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From the President: Conversation on NACADA Strategic Goals and Benchmarks

Amy Sannes, NACADA President

Amy Sannes.jpgThe NACADA Board of Directors has made it a priority to facilitate avenues for our members to provide feedback and input on the work of the Association.  This has typically been accomplished through the Town Hall meetings every October at NACADA’s Annual Conference.  In addition to this in-person format, the Board wanted to provide an opportunity for members not able to attend the Annual Conference to be engaged in the discussion.  This year NACADA offered its first ever series of three Virtual Town Hall meetings.  Board members Shannon Burton and Kerry Kincanon created an amazing virtual format featuring NACADA leadership sharing information regarding Board projects and then responding to member questions.  Another avenue to connect with members has been the “Friday with NACADA” emails in which I have addressed questions and areas of interest to the membership. 

The President’s column in Academic Advising Today has been committed to updating the membership on one of the Town Hall topic areas.  This edition will focus on NACADA’s Strategic Goals and the recently approved benchmarks.  There were so many questions in the Town Halls revolving around the roles of the Board and Council and the process involved in establishing the benchmarks, that it was clear this would be a good place to start this edition’s discussion. 

The NACADA Board of Directors is the official governing body of the Association and is responsible for the strategic vision. The Board is guided by the strategic goals and is responsible for the allocation of resources.  There are nine voting members on the Board: the President, Vice President, and seven Directors.  The Executive Director also serves on the Board as a non-voting member.  The Council represents NACADA’s three divisions which include the Administrative, the Regional, and the newly named Advising Communities divisions.  The Council has five members, including representatives from each of the three Divisions, the Vice President, and the Executive Director.  The Council members receive recommendations from the Divisions, review the issues, and take the recommendations to the Board for approval for implementation.

Last year, under the direction of then NACADA President Dana Zahorik and Executive Director Charlie Nutt, the Board and the Council took on the task of creating the benchmarks to help provide focus for obtaining NACADA’s seven strategic goals.  Executive Director Nutt encouraged the Board to look beyond the upcoming year and to plan forward five years as the Board developed the benchmarks.  The Board utilized input from committees, regions, and commission and interest groups as they further refined each benchmark. 

In September of 2017, the benchmarks and revised strategic goals were approved by the Board of Directors.  The Board then established timelines and determined the appropriate membership group to move each benchmark forward.  Every benchmark has at least one chair to guide the implementation and also a Board member to act as a liaison.  The Board understands that the membership needs to be the ones to move the benchmark implementation forward; this grass roots focus is the basis of the Association.  It is important to keep in mind that the individuals doing the work in these teams are all volunteers and have full-time careers back at their home institutions.  The Board has agreed that even though timelines have been established to move the work forward, the benchmark document is a fluid document and may need to be revised based on the progress of the group responsible for the benchmark. 

The entire document noting the benchmarks for each of the seven strategic goals is now posted on NACADA’s website.  The remainder of this article will focus on a select group of benchmarks that are in the early stages of implementation and that the Board will be focusing on during the midyear meeting later in March.  It is important to note that even though strategic goals are numbered for ease of referencing, this does not imply any intention of priority. 

Expand and communicate the scholarship of academic advising is Strategic Goal 1.  The NACADA Center for Research at Kansas State University was officially opened at the 2017 Annual Conference.  Wendy Troxel, the Director of the Center, has established (with Board approval) fairly aggressive benchmarks to move forward NACADA’s research agenda.  It is important to note that the Research Committee, under the direction of Sarah Champlin-Scharff, has been closely involved to ensure member input in all the work relating to the scholarship of academic advising.  The benchmarks related to this goal address consumers of research and also active involvement in research. 

Strategic Goal 2 states: Provide professional development opportunities that are responsive to the needs of advisors and advising administrators.  Through the three accompanying benchmarks, the Board has set up this goal in a three step process and charged the Professional Development Committee (PDC), under the direction of Teri Farr, to lead the implementation.  First, the committee will conduct a gap analysis to determine unmet needs, wants, activities, and services for all types of academic advisors and advising administrators.  Second, the PDC will review the gap analysis results and submit a report with recommendations to the Board at the 2018 Annual Conference.  Third, once the recommendations are approved by the Board, over the following three years, the PDC will develop a plan with budgetary needs to implement the approved action plans.

Foster inclusive practices within the Association that respect the principle of equity and the diversity of advising professionals across the vast array of intersections of identity is the revised wording for Strategic Goal 4.  It is apparent to the Board that in order to move this goal forward we need to assess the current climate of inclusivity and equity within the Association.  The Board has asked Michele Ware, Oscar Van den Wijngaard, and Sarah Champlin-Scharff to lead a formal subcommittee to develop a plan to assess the climate of the Association.  The next step for this subcommittee will be to analyze the results and develop an action plan to present to the Board.

Strategic Goal 5 states: Develop and sustain effective Association leadership.  The benchmarks for this goal contain two distinct charges.  In the first benchmark, the Board has charged the Sustainable Leadership Committee (SLC), under the leadership of Janet Spence, to move forward the SLC’s idea of a leadership academy to provide leadership training and support for potential and newly elected NACADA leaders. 

A second benchmark under goal five charges a formal subcommittee to review the various challenges members face when moving into elected and appointed leadership positions.  Averaged out over the past four election cycles, only half of the members nominated actually run for or accepted an appointed position.  The Board decided it was a priority to determine if our election processes were causing unnecessary stumbling blocks for members to run for leadership position.  Board member Brody Broshears was asked to gather members from various groups to review the nomination/election process and prepare a report for the Board for the midyear meeting.

The work outlined above is a huge commitment and the Board appreciates the work that the Chairs and their members are putting into moving the benchmarks forward this year.  The Association needs our members to participate in surveys and assessments as these are implemented in order for us to have a true picture of our membership and what we need to do to make this Association work for all members.  Please take the opportunity to respond to requests for information and have your voice heard.

This discussion briefly touched on a few of the benchmarks that are currently underway; however, there are several additional areas of work that will be moving forward in the future.  The other resources discussing the Strategic Goals and the accompanying benchmarks include: the Strategic Goals Virtual Town hall recording, the associated questions and responses to the Virtual Town Hall, and the entire 2017 approved Strategic Goal/Benchmark document

The Board is committed to transparency as we move forward.  The Board and Council will be reviewing the information gathered in all the Town Hall formats during their midyear meeting in March and plan to utilize member input to further guide our work.  Feel free to contact any of the chairs listed above with comments regarding the benchmarks or contact Executive Director Charlie Nutt ([email protected]) or President Sannes ([email protected]).

Amy Sannes, President, 2017-2018
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising
Associate Director, Academic Services
Arizona State University
Department of Psychology
[email protected]


From the Executive Director: NACADA in The Spring Time—An Exciting Time!

Charlie Nutt, NACADA Executive Director

Charlie Nutt.jpgWith the NACADA Winter Institutes and Seminar, the association elections, and the start of the Regional Conferences, NACADA in the Spring Time is always an exciting time.  Spring 2018 is no exception with several other exciting NACADA developments occurring as well!

Organization members just finished the annual Assessment of Academic Advising Institute, Academic Advising Administrators’ Institute, and Special Topic Seminar, which this year was the Advising Seminar: Building and Supporting a Research Agenda within the Scholarship of Academic Advising.  Over 300 participants from institutions across the United States, Canada, and Australia attended the events in Daytona Beach, Florida.  As always, the participants focused on key issues facing the academic advising community across all types of higher education institutions, searched for solutions to issues and concerns on their campuses, developed action plans to implement on their return home, and networked with colleagues across the globe.  These events clearly impact academic advising programs in significant ways to greatly improve the academic success of students everywhere.

The annual NACADA Elections recently ended and as always NACADA members continue to have a voice in the leadership of our association.  This year through the hard work of past president Dana Zahorik and this year’s president Amy Sannes, NACADA had one of the most extensive and diverse slate of candidates in the association’s history.  Congratulations to all of those who ran for a position this year, because each of you put yourself out there and demonstrated your dedication to NACADA and the future of our association.  NACADA cannot continue to grow without members who are willing and eager to serve the association, and I personally want to thank each and every one of you who were on the ballots this year. 

It is my honor to congratulate In-Coming NACADA President Karen Archambault and Vice President Erin Justyna as they move into their important roles of leading the NACADA Board of Directors and the NACADA Council for 2018–2019.  In addition, congratulations to Megumi Makino-Kanehiro, Cecilia Olivares, and Oscar van den Wijngaard—the first international member elected to the Board of Directorsas they will join the NACADA Board of Directors for three-year terms for 2018–2021.  Also, congratulations to Rebecca Hapes, Teri Farr, and Kelly Medley, who will join the NACADA Council for two-year terms for 2018–2020.  Finally, congratulations to all candidates who will take on their new roles in October 2018.  A complete list of the election results can be found HERE.

The ten region conferences began with Region 7 on February 20–22 and will end with Region 3 on May 28–20.  As NACADA has grown to over 13,000 members, it has been exciting to watch the region conferences grow not only in numbers, but in the impact they are having on the advising profession, the association, and student success across North America.  Region conferences have always been and continue to be great places to begin your NACADA career by presenting at the conferences and networking with NACADA members in your own regions.  I remember clearly how much I and the team of faculty advisors I took from Brunswick College learned at my first NACADA Region IV conference in 1993 in Birmingham, Alabama.  It was a truly eye-opening experience for these eight faculty advisors from South Georgia to meet those in the academic advising profession from across the region and to be welcomed with open arms to the association.  Every spring, I know that new NACADA members and region conference participants have the very same experience we had at our first region conference.  Since then, attending all of the region conferences from 1993–2002 and then having the opportunity to visit all ten regions, not only do I continue to learn, but now I see dear friends and colleagues who make NACADA the outstanding association it is.

In addition to our NACADA Region conferences, there are also may allied and state drive-ins that happen in the spring as well which are exciting professional development opportunities for NACADA members.  I want to congratulate the NACADA Allied Association UKAT – the United Kingdom Advising and Tutoring group who will host their fourth annual meeting at the University of Darby on March 27–28.  Thanks to NACADA Board of Directors member Brent McFarlane who will keynote this year’s conference and represent the Board of Directors at the meeting and thank you to Karen Sullivan-Vance and Rhonda Baker who will represent the NACADA International Conference Advisory Board at the conference.

But Spring 2018 is even more exciting than normal because of two other very exciting NACADA initiatives.  First, the NACADA Research Center at Kansas State University will have its grand opening on March 6, 2018.  This is an exciting venture that clearly demonstrates the importance and value of NACADA’s close connection with Kansas State University and the College of Education.  There are so many people to thank that led to the creation, funding, and now opening of this very important initiative for our profession and our association.  I know I will never be able to thank everyone, but I must specifically thank Kansas State University College of Education Dean Emeritus Michael Holen and College of Education Dean Debbie Mercer, NACADA Executive Director Emeritus Bobbie Flaherty, and NACADA Assistant Director Marsha Miller for all their hard work, visions, and dreams that enabled us to ever make this important step forward, and the NACADA Research Center Director Wendy Troxel and NACADA Senior Computer/Systems Specialist Gary Cunningham for all their hard work in getting the center renovated and ready to open in March.  Watch for pictures and videos of the grand opening on the NACADA website and NACADA social media outlets.

Second, NACADA and the John N Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education are making major strides in moving toward our pilot of the Excellence in Academic Advising (EAA) program with the selection this spring of 12 charter institutions who will begin the two-year self-study process of academic advising on their campuses this summer.  With the amazing leadership of NACADA Past Presidents Susan Campbell and Jayne Drake, this program will have a significant impact on higher education and student success across the world.  I have to give special thanks to John Gardner and Drew Koch from the Gardner Institute who have helped to make this dream a reality.

What an amazing association we all are a part of!  Working with all the members, leaders, and EO Staff of NACADA has been the best job of my life!  Thank you all!

Charlie Nutt, Executive Director
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising
(785) 532-5717
[email protected]


Advisor, Teacher, Mentor, Scholar: How the Legacy of Leigh Shaffer Impacts Advising Practice

Marsha A. Miller, NACADA Journal and NACADA Review Managing Editor
Craig M. McGill, NACADA Journal Editorial Board

Craig McGill.jpgMarsha Miller.jpgIn August 2017, the field of academic advising lost a champion with the passing of recent NACADA Journal co-editor Leigh S. Shaffer.  Leigh, a recognized scholar in his field of social psychology, authored or co-authored 11 peer-reviewed articles for the NACADA Journal, more than any other author in the Journal’s history.  His first NACADA Journal article was “A Human Capital Approach to Academic Advising” (1997).  It was chosen by then Journal co-editors Terry Kuhn and Gary Padak for inclusion in the edition celebrating the association’s 30th anniversary, because they deemed it as one of the most influential articles published in the Journal during its first 25 years.

Before retiring from West Chester University in 2009, Leigh wrote several follow-up articles addressing career advising issues.  When Leigh and his wife Barbara moved to Columbia, MO to be near their grandchildren, he became co-editor of the NACADA Journal, a position he shared with his former advisee Rich Robbins.  “It was a highlight of my career to work again with Leigh as co-editor of the NACADA Journal,” comments Rich.  “I consider him a teacher, a mentor, an advisor, a colleague, and most of all, a friend” (R. Robbins, personal communication, November 29, 2017).  “Long story-short, if it were not for our numerous conversations and his guidance, I likely would not have pursued and obtained my PhD in social psychology” (Robbins, p. 5).  

Leigh’s new duties as co-editor did not put a damper on his academic writing.  Another of Leigh’s influential articles was “The Professionalization of Academic Advising: Where Are We in 2010?” with co-authors Jacqueline M. Zalewski and John Leveille.  The three authors, all sociology faculty at West Chester University, examined the history of academic advising from a sociological perspective.  They determined that advising was short one key indicator of a profession: the broad, deep, and strong literature base needed for advisor education.  Discussion generated by this article changed the trajectory of the advising field and played an important role in the opening of the NACADA Research Center at Kansas State University and the forthcoming (2019) PhD program in academic advising.

