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Voices of the Global Community


From the President: Envisioning the Future of NACADA

Erin Justyna, NACADA President

Erin Justyna.jpgWhen I was growing up in El Paso, Texas in the late eighties and early nineties, I never imagined what the year 2020 would be like—I was focused on whatever was directly ahead of me. I feel certain, if I had tried to picture 2020 all those years ago, I would not have conjured up images of communication devices on our wrists, cars that drive themselves, and apps that allow us to digitally split the cost of a pizza or listen to any song we might desire instantly. In many ways it feels like we live in an entirely new universe from the one in which I grew up—where I waited for a song to come on the radio so I could press record on my tape recorder, passed notes in class to chat with friends, spun a plastic wheel to make calls on a land line, and used an enormous printed book to find the phone number and coupon to order my pizza.

Similarly, I imagine the founders of NACADA did not envision all the changes the association would undergo in the 40 short years of its existence: from 429 members in the US and Canada in 1979 to 14,203 members in 37 countries today; annual conferences with attendances nearing 4,000; ever-growing state, regional, and international conferences; robust web resources and a multitude of online (synchronous and asynchronous) learning opportunities. 

It is in this new world that the Executive Office and Board of Directors find themselves working assiduously to adapt and innovate—not only to better serve our current members, but also our future members. It can be difficult to move past the things that need to be done now, the things directly ahead of us, but we are holding ourselves accountable to do just that. In my last column, I mentioned a desire to employ radical transparency throughout my year as President. As such, I want to share with you a snapshot of the some of the work occurring throughout the association.

Strategic Planning

The role of the Board of Directors is not to do the work of the association, but rather to focus on strategic vision and planning. Approximately five years ago, the Board of Directors updated the association’s strategic goals and created benchmarks and measures to guide the work of the Executive Office and NACADA’s three divisions (administrative, regional, advising communities). We have now begun the process not only of gauging our progress towards these goals, but also of reevaluating the goals themselves. In addition, a full review of all NACADA policies was completed, and a bylaws review will soon begin.

In light of the growth and changes in the association, the members of the Board of Directors are looking with new eyes at the experience of new members, digging into what it really means to be a global association, and examining critically the association’s structure and processes to determine what needs to remain and what needs to change.

Region Review

The Region Division was initially asked by the Board of Directors to examine NACADA’s region structure and how well it is serving members in 2017. After several preliminary meetings and conversations, the group received a formal charge to review the region structure from the Board in January 2018. The review was to determine how to provide the best possible professional development to members and include reflection on what it means to be a global organization in relationship to the regional structure.

The group conducted a member survey in mid-November 2018, held in-person focus groups at region conferences and international conferences, and held online focus groups using the Zoom meeting platform from February to May 2019. The Region Review Work Group is currently compiling data and preparing a final report for the Board of Director’s midyear meeting, which will occur April 17–19, 2020.

Task Force on Race, Ethnicity, and Inclusion

The Task Force on Race, Ethnicity, and Inclusion has begun their work. The task force has had two initial meetings and is currently formulating a plan for how they will engage in their work. The NACADA Executive Office (EO), with support of the Board of Directors, has begun a search for a project manager to assist with logistics and provide support to NACADA members who are graciously giving their time on the task force. An interim project manager has been assigned from the EO to provide support to the task force until the search concludes. The Board and EO are also looking at the best mechanism for moving the task force (which can only be appointed for one year by the sitting President) into a more long-term work group. Members of the Board and the EO recognize the gravity of the task with which we have charged this group and want to ensure they have the resources and time to work with urgency but not haste.

Professional Development Gap Analysis

The Board of Directors charged the Professional Development Committee (PDC) with initiating a gap analysis to review unmet needs, wants, activities, and services for all types of academic advisors and advising administrators during the 2017 Annual Conference. The PDC is finalizing a report for the Board of Directors, outlining the findings of the gap analysis they performed to determine what professional development needs exist that are not currently being met. The final gap analysis report, including recommendations by the PDC, will be presented for discussion and review during the Board of Director’s midyear meeting.

As an association, we work tirelessly to evolve as fast as our world. Sometimes, the goals we set and tasks we undertake seem as though they take too long, but we acknowledge that we must not move so quickly as to be reckless. A great deal of the work is reliant on members volunteering their time above and beyond their other work and personal responsibilities. But we cannot despair, we must only continue to work. Together, we will continue to challenge ourselves to meet the challenges of 2020 and beyond.

Erin Justyna, President, 2019–2020
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising 
Assistant Provost for Student Affairs 
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center 
Pronouns: She/her/hers
[email protected]

From the Executive Director: NACADA's 40th Anniversary Celebration

Charlie Nutt, NACADA Executive Director

Charlie Nutt.jpg2020 is an exciting year for NACADA as we celebrate our association’s 40th anniversary. NACADA has a rich history of enhancing student success and providing opportunities for networking and learning to a broad constituency of higher education professionals from all types of institutions across the globe. We continue to make a major impact not only on our members’ work, but also on institutions as they work to structure successful academic advising programs.

I have just returned from our very successful winter events, held in New Orleans, where over 400 participants networked, learned from each other, and developed plans for their institutions. The NACADA Academic Advising Assessment Institute, the NACADA Academic Advising Administrators’ Institute, and the NACADA Summit on Academic Advising and Student Success at Historically Black Colleges and Universities each strengthen the advising profession; the connections made by these amazing participants and the outstanding support provided by the faculty at each event will continue to have tremendous impact on the student success at participant institutions. It was a major venture this year to partner with Complete College America (CCA) for the Summit and with the Reinvention Collaborative (RC) for the Administrators’ Institute as these partnerships continue to grow NACADA’s role in higher education.

