Advising.aspx

Cite this article using APA style as: Du, F. (2017, December). Making meaningful connections at the 2017 NACADA assessment institute. Academic Advising Today, 40(4). Retrieved from [insert url here] 


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