As the Journal’s co-editor, Leigh spent many hours mentoring new authors.  Co-author of this article, Craig McGill, stated that Leigh “became not only an important academic mentor to me, but also a cheerleader and friend. . . . On a few occasions, we enjoyed three-hour phone calls talking about life and research.  My dissertation study is based on his work, and I couldn’t wait to ultimately share the findings with him and perhaps write with him one day.  This man has done so much for the field of academic advising and for me, personally” (personal communication, October 8, 2014).  McGill’s study investigated NACADA leaders’ perspectives about the professionalization of academic advising. Leigh’s mentorship was critical in the early design discussions of the study.  For me (Craig), Leigh helped shape my understanding of what it meant to be a researcher, a faculty member, a mentor for students, and a gracious human being.  He was endlessly generous in his counsel to me, going way above the call of duty.  He has even reached out to me when I have faced personal or family tragedies, just to make sure I was “okay.”

Leigh’s dedication to mentoring extended into all areas of his academic and personal life.  Psychologist Gregg Henriques (2017) noted that when he was referred to Leigh for the first time he “encountered one of the most humble, likeable, and knowledgeable individuals I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.  In what I would come to realize is typical, he at first expressed some surprise that [he had been recommended] and he humbly wondered if he would have anything to contribute to a project” (para. 3).  

A humble student of theology, Leigh always arrived for Bible Study with a variety of sources he had reviewed in preparation for class.  During the discussion, he listened quietly and consulted his sources as others shared their insights.  When Leigh chose to talk, he had an uncanny way of zeroing in on points others could not quite grasp.  He used references from his various sources to help the group look at issues in a whole new light (C. Cozette, personal communication, August 9, 2017).  In short, he did for them what he did for Journal authors.

A campus minister shared that Leigh regularly joined his daughter, Victoria (a faculty member at the University of Missouri), at their weekly faculty sessions prior to Mizzou’s 2015–2016 racial unrest.  During that troubled time, Leigh did an extensive literature review of not just the written word but traveled (sometimes hundreds of miles) to discuss issues with theologians and scholars.  Then Leigh shared his insights with session participants and led them in discussions that helped not just those in the group but all who they interacted with on campus.  One noted theologian Leigh visited told the campus minister that he considered Leigh (who had no formal theological training) to be one of the most knowledgeable theologians he had ever met (N. Tiemeyer, personal communication, August 9, 2017).Leigh Shaffer.jpg

A true Renaissance man, Leigh was proficient in a wide range of fields.  He was a student athlete, attending Wichita State University on a golf scholarship, and remained an avid golfer throughout his life. Leigh also was a music historian with a wealth of knowledge about pop music, including garage bands.  In his pop music historian role, he was a frequent guest DJ on KOPN Public Radio’s Power Pop Hour.  And, of course, there was his love of the underdog, including the Cleveland Browns football team.  Maybe that is what drew Leigh to helping advisors become scholars.    

As a field, academic advising continues to build the knowledgebase.  Advising is a field of practitioners who seek acceptance as equals with academic scholars.  Sometimes it seems we as advisors do not know the scholar’s “secret handshake.”  On numerous occasions, Leigh told Marsha Miller, co-author of this article, that the secret handshake is how we approach our practice.  Scholars read everything about a topic, know how to do a lit review, and then do one before starting to write.  His mantra: “Scholars read.  Scholars do their homework.  They know the literature and draw from it to ground their practice” (M. Miller, personal communication, 2013).  In Leigh’s view, it was impossible to come up with research topics without being well-read.  Although some research problems emerge from problems of practice, most emerge from gaps in the literature.

We, as advisors, by our very nature, “do.”  That is why we are drawn to advising.  Many of us simply do not read enough; we often do not do a sufficient amount of homework before diving into scholarly tasks.  As such, while Leigh’s scholarly dives always were precise, our contributions sometimes are more like cannon balls. Leigh maintained that when we as advisors consistently read everything we can about a topic before writing an initial draft, then we will be welcomed as equals in the scholarly community.  In an interview, Leigh expressed his view of how one becomes a scholar and how such an apprenticeship can shape the field of academic advising:

That’s the thing about scholarly work.  You go study with somebody who’s doing it, not somebody who’s just teaching a course in it.  You see how they do it.  You listen to their thought process, and how this all goes together.  All the zillions of stories academic people have about all the things they’ve done in their career.  It begins to soak in, and it begins to change you.  Some things are conscious enough that you can articulate them, and others are more unconscious that you unpack later on in your life.  That’s what folks really need.  When we are thinking about growing the field—whether we think in disciplinary terms or growing as a profession—Somebody has got to grow the knowledgebase, and what we are dealing with now is that we have lots and lots of folks who are interested in advising, but they don’t have the background that you really need over a career to grow the base.  I don’t think there is just one background that is appropriate to that, but we need to get people to recognize that, then to conduct the research and to do scholarly things. (L. Shaffer, personal communication, October 8, 2014)

With practitioners with disciplinary backgrounds from all walks of academic life, we as advisors may not always agree on the best way to approach a research question or problem.  But we work together, and the diversity in the researchers in our field is also what makes it so wonderfully rich.  The authors of this article can think of no other person who was more welcoming of (and knowledgeable about!) various approaches than Leigh.

The NACADA Research Center is helping advisors become the scholars Leigh envisioned.  The efforts of the NACADA members working on various Research Center projects will help advising practitioners become practitioner scholars who walk in Leigh Shaffer’s footsteps.  The NACADA Research Committee is partnering with the new NACADA Center for Research at Kansas State University to help advisors become the scholars Leigh envisioned.  Wendy Troxel, Director, notes, “Leigh Shaffer knew early on that while it’s important to support new and veteran researchers to gain skills and confidence to analyze theory and to conduct research, it’s just as vital for all advisors to become critical consumers of research to advance their role as professional educators” (personal communication, 2017).     

NACADA Executive Director, Charlie Nutt, reflected on Leigh’s contributions to the field:

While Leigh Shaffer was an advisor and mentor to many thousands of students in his career, he brought his advising and mentoring skills with him to NACADA in regard to his work with the NACADA Journal.  Along with Rich Robbins, Leigh took the NACADA Journal to new heights during his time as co-editor through his commitment to expanding research in the field by his continual and consistent mentoring of potential authors for the Journal.  He was always so approachable and made even the most novice advisors and authors feel valued and respected. There was never a time that any potential author or researcher felt incapable of reaching his expectations due to his careful personal approach to working with someone.  He epitomized the qualities of excellence in teaching and advising and NACADA benefited from his involvement in ways that will impact our association forever. . . . There is simply no way to adequately describe the full impact that Leigh had on our profession, our association, and the NACADA Journal. (C. Nutt, personal communication, December 1, 2017)

Leigh worked hard during his tenure as co-editor of the Journal to shepherd manuscripts of different scholarly and theoretical orientations and did a splendid job of nurturing novice and even experienced researchers.  In short, he is invaluable to the field of academic advising not only for building the knowledgebase, but more importantly, for building people.  To honor Leigh’s legacy, the Journal’s Editorial Board spearheaded the establishment of the Leigh S. Shaffer Journal Writing Award.  What a legacy it honors!

Leigh is survived by his wife, daughter Victoria, son-in-law Ed Merkle, and two grandchildren.  He is deeply missed by family, friends, and the advising community who will keep his spirit alive by honoring advising scholars who make significant contributions to our literature.

Marsha A. Miller
NACADA Journal and NACADA Review Managing Editor
Kansas State University
[email protected]

Craig M. McGill
NACADA Journal Editorial Board
Florida International University
[email protected]


Henriques, G. (2017, July 17). A note of gratitude for my friend: A letter of deep appreciation for my friend, Dr. Leigh Shaffer. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/theory-knowledge/201706/note-gratitude-my-friend 

Robbins, R. (2017). In Memory of Leigh S. Shaffer. NACADA Journal 37(1). Retrieved from http://www.nacadajournal.org/doi/pdf/10.12930/0271-9517-37.2.5


Provocative Moments in Advising: Guiding Students Toward Self-Authorship

Cecilia Lucero, University of Notre Dame

Cecilia Lucero.jpgThe road to self-authorship—where an individual’s internal voice emerges and asserts its authority—begins with cognitive dissonance, perhaps even existential crisis, that challenges the individual’s assumptions about the self, social relationships, and the world.  Pizzolato (2005) refers to such experiences of dissonance as “provocative moments.”  Achieving desired college learning outcomes such as critical thinking, cultural competence, and moral and ethical judgment depends on where students are on the journey to self-authorship (Baxter Magolda & King, 2012).  Baxter Magolda and King have found that “students who are not yet able to author their inner psychological lives often allow their external influence to derail their academic goals, jeopardize their identity development, or ruin their relationships” (2012, p. 13).  Guiding students to self-authorship exemplifies the kind of advising practice that Lowenstein (2014) argues leads to integrative learning.  That is, advising becomes a space for active learning, wherein students reflect on who they are and make educational decisions based on their self-knowledge—for example, majoring in English because they love literary analysis versus accounting because their parents want them to be practical.  Through advising-as-integrative-learning, students can also begin to make sense of their education as a whole and its relevance to their lives beyond the academy.

This article considers advisors’ role in creating provocative moments, particularly with regard to topics centered on race, gender, and socioeconomic class.  Advisors, of course, have varying backgrounds and biases with regard to sociocultural issues.  In facilitating dissonance, they risk alienating students, who might misinterpret their motives.  Professional development that enhances the cultural competence of advisors, however, can help them shepherd students through provocative moments in meaningful and mutually beneficial ways.  One such professional development program is described briefly in this article.

Self-Authorship Theories and Students at the Crossroads

To author is to create something; to have authority is to be accepted as a source of reliable information or evidence (Oxford English Dictionary).  Self-authorship is to claim one’s self—not an external authority such as a parent or boss, or even tradition—as the creator of one’s knowledge, values, beliefs, and identity.  When advisors speak of students taking ownership of their learning, they are essentially talking about them becoming self-authoring individuals.

The theory of self-authorship grew from Kegan’s (1994) exploration of the evolution of consciousness, which was inspired by Piaget’s constructivist theories of adolescent and adult development.  These theories propose that learning occurs through individuals’ interpretations of experience, i.e., the transformation of knowledge and skills, not merely the accumulation of them.  Kegan (1994) focused on “the personal unfolding of ways of organizing experiences” (p. 9) that grow more complex, and is often disorienting, as individuals differentiate themselves from others yet seek inclusion in their environment.  This multi-layered, meaning-making process guides behavior and has three dimensions: the cognitive/epistemological (in which the individual asks “how do I know?”), extrapersonal (“who am I?”), and interpersonal (“what relationships do I want?”).  Self-authorship is continuous and cyclical, and is shaped by the environment, social relationships, and the intensity and pace of individual development. “In the self-authoring mind, [the individual is] ‘able to step back enough’ from the social environment to generate an internal ‘seat of judgment’ or personal authority that evaluates and makes choices about external expectations” (Kegan & Lahey, 2009).

Building on Kegan’s theory, Baxter Magolda (2010) identifies three phases on the way to self-authorship: 1) Trust in the inner voice represents an epistemological shift, wherein the individual begins to recognize her own identity, values, and beliefs separate from external authority.  She also realizes her ability to control reactions to, perhaps even negotiates with, external authority.  2) In building an internal foundation, the individual’s beliefs, identity, and relationships become more salient.  3) In securing internal commitments, the individual integrates all three dimensions and lives according to her self-defined values and beliefs (Baxter Magolda, 2010).

As college students develop self-authorship, they will find themselves at the crossroads, a “place for discontent” (Pizzolato, 2005, p. 625) where their internal voice and external authority vie for prominence (Baxter Magolda, 2010).

Several scholars have critiqued Kegan’s and Baxter Magolda’s theories of self-authorship, arguing these perspectives emerged from foundational studies with predominantly white male participants.  Recent scholarship more intentionally examines the role of race, gender, and other facets of identity on individual development.  Torres (2010), for example, shows that for Latino students and other students of color, facing racism is a central task in identity development.  Hofer (2010), who compared the epistemologies and academic performances of Japanese and American students, argues that constructivist theories have privileged Western culture that values autonomy over collectivism, which is prioritized in many Asian cultures.  Similarly, Pizzolato, Nguyen, Johnson, and Wang (2012) found that dissonance leading to self-authorship “may be more interpersonal than autonomous” because of “familial and cultural psychological contexts” (p. 673).

Jones (2010) argues for intersectionality as a framework for self-authorship research.  While some scholarship acknowledges race, gender, class, and other sociocultural factors as influences on identity, each is still treated as a discrete construct.  This additive approach is problematic because it “presumes the whiteness of women, the maleness of people of color, and the heterosexuality of everyone” (Risman, 2004, p. 442). Intersectional analysis, however, centers race, gender, and class in lived experience.  Furthermore, it calls attention to the power dynamics in play between individuals and social structures that might thwart their progress.

Provocative Moments in Advising

Learning environments that promote self-authorship challenge students to grapple with dissonance and ambiguity and to see themselves as knowledge creators.  Advisors can create such learning environments by engaging students in reflective conversations (Schulenberg, 2010) or other exercises that encourage introspection of their values, beliefs, and identity, such as responding in writing to ePortfolio prompts.  One might ask, however, if it is appropriate for advisors to challenge students on prickly topics such as race, gender, and class: “identity politics.”  Should advisors, for example, raise the specter of sexism and/or racial bias against a professor when a student complains about a bad grade from that professor?  Or probe deeply the reasons why a student betrays resentment for need-based scholarships?

If we advisors believe that “helping students learn is an essential quality of advising” (Lowenstein, 2014, p. 7) and view advising as integrative learning, we are obligated to engage students in provocative moments centered on race, class, and gender.  Just as we broach uncomfortable topics about student life that affect learning and well-being—binge drinking, sexual assault, mental health—we can help students recognize how sociocultural constructs shape their college experiences and their education as a whole, as well as life beyond the academy.  As Lowenstein writes, in addition to understanding the “logic of the curriculum,” students must also be able to make sense of their relationship to the world (p. 7).

Creating provocative moments without offering adequate support, however, could blindside the student and lead to mistrust of the advisor.  Baxter Magolda (2004) offers the Learning Partnerships Model (LPM) to balance provocative moments with support; this model resonates with Lowenstein’s (2014) description of transformational advising.  Three principles guide the LPM: 1) validating students as knowledge-creators, 2) situating learning in students’ experiences, and 3) defining learning as mutually constructing meaning.  For the LPM to be effective, advisors must be explicit about the purpose of provocative moments, the challenges and support students can expect from advisors, and the potential outcomes.  In other words, advising-as-integrative-learning requires transparent design.