It is so exciting to continue our 40th anniversary celebration as we move into our spring region conference season! Each year, nearly 5,000 participants take part in 10 region conferences, and this year’s conferences promise to be as highly successful as ever. It is always a great opportunity to see NACADA leaders and members take such pride in planning, organizing, and coordinating these events as a way for participants to continue to learn and network together to find new and exciting ways to enhance the academic advising experiences of all students. The region conferences also continue to be events that draw new advising colleagues together to learn about NACADA and all the ways that our association can influence how they work as faculty advisors, primary role advisors, academic advising administrators, academic advising researchers, graduate students, and others closely tied to student success initiatives across colleges and universities. For so many of us actively involved in NACADA, it was a region conference where we first made a connection to the profession and the association and made many long time NACADA friends.

Our anniversary celebration will continue through the summer at the 34th Annual NACADA Academic Advising Summer Institutes and the 8th Annual NACADA International Conference in Athens, Greece.  The NACADA Summer Institute has a long, rich tradition of providing an in-depth study into the field of academic advising and student success as well as providing the opportunity to work with faculty and fellow participants to develop an action plan to implement on one’s campus. The NACADA International Conference held each summer brings together global colleagues to network and learn how academic advising impacts students across the world. It is clear the summer events will give all of us as NACADA members a great way to celebrate our association’s past, present, and future as we work together for our field and our association.

And the NACADA anniversary celebration will bring us into the 44th Annual Conference on Academic Advising held this October 2020 for the first time outside of the borders of North America in San Juan, Puerto Rico! What an exciting way and place to close out our anniversary celebration as we work to learn together and to continue to grow our association and its impact on higher education. I look forward to seeing many of you in our 40th year of celebration!

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

Discovering Association-Wide Advisor Training and Development Practices Using the NACADA Core Competencies

Deb Dotterer, NACADA Professional Development Committee Chair (2018-2020)
Gavin Farber, NACADA Advisor Training and Development Advising Community Chair (2019-2021)
Teri Farr, NACADA Professional Development Committee Past Chair (2015-2018)

Gavin Farber.jpgDeb Dotterer.jpgIn March 2017, NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising’s Board of Directors approved the Academic Advising Core Competencies Model, and, in October of that year, the Academic Advising Core Competences Guide (Farr & Cunningham, 2017) was debuted at the association’s Annual Conference in St. Louis. In developing the components of the Core Competencies, the NACADA Professional Development Committee (PDC) took a 30,000-foot view, and the committee believes that the components can assist advisors in all advising situations. Since the 2017 Annual Conference, the PDC has worked to promote the Core Competencies and Teri Farr.jpggather feedback and suggestions from various constituencies. Much of the feedback has focused on how the published Core Competencies help members use the components as a roadmap for their own professional development. In this article, PDC members aim to provide ideas and examples of how members are utilizing the Core Competencies for academic advising training and development.  

This article reports on four institutions’ unique approaches to the using the Core Competencies to create dynamic advisor training programs for their practitioners. 

Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) Informational Training

Located in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, MTSU is home to approximately 80 professional academic advisors. This institution follows a decentralized advising model. Bryanna Licciardi, an academic advisor in the College of Education, serves as Chair of the Advisor Training Committee.

The committee used the Informational Competency area in their training model. It is the goal of this committee to (1) assist in new hire training and (2) create an advisor manual for all practitioners. There are also specialized trainings called Advisor Targeted Trainings focusing on areas including: advisor policies, technology tutorials, legal guidelines, and other topics.  

According to Licciardi, there are also 90-minute refresher trainings on specifics that are important for the MTSU advisors to learn. This is a way to bring this advising community together and gain insights from university experts. 

Other efforts to strengthen the advisor trainings at MTSU include looking at the advisor’s own personal development. They used resources from their university’s Center for Health and Human Services where there is a Mental Health First Aid program that encouraged a practitioner’s development in skill-strengthening. 

To learn more, contact Bryanna at [email protected]

University of Cincinnati Advisor Training and Professional Development

Lacey Tomlinson serves as the Assistant Director of Advisor Training, Professional Development, and Online Resources at the University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio. When she began this position almost two years ago, it was an expectation to use the NACADA Core Competencies. 

In Lacey’s view, “It’s already built; let’s use it!”

The first thing she did in her role was to survey the 120 advising practitioners on their understanding of the Core Competencies. Overwhelmingly, advisors were high in their knowledge of the Informational Competency. They were informed on the topics discussed within the Relational and Conceptual frameworks. 

As a result, Tomlinson created the Professional Development (PD) Session for all advisors. This monthly program during the academic year allows her office to host webinars and other training opportunities. She said that there are two large training session before orientation and the start of the semester for advisors. These sessions can host anywhere between 80–100 advisors. There were 5–6 PD sessions and 5–6 webinars a year. 

UC’s advisor training also includes a Blackboard course that is designed for new advisors. Practitioners will complete 11 modules on various topics. These trainings are linked to the Core Competencies. There is no formal assessment of this training, but participants are required to complete journal reflections. According to Tomlinson, her office is currently in the process of building interactive modules through Articulate Storyline. During these trainings, short quizzes will be built to assess advisors’ learning. It is their goal to have these new trainings completed by the end of the year.

To learn more, contact Lacey at [email protected]

University of Arkansas Fulbright College Advisor Portfolios

Shane Barker is the Advising Director of the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas. This institution has a decentralized advising model. Barker created an internal professional development advising training program for his advising staff that allows them to gain advising knowledge from the Core Competencies while also increasing their professional skills.

Barker wanted to find ways to reward his advising team in a different advisor training format. The in-house training would recognize an advisor’s completion of levels beginning at new, senior, and mastery.  This completion would allow that professional to add value to their roles in their office. 

The Fulbright College Advising Center requires each advisor to create a professional portfolio every year where they must address all three core competencies areas. They are given a lot of autonomy in the way they address each competency. Some of Barker’s staff were at first resistant to the idea of this assignment because they were intimidated. 

In Barker’s view, the portfolio allows an advisor to account for each year they are working beginning as a new advisor and progressing into a senior level and mastery level advisor. While they cannot make professional title changes without the assistance of Human Resources, this exercise adds value to their understanding of their role as an academic advisor, linking their chosen competencies to those learned in that particular year. 

These portfolios also assist Barker in his yearly evaluations of each staff member. They can reflect on the impact they have had that academic term/year and over the course of their professional careers. 

The NACADA Core Competencies make a huge impact on the Fulbright College academic advisors. While Barker might not always be able to send advisors to professional conferences, he can offer professional development opportunities on campus. He might share a case study or an article relating to an advising practice that highlights a competency with his staff. The staff will then come together as a group and discuss their findings and reactions. 

Keeping staff motivated is key, and Barker’s strategy of professional portfolios and advisor training and development exercises have guided his team to feel a part of the association and the profession as a whole. 

To learn more, contact Shane at: [email protected]

Portland Community College Advisor Redesign

Jason Pinkal serves as Program Manager of Advising Redesign and Orientation at Portland Community College. With an enrollment of 71,000 students (Demographics, 2019) there are students on four main campuses. There is an advising staff of 120 advisors. Professional advisors make up the majority of them in full-time, part-time, and casual advising roles. A casual advisor is a non-contracted, part-time employee who are limited in the issues they can address with students. There is a small cohort of faculty advisors at the institution as well.

In his role as program manager, Pinkal said there was an assessment at Portland Community College in 2009 that focused on advising at the institution. PCC was at one-point part of the Achieving the Dream School program that required their school to have guided pathways towards degree completion. The challenge advisors faced on campus was that prior to their redesign, they worked in very different ways.  There was a practice of transactional advising which was not student friendly. During this period of transforming the advising techniques, they focused on a case management/holistic advising approach.

As a result, there was a need to develop the academic advisors on campus. New tools including professional development trainings using the NACADA Core Competencies, webinars, and other web resources were provided to add foundational knowledge. There are in-person and asynchronous online training programs. Mid-level advisors at PCC are encouraged to use their experiences to aid in their creation of an advising philosophy. There are also trainings on equity and inclusion. 

To learn more, contact Jason at: [email protected]

Final Thoughts

Using the NACADA Core Competencies in the creation of advisor training and development programming can be simpler than one might think. If you have any questions or want to report your institution’s practice, please reach out to the Advisor Training and Development Advising Community Chair and the Professional Development Committee Chair (email addresses provided below).

Deb Dotterer
NACADA Professional Development Committee Chair (2018-2020)
Michigan State University
[email protected]

Gavin Farber
NACADA Advisor Training and Development Advising Community Chair (2019-2021)
Temple University
[email protected]

Teri Farr
NACADA Administrative Division Representative (2018-2020)
University of Illinois
[email protected]


Farr, T., & Cunningham, L. (Eds.). NACADA academic advising core competencies guide. NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx

Portland Community College. (n.d.). Demographics. https://www.pcc.edu/about/quick-facts/demographics.html


Developing an Inquiry Stance in Advising: How Practitioner Research Can Elicit Knowledge for Advisors

Mark Chimel, Shippensburg University
Heather Hurst, Frostburg State University

Heather Hurst.jpgMark Chimel.jpgAcademic advisors frequently receive and analyze the important statistics of retention and graduation rates, but do not always have the time, space, or familiarity with a pathway for investigating their own practice to understand how they, in their advising practice, contribute to the story of how and why those numbers have come to be. Practitioner inquiry can produce deep knowledge of on-the-ground daily work as advisors that can help better serve students.

Although practitioner inquiry is commonly used in classroom settings, it is not simply teacher research. In fact, anyone with a practice—doctors, researchers, academic advisors—can use it to systematically answer their wonderings about that practice. For instance, advisors might conduct a large-scale quantitative study investigating advisors’ response rates to students’ emails and the relationship between responsiveness and student success, but more nuanced data collection within a practitioner inquiry design might help us better understand institutional constraints that lead to slower response rates from advisors. Practitioner inquiry can be regarded as research in that it both draws on extant literature and produces and contributes new knowledge to the field (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009).

Conducting practitioner research in professional academic advising has been advocated for in previous NACADA publications (Aiken-Wisniewski, Smith, & Troxel, 2010; Shaffer, Zalewski, & Leveille, 2010). Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2009) themselves have argued that practitioner research should extend across educational contexts. In a time period in which evidence-based practices are emphasized, practitioner research allows educators to be more than just recipients of other people’s knowledge but instead to be “shapers of meaning and interpreters of experience” (Featherstone, 2001, p. xii). Advisors will find that practitioner research methods may not only be more accessible than they might think but also more applicable in academic advising.

Although practitioner inquiry can adopt different designs, its roots are qualitative. Some common themes include the practitioner as researcher, using one’s professional context as inquiry site, community and collaboration, and the practitioner’s valuable and significant insider knowledge (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009). All characteristics are present in advising, and advisors should place value on their own knowledge of their practice and their students. Further, Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2009) advocate for critical reflection and action, publicity, public knowledge, and critique. Public knowledge and publicity are notably the most difficult aspects for academic advisors to engage in due to the time requirements needed for writing and obtaining Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. Still, public dissemination is an important and worthy endeavor and the only way for practitioner research to benefit the advising profession.

Practitioner inquiry studies in educational contexts, at both the K-12 and post-secondary levels, have been shared publicly in various forms from dissertations to articles in journals. If publication is the ultimate goal, advisors should work with their institution’s IRB so that all necessary steps are taken to ensure student confidentiality and safety before starting their research. This process will vary by institution and depending on what information is being used as a data source. If obtaining IRB approval in a first attempt at practitioner inquiry research methods seems too daunting or confusing, advisors can seek out help from those that have worked with their institution’s IRB in the past. They might also consider using practitioner inquiry simply to advise their own practice rather than for dissemination, which would not need IRB review.