Cultural Competence of Advisors

Implementing the LPM requires advisors to be culturally competent, in addition to being “intellectually agile” and broadly educated (Lowenstein, 2014, p. 8).  One example of a professional development program that cultivates cultural competence and entails “personal, reflective analysis of [advisors’ own] education” (Lowenstein, 2014, p. 8) is the National SEED Project (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity).  Founded by Dr. Peggy McIntosh, SEED “creates conversational communities to drive personal, organizational, and societal change toward greater equity and diversity” (The National Seed Project).  SEED’s principles echo the goals of self-authorship and LPM principles. Through SEED training, advisors can learn to employ the LPM effectively in their advising sessions, and model for students how to embrace and work through provocative moments.

My institution, the University of Notre Dame, has offered SEED seminars to faculty and staff since 2012. Evaluations have shown a strongly positive response to the program. Peer-led SEED seminars guide participants through their own provocative moments. SEED seminars, comprised of 15–25 participants per cohort who meet monthly during the academic year, include “personal reflection and testimony, listening to others’ voices, and learning experientially and collectively” about “systems of oppression, power, and privilege, without blame, shame or guilt.” SEED assumes “we are each the authorities of our own experience, and can learn to facilitate effective conversation about issues of equity and diversity,” as well as understand how our own educational formation addressed or ignored these issues (The National Seed Project).

Given the racism, sexism, homophobia, income inequality, religious intolerance and other discrimination that beleaguer our communities, it is imperative that we, as educators, help students engage these issues meaningfully—and fearlessly—on their road to self-authorship.

Cecilia Lucero
Academic Advisor, Co-Director of Balfour-Hesburgh Scholars Program
First Year of Studies
University of Notre Dame
[email protected]


Author. (2016). In Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved from www.oed.com

Authority. (2016). In Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved from www.oed.com

Baxter Magolda, M. B. (2004). Learning partnerships model. In M. B. Baxter Magolda & P. M. King (Eds.), Learning partnerships: Theory and models of practice to educate for self-authorship (pp. 37-62). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Baxter Magolda, M. B. (2010). The interweaving of epistemological, intrapersonal, and interpersonal development in the evolution of self-authorship. In M. B. Baxter Magolda, E. G. Creamer, & P. S. Meszaros (Eds.), Development and assessment of self-authorship: Exploring the concept across cultures (pp. 25-43). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Baxter Magolda, M. B., & King, P. M. (2012). Nudging minds to life: Self-authorship as a foundation for learning. ASHE Higher Education Report, 38(3).

Hofer, B. K. (2010). Personal epistemology, learning, and cultural context. In M. B. Baxter Magolda, E. G. Creamer, & P. S. Meszaros (Eds.), Development and assessment of self-authorship: Exploring the concept across cultures (pp. 133-150). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Jones, S. R. (2010). Getting to the complexities of identity. In M. B. Baxter Magolda, E. G. Creamer, & P. S. Meszaros (Eds.), Development and assessment of self-authorship: Exploring the concept across cultures (pp. 223-243). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kegan, R., and Lahey, L.L. (2009). Immunity to change: How to overcome it and unlock potential in yourself and your organization. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Lowenstein, M. (2014). Toward a theory of advising. The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal. Retrieved from https://dus.psu/mentor/2014/toward-a-theory-of-advising

Pizzolato, J. E. (2005). Creating crossroads for self-authorship: Investigating the provocative moment. Journal of College Student Development, 46(6), 624-641.

Pizzolato, J. E., Nguyen, T. K., Johnson, M. P., & Wang, S. (2012). Understanding context: Cultural, relational, & psychological interactions in self-authorship development. Journal of College Student Development, 53(5), 656-679.

Risman, B.J. (2004). Gender as social structure: Theory wrestling with activism. Gender & Society, 18, 429-450.

Schulenberg, J. K. (2010). Academic advising informed by self-authorship theory. In J. K. Drake, P. Jordan, & M. A. Miller (Eds.), Academic advising approaches: Strategies that teach students to make the most of college (pp. 121-136). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

The National Seed Project. (2016). About SEED. Retrieved from https://nationalseedproject.org/

Torres, V. (2010). Investigating Latino ethnic identity within the self-authorship framework. In M. B. Baxter Magolda, E. G. Creamer, & P. S. Meszaros (Eds.), Development and assessment of self-authorship: Exploring the concept across cultures (pp. 69-84). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Exploring the Relationship between Experience, Expectation, and Academic Performance

Tadé Ayeni, Eastern Washington University

Tade Ayeni.jpgApproximately 50 percent of undergraduates are first generation college students (FGCS). Alarmingly, only 11 percent of low-income FGCS graduate from a university within a 6-year period (U.S. Department of Education, 2010).  Quantitative research has been extremely helpful in illustrating areas in which FGCS have consistently struggled.  However, for these students, the problem is not solely academic in nature.  They face a variety of social and conceptual barriers.  Falcon (2015) explains the inconspicuous social issues that belie their observable academic struggles:

First-generation students often require developmental coursework and tend to have lower grade point averages than their peers with college-educated parents (Huerta, Watt, & Reyes 2012).  This results in lack of confidence in their own ability to be academically competitive and successful.  In many interviews with minority FGCS, they discuss feeling that their non-minority peers question whether they have the grades to have earned admission into college (Wilkins, 2014).  An African American student interviewed by Wilkins (2014) stated, "Non-Black students assumed that all Black students benefitted from non-merit based admissions programs, even though most did not" (p. 184).  Minority students may face the stigma that their college admittance is based solely on affirmative action, rather than their academic abilities (ASHE, 2013).  This factor also contributes to low academic self-esteem and feeling of alienation from peers. . . ."  Perceptions of a hostile climate, negative student-faculty interactions, and limited cross-racial communications can have counteractive effects to a FGCS's academic self-concept and sense of belonging, which may lead to dropping out" (ASHE, 2013 p. 51). (Falcon, 2015, para. 11)

In attempting to gain a greater profundity of understanding regarding the experiences of FGCS, it may be helpful to examine the experiences of other student groups who may, to an extent, have overlapping or similar experiences.  The reason for this is that human beings do not experience events in neat categories.  Rather, it is possible for a person to have various aspects of experiences simultaneously as well as several types of narratives to interpret those experiences (Conroy, 2003).  For instance, an African American student at a predominantly white campus will have the experience of being part of a minority group.  However, if that same African American student is a male majoring in one of the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields (a field in which women have traditionally been underrepresented), then, in the aspect of gender, he may also have experiences as part of a majority group.

Based on this, studying the experiences of underrepresented student groups may provide some greater insight into the complex experiences of FGCS.  In 2014, I conducted a phenomenological study of the experience of Black students (the term “Black” here is used as a broader term encompassing both African and African-American students) who had managed to successfully matriculate through the higher education system and gain acceptance to United States medical schools.  In these interviews, all participants spoke of being raised in societal contexts in which aspirations of becoming medical physicians were not associated with Black people.  In this regard, they share a commonality with FGCS in that they both come from backgrounds in which there was little to no prior practical and conceptual pipeline toward post-secondary academic achievement.

Although the participants in the study came from different cultural, economic, and geographical backgrounds, there was one commonality in their responses: the impact of expectation.  They all acknowledged the general societal expectation was that they would not pursue higher education.  For example, Kayodé, an African male participant, explained,

I guess I came from a pretty; it was a “quote unquote” like bad neighborhood.  We grew up in the [North East United States], you know, most people are not interested in going that route.  I’m definitely a big believer that you tend to emulate whatever you see, and I didn’t see much of that, you know, my friends classmates, neighbors, you know I’ve never heard of anyone who was from my neighborhood trying to even like . . . go to medical school or be a doctor. (Ayeni, 2014, p. 50)

He was also asked how he gained the aspiration to become a physician in a general environment that he openly admitted contained no expectation or encouragement for him to pursue academic goals in the medical field.  He responded by identifying his parents and his ethnic culture:

My parents, they’re Nigerian, they came from this country, they came from Nigeria to this country for opportunity. . . . A lot of people say the American dream is dead and [there is] some truth to it, it kind of is, but the Nigerian culture, our parents said work hard and you can get whatever you want in a country where anyone can work and make it out to be an outstanding individual. (Ayeni, 2014, p. 51)

In addition to the negative societal expectation that they felt, participants identified a network of people that surrounded them who consistently held positive academic expectations for these students and persistently verbalized them.  After detecting this as a major emergent theme that appeared in all participants’ responses, this phenomenon was termed “a culture of Positive expectation” and defined as “a sub-culture in which their aspirations were fostered, encouraged, defended, and bolstered through the positive expectation of those around them” (Ayeni, 2014, p. 48).

Additionally, each participant delineated a unique blend of components that comprised their particular culture of positive expectation.  When Yemi, an African female who participated in the study, was asked how she first decided she wanted to become a physician, she responded by identifying her family’s expectation while also discounting the role that her ethnic identity played in that decision:

I don’t think it [ethnic culture] played any role at all.  I think it was just family, basic family structure and what people say to you that kind of shape how you think of yourself and how far you can go in life. (Ayeni, 2014, p. 52)

After identifying her family as a contributor, Yemi went on to tell a poignant story that provides an illustration of how educators can play a crucial role in the formation of a student’s culture of positive expectation.  She explained,

I was in advanced placement classes.  There was one time I felt I could not carry the load with like, maybe like 4 advanced placement classes, and I decided to leave my advanced placement class and go to a more regular math class.  And I had this teacher call the other class and say “Where is she?  She belongs in this class” and I’m just like “Ugh” and I had to explain to my teacher why I felt I could not handle the workload.  So it was like, it wasn’t, I never had the experience where someone was telling me I wasn’t smart enough, “You’re not bright enough."  It was more like “This is where you belong, so come back to this class” . . . so I never felt like the color of my skin hindered how far I was going to go, I had to work to get that out of my head. (Ayeni, 2014, p. 52)

Yemi’s story illustrates a possible conceptual link between student self-expectation and overcoming educational barriers.  Years later, as I repeatedly sat across the desk from students who had come to see me due to poor academic performance, I noticed a trend.  After these students selected classes they planned to take in the upcoming academic quarter, I asked them what grade they thought they could realistically earn in those classes.  Students generally responded with a 3.0 (B) or lower.  I then posed this question to them: “If I told you that you would get a large sum of money at the end of the quarter if you got a 4.0 (A) in those classes, what grade would you get?” They then answered that they would get a 4.0.  I pointed out that although nothing had changed about the classes or the students themselves, they identified very different grade expectations.

My main point to them was that, with diligence and proper motivation, they could realistically achieve a 4.0 grade.  I then highlighted the fact that they themselves had just unwittingly admitted this as well.  One of the main things that I affirmed to them was that when they got the 4.0 in that course, I would be happy for them but not surprised.  At the beginning of these conversations, students were generally withdrawn, quiet, and, in some cases, embarrassed.  At the end of these conversations, they were animated, engaged, and, in some cases, even smiling.  They may have been entering the nascent stage of a conceptual shift from merely hoping for good grades to actively intending and practically planning to achieve them.

In conclusion, the lesson here is not that simply by verbalizing positive expectations, educators can drastically improve academic performance. Such an affirmation would be an over-exaggeration at best.  Rather, the item of importance is the potential of using the formation of a culture of positive expectation as a complementary tool paired with existing best practices to address conceptual and experiential obstacles that students of various pioneering groups face.

Tadé Ayeni
Academic Advisor – College of Business & Health Sciences
Quarterly Faculty - Africana Studies Program
Eastern Washington University
[email protected]


Ayeni, T. (2014). A phenomenological study of the experiences of Black minority medical students through the frameworks of Critical Race Theory and gender as a social structure (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Digital Dissertations. (AAT 10062475)

Conroy, S. A. (2003). A pathway for interpretive phenomenology. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 2(3), 1-43.

Falcon, L. (2015). Breaking down barriers: First-generation college students and college success. League for Innovation in the Community College, 10(6). Retrieved from https://www.league.org/innovation-showcase/breaking-down-barriers-first-generation-college-students-and-college-success

U.S. Department of Education. (2010, September). Web tables: Profile of undergraduate Students 2007-2008. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2010/2010205.pdf


Advisors’ Perceptions, Attitudes, and Suggestions for Working with Parents

Allison Ewing-Cooper and Kami Merrifield, University of Arizona

Kami Merrifield.jpgAllison Ewing-Cooper.jpgWith all the talk about helicopter parents and overparenting, it is clear there is a new era in academia that includes parents.  Advisors observed an increase in parental involvement in college students’ academics (Merriman, 2007).  While this participation can be useful at times, it is common to hear of parent horror stories and worst-case scenarios.  It can be easy to forget that many parents have an incredible investment of time, love, money, and energy in their child’s education.  A college degree represents an enormous financial investment for many students’ parents.  The impact of a college education is not just financial; a college degree is associated with many quality of life indicators, including overall job satisfaction and more stable employment (Pew Research Center, 2014).  It is no wonder, then, that parents invest emotionally in their child’s participation in college.  There is also evidence that a certain amount of parental involvement is beneficial for students (Harper, Sax, & Wolf, 2012), but parental involvement is not always helpful.

Traditional-aged students start university at a time in their lives when they are in the process of individuating from their families of origin (Blos, 1979).  Students learn to make decisions on their own and take responsibility for these decisions.  Research indicates that, for college-aged students, intrusive, overly involved parenting is harmful to student well-being and hampers their ability to cope with difficult challenges (Segrin, Woszidlo, Givertz, Bauer, & Murphy, 2012).  It is critical for young adults to learn independence and develop problem-solving skills.  

Given the increase in parental involvement and mixed findings on its impact, we, the authors of this article, gathered data from advisors on their perceptions of their interactions with parents.  Additionally, we asked for examples of effective strategies for working with parents.  We surveyed 54 academic advisors at the University of Arizona from ten different colleges.  Most respondents were female (89%), white/European American (80%), and had a master’s degree or higher level of education (72%).