An important early step in the process, and a key consideration while completing the IRB process, is deciding what data sources will be used. Previous studies in education present several examples that could be utilized by advisors. Some form of reflection is common in practitioner research, although the different methods for reflection are varied. Reflective texts (Dinkins, 2005; Parr, 2007), teacher research journals (Harper, 2009; Maimon, 2009), and student reflections (DiLucchio & Leaman, 2012; McPhail, 2009; Rutherford, 2009) have all been used. Dinkins (2005) even collected notes from casual conversations as sources for reflection. Artifacts including email (Maxwell, 2015), syllabi (Dowd & Bensimon, 2014), and student work (DiLucchio & Leaman, 2012; McPhail, 2009; Rutherford, 2009) were all relevant sources of inquiry in the literature. Researchers have also used student interviews (DiLucchio & Leaman, 2012; Dinkins, 2005; McPhail, 2009), as well as other forms of eliciting student feedback such as surveys (DiLucchio & Leaman, 2012; Dowd & Bensimon, 2014), questionnaires (DiLucchio & Leaman, 2012), and student response journals (Harper, 2009). When selecting data sources, advisors may use what is most readily available to them when first engaging in inquiry, or qualitative research in general, and then begin to seek out or create other data sources as they gain greater experience.

Mixed methods design or bricolage of different designs can also be employed in practitioner research. Examples of opportunities for bricolage with practitioner inquiry and other designs could be discourse analysis (Dowd & Bensimon, 2014; Maxwell, 2015; Parr, 2007), case study (Rutherford, 2009), or narratives. In an interesting use of discourse analysis and practitioner research at the university level, Dowd and Bensimon (2014) presented methods for analyzing the discourse in course syllabi in equity-minded terms. Quantitative data has also been used in practitioner inquiry studies; for example, Dowd and Bensimon (2014) used the Equity Scorecard. Again, quantitative data may be more readily available to advisors, making their use in practitioner research logical and useful. The marriage of practitioner research with other methods, both quantitative and qualitative, can further create meaning from the objects of inquiry, and the findings when practitioner inquiry is combined with other designs may be more widely accepted in the established research community.

With a rich variety of what can be considered data in practitioner research, advisors might worry whether the data gathered will be sufficient for answering a research question (DiLucchio & Leaman, 2012). However, it is clear that through creative frameworks and levels of analysis, practitioner researchers have been able to create meaning and knowledge from many different sources of data and in many different settings.

Analyzing and making sense of the data is the next step to creating knowledge and bringing professional reflection to the level of research. Advisors engaging in practitioner inquiry should ensure that they have created some time and space from the data before analysis can occur. For instance, an advisor would not begin analyzing an e-mail they sent that day. Semester breaks may provide a good time for this reflection and analysis.

Common qualitative methods can be used during data analysis to find themes. The process of pulling themes from the data will involve at least one level of coding, and many potential coding methods are available to researchers (Saldaña, 2009). The themes can then be organized in several different ways with many studies choosing to focus on both common themes and outliers (Maxwell, 2015; Rutherford, 2009). Another organization method would be to display themes chronologically to observe how both an advisor’s practice and advisees have changed over time (McPhail, 2009; Rutherford, 2009). Analysis can also be conducted by comparing different data sets to create meaning and knowledge through each other.

After the steps of coding, analyzing, and theming data, the ultimate presentation and discussion of findings can take on several forms. If publication is not the goal, then the advisor would be able to look at the themes at this stage and simply reflect on what story these themes tell about themselves and their advisees. By this stage, the advisor has created knowledge inherent to their practice that can be utilized in the future knowledge inherent to the advisor’s practice was created and can be utilized. The information learned can even be shared with other advisors at their institution.

If publication or further dissemination is the goal, there are also multiple ways to present and write about findings. Case studies (Rutherford, 2009), longitudinal analyses (Maxwell, 2015), and the examination of student outcomes at multiple key stages (Dowd & Bensimon, 2014) have all been employed effectively in previous literature. The coding methods and organization of data can help determine how the author will write the story of what they have learned.

A final important step of practitioner research is understanding how findings will impact future practice. This step is vital whether the study is ultimately published or not and represents a foundational element of the value of practitioner research. For instance, in her study of her email communications, Maxwell (2015) ends her writing by focusing on how she can move forward in her communications and use email transformatively. By making sense of inquiry in this way, the practitioner creates knowledge not only for their practice but also for other practitioners in the field. The implications for practice that can be gained will serve as an important section of any published literature on the study and as new points for inquiry and reflection in the cycle.

In choosing to conduct a study into their practice, advisors should consider the biggest problems of practice they are facing. Although contributing to public knowledge is important to benefit the field of advising, engaging in practitioner research even for an advisor’s own personal reflection and knowledge is still a worthwhile pursuit that can improve practice.

Mark Chimel
Program and Project Coordinator
Professional, Continuing, and Distance Education office
Shippensburg University
[email protected]

Heather Hurst
Assistant Professor of Education
Department of Educational Professions
Frostburg State University
[email protected]


Aiken-Wisniewski, S. A., Smith, J. S., & Troxel, W. G. (2010). Expanding research in academic advising: Methodological strategies to engage advisors in research. NACADA Journal, 30(1), 4–13. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-30.1.4

Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (2009). Inquiry as stance: Practitioner research for the next generation. Teachers College Press.

DiLucchio, C., & Leaman, H. (2012). Practitioner inquiry: Exploring quality in beginning teacher researchers’ work. i.e.: inquiry in education, 3(2). http://digitalcommons.nl.edu/ie/vol3/iss2/2

Dinkins, D. M. (2005). Conversation as intervention: How a group of teachers in a suburban high school talk about low achievement (Publication No. AAI3168018). [Doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania]. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations.

Dowd, A. C., and & Bensimon, E. M. (2014). Engaging the "race question": Accountability and equity in higher education. Teachers College Press.

Featherstone, J. (2001). Foreword. In P. F. Carini, Starting strong: A different look at children, schools, and standards (pp. xi-xiii). Teachers College Press.

Harper, K. A. (2009). Can we read a happy book next?: Using children’s literature to move beyond our White space. In M. Cochran-Smith & S. L. Lytle, Inquiry as stance: Practitioner research for the next generation (pp. 229-253). Teachers College Press.