Most advisors reported that they interacted with parents once a week or twice a month (62%).  In general, advisors reported that these interactions were either “very helpful” or “helpful” (57%).  Advisors indicated that these interactions were, overall, “very positive” or “positive” (68%).  Most advisors, with three or more years of experience, specified that they thought parental involvement has increased (53%) since they started advising, but 34% of the advisors indicated that parental involvement has not increased, and 13% reported that they were unsure if parental involvement has increased or not. 

Additionally, the survey included open-ended questions regarding strategies that advisors found most helpful when working with students’ parents.  Five themes emerged from the responses.

Let Parents Have Their Say

 “Letting parents air their concerns for their student is the most successful way to de-escalate [sic] parent frustrations.  Once they feel heard, they are willing to allow their student to act more autonomously.”

Often when people are angry, they simply want to be heard.  By listening to frustrations and validating experiences, advisors can defuse tense situations and move to conversations that are more productive.  It may be tempting to shut an unpleasant conversation down by invoking FERPA, but by simply listening and acknowledging, advisors can calm parents down without saying anything specific about the situation or student. 

Include the Student

“I try to bring the student into the conversation as much as possible.”

The most productive parent interactions involve advisor, parent, and student.  By involving the student, any misperceptions or miscommunications can be cleared up.  These three-way interactions can help promote student autonomy and responsibility by addressing the student directly and allowing the student’s voice to enter the conversation.  The advisor is also able to model good listening skills and see the student as an adult. 

Develop a Game Plan for Parental Involvement

“Notify the parent(s) of FERPA regulations and the impact that has on the topics and/or amount of information you can share with them before the conversation begins.”

Advisors should collaborate with their advising team or departmental personnel to make a game plan and develop policy.  Advisors can be more confident in their interactions with parents by knowing they have the law (FERPA) and their department behind them.  Clear department policies based on FERPA regulations and outlining expectations for parental contact give advisors a safety net.  Outline these expectations on the departmental web page so that parents can understand what information advisors can and cannot share. 

Share General Information in Multiple Ways

“Sending out a monthly newsletter has been most helpful.  Keeping parents informed of dates and deadlines has helped students take a more active role in advising.”

Advisors know what questions parents often ask about academic programs and what information is the most essential for ensuring their children’s success.  There are a number of ways of keeping parents informed without direct contact or specific student information, including:

  • Parent newsletter: share knowledge with parents who subscribe to a listserv or mailing list.  Newsletters help parents keep informed; parents can then help their students remember important dates and deadlines and remind them to meet with their advisor.  However, someone must be in charge of creating the content and consistently delivering the newsletter.      
  • Department website: a specific tab for parent information.  This information is available to everyone, thus it can serve students as well as parents.  Update information regularly.      

The simplest solution may be to respond to parent requests for information as they occur.  Advisors can email fliers and general informational materials when requested.  Since parents who are not likely familiar with the jargon in these materials, they need to favor simplicity and brevity.

Be Positive

“Advisors set the tone.  If you are approachable, informative, and helpful, parents reciprocate.  I consider parents to be a useful team member for advising.”

While many advisors have a parent horror story, according to the respondents in the present study, interactions with parents are generally positive or neutral.  Most advisors also reported that interactions with parents were generally helpful.  This finding is consistent with a separate study’s results that students perceive these interactions as generally helpful (Ewing-Cooper & Merrifield, 2016).  Thus, parental involvement may be an opportunity to leverage parental energy into positive student outcomes.  Entering situations with a positive frame of mind and being open to parental contributions can take a potentially bad situation to good.    

It is likely parents will continue to participate in their children’s academic experiences.  Given this involvement, having a plan of action with clear objectives and guidelines for working with parents can help the situation be positive and productive.  Remember that parents can be allies and both parents and advisors want students to succeed.    

Allison Ewing-Cooper, PhD
Assistant Director of Academic Advising
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
University of Arizona
[email protected]

Kami Merrifield, PhD
Senior Academic Advisor II
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
University of Arizona
[email protected]


Blos, P. (1979). The adolescent passage. New York, NY: International University Press.

Ewing-Cooper, A., & Merrifield, K. A. (2016, May). Parental involvement in students’ academic experiences. Paper presented to the Region 10 National Academic Advising Conference, Santa Fe, NM. 

Harper, C. E., Sax, L. J., & Wolf, D. S. (2012). The role of parents in college students’ sociopolitical awareness, academic, and social development. Journal of Student Affairs, Research, and Practice, 49(2), 137-156.

Merriman, L. (2007). It’s your child’s education, not yours. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 54, B20.

Pew Research Center. (2014). The rising cost of not going to college. Retrieved from http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2014/02/SDT-higher-ed-FINAL-02-11-2014.pdf

Segrin, C., Woszidlo, A., Givertz, M., Bauer, A., & Murphy, M. T. (2012). The association between overparenting, parent-child communication, and entitlement and adaptive traits in adult children.  Family Relations, 61(2), 237-252. 

Strategies for a Successful Graduate Student Orientation Program

Rafael R. Almanzar, Rebecca Hapes, and Gail Rowe, Texas A&M University

Rebecca Hapes.jpgRafael Almanzar.jpgMost students intuitively know graduate programs differ from undergraduate programs.  However, most cannot articulate how different they actually are or what those distinctions may be.  More importantly, not understanding the difference can result in poor academic performance, low retention rates, and lead to a less than ideal transition into graduate school.  Creating a successful orientation program is a vital component to the transition process.  A successful orientation program should outline departmental expectations, start with the end in mind, provide relevant resources, and set the tone for professional relationship-building for the new students.  The following are some strategies for transitioning incoming graduate students through the utilization of departmental new graduate student orientation programs that serve to meet these goals.

Creation of Expectations

Gail Rowe.jpgAccording to Gurvitch (2005), students’ expectation of graduate school may be based on their previous undergraduate experience.  As graduate advisors, it is important to discuss departmental, program, and advisor expectations to students at the onset of program entry.  According to Bloom, Mulhern Halasz, and Hapes (2016),

At the academic program level, graduate programs can and should outline programmatic and professional expectations during their new graduate student orientations.  A comprehensive orientation enables students to begin their graduate programs with a clear understanding of the program and faculty expectations. (para. 2)

In many departments and various disciplines, students are expected to acquire knowledge and develop competencies in their research, perform well in rigorous coursework, teach undergraduate courses, and submit papers for publications.  Many times, the first semester is one of the most difficult as it takes time to adjust to a new school, new responsibilities, and new life as a graduate student (Gurvitch, 2005).  Graduate advisors can connect students to the resources that will not only help them to succeed in their first semester, but will also help them to have a clear understanding of what the expectations of themselves are as burgeoning professionals.  During the graduate orientation, students should receive in some format (packet, folder, binder, online, etc.) a comprehensive overview of the degree program requirements, departmental and university policies and procedures for meeting those requirements, and the location of the resources necessary to meet those requirements.

Beginning With the End in Mind

Graduate academic advisors encourage engaging interactions with graduate students about their career goals and life aspirations in an effort to guide and appropriately prepare students for post graduate school experiences.  These interactions and preparations assist the graduate students to develop technical and discipline-related skill sets, soft skills such as interpersonal and communication skills, and to identify other professional development opportunities that will enable them to be competitive and marketable in the job search prior to graduation.  Many institutions have a career center that offers trainings, workshops, and other resources to assist graduate students in developing these skills throughout their academic program.  Providing information about these university resources during the graduate orientation is essential so incoming graduate students can utilize the resources at the appropriate times during their program.

Providing Relevant Resources

Orientation programs are most successful when students are provided with resources to assist them throughout the entirety of the graduate school experience.  Supplying students with campus resources from offices such as the career center, counseling center, and writing center will further enable them to reach their established goals.  In addition, utilizing current students as a resource can create a departmental culture conducive to fostering student engagement.  For instance, student organizations, such as departmentally affiliated graduate student organizations, will have the opportunity to interact with incoming students and increase the pool of students who may then participate in their organization.  Groups of this nature provide many resources and opportunities to incoming students and work on a macro-level to help students transition into graduate school.  According to Gurvitch (2005), graduate student organizations will help students succeed in graduate school and later become their support system.

Graduate advisors can contact the office that oversees student affairs on their campus for more relevant resources for their incoming graduate students.  For instance, some universities may publish an “Off Campus Student Survival Manual,” which offer tips for a successful off campus living experience for new students.  These manuals provide tips on finding housing, personal safety, information about the town, community resources, and managing a budget.  For universities which do not offer a survival manual, graduate advisors can create their own, or provide students access to similar information.

Building of Relationships

Students entering graduate school may feel excited, yet simultaneously apprehensive.  For some students, this may be their first time away from home and family.  Assimilating into a new environment can be a challenge, especially for students coming from another country or relocating to attend a graduate program.  With these considerations in mind, orientation may be one of the first opportunities for graduate academic advisors to establish a welcoming environment for their incoming students. According to Gaide (2004), it is important for students to feel comfortable in their relationship with their home department.  There are a variety of ways in which orienting activities can be structured to achieve this goal.

Social Events.  One way to provide a level of comfort is to add a social component by involving departmental faculty, staff, and current students into the orientation program.  For instance, implementing social activities, such as an ice cream social or a happy hour, is a great opportunity for incoming students to meet and interact with current students in an informal and casual setting.  Another way to engage incoming students is during a departmentally inclusive event.  One such example could be a physical activity (softball or flag football game with faculty and staff vs. students or some other creative combination) and afterwards, everyone gathers together for a picnic.  Events of this nature are valuable opportunities for incoming students to see their home department, faculty, staff, and other students in their program in a non-academic, casual, and family-like atmosphere.  Graduate programs that want to reduce attrition will provide their students with ways to socialize within their home department and build upon that sense of belonging that has been found to be an integral component of retaining students (Sheehy, 2016).

Mentoring Activities.  Current students can initiate contact with the incoming students prior to their arrival to the departmental orientation program.  If departments host recruiting events where current students are able to interact with prospective students, utilizing those student connections and building upon those relationships initiated at that event would be a way to foster additional engagement between the incoming and current students.  Incoming students could also be assigned a more experienced student as a mentor.  The current student mentor serves to provide assistance in the transition process and lends guidance and support in a myriad of topical areas as the new student eases into the program.

Establishing a mentoring program can also ease the transition process for new graduate students.  Mentoring programs can extend beyond new student orientation. Mentoring programs serve multiple purposes such as career development, and psychological and emotional support,  which also leads to higher student retention, persistence and degree completion (Erickson & Travick-Jackson, 2006). Graduate advisors can pair incoming graduate students with seasoned graduate students.  This type of mentoring arrangement should provide benefit and professional growth to both members of the mentorship pair.  A variety of methodologies can be utilized to identify mentors, and pairings may be made based on academic, social, or a combination of attributes, depending on the specific mentorship goals in an effort to match compatibility.  Once the pairings are made, the graduate advisor should communicate with both parties about their role, respective responsibilities, and expectations, including appropriate academic referrals and resources.

Delivery Method

When developing a departmental orientation program, graduate advisors should consider the delivery method of the content relative to the program model and target audience.  For example, it may be most appropriate to host a graduate orientation in an online platform for a program in which the students are participating at a distance.  However, in-person orientation programs may be more appropriate, augmented perhaps with online or print resources, for graduate students attending a program with a traditional delivery model.  Graduate advisors should also understand the various orientations an incoming student may be mandated or encouraged to attend and plan accordingly.  It is appropriate to view content from the institutional orientation program to either prevent overlap of information, to supplement existing information, or to reinforce information.  It is also important for graduate advisors to understand the rate at which students in their program attend the university-wide orientation program so departmental programs can be organized appropriately.

Graduate academic advisors can utilize new graduate orientation programs to successfully transition and matriculate their incoming graduate students.  Through the vehicle of a comprehensive new graduate student orientation, graduate programs have the opportunity to provide incoming graduate students with a strong sense of community and welcome.  Clearly communicated programmatic expectations help incoming students establish and solidify goals so they can begin with their particular end goal in mind.  Providing relevant resources for successful degree completion and professional development further enables accomplishment of the goal.  An effective new student orientation lays the foundation for professional networking, builds relationships, and allows graduate advisors to assist in facilitating the continued success of the graduate programs in which they work and of the graduate students whom they advise.    

Rafael R. Almanzar, M.A.
Senior Academic Advisor I
Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics/College of Agriculture & Life Sciences
Texas A&M University
[email protected]

Rebecca Hapes, M.S.
Senior Academic Advisor II
Department of Entomology/College of Agriculture & Life Sciences
Texas A&M University
[email protected]

Gail Rowe, M.A.
Senior Academic Advisor II
Department of Aerospace Engineering/College of Engineering
Texas A&M University
[email protected]


Bloom, J. L., Mulhern Halasz, H., & Hapes, R. (2016, June). Advising strategies for graduate student degree progression. Academic Advising Today, 39(2). Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Advising-Strategies-for-Graduate-Student-Degree-Progression.aspx

Erickson, D. E., & Travick-Jackson, C. (2006). Creating community through mentoring. Journal of Urban Learning, Teaching and Research. 2, 262-270. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ943126

Gaide, S. (2004). Student Orientation at Tarleton State Takes the Distance Out of Distance Education. Distance Education Report, 8(17), 4.

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Holistic Approaches to Advising Students on Academic Probation

Maureen R. McCoy, University of Louisville

Maureen McCoy.jpgCollege students face a variety of obstacles that can affect their retention and graduation.  Students who do not meet minimum grade point average (GPA) requirements are generally placed on an academic warning or probationary status that is often universally applied to all students and administrated by faculty or advisors (Arcand & LeBlanc, 2012).  However, each students’ reasons for missing this academic mark are unique and include non-academic issues, such as anxiety, social alienation, and low self-esteem (Isaak, Graves, and Mayers, 2006).  Probationary status can affect eligibility for federal, state, and institutional financial aid and students’ ability to graduate on time, which can further exacerbate personal and emotional issues.  Probationary students have reported feeling depressed, humiliated, shamed, unworthy or incapable of completing college, and anxious (Arcand & LeBlanc, 2011, 2012; Houle, 2013).  Such feelings may cause students to believe that they cannot change or do better, which may make it harder to motivate them to change their academic habits (Dembo, 2004; Schunk & Zimmerman, 2006).  In order to counteract these negative reactions, advising programs must be willing to address the needs of students on probation through varied strategies to help them construct more individualized academic plans, utilize resources in order to improve their performance, and address any personal issues that may be hindering their performance.