Maimon, G. (2009). Practitioner inquiry as mediated emotion. In M. Cochran-Smith & S. L. Lytle, Inquiry as stance: Practitioner research for the next generation (pp. 213-227). Teachers College Press.

Maxwell, S. V. (2015). Mirror, mirror on the wall: Email as an object of practitioner inquiry. Educational Action Research, 23(2), 271–289. https://doi.org/10.1080/09650792.2014.980284

McPhail, G. (2009). The "bad boy" and the writing curriculum. In M. Cochran-Smith & S. L. Lytle, Inquiry as stance: Practitioner research for the next generation (pp. 192-211). Teachers College Press.

Parr, G. (2007). Writing and practitioner inquiry: Thinking relationally. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 6(3), 22–47. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/7a8d/aba0fe0797e7d58844b76532c4cf80c61 e26.pdf

Rutherford, M. (2009). Fostering Communities of Language Learners: And while we’re at it –— writers, readers, speakers, and thinkers!. In D. Goswami, C. Lewis, M. Rutherford, & D. Waff, On teacher inquiry: Approaches to language and literacy research (pp. 12-42). Teachers College Press.

Saldaña, J. (2009). The coding manual for qualitative researchers. Sage Publications Ltd.

Shaffer, L. S., Zalewski, J. M., & Leveille, J. (2010). The professionalization of academic advising: Where are we in 2010? NACADA Journal, 30(1), 66–77. https://doi.org/ 10.12930/0271-9517-30.1.66

Advising as Teaching: The Power of Evidence-Based Teaching Practices in Academic Advising

Colleen Rose, Indiana University Bloomington

Colleen Rose.jpgAs the profession of academic advising makes its rightful case for stronger integration and recognition from the academy, advisors must consider how their practice not merely compliments but aligns with the already revered role of teaching faculty. While a stereotype persists that academic advising is simply assisting students in class scheduling, those well-versed in the profession understand that a myriad of perspectives, theories, and evidence-based approaches inform what is effective, and oftentimes transformational, advising practice.

One of the more recent perspectives to inform (and transform) academic advising is the concept of advising as a form of teaching (Hemwall & Trachte, 1999; Lowenstein, 2005). Advising as teaching places the advisor in a role that facilitates students’ relationship to and understanding of the entire curriculum, not just its seemingly disparate parts. Advising that only goes as far as choosing classes misses a critical opportunity to connect students to a broad and deep understanding of their chosen discipline—including all the knowledge necessary to do it well—and the purpose of earning a higher degree.

If advising is a form of teaching, then how does an advisor teach effectively? Academic advising can glean much from learning theory and the scholarship of teaching and learning to inform effective advising-as-teaching practice with students. The following four teaching approaches can be easily adapted to advising in a variety of settings with most student populations.

The Flipped Classroom

In teaching, the idea behind the flipped classroom is that instructors deliver some content prior to class, such as through pre-readings, videos, or online lectures. In-class time can then be used to apply new material together with direct feedback and engagement from the instructor. A flipped approach is particularly helpful when students struggle to apply a certain concept on their own. In a flipped classroom, the instructor and student have the opportunity to work on application together (King, 1993; Lage, Platt, & Treglia, 2000; Mazur, 1997).

There are many ways an advisor could take a flipped classroom approach to advising students. Prior to advising sessions, an advisor might ask students to review online instructions about how to read and understand their institution’s academic advising report and to come prepared to their advising sessions with questions. This not only empowers the student to take ownership of their own academic advising, but it frees up time in the advising appointment for the advisor and student to work together on problem-solving rather than learning the platform.

Backward Design

Backward design is an approach that begins at the end: what should students ultimately be able to do by the end of a course? Rather than create tests and assignments as the first step in course design, in backward design the instructor starts first with articulating final learning outcomes and then works backwards to design assignments and activities that contribute to those outcomes (Fink, 2013; Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).

Backward design can be applied to almost all aspects of academic advising. For example, an advisor may want to use backward design to evaluate how they work with students on academic probation. In this case, the advisor would start by answering these questions: what should students be able to think and do by the end of the advising relationship? How will students be different once they have successfully completed the probation process? From there, the advisor can then work backwards to design program elements and expectations that contribute to those outcomes and hopefully set aside practices that do not.


Scaffolding is a teaching practice in which an instructor creates developmentally appropriate tasks that build upon one another (Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, & Norman, 2010; Vygotsky, 1978). Scaffolding is inherent in most teaching; in almost every discipline students learn the fundamentals before they move on to more nuanced knowledge. A truly scaffolded approach to learning is the difference between asking students to submit a final paper that has no other associated assignments, versus breaking that final paper down into several assignments that build towards the final paper. Scaffolding is an effective way to ensure that students understand what is expected of them and reduces the stakes of one-and-done assignments that carry a lot of scoring weight.

How can an advisor use scaffolding in their academic practice? Consider advising students about graduate school. A well-intentioned advisor might share with freshmen information about graduate education in their field, directories of programs, and strategies for shopping and applying for programs. While this is all great information, it may be more detail than a student new to college really wants to take in. A scaffolded approach might establish the goal of simply introducing the idea of graduate school to freshmen and sophomores as part of advising. The advisor can then cover strategies for shopping for programs during the junior year and the application process during the senior year.

Transparent Assignments

Transparent assignments may be one of the most powerful tools in teaching. Winkelmes et al. (2016) found that the greatest learning gains from this approach are among underrepresented student populations. For many students, it is not evident why a particular test, essay, or activity is relevant to what they are supposed to learn. Transparent assignments include an explanation about why one is being asked to complete an assignment. This explanation includes not only the purpose of the assignment, but also how engaging in it will benefit the student both now and beyond college (Winkelmes, 2013). Articulating the purpose of an assignment also gives the instructor an opportunity to assess whether or not the learning activity itself is actually purposeful.