Academic Skills and Knowledge

Primarily, institutions must inform students on academic probation about the specifics of their policy, including what the student must do to return to good standing and what the consequences are if they do not.  Many colleges email or send letters to probationary students, which is an easy way to notify all students of their status and resources available to them, regardless of circumstance.  However, impersonal letters do not always prompt students to act.  Moss and Yeaton (2015) found that these communications caused no significant impact on student’s GPA in the subsequent semester.  More intrusive efforts are needed to address the issues of at-risk students.

Some institutions require frequent meetings with an advisor throughout the probationary semester.   Through frequent advising, students are able to connect with additional resources on campus and engage more in campus life, and measurable improvement in student GPA after at least three meetings with an advisor has been shown (National Survey for Student Engagement, 2007; Vander Schee, 2007).  Students can form a more personal connection to the institution through this contact, and connection can help promote engagement and self-sufficiency.  These can be effective in helping students receive individualized help, but larger institutions may have trouble meeting with the potentially high number of students on academic probation, so larger programs are needed to reach at-risk students.

Academic skills courses have been successful in helping students improve their study skills, retention, and overall GPA (Mechur Karp, Raufman, Efithimious, & Ritze, 2017; Lipsky & Ender, 1990; Renzulli, 2015).  Targeted intervention courses are also used to help students review institutional policies, explore majors and career paths, and engage on campus and can significantly increase retention and matriculation for second-semester students (McGrath & Burd, 2012).  However, not all intervention courses are mandatory, and many students are less likely to seek out assistance on their own, particularly if they are less self-confident as a result of probation (Tovar & Simon, 2007).  In order to reach all probationary students, institutions with intervention courses should consider making them mandatory and credit-bearing and should consider additional ways help students connect to resources.

Connection and Engagement

Underperforming students are less likely to be able to recognize shortfalls in their skills or goals that are counter-productive, so more engagement between these students and their college or resources may be beneficial (Astin, Cherney, Crowner, & Hill, 1997; Hsieh, Sullivan, & Guerra, 2007).  In addition to academic skills development, students need to feel that they belong on their campus, and this feeling, or lack thereof, can affect their overall persistence and commitment to an institution and higher education (Hausmann, Ye, Schofield, & Woods, 2009).  Developmental or holistic approaches can help students find meaning in what they are doing in college, which may motivate them to overcome issues that caused them to be placed on probation.

Regular connection with an advisor can be very impactful and meaningful to students because they are able to articulate their obstacles to someone in an open dialogue, which can be a relief for struggling students who may feel discouraged by dispassionate probation emails and letters (Kirk-Kuwaye & Nishida, 2001).  Institutions that may not have the personnel or resources to provide such intensive connection may look for additional ways in which to engage probationary students beyond academic skills development.  Peer advisors, mentors, and tutors can be trained to help students develop their academic skills, use campus resources, and answer questions about policies (Colvin, 2007; Ender & Newton, 2000).  Perhaps more importantly, they can provide students with a friendly face and a potential for connections with others through events and peer groups, which can contribute to probationary students’ sense of belonging, increase their likelihood of staying, and motivate them to develop productive habits.  Having a peer mentor built into orientation or college introduction classes can help students make connections to their institution and learn how to be successful in that particular college or university (Zevallos & Washburn, 2014).  Similarly, having peer mentors in intervention classes for probation students may allow students to connect with someone who can offer advice and make them feel like they are not alone.

Providing the opportunity for struggling students to develop relationships with peers, staff, or faculty in the capacity of mentorship and advising can help students increase their sense of belonging—to a major, department, peer group, or campus—while addressing academic skills.  Peers can help each other develop their own sense of identity and contribute to their social, cognitive, and emotional development, while academically related extracurricular activities, like mentoring, can help students increase their GPA (Grayson, 1996; Rhodes, Spencer, Keller, Liang, & Noam, 2006).  However, there are times when advising meetings and peer mentoring may not be enough.

Holistic Student Development

Problems that contribute to students being placed on academic probation may not always be within the student’s power to control, including financial, personal, or familial issues.  To address these, additional resources may be needed.  In one study, a school in South Korea required probationary students to attend two counseling sessions with a mental health professional before the start of the next semester (Yang, Yon, & Kim, 2013).  Much like students who attended a minimum number of advising sessions, the authors found that students who attended at least five sessions showed a greater GPA improvement over three semesters (Yang et al., 2013).  These counselors were able to “empathize with students’ emotions caused by academic probation, help students identify and address their academic needs, motivate them to study, and introduce various support services to them” (Yang et al., 2013, p. 552).  These are potential conversations that peers and advisors may have with students, but they may not always be trained to handle especially serious situations students may be facing.

While there are undoubtedly differences in how academic advisors and mental health counselors are trained in South Korea and the United States, they share many of the same goals.  Intrusive advising in particular is designed to help students recognize patterns of behavior and cognition that can affect academic performance, including personal issues (Vander Schee, 2007).  Advisors can help with adjustments to academic performance while also referring students to counselors to help them resolve and manage personal issues.  The simple acknowledgment that personal factors influence academics may help students begin to think about their current situations and goals and how they may be able to change their thinking and behaviors in order to meet these goals.  Self-reflection is a skill that can help them beyond college, and institutions can help support its development.  All of these efforts can help students become well informed, able to self-regulate, and more likely to be successful. 


It is difficult to identify one common profile for students placed on academic probation, but institutions should continue to adjust and improve their probation response policies to meet the needs of these students.  There are many options available for institutions to support students who are struggling.  Intervention courses can help students improve study skills while also teaching them to “develop relationships with peers and faculty members, to find the balance of physical and psychological energy required to persist and succeed, and to get involved on campus outside of the classroom as well as find internal motivation and manage time” (McGrath & Burd, 2012).  When done intentionally and with well-trained staff, the same results could be achieved through individual meetings with advisors, counselors, and trained peers.  Addressing non-academic factors through personal connections both on campus and in the community can support students in their holistic development.  Regardless of the intervention method or methods an institution chooses to pursue, they must be designed to help students develop academically, personally, and socially in order to be the most impactful for students on academic probation.

Maureen R. McCoy
REACH Program Coordinator
University of Louisville
[email protected]


Arcand, I., & LeBlanc, R. N. (2011). Academic probation and companioning: Three perspectives on experience and support. Mevlana International Journal of Education, 1, 1-14.

Arcand, I., & LeBlanc, R. N. (2012). “When you fail, you feel like a failure”: One student’s experience of academic probation and an academic support program. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 58(20), 216-231.

Astin, M., Cherney, E., Crowner, J., & Hill, A. (1997). The forum: Intrusive group advising for the probationary student. NACADA Journal, 17(2), 45-47.

Colvin, J. W. (2007). Peer tutoring and social dynamics in higher education. Mentoring & Tutoring, 15(2), 165-181.

Dembo, M. H. (2004). Students’ resistance to change in learning strategies courses. Journal of Development Education, 27(3), 2-4.

Ender, S. C., & Newton, F. B. (2000). Students helping students: A guide for peer educators on college campuses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Grayson, J. P. (1996). Under- and over-achievement in first year. Toronto, Canada: Institute for Social Research. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED404904.pdf

Hausmann, L. M., Ye, F., Schofield, J. W., & Woods, R. L. (2009). Sense of belonging and persistence in white and African American first-year students. Research in Higher Education, 50(7), 649-669.

Hsieh, P., Sullivan, J. R., & Guerra, N. S. (2007). A closer look at college students: Self-efficacy and goal orientation. Journal of Advanced Academics, 18, 454-476.

Houle, N. (2013). Academic suspension and student adjustment: How students make meaning of their experiences (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Northeastern University, Boston, MA.

Isaak, M. I., Graves, K. M., & Mayers, B. O. (2006). Academic, motivational, and emotional problems identified by college students in academic jeopardy. Journal of College Student Retention, 8(2), 171-183.

Kirk-Kuwaye, M., & Nishida, D. (2001). Effect of low and high advisor involvement on the academic performances of probation students. NACADA Journal, 21(1), 40-45.

Lipsky, S. A., & Ender, S. C. (1990). Impact of study skills course on probationary students’ academic performance. Journal of the Freshmen Year Experience, 2(1), 7-15.

McGrath, S. M., & Burd, G. D. (2012). A success course for freshmen on academic probation: Persistence and graduation outcomes. NACADA Journal, 32(1), 43-52.

Mechur Karp, M., Raufman, J., Efithimious, C., & Ritze, N. (2017). Revising a college 101 course for sustained impact: Early outcomes. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 41(1), 42-55.

Moss, B. G., & Yeaton, W. H. (2015). Failed warnings: Evaluating the impact of academic probation warning letters on student achievement. Evaluation Review, 39(5), 501-524.

National Survey for Student Engagement. (2007). Experiences that matter: Enhancing student learning and success. Bloomington: Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research.

Renzulli, S. J. (2015). Using learning strategies to improve the academic performance of university students on academic probation. NACADA Journal, 35(1), 29-41.

Rhodes, J. E., Spencer, R., Keller, T. E., Liang, B., & Noam, G. (2006). A model for the influence of mentoring relationships on youth development. Journal of Community Psychology, 34(6), 691-707.

Schunk, D. H., & Zimmerman, B. J. (2006). Competence and control beliefs: Distinguishing the means and ends. In P. A. Alexander & P. H. Winnie (Eds.), Handbook of educational psychology. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Tovar, E., & Simon, M. A. (2007). Academic probation as a dangerous opportunity: Factors influencing diverse college students’ success. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 30(7), 547-564.

Vander Schee, B. A. (2007). Adding insight to intrusive advising and its effectiveness with students on academic probation. NACADA Journal, 27(2), 50-59.

Yang, J. W., Yon, K. J., & Kim, J. K. (2013). An effect of a mandatory counseling program for college students on academic probation: A preliminary study. Asia Pacific Education Review, 14(4), 549-558.

Zevallos, A. L., & Washburn, M. (2014). Creating a culture of student success: The SEEK scholars peer mentoring program. About Campus, 18(6), 25-29.

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Technology and Academic Advising: A Case for Embracing Change in Academic Advising

Zackary W. Underwood and Melinda Anderson, University of North Carolina Wilmington

Anderson & Underwood.jpgChange is an inevitable part of higher education today, but as our students’ needs change, advisors will have to adapt to new technology platforms to provide better support.  “If utilized effectively, technology in advising contributes positively to the student experience, supporting goals toward increased retention and improving learners’ academic success” (Pasquini, 2011, para. 19).  Academic advisors are not absolved from changes in their routines and advising practices to accommodate for technology.

Adapting to Technology

Increasing the use of technology in advising practices can be seen as intrusive, unnecessary, or part of a bigger number-crunching agenda set forth by an advisor’s institution.  However, technological change is key to adapting modern advising practices that lead to a series of positive changes: personal and professional growth for advisors, enhanced student success practices and policies to serve the mission of the college or university, and ultimately better support for students.

Adapting could be seen as negative and difficult due to change.  As advisors, we are always preparing our students for change and transition.  We want our students to think critically and thoughtfully about how they are growing and developing as scholars.  As advisors, we should stop and take that same advice for ourselves.  Our universities and colleges are constantly changing.  Changes in leadership, goals, demands, expectations, and regulations are driving the transformations we are currently experiencing in our advising practices.  Clapp’s (2007) study of implementing academic advising policy advocates for the need to adapt.  By changing the way advisors process and systematize information, advisors may be better equipped to question the processes never changed in the past.  With advising comes routines and traditions, but sometimes those traditions just existed because that was the way it currently operated.  Familiar statements such as “this is the way we always have always done it” may arise, but this can become an opportunity to investigate how we can adapt to improve academic advising practices.

Changes in technology to support advising practices may feel cumbersome or trivial, but they are often in place to increase efficiency or productivity.  Some advisors may feel as if changes are happening for change’s sake. Change is introduced not to alienate us in our work, but to produce better results for our practice and to support students.  Of course, with any amount of change there can be hiccups along the way, but the changes are designed to improve academic advising processes and procedures to further a university or college’s mission or goals.

Introducing new technology into old advising practices disrupts the flow of the norm.  “The use of technology has, in many ways raised the level of advising discourse” (Lipschultz & Leonard, 2007, p. 72). Adopting new ways of operating is necessary to improve the entire advising process.  As campus change agents, academic advisors will be able to make a difference on their campus by leading conversations that rethink how technology can improve academic advising practices to better support and enable student success.  Advisors can serve as early adopters and demonstrate how “advising is informed by cutting-edge thinking” (Lowenstein, 2013, p. 254).  Thinking ahead to incorporate newer technologies keeps advisors in sync with their students as they embrace new ways of incorporating technology into their lives.  Lipschultz and Leonard (2007) echo this point by stating “advisors then, would be well-advised to anticipate, plan for, understand, adapt to, and appropriately adopt those technologies that will [be] used by their first-year students in the coming years” (p. 83).

Advisors are Agents of Change

Academic advisors can be dynamic agents of change.  Senior-level administration create new policies or procedures; academic advisors are on the front lines and can become intimately aware of the changes that need to take place to quickly adopt, incorporate, and sustain the new practice or policy.  Academic advisors are also well positioned to determine how new practices and policies will influence their work with other offices as they frequently collaborate with other units in support of their students.  Each advisor brings their own unique and individual style to the role because of the various professional backgrounds, educational experiences, and a variety of knowledge.  These elements when brought together can create a powerful platform making advisors the best agents for change in higher education.

Advisors or administrators who support advising centers will look for new ways to help others embrace the changes that are transforming their practices.  Ways in which each individual advisor accepts this change will vary by person (Bowen, 2012, p. 241).  One way to embrace this inevitable change is to focus on how advising technologies can make work more efficient.  For example, technology can support a developmental approach with students as opposed to solely focusing on registration (White, McCalla-Wriggins, & Hunter, 2007).  Research finds that “academic advising quickly grasped the power of technology to free advisors from the more tedious aspects of their work” (White, McCalla-Wriggins, & Hunter, 2007, p. 226).  Though not the norm everywhere, this is one way of assisting weary or hesitant administrators or advisors regarding advising technology improvements.

Regardless of advisor attitudes, “the future of higher education is deeply intertwined with new technologies” (Bowen, 2012, p. 1).  To meet new expectations, assessments, or policies, technology can help, but there is a risk.  College and universities gather together under the umbrella of a mission/vision and goals.  “Having a shared mission, a social conscience, and an ability to make a difference can create a great working environment and can foster risk and change” (Bowen, 2012, p. 284).  In this light, new assessments, ways of measuring success, or assessing each individual visit with academic advisors could be tedious.  New advising technology can help institutions accomplish their missions by shifting their advising cultures to embrace terms such as student success from student retention percentages of a particular demographic of student.  “Many of these additional measures are likely to require new data-gathering efforts. . . . The right success measures provoke the right kinds of conversations” (Christensen & Eyring, 2011, p. 395).  This means new advising technologies may never serve as a quick fix to address all student needs, but instead still require strong relationships between advisor and advisee.

Practical Tips for Implementing Change

At our institution, University of North Carolina Wilmington, change is inevitable and is a tradition.  This may be thought of as strange as we think of traditions as being long-standing, common practices. However, the tradition at our institution is an openness to considering new and different approaches to support our students.  As a younger institution, founded in 1947, one advantage we have is our ability to adapt to new advising initiatives without being mired down by historical practices influenced by a rigid university culture.  This does not mean we ignore the past, but instead stay open to changing the way academic advising practice happens in order to support our current students’ success.  This does not mean that our institution changes constantly, but remains open to trying new things to continue to improve student success.

When thinking through current practices, please keep the following in mind:

  • Change is inevitable.  Be a part of the process when creating new solutions, because our primary goal as academic advisors is to support student success.  New changes are being designed to support their success and not necessarily for advisors’ comfort.  
  • Be the change you want to see in the world.  This old adage rings true as we think through how we can be change agents at our institutions.  Volunteer to be on the committee or task force.  
  • Use your voice.  Becoming solution orientated will help advisors become less frustrated if they find themselves having to incorporate new technologies into their old practices.

Finally, new technologies will never replace the need to have strong relationships with our students. Advising technologies are intended to support our strategy to increase the level of student engagement, not to complicate it. The heart of an advisor cannot be replaced by software, predictive or student success analytics.  Our passion and commitment to our students will serve as a powerful guide as we continue to move through the seas of change in our institutions.

Zackary W. Underwood
Lead Advisor
Advising Technology and Support
University College
University of North Carolina Wilmington
[email protected]

Melinda Anderson
Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Director of University College
University College
University of North Carolina Wilmington
[email protected] 


Bowen, J. (2012). Teaching naked: How moving technology out of your college classroom will improve student learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint.

Christensen, C. & Eyring, H. (2011). The innovative university: Changing the DNA of higher education from the inside out. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Clapp, M. (2007). Adaptation in the ivory tower: Deciphering the implementation of institutional academic advising policy. College and University, 83(1), 12-21, 23-25.

Lipschultz, W. & Leonard, M. (2007). Using technology to enhance the advising experience. In M. Hunter, B. McCalla-Wiggins, & E. White (Eds.), Academic advising: New insights for teaching and learning in the first year (Monograph No. 46 [National Resource Center], Monograph 14 [National Academic Advising Association]: pp. 71-86). Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.

Lowenstein, M. (2013). Envisioning the future. In J. Drake, P. Jordan, & M. Miller (Eds.), Academic advising approaches: Strategies that teach students to make the most of college (pp. 243-258). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Pasquini, L. (2011). Implications for use of technology in academic advising. Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Implications-for-use-of-technology-in-advising-2011-National-Survey.aspx

White, E., McCalla-Wriggins, B., & Hunter, M (2007). Challenges and recommendations for today’s advisors. In M. Hunter, B. McCalla-Wiggins, & E. White (Eds.), Academic advising: New insights for teaching and learning in the first year (Monograph No. 46 [National Resource Center], Monograph 14 [National Academic Advising Association]: pp. 225-230). Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.

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How to Identify Academically Grieving Students

Rathan L. Kersey, Chair, NACADA Large Universities Advising Community

Rathan Kersey.jpgUpon reading Liz Freedman’s (2017) article about “academic grieving” in Academic Advising Today, I was struck by two things.  First, what a well-written article; the inclusion of the sample conversation helped me grasp the concepts she was trying to convey and helped me feel more confident in potentially applying those concepts in future advising sessions, should the need arise.

The second striking thing was how viscerally I recalled an experience with a student who, in hindsight, was academically grieving.  Freedman classified an experience many advisors encounter with a concise and easy to understand term.  One responsibility of an advisor is to help students make the best choices for themselves with the opportunities available to them.  Freedman reminds advisors of the emotion related to those decisions and the need to consider academic grieving as part of the parallel planning process.  To elaborate on the concepts in her article, I want to share my own experience with academically grieving students and a process to identify such students.

My Experience

When I advised at the University of Georgia’s (UGA) College of Education, my population included students in the Communication Sciences and Disorders program.  At UGA, this is a very competitive major with an application process and a limited pool of accepted applicants.  Close to half of all applicants do not make it in, although this percentage changes from year-to-year.  Thus, I would have many conversations with students who were in various stages of academic grieving.  One stood out.

The student had been denied entry in the initial round.  The department allowed for appeals and did set aside several slots for a second look at applicants.  Not recognizing the academic grief, I immediately set about trying to parallel plan.  When I mentioned the possibility of appeal, the student said she did not think she would have a chance and did not want to bother trying.  I endeavored to convince her to attempt the appeal for several minutes until I realized the futility and tried a different tack.

I began by asking a series of career-related questions.  I set about trying to explore one major option after another while I cleverly explained how each could lead to a similar career path.  She resisted all attempts at altering her career choice.

Changing approaches, I began to explain how she might be able to find an undergraduate degree that would enable a quick graduation and still pursue her goal of becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist in grad school.  She came back with anecdotes of students who tried to get into a CMSD grad program without an undergrad.  I found it difficult to argue against her pessimism having heard many of those anecdotes myself.

Argument after argument, rejected.  Finally recognizing the uselessness of further arguments, I somehow got her to leave and agree to come back when she had a chance to think about her situation more rationally.  Lo and behold, she did come back.  Ironically, she described an alternate path identical to one I had suggested at our first meeting.  I resisted the brief urge of “told you so” and began to explore that alternate path with her.

Oh, if I only had the four tools at my disposal that Freedman (2017) so eloquently laid out.  Utilizing Reflective Listening, “I Wonder” Questions, Metalevel Communication, and Rule Breaks might have made the conversation much different.  Although, I think I may have unknowingly used a variation of “I Wonder” questions (in my exploration of alternate paths) and Metalevel Communication (statistics, outside references).  In hindsight, I recognize that the student was grieving and could have benefitted from a different conversation than one involving parallel planning.  Now I know how to be of assistance to a student experiencing academic grieving, I was not sure how to readily identify, however, whether or not a student was academically grieving so that I could shift the conversation to a better place.

How to Identify Grieving Students

To that end, a look at a classic text on grieving, On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss, by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler (2005) may be helpful.  The five stages—Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance—are well known.  While the stage theory of grief is not the only one that exists, its familiarity might prove useful in making a quick judgement about whether a student is academically grieving. 

Students may come to advisors in any of the five stages, but I would argue that a student would be more open to parallel planning once they have experienced Acceptance.  Words used to describe someone in the denial stage include “numb” and “in shock.”  Anger may be a little easier to recognize, as it will often manifest itself through physical signs such as a raised voice or a clenched fist (Mills, 2005).  Bargaining is often showcased through the use of “what if” or “if only” statements.  Depression can be tough to spot, but may include symptoms such as “feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness” or “feelings of hopelessness, pessimism” (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, n.d.).

Keep in mind that every person is different.  As Kessler writes (grief.com, n.d.), “They [stages of grief] are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss as there is no typical loss” (para. 1).  As advisors, we cannot replace professional help in overcoming grief, potentially even academic grief.  We can, however, utilize the knowledge found in other disciplines to “provide support to grieving students,” as Freedman (2017, para. 3) suggests in her insightful article.

Point of No (academic) Return

I also think it is necessary for a student to reach the point of no (academic) return for the conversation to turn towards parallel planning.  A clear cessation of hope in one path allows the student to complete the grieving process and move on to other paths.  It is our role to facilitate that “cessation of hope.”  I do not mean to do this maliciously.  Rather, advisors should make it clear, when policy dictates, that the path the student was on is no longer available to them.  Advisors should then assure the student that they are available to help them find another path.

Another factor that can inhibit parallel planning is ambiguity in policy.  Ambiguity or exceptions in admission policy for limited access programs can extend the grieving process.  Advisors should strive to make connections with policy makers in order to clarify policies, get a sense of how admission decisions are made, and identify an endpoint to the process.  When I recently spoke to a department chair at my institution on these very subjects, I mentioned that it is necessary to assure a student that the current path is no longer valid before we can have that much tougher conversation about a parallel plan.  He understood and worked with me to formalize the appeal process to eliminate inconsistency in its execution.  Thanks to Freedman’s (2017) article, I now have more tools at my disposal to use when that tougher conversation comes along.

Rathan L. Kersey
Academic Advisor II
University Advisement Center
Georgia State University
[email protected]


Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (n.d.). Symptoms. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/depression/symptoms

Freedman, L. (2017, June). When not to parallel plan: Advising academically grieving students. Academic Advising Today, 40(2). Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/When-NOT-to-Parallel-Plan-Advising-Academically-Grieving-Students.aspx

Grief.com. (n.d.). A message from David Kessler. Retrieved from https://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/

Kübler-Ross, E., & Kessler, D. (2005). On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. New York, NY: Scribner.

Mills, H. (2005). Recognizing anger signs. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/recognizing-anger-signs/


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The Odyssey: How to Help Students Reach Their Ithaca

Efrosini Hortis, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Efrosini Hortis.jpgHomer’s epic poem The Odyssey focuses on the Greek hero Odysseus, who wanders for ten years after the fall of Troy in order to reach his destination, Ithaca.  After adventures, learning experiences, failures, and successes, he finally finds his way home.

Our students are like Odysseus; they enter our offices full of dreams, interests, fears, and confusions, ready to begin their academic, personal, social, and developmental wanderings!  Advisors are like the Goddess Athena; we need wisdom, knowledge, resources, and authenticity to help student find the right paths during their wanderings!

Graduation, much like Ithaca, is the desired destination.  Odysseus is on a journey to his beloved home, just as our students are striving toward their personal Ithaca.  Academic advisors may serve as guides along this journey as students achieve new heights in the developmental, learning, and maturation process.

Odysseus begins his journey full of hope and happiness, believing that in a few months he will reach Ithaca.  However, he encounters obstacles, and his journey lasts for ten years.  Odysseus is a recognizable Greek character; he is a warrior, the man who overcomes all menaces, employing his intellect and endurance.  Similarly, our students feel exuberant to start college and graduate in four years, but they are blissfully unaware of the obstacles they may encounter that threaten to derail their endeavors.  Students, like Odysseus, undertake adventures and relationships that distract them from their goals and may delay their achievements.  Our students must rely on their intellect and perseverance combined with concentration and hard work in order to graduate on time.

As Odysseus begins his journey, he reaches the Lotus Eaters’ Island.  The inhabitants cook a dish made of lotus flowers, which makes those who eat it forget their past life and wish to stay there.  Some of Odysseus’s crew fall under the spell of the Lotus Eaters, and he has to tie them up and drag them back to the ship.  Like this, students land in our campuses, trying to adjust socially by establishing connections and finding new friends.  Most of them are away from home for the first time, which is overwhelming and may evoke homesickness.  All these emotional and social obstacles are like the lotus flower in that they divert attention from educational pursuits.

Next, Odysseus reaches the floating island of King Aeolus.  When Odysseus is ready to leave, Aeolus is willing to help him, and kindly traps the winds in a leather bottle to prevent them from harming Odysseus’s ship.  However, Odysseus’s men, curious to know what is in the bottle, open it while he is asleep.  The strong winds blow the ship back to the island, where Aeolus refuses to help them again and sends them away.  The same thing happens to our students after high school; they enter the broad American educational system, and it feels as if the Winds of Aeolus open before them.  The liberal educational system, with its wide selection of courses and majors, is ideal as students may explore their strengths and interests, but, like the Winds of Aeolus, it opens up multiple paths and options that they cannot manage.  Choosing a major is a frustrating and important decision.   However, students feel so confused about general education and competing major requirements, that they feel as if they are blown off course easily when a new major emerges.  

The next challenge in Odysseus’s journey is the Sirens’ Island.  The Sirens are women who sing songs to lure passing crews and ships in order to keep them on their island.  During social adjustments, our students come across many sirens on our campuses.  Personal relationships are important, but, at the same time, they can become overwhelming and distract students from their studies.  In addition, social interactions that lead to parties, drugs, or alcohol, when not balanced, are like the Sirens of campus that can lead to failures and eventual drop out.

Another stop in Odysseus’s journey is the Cave of Cyclops, a cave of monstrous cyclops, where Odysseus and his men are trapped.  They escape by blinding them.  Perceptive students anticipate academic challenges and changes in responsibility.  Most understand that college will be different from and more rigorous than high school, but many do not realize exactly what those differences entail.  Unfortunately, research proves students are academically underprepared when entering college.  Another important factor is that students are accountable for their actions in college.   A different level of responsibility is anticipated from them, since they are now responsible for their choices and actions.  From making payments to doing laundry and managing their time, some are overwhelmed by the academic difficulties and dealing with adult responsibilities for the first time.  As Odysseus, they may feel ensnared in their own Cave of Cyclops.  An appealing solution may be to leave college and delay the process of developing as a student.

These challenges—academic, personal, social, and emotional—that students experience when entering college may be likened to Odysseus’s adventures.  Odysseus had Athena serving as his protector much like our students have advisors to help them overcome obstacles and reach their Ithaca.  During advising appointments, an effective teaching/advising philosophy should be followed.   In order to be an effective teacher and advisor, we must develop specific skills and qualifications.

Effectiveness.  Effective teachers and advisors must know the material they teach well in order to be able to explain it to advisees.  Knowledge of the curriculum, procedures, regulations, and resources is a key factor for our advising sessions.