Advisors can apply transparent assignment design to almost every aspect of advising. For example, before starting an individual or group advising session, the advisor can explain the purpose of the session. Better yet, the advisor can ask the students what they think the purpose of the session is or should be! When students understand why they are being asked or required to participate in something, the likelihood they are invested in (and maybe even excited about) the process increases.


Should advisors see themselves as teachers, they should also evaluate how learning theory and the scholarship of teaching and learning might provide the foundation to their practice in the same ways it informs teaching faculty. The four approaches discussed in this article are an excellent start to building an advising practice that reflects the core teaching and learning mission of higher education.

Colleen Rose, MSW, LSW
Student Services Coordinator and Recruitment Specialist
Indiana University School of Social Work
Indiana University Bloomington
[email protected]


Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching. Jossey-Bass.

Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Hemwall, M. K., & Trachte, K. (1999). Learning at the core: Toward a new understanding of academic advising. NACADA Journal, 19(1), 5–11. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-29.1.113

King, A. (1993). From sage on the stage to guide on the side. College Teaching, 41(1), 30–35. https://faculty.washington.edu/kate1/ewExternalFiles/SageOnTheStage.pdf

Lage, M., Platt, G., & Treglia, M. (2000). Inverting the classroom: A gateway to creating an inclusive learning environment. The Journal of Economic Education, 31(1), 30–43. https://doi.org/10.2307/1183338

Lowenstein, M. (2005). If advising is teaching, what do advisors teach? NACADA Journal, 25(2), 65–73. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-25.2.65

Mazur, E. (1997). Peer instruction: A user's manual. Prentice Hall.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd ed.). Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

Winkelmes, M. (2013). Transparency in teaching: Faculty share data and improve students’ learning. Liberal Education, 99(2). https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/transparency-teaching-faculty-share-data-and-improve-students

Winkelmes, M., Bernacki, M., Butler, J., Zochowski, M., Golanics, J., & Weavil, K. H. (2016). A teaching intervention that increases underserved college students’ success. Peer Review, 18(1), 31–36. https://flourishingacademic.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/what-are-we-doing-and-why-transparent-assignment-design-benefits-students-and-faculty-alike/

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman (Eds). MIT Press.

Utilizing Course Management Software in Academic Advising

Lori Richard, Nicholls State University

Lori Richard.jpgVincent Tinto (2012) once said, “Knowing the roadmap to success—the rules, regulations, and requirements for degree completion—is central to students’ ability to successfully navigate the path to timely degree completion” (p. 10).  

Enhancing student success, as the purview of academic advisors, is ever-evolving, and recent success has been generated through course management software, an electronic tool that traditionally provides important links between students and their instructors. Course management software can serve as an easy and effective way to engage, communicate with, and teach many different constituents about the importance of academic advising and what it has to offer students and the campus in general. In addition, a university’s advising leadership team can also effectively and efficiently use course management software to communicate to faculty and professional advisors important campus policies and resources.

Communicating with Advisees

Utilizing course management software in academic advising is one way advisors can meet students’ immediate needs. Course management software is typically utilized by all students enrolled in courses, including on-campus, off-campus, online, and part-time students. For each course in which students are enrolled, students are typically required to utilize this software in order to be successful in their coursework and, thus, have a reason to log in and check their account regularly, if not daily, for updates.  

When course management software is used for advising, it can help students to also be successful in other areas of campus life by allowing a continuous working dialogue with their advisor. Researchers have found a student’s sense of belonging to a college campus can be cultivated through specific practices, one of which is maintaining strong and regular communication (Felten et al., 2016). Allowing advisors to build classes on course management software provides a convenient point of contact between them and their advisees.

Utilizing the built-in email or messaging features of course management software allows advisors to email their advisees a reminder when important deadlines are approaching, such as registration dates, withdrawal deadlines, and processes regarding face-to-face advising. Another option is to open a new forum or discussion board when timely information needs dissemination. Adding a new topic to a forum, such as available tutoring appointments for the current term, allows students to post questions or replies to the forum. Information documented through email, messaging features, or forums are permanently available for both advisors and students.

Course management software can also be used as a repository for advisees to access important campus information, such as degree plan templates, course withdrawal forms and policies, grievance processes, as well as tips on how to communicate effectively with professors.

Athletic academic advisors can also create advising pages in course management software for student-athlete specific information. Important topics include the following: study hall information and policies, student-athlete academic center hours of operation, tutoring availability, and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee meetings to name a few.

Examples of advising modules that can be set up for student/advisee access in course management software may include the following resources:

University policies/instructions, including attached relevant forms

  • Course withdrawal
  • Change of a major or minor
  • Course registration
  • Grade dispute and/or grievance
  • Fee deferment request

General advising information

  • List of available majors, minors, and concentrations
  • List of general education courses
  • List of department advisors with their contact and location information
  • List of high impact practice opportunities that are available to students

Tutoring services

  • Description of available tutoring services
  • Link to the university’s tutoring webpage
  • Location, office hours, and contact information for the university’s tutoring services
  • Online tutoring options/availability
  • Other online tutoring resources, such as privately available tutoring services with web links

Counseling services

  • Description of university counseling services
  • Link to the counseling services’ webpage
  • Location, office hours, and contact information for the university’s counseling services
  • Directions on how to schedule an appointment

Other university information

  • Open-source textbook information or available course textbooks located in the university’s library
  • Web links to the financial aid office

Communicating with Advisors

Another way the university can use course management software to keep advising messages to students consistent, timely, and accurate is by creating a course page for the university’s advising leadership to build and maintain and faculty advisors to access. In this scenario, the university’s advising leadership would act as the instructor of the course while faculty and professional advisors are loaded into the course as students. Using course management software helps faculty and professional advisors access and utilize consistent information to be disseminated to students. It helps advisors across campus to use the same language when discussing options with students and also helps them remember deadlines that may be important to their students. The course for advisors gives an avenue to ensure all advisors have access to the most current campus policies and resources that they can then convey to their advisees. When course management software is used in this way, it, again, becomes a repository of information that can be updated and/or deleted as policies change.