Preparation.  Prior to an appointment, preparation is imperative.  As advisors, we want to glean valuable information regarding our students: grades, failures, repeats, and course selection, to name a few.  Our goal should be for the students to understand the importance of their education, by way of explanation regarding major requirements, prerequisites, and course sequencing.  It is important to illuminate that the plethora of course options lead to varying career paths and advisors may serve as architects, but students’ choice of path is ultimately their own responsibility.

Honesty.  This leads to trust, another important factor in advising.  Students feel confidence and trust when they understand what they are supposed to do and why—they also appreciate honesty and connect when we demonstrate we care about them as individuals.  Since advising is teaching, we first have to teach students and then engage them to learn, develop, and take action.  This is the epitome of trust with our advisees.

Real Interactive Communication.  Advisors must pay genuine attention to each student and, through our conversations, realize the hidden meanings behind their words, a key point for the developmental advising process.  When we pick up the clues, we can provide our advisees with the right information to enable them to think critically, learn, and find the motivation to connect the pieces of the puzzle.  For example, when they are exploring different majors, we should try to establish their interests, strengths, and passions through discussion.

One of the questions I ask students is, “If I had magic powers and could give you the ideal job in a few years, what would that be?  Forget about general education and major requirements, just describe what you want!”  At first they laugh, but then they answer . . . and from that, real magic unfolds.  I am able to understand their interests, strengths, and passions, so the next step for me is to open up the paths (majors, minors, combinations of courses) that will stimulate those interests and motivate them to use the pieces of the puzzle and see the future big picture.

Encouragement and enthusiasm is another important factor in effective advising.  I encourage students to use their strengths and qualities to reach their goals and achieve graduation.  I always become part of the process.  I refer to my students on probation as a teammate; we have to raise the GPA, we set goals together on how to do it, and we remain in communication.  When they do a good job, I show my enthusiasm for their achievements.

Advising can be based on a teaching/advising philosophy, but is not limited to that; since each student is unique, a combination of developmental and advising theories should be utilized in the best interests of students.  Advising is an authentic passion, and our goal is for students to leave our offices smiling, confident, and happy.  Happy that they have found their destination, confident because we have taught them the right steps and how to navigate and benefit from the resources offered at our institutions, and smiling because they have the passion and determination to find their destination.  Advisors, like the Goddess Athena, have to develop and acquire more wisdom and knowledge every day, by reading, learning, attending NACADA conferences and webinars, and connecting with our colleagues and learning from them, so we are there, ready to protect and guide our students and help them, like Odysseus, to reach their Ithaca.

Efrosini Hortis, MEd
Academic Advisor
Office of Academic Advising
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
[email protected]


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Temple University Advisor Mentoring Program

Gavin J. Farber, Advisor Training and Development Advising Community Member

Gavin Farber.jpgMentoring is not a foreign concept in higher education, and through NACADA, programmatic efforts are in existence at the local, regional, national, and international levels.  This article will review one local advising mentoring program that is located at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA.  Whether readers are looking for ideas for creating mentoring opportunities on their campuses or seeking out a mentor or protégé (informally or formally), this guide will aid in showing how easy finding a mentor could be.   

The Temple University Academic Advisor Group (AAG) Mentoring Program began in 2011, when the advising population was growing rapidly after the development of the advisor career ladder (2007).  Added support from university administration, including the Office of the Senior Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies, allowed advising units in schools/colleges and specialized centers to add new positions.  By 2013, the advising population had doubled.  The increase in new talent created a need to offer more resources to new advising practitioners.  Over the last six years, new cohorts of mentors and protégés (new advisors) have entered the program to aid in their personal and professional development.  Through the AAG, advisors created programs, including a New Advisor Subcommittee and the Mentoring Program, as ways to bridge gaps between advisors across academic schools/colleges and specialized advising centers.

The origins of mentoring come from Homer’s The Odyssey, where Mentor was an Ithacan noble and friend of Odysseus.  Mentor cared for Telemachus, son of Odysseus, when he left for the Trojan War.  Mentor served as coach, teacher, guardian, protector, and surrogate parent to Telemachus as he shared his wisdom (Johnson & Ridley, 2008, xi).  The AAG Mentoring Program was designed to facilitate relationships that shared some of Homer’s characteristics of mentorship.  The creator of the program intended these relationships would “promote interdepartmental collaboration and community, serve as a guide for insight into best practices across advising units, and assist in the retention of new advisors through increased connectedness to the advising community” (C. Henze, personal communication [AAG Mentoring Program Guidebook], 2015).

This voluntary program was a new advisor’s introduction to learning more about the university through a different lens of an advisor or administrator from outside of their home advising centers.  While participation was not required, within two years, the programs became part of the advising community’s vernacular.  Advisors were actively inquiring about joining the mentoring program. 

The Temple University Academic Advising Group (AAG) Mentoring Program began in September 2011 when a mentoring committee formed.  Throughout the fall 2011 semester, guidelines and goals were discussed with the Advising Directors Council (ADC), a body of advising center administration at Temple.  The committee started recruitment for the program in January 2012 and the following month a formal mentor/protégé training was presented to the AAG by a Temple University Human Resources administrator (Farber, Hence, & Raab, 2015).

The mentoring program at Temple allowed advising practitioners to serve in the roles of mentors and protégés.  Committee members trained advisors on their new advising role in mandatory trainings for new mentors.  The trainings opened dialogue on how mentors were to approach their new mentorships. 

Mentors are defined as a coach to challenge, inspire and demand your best. These professionals are people who help you to develop the self-awareness to integrate your professional and personal life with your core values. Mentors also help those new to an environment to learn about and adjust to the culture. (Damminger, 2011)

The role of the protégé is also one that is unique because while many consider them the followers in the mentorships, if they assist to shape the overall agenda that a mentor will use, then they assist in the shaping of their mentoring relationship.  Protégés must be in open communication with their mentors.   However, protégés should not expect mentors to have all the answers or to be an expert in every area (Inzer & Crawford, 2005, p. 34).  Mentoring relationships have been described as “dynamic, reciprocal, personal relationships in which a more experienced person acts as a guide, role model, teacher, and sponsors of a less experienced person” (Johnson & Ridley, 2008, p. xi).

The AAG Mentoring Program Subcommittee create each mentorship pair.  These relationships materialize through the recruitment of advisors and administrators.  Interested participants complete a questionnaire to provide their basic biographical information (name, email, position school/college or program, number of years worked at the university, and number of years worked in the field of advising).  Specialized questions on the questionnaire ask participants to mark areas of advising a participant has an expertise in (transfer students, nontraditional students, career counseling, professional development, advising events, advising best practices, university policy design and implement, technology in advising, or other).  The questionnaire also asks open-ended questions to provide additional insights about each participant (their strengths and weaknesses in advising, outside interests/hobbies, and personal views on what is important in a mentoring relationship).

Once all questionnaires are submitted (via email or Google-Document), the subcommittee meets to review all applications.  Pairs are assigned and emailed contact information.  It is encouraged that mentors make the first contact with protégés.

Each mentor and protégé in the AAG Mentoring Program abide by a set of expectations.  The mentorships meet at least once a month.  On the first meeting, the pairs discuss their goals for the upcoming year.  Protégés set three goals for the upcoming year and their mentor can assist in reaching them.  The monthly meetings are set up for the pairs to reflect on their practice and the protégé’s progress on their goals.  The most important detail to these relationships is to maintain confidentiality, because the pairs could discuss sensitive topics such as office politics, details on specific student cases, or problems the protégé might be facing with fellow professionals on campus (Farber, Hence, & Raab, 2015).

There are various benefits to being mentored.  New advisors have an opportunity to discuss their professional practice with another professional.  New advisors also receive an opportunity to build their professional development through networking and collaborating with more seasoned advisors.  They gain confidence with their professional and personal skills and create a greater awareness for the culture, politics, and philosophy of an organization (Rawlings, as cited in Knippelmeyer & Torraco, 2007).

Mentors are given the opportunity to give back to their professional communities.  They are able to enhance their professional development through networking.  Mentors are able to empower others through these relationships along with improving their personal and professional confidence (Temple University AAG Mentoring Subcommittee, personal communication, 2015).

Throughout the various cohorts, advisors engaged in the AAG Mentoring Program faced various challenges including mentor/protégé mismatches.  At the start of each mentoring cycle, two subcommittee members serve as the contacts to report any issues that a mentoring pair could face. Some pairs might have a member that has a lack of commitment, such as someone who does not keep in regular contact.  In addition, a balancing act occurs in mentorships.  There cannot be a one-way communication; it is a two-way communication philosophy.  Mentors might also offer too much direction for a protégé that leads a new advisor to feel dependent on them. 

The end of any formal mentorship can be difficult.  The AAG Mentoring Program created a mentoring closure workshop to discuss the issues that might occur between both mentors and protégés.  While the program only lasts one year, these relationships can shift.  The Temple program has seen a variety of outcomes including mentorships breaking before the one-year mark, mentorships extending for a second year, and mentorships blossoming into friendships, among other results.  There were seven tips the subcommittee discussed with participants and were encouraged to follow to assist in the ending of their mentorships.  These included:

  • be proactive,
  • look for signals,
  • respect your partner,
  • evaluate the relationship,
  • review your goals,
  • integrate, and
  • never assume (Zachary, 1999).

Advisor mentoring programs have a positive impact on the development of new advising practitioners through offering a unique opportunity to create new connections for professionals at all levels to share their experiences with one another.  This program is just one example of a local advising program within our NACADA community.  Think about how mentoring might assist in your overall professional development and where it might help you land in the next chapter of your career. 

Gavin J. Farber, M.S., M.A.
Academic Advisor II
Fox School of Business and Management
Temple University
[email protected]


Damminger, J. K. (2011, May). Mentoring an avenue to success. Presentation at the Women's Leadership Symposium of Salem County, Penns Grove, NJ.

Farber, G., Hence, C. M., and Raab, L. (2015, April). Get connected: Become a mentor or protégé for the professional development of advisors. Presentation at the 10th annual Temple University Academic Advisor Day, Philadelphia, PA.   

Inzer, L. D. & Crawford, C. B. (2005). A review of formal and informal mentoring: Processes, problems and design. Journal of Leadership Education, 4(1), 31-50.

Johnson, W. B., & Ridley, C. R. (2008). The elements of mentoring. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Knippelmeyer, S. A. & Torraco, R. J. (2007, February-March). Mentoring as a developmental tool for higher education. Paper presented at the Academy of Human Resource Development International Research Conference in The Americas, Indanapolis, IN. Retrieved from http://research.utah.edu/_documents/mentoring/Knippelmeyer2007.pdf

Zachary, L. (1999, Fall). Mentoring relationships: 7 tips for coming to closure. Mentor and Protégé, 9(4), 4-6.

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The Returning Adult Learner: Advising Strategies to Support Their Degree Completion Efforts

Eileen Snyder, Armstrong State University
Leana Zona, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Leana Zona.jpgEileen Snyder.jpgAdult learners are returning to college at a record pace.  According to a recent article in the Washington Post, “More than a third of today’s students are over 25,” and “More than half of them have jobs and more than a quarter are raising children” (Merisotis, 2017, para. 19).  In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Education (2016), enrollment of students over the age of 25 increased by 16% from 2004–2014, and that number is growing.  As Malcolm Knowles (1984) remarked in his landmark publication, Adult Learners: A Neglected Species, “The adult comes into an educational activity largely because he is experiencing some inadequacy in coping with current life problems” (p. 34).  One of these “inadequacies” that Knowles mentioned could be a result of new job creation, which requires a college degree.  Further, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce stated that “95 percent of new jobs created since the Great Recession ended in late 2010 went to people with an education beyond high school” (as cited in Merisotis, 2017, para. 12).

As a result, colleges are reaching back to their own adult learners seeking to complete a degree and asking them to return.  A programmatic example of this outreach is the 49er Finish Program at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNC Charlotte), who have been actively pursuing their stop out students for over 10 years, catering to adult learners who are seeking to finish what they started.  UNC Charlotte’s tactics are threefold: personalized marketing, support services, and institutional enhancements.  So what are the implications for institutions that are actively welcoming back their adult learners with programs like the 49er Finish Program?  And, specifically, how do we as advisors of adult learners advise and guide this unique population to degree completion?  

Even with a clear understanding of the many impediments that exist for adult learners, an institutional acknowledgement to provide exceptional training for advisors is paramount.  Through developing a mechanism to collect information on where the gaps exist, the advisors of adult learners can collectively address the trapdoors that adult learners fall through on their path to degree completion.  A gap could exist in vital services such as tutoring or supplemental instruction, inadequate course scheduling and format limitations, or instructors who are unaware of the principles of andragogy that are proven to maintain persistence among adult learners.  It is a great deal to consider, but the rewards are great for institutions that welcome adult learners.  If America is to compete in a global economy, those of us working in higher education must prepare the workforce of the 21st century.  A college degree is a credential that allows adult students to participate in a middle class life.  This is not just about owning a home, starting a family, or securing a career.  This includes what Maslow refers to as “self-actualization,” or as Knowles (1984) put it so eloquently, “in defining growth not as a process of ‘being shaped,’ but a process of becoming” (p. 34).

Academic advisors must support adult learners in identifying the shortest possible route to graduation for their adult learners.  Adult learners may not need coaching or mentoring; they need an authentic relationship in which the academic advisor is invested from day one.  Marques and Luna (2005) identify this relationship as a powerful one, stating, “Interaction with a well-informed, adequately involved advisor can also contribute greatly toward adult learners’ satisfaction levels and persistence rates” (p. 5).  Keeping in mind that advisors have to work within the same parameters and limitations; realities such as these call for advisors to become change agents by advocating for adult students while mapping out the path to graduation.

The first conversation with adult learners is often the most critical.  Asking the right questions and developing a rapport in which we as advisors use a collaborative approach can help make the transition for the adult learner seamless.  We should not use deficit language or provoke our adult learners to re-think their decision to return to school.  Keep in mind that adult learners do a great deal of thinking and problem solving before they make their return.  Research by Osam, Bergman, and Cumberland (2017) shows that, “adult learners with a heavy burden of responsibility are the students most likely to return” (p. 57).  Adult learners are more committed to completing their degree, and they expect this time it will be different.

As academic advisors, we need to listen, connect, and share.  The following recommendations are a compilation of best practices we consider to be effective in supporting the adult learner’s educational goals.

  1. Prepare for the first meeting by developing a mechanism in which to understand the challenges of the returning adult learner, such as adult and transfer advisors at Armstrong State University who use a Google questionnaire in which to calibrate the students’ needs and motivation.
  2. Offer existing degree programs that are the shortest to completion, maximizing their credit hours earned.
  3. Develop workshops for students on hot topics of concern such as online learning, technology based courses, hybrid courses, and accelerated courses. 
  4. Advise students through a developmental or appreciative advising approach.  This will allow a transfer of power to the student that is seeking an experience of self-direction.
  5. Know the readmission process.  There should be a close collaborative relationship with the registrar, admissions, academic departments, and financial aid.
  6. Connect frequently either by email, text, or face-to-face.  Advisors should carry a realistic load in order to provide more attention.
  7. Document each meeting.  There should be a repository in which to review advising notes and see the big picture.
  8. Share your story.  Adult learners need to hear real experiences; your story should be authentic and persuasive in tone and content.
  9. Help them find balance.  Adult learners want fast and that can lead to burn out.  This is an important discussion early in the relationship.
  10. Highlight adult learner achievements with the college community.  Capture and use their inspirational stories (and there are many) to motivate others.

Eileen Snyder
Academic Advisor, Transfer & Non-Traditional Students
Office of Academic Advising and Support
Student Success Center
Armstrong State University
[email protected]

Leana Zona, M.Ed.
Academic Advisor & Communications Specialist
Office of Adult Students & Evening Services
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte
[email protected]


Knowles, M. S. (1984). The adult learner: A neglected species. Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing.

Marques, J. F., & Luna, R. (2005, June). Advising adult learners: The practice of peer partisanship. Recruitment & Retention in Higher Education, 19(6), 5.

Merisotis, J. (2017, July 14). Not who you think: The truth about today’s college students. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2017/07/14/not-who-you-think-the-truth-about-todays-college-students/?utm_term=.4ae99db9d3bb

Osam, E. K., Bergman, M., & Cumberland, D. M. (2017, May). An integrative literature review on the barriers impacting adult learners’ return to college. Adult Learning, 28(2), 54-56.

U.S. Department of Education. (2016). Digest of education statistics, 2015 (51st ed.). Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=98

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The Impact of Modern Chinese Culture on Academic Advising

Yisi Zhan, Member, NACADA Global Initiative Committee

Yisi Zhan.jpgCulture affects student needs and behavior.  From a social-constructive perspective, psychological needs are cultural constructions that reflect variations in social cultural values (e.g., Buttle, 1989; Rist, 1980; Roy, 1980).  Therefore, different values of social culture have been given more attention by researchers and academic advisors based on differences in culture. 

With the expansion of China’s higher education since 1998, more and more academic advisors are needed to work with Chinese undergraduates.  Understanding their sophisticated social culture values is the first and necessary step for advisors in and out of China.  This article will discuss the following three questions: (1) Based on modern Chinese culture, how should students’ success be defined? (2) Can students meet the challenge of China’s new social culture driven by innovation? and (3) From academic advisors’ perspective, how should students be supported for academic success?

Based on modern Chinese culture, how should students’ success be defined? 

In 1949, the People's Republic of China was founded, and Chinese higher education considered a good student one who had all-round development in moral, intellectual, physical, aesthetic, and labor qualities.  Students with these qualities as well as outstanding performance in their specific area of study are considered to be the most successful.  Two aspects of development that were considered higher in importance, moral and intelligence quality, are considered more extensively below.

Moral Quality.  This quality refers to a sense of responsibility for nation, community, and family; a commitment to the world and humankind; and a dedication to solving realistic problems in China and worldwide.  The Tsinghua University Outstanding Scholarship is the highest honor for students in Tsinghua University, an award which only 10 undergraduate students can be awarded each year.  For example, Hongzhi Xu, from the School of Social Sciences, is representative of students who devote themselves to society and reflect moral quality.  He once participated in Columbia University’s summer program where his project, The Comparative Study of Stay-at-Home Children and Migrant Children, was selected as first place by the undergraduate academic research fund and won the special prize of the Tsinghua University “Challenge Cup” Contest.  As the second author and presenter, he obtained the top award in the 14th "Challenge Cup” National College Students’ Extracurricular Academic Science and Technology Works Contest.  A second example is Yuan Zhang, from the Department of Electronic Engineering, who was once an intern in a division subordinated to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.  He also participated in the examination of nine national science and technology major projects and helped to modify the G20 security report.

Intelligence Quality.  Intelligence quality refers to excellent academic performance and achievement in scientific research.  For example, Lijie Chen, from the Institute for Interdisciplinary Information Sciences, has been awarded the Tsinghua University Special Scholarship.  His GPA for specialized courses reached 4 points for every A or A+ (on a 100-point scale) and he won the first place in the International Olympiad in Informatics.  Chen published many papers as the first author in AAMAS, COLT and ISAAC, with another five papers in one submission period.  During his visit to MIT, he solved the open problem which was proposed by famous quantum information scholar John Watrous in 2002 and prepared to contribute to STOC, the top-level conference on computer theory.  In addition, Chen has long been involved in the organization and proposition work of the informatics competition in China.

Among these five qualities, it is worth noting that Chinese culture puts more emphasis on intellectual quality, such as GPA ranking and publication of research papers.  For example, Special Scholarship winners’ GPA ranked almost in the top 5% at the institution.

Other Qualities.  Additionally, physical quality refers to physical health and interest in sports.  “No sports, no Tsinghua” is a popular slogan at Tsinghua University.  Aesthetic quality refers to good artistic accomplishment; labor quality refers to the student being hardworking. 

Can students meet the challenge of China’s new social culture driven by innovation?

In modern society, China advocates a new culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.  Yifeng Liu from the Department of Thermal Engineering is a representative of entrepreneurial talents who has been awarded the Tsinghua University Special Scholarship.  He was selected for the National Students Innovation and Entrepreneurship Training Program and obtained a number of patents.  During his gap year, he developed flexible crystalline silicon solar energy materials that reached the leading 22.09% conversion efficiency in the domestic market.  His research results were put into production, and his products were approved by the United Nations Human Settlements Program.  Finally, he was recognized by the International Ecological Safety Collaborative Organization.  Because the Chinese government supports college student’s creative jobs by founding new companies, more and more students intend to do pioneering work.  Take Tsinghua University as an example: academic policy encourages that students apply for one or two academic gap years to begin their own business.

In this social culture background with conflict between all-round development and innovation, college students face two main challenges.  First, how should they find their own goals for academic success based on their own life values?  Second, how can they achieve their academic goal in a practical path?

The challenge of missing learning goals is reflected in the following categories of Chinese students.  The first group of students are influenced by traditional cultural values in high school.  All along, high school teachers and parents think that intelligence quality is the most important in all-round development (e.g.  Student who can get a higher test score ranking).  However, when they enter college, students find that it is difficult to achieve academic goals (e.g. high GPA ranking), and feel lost, with feelings of frustration and low self-efficacy.  Here is an example: a boy, majoring in engineering physics, with a GPA ranking in the top 10% of Tsinghua students said: “I always think that my learning abilities are lower than other classmates in Tsinghua University.  Some of my classmates took part in Olympiad Competitions in math or physics in high school.  They are so smart.  It seems that they don’t need to study hard, but they can get high marks in the final exams.”

The second group of students are those who dream that college life will be different than high school (not just about the college entrance examination score).  However, the sudden diversity of learning goals makes them lost.  For example, a common student expression is “I lost my passion for learning; my motivation is only to finish homework on time.  But in high school, I could get up early in the morning, full of passion for everyday study.”  Students often share thoughts similar to this student:

“There are so many things you can do in my university.  There are science and technology innovation competitions, community associations, all kinds of inspired lectures, and class activities. . . . I do not know how to choose a variety of extracurricular activities for me to develop my quality and ability.” 

The third group of students strive for excellence through satisfying the expectations of all important individuals, including teachers, parents, peers, and so on.  However, when learning time is limited, and important people have different values, students have difficulty determining their own learning goals.  For example, one chemistry student said:

“I didn’t get my parents’ approval to bid for the chairman of our student union.  To them, it seemed to be a waste of time for me to do so.  After lots of discussion, they still didn’t support me.  Even when I won the election and when I had gained some achievements, they didn’t change their minds.  It was my third year in university; they wanted me to focus on TOEFL so that I could go abroad after undergraduate.  They all wanted to go to foreign countries, but being a chairman made it harder.  They don’t want me to do things related to politics or student organizations.  I was supposed to have a bigger dream and do something that really matters.  At last, I gave in to them.”

After students overcome challenges for setting academic goals according to their own culture value, it is common for them to face technical challenges of how to achieve these goals by training themselves or how to stay focused on these goals.

From academic advisors’ perspective, how should students be supported for academic success?

In a diverse social culture, there are lots of conflicting values between students and their senior generation (e.g.  Teacher, parent, and advisor).  Take the opinion of what defines a good student as an example—from their different points of view, teachers, parents, and classmates will all give different expectations according to their own experience.  Therefore, there is always a conflict between all-round development and outstanding performance in a specialized academic area for students.  If these conflicts cannot be balanced in students’ mind, it will hinder their learning goal setting and might cause academic failure.  Therefore, academic advisors in Tsinghua University try to help students setting learning goals by integrating values of social culture and previous individual values. 

Generally speaking, academic advising will follow three steps: first, academic advisors will inform students of the evaluation system for successful college students as defined by their social culture, especially in their own college.  For example, the challenge they may face is how to balance the requirement of GPA (e.g. students do not apply to graduate school until their GPA ranking is higher than 80%) and individual development in different fields. 

Second, academic advisors will discuss with students how to establish their goals on both academic performance and other fields by asking a series of questions about their future and previous values. Advisors usually use such as Holland's Interest Test, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and Coach Approaches. These counselling tools are effective. Based on the completion of academic goals, academic advisors encourage them to pursue their own individual development.

Finally, academic advisors will discuss with students the path and detailed technical skills needed to achieve their learning goals, such as time management skills, communication skills, learning strategies, and so on. 


By analyzing the value orientation of “good students” in modern Chinese social culture, we at Tsinghua University find that the social values of Chinese student and educators tend to be diversified.  Therefore, after entering the university, college students will face the challenge of integrating multi-value orientation and setting individualized academic goals.  At the same time, they also need academic advisors to provide personalized advice and guidance on specific strategies for success.  Academic advisors of Tsinghua University have found that helping students understand their social culture, assisting them in establishing their individual goals, and helping them find the paths to achieve those goals is a successful way to help students navigate the diverse pressures in Chinese social culture.

Yisi Zhan, Ph.D. 
Associate Director/Academic Advisor
The Center for Student Learning and Development
Tsinghua University
Beijing, China
[email protected]


Buttle, F. (1989). The social construction of needs. Psychology and Marketing, 6(3), 197-210.

Rist, G. (1980). Basic questions about basic human needs. In K. Lederer (Ed.), Human needs (pp. 233-254). Cambridge, MA: Oelgsschlager, Gunn, & Hain.

Roy, R. (1980). Human needs and freedom: Liberal, Marxist and Ghandian perspectives. In K. Lederer (Ed.), Human needs (pp.191-212). Cambridge, MA: Oelgsschlager, Gunn, & Hain.

Developing Advising Outcomes at NACADA Summer Institute

Michael K.  McDaniel, 2017 NACADA Summer Institute Scholarship Recipient

Michael McDaniel.jpgI am so thankful I attended the 2017 NACADA Summer Institute-Green Bay.  I applied for and received a scholarship to attend at the urging of my colleague Julia Orloff, a previous participant.  Julia’s sharing of her learning experience inspired me to apply for an opportunity to participate this summer.  With the support of Northwest Indian College (NWIC) and my fellow members of NACADA, I was able to attend.  I thank you all.  Where I am from, when someone so graciously welcomes and supports your introduction into different communities of learning, we understand we have a responsibility to share our experience with others. 

Returning to Wisconsin was like a homecoming to me.  I earned my BA from UW-MIlwaukee in 1998 and worked again in Madison from 2007–2016.  I had been to Green Bay before to play lacrosse at Oneida, but only on the outskirts of town.  It was good to walk around this time, see the stadium, and enjoy a hometown breakfast.  Wisconsin is a significant part of my life because today I rely so much on everything I have learned there over the years when working with students.

I arrived at the NACADA Summer Institute ready to map out the advising pathways students must navigate to successfully complete their first quarter at NWIC.  But after having an opportunity to work closely with professional scholars, administrators, and practitioners from a broad representation of international institutions, I left with a means to develop advising outcomes that could be assessed to determine what we expect our students to learn, where we expect them to learn it, and whether or not they are learning anything.  The time I spent in Green Bay in conversations with other attendees, presenters, and faculty provided me with a community of learners and experts to engage in conversations to help shape my ideas.  I cannot thank Nancy Roadruck, the faculty leader of my learning community, enough for knowing just when to step in and offer some encouragement or advice.

We have recently begun discussing the development of advising outcomes at NWIC in alignment with other ongoing program and departmental outcome development across our tribal college on the Lummi Nation.  What I learned at NACADA over the summer directly impacted the types of conversations we are having on our campus today regarding the intersections of advising and teaching.

Advising is relatively new to me; I learn something new every day.  It is a joy to work with students in this particular role, and it fits with my pedagogical philosophies.  I have been teaching literature, composition, and professional communication and advising students informally, and I had never thought of how much educational experiences rely on the subtlety of advice until I began formally advising students.  When I read the phrase “advising is teaching” for the first time in Green Bay this summer, I understood my role in a completely different yet very familiar way.  There was something about that connection, that shared understanding, that gave me a sense of belonging to the world of advising in a way that other professional development and training opportunities had not.  I can think of very few international educational organizations who would welcome such a new practitioner into its ranks with as much openness and support as NACADA. 

As a result of our ongoing engagement with the NACADA Summer Institute, advisors at NWIC have become active members of NACADA Region 8 and we look forward to building on our experiences together in service to students.  Students benefit when we find ways to reach across our institutions in support and collaboration.  Thank you again, and I look forward to working with you all through this wonderful organization.

Michael K. McDaniel
Academic Advisor
Northwest Indian College
[email protected]

Posted in: 2018 March 41:1


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