Such a course for advisors can also help new advisors/university personnel adapt quickly during the onboarding process by centralizing all important and relevant information in a place that is easy to access. Using this tool helps faculty and professional advisors minimize having to seek out or search individual department websites to obtain the proper forms, policies, or deadline information their advisee is seeking. When questions come up in an advising session that advisors may not readily know the answer to, they can quickly and efficiently refer to their advisor course.

In addition, including the university’s advising leadership team’s contact and location information on the course page provides an avenue for advisors to ask questions when they need help and gives them the confidence that they will receive accurate and current information.

Examples of course modules that can be set up for faculty and professional advisors to access in course management software may include the following:

Advising Information

  • Important dates
    • Census dates
    • Registration dates
    • Fee payment deadlines
    • Withdrawal/resignation deadlines
  • Important advising forms, polices, and information
    • Advising syllabus
    • Change of major or minor instructions
    • Post-late registration instructions
    • Add or drop course instructions

Tutoring services

  • Description of available tutoring services
  • Link to the university’s tutoring webpage
  • Location, office hours, and contact information for the university’s tutoring services
  • Online tutoring options/availability
  • Other online tutoring resources, such as privately available tutoring services with web links

University counseling, health, and disability services information

  • Description, contact, and location information for these student services

Orientation, financial aid, and fee collection/bursar information

  • Orientation dates and schedules
  • Quick web links and contact information for financial aid and fee collections/bursar websites

Not only does an advisor course page help the advisor be informed of all things needed to advise students, but also gives them a guide of things they can include on their own advising course page that they share with their advisees.

Utilizing the functionality of course management software allows the university and faculty advisors to lay out the “roadmap to success” for students (Tinto, 2012, p. 10). Organizing pertinent advising information, for both advisors and advisees, allows for the timely access of accurate information by those who are seeking it. Course management software allows advisors and advisees to be continuously connected to the advising process, thus facilitating more avenues for communication between all parties.

Lori Richard, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Interdisciplinary Studies
Nicholls State University
[email protected]


Felten, P., Gardner, J. N., Schroeder, C. C., Lambert, L. M., & Barefoot, B. O. (2016). The undergraduate experience: Focusing institutions on what matters most. Jossey-Bass.

Tinto, V. (2012). Completing college: Rethinking institutional action. The University of Chicago Press.

On Advising Students with ADHD

Kevin Valliere, New York University

Kevin Valliere.jpgMental health is increasingly on the forefront of the discussion surrounding higher education. According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (2019), between 2009 and 2015 U.S. colleges and universities saw a 30% increase in the number of students looking to schedule appointments with their respective counseling center while overall enrollment rose only 5%.

Of those students, an increasing number will be or will have already been diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and deal with its effects through adolescence and adulthood (Murkett, Smart, & Nugent, 2014).

This article will help academic advisors understand what ADHD is, how it impacts today’s college students, and what they can do to help those students.

Understanding ADHD

While exact data on the number of college students with ADHD are limited, reported rates of diagnosis can range anywhere from 2% to 12% (Murkett et al., 2014).

In the current understanding of ADHD, there are three different presentations as identified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). First, and perhaps most ingrained in the popular mindset, is the predominantly hyperactive presentation. This presentation features such hallmark characteristics as restlessness, disruptive behavior, and aggression. The second presentation, predominantly inattentive, leads to issues with disorganization, inattention, and distractibility. There is a third and final presentation, combined, which has various levels of intermeshed characteristics from the previous two presentations. Boat and Wu (2015) note, however, that “there are no laboratory tests available to identify ADHD in children,” and that clinical interviews pertaining to the child’s academic, social, and family history (in combination with accepted behavior rating scales) are the best way to make a diagnosis.

Gender differences in ADHD are still unclear and range from a disproportionately high percentage of young males to young females on one end to slightly more adult females than adult males on the other (Rucklidge, 2010). In general, caretakers and family members are more likely to identify males as being hyperactive and females as being inattentive. Indeed, reported diagnoses bear this out as young females are more likely to be diagnosed with a predominantly inattentive presentation than males.

In terms of racial differences, while there is “no clear evidence for racial/ethnic differences” in actual rates of ADHD, cultural attitudes may lead to varying interpretations of ADHD-symptomatic behavior, leading parents to choose different outcomes in seeking an ADHD diagnosis or not (Boat & Wu, 2015). For instance, in a 2018 survey the Center for Disease Control found that 12.8% of African American students aged 3–17 had ever been diagnosed with ADHD (compared to a rate of 9.8% overall), while only 3.2% of Asian students had ever been diagnosed (Black & Benson, 2018).

In addition, as many as 70% of those diagnosed with ADHD have a co-occurring affective, learning, or conduct disorder (such as anxiety or dyslexia), and so in many cases students are not just dealing with the symptoms of ADHD but also the compounded symptoms of a number of issues (Boat & Wu, 2015).

Effects of ADHD in College

Murkett et al. (2014) note that because ADHD is a disorder associated with the brain’s biological ability to control executive functions such as attention, motivation, and organization, “postsecondary education can be particularly challenging” for students with ADHD due to rapid changes in “lifestyle, independence, and responsibility.” Traditionally, higher education marks a time where students see a massive increase in independence when structuring their own schedules; ADHD takes the challenges of this increase and dials them up to the nth degree.

Indeed, students with ADHD are more likely to drop out of college than their neurotypical peers (Murkett et al., 2014). In addition, they are likely to have lower grade point averages throughout their college career and are more likely to be on academic probation.

Outside of the classroom, ADHD students are also more likely to misuse substances like the prescription stimulant Adderall, alcohol, and other drugs (Murkett et al., 2014). Other problematic behaviors associated with college students with ADHD include addictive behavior (such as with gaming or the internet), risky sexual behaviors like less-consistent use of contraceptives, and overall higher levels of unnecessary risk-taking.

The high rate of comorbidity with affective disorders can exacerbate already existing issues (Boat & Wu, 2015). A student with both ADHD and depression, for example, faces two significant barriers to succeeding in the classroom: the ability to get oneself out of bed in the first place and the ability to pay attention once they are actually in class.

The news need not all be bad, though: in a qualitative survey, Sedgwick, Merwood, & Asherson (2018) found a number of areas in which adults with ADHD had unique strengths. The adults surveyed were able to use their disorder’s hallmark bouts of “hyper-focus” to further their productivity. They highlighted their creativity and curiosity. And, among many other indicators, they noted their penchant for resilience, given their often lifelong struggles with inattention and compulsivity. So while there are a number of severe risk factors for students with ADHD in college, ADHD can also be a source of inspiration or even pride.

Implications for Academic Advising

As it has been established in previous NACADA publications, unless otherwise certified, “academic advisors are not professional counselors” (Harper & Peterson, 2005). Diagnosis, therapy, and medication management are well outside of the scope of an advisor’s responsibility. However, that does not mean that academic advisors are incapable of assisting students with ADHD in their regular practice.

First and foremost, advisors should be knowledgeable of their institution’s resources for students struggling with or looking to improve their mental wellness.

Campus Resources

When approached by a student who has disclosed they have ADHD, advisors can direct the student to utilize their institution’s relevant disability services office for accommodations. The Attention Deficit Disorder Association (2017) has a list of potential suggestions for students seeking accommodations, breaking the suggestions down into three categories. First, students can ask for assistance with exams and assignments in the form of extended time and a separate and/or quiet location. Second, students can ask for assistance with lectures, including obtaining permissions to record the lectures or receiving a dedicated note-taking service. Finally, students can ask for reduced course loads or priority registration. While advisors may not be an explicit part of this process, they can support students during and after the process with information and advocacy.

In addition, campus counseling centers can provide students with pharmacological or therapy-based treatment for ADHD or refer students out to local providers. As part of a regular accommodations process, students may already be seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist to show that not only do they have ADHD, but that there is also “evidence of impairment” (Murkett et al., 2014). Helping students navigate the campus counseling framework is still well within the purview of an advisor’s role, while letting certified professionals handle the issues which are outside that purview (such as the social and emotional risk-factors associated with students with ADHD).

Advising Strategies to Address Specific Skills

But since counseling may not be an option (or may not be enough) for a student with ADHD, there are some common-sense actions advisors can take to assist these students. These can be focused into two additional categories based on the unique challenges students with ADHD face.

Organizational Skills. Since organizational skills can be a struggle for students with ADHD, an emphasis should be placed on assisting the student in creating a structure around which they can organize their personal and academic lives. This may take the form of a desk calendar, with the advisor assisting the student in noting important academic deadlines (such as withdrawing from courses or applying for financial aid). It could also lead to helping student find an organizational system that speaks to them, such as using sticky notes, folders, or keeping only digital files.

Frequent and personalized reminders of upcoming deadlines or meetings—in the model of intrusive advising, as discussed by Schwebel et al. (2008)—can also be a way advisors support their students with ADHD.

Academic Skills. Advisors should also be ready to help students with ADHD learn or re-learn how to appropriately take notes and study in college. Since students with ADHD are more likely to be on academic probation, it follows that familiarizing oneself with learning strategies for students on probation is a useful place to start. According to Renzulli (2015), these strategies include initiating specific conversations around the number of hours students study each week and how they study or using “active engagement strategies” like retyping notes and creating individual note cards for various classes.

Encouraging students to utilize campus academic support resources (such as a writing center or tutoring center) is also an option if the advisor feels uncomfortable giving specific advice.

Similarly, there are some catchall suggestions that advisors can give to students who have self-identified as having ADHD. Writing for the advocacy-focused ADDitude Magazine, Klein and Sandler (2019) provide a number of these simple tips. They include building in rewards during study sessions and arranging work and study groups with fellow students to help keep them accountable for their coursework.


When I presented a poster at the 2019 NACADA annual conference in Louisville, KY, I was struck by a common thread of many of the professionals who came up to speak with me. For them, and for many others at the conference, ADHD was not merely a hypothetical professional consideration. Their brother or daughter or partner had ADHD, or perhaps they even had it themselves.

Advising students with any mental health issue is likely to be a deeply personal experience. It can be daunting to try and help a student who is struggling with or working through something that the advisor may or may not understand intuitively.

No student’s experience will be similar, and while an advisor can support a student with ADHD, it will always ultimately be up to the student to follow through on the accommodations and support given at their institution. But through utilizing campus resources, staying up to date on research, and following relevant advice, advisors can have a profound, positive influence on students with ADHD.

Kevin Valliere
Assistant Director of Advising
New York University
Stern School of Business
[email protected]


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596

Attention Deficit Disorder Association. (2017). Recommended accommodations for college students with ADHD. https://add.org/recommended-accommodations-college-students-adhd/

Boat, T. F., & Wu, J. T. (Eds.). (2015). Mental disorders and disabilities among low-income children. National Academies Press.

Black, L. I., & Benson, V. (2018). Tables of summary health statistics for U.S. children: 2017 national health interview survey, table C-3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis/SHS/tables.htm

Center for Collegiate Mental Health. (2019, January). 2018 Annual Report (Publication No. STA 19-180). https://sites.psu.edu/ccmh/files/2019/01/2018-Annual-Report-1.30.19-ziytkb.pdf

Harper, R., & Peterson, M. (2005). Mental health issues and college students. NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources. http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Mental-health-issues-in-advising.aspx

Klein, A., & Sandler, M.. (2019). Conquering college. Additude Magazine. www.additudemag.com/conquering-college/

Murkett, K., Smart, W., & Nugent, K. (2014). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in postsecondary students. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 10, 1781–1791. https://doi.org/ 10.2147/ndt.s64136

Rucklidge, J. J. (2010). Gender differences in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 33(2), 357–373. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psc.2010.01.006

Renzulli, S. J. (2015) Using learning strategies to improve the academic performance of university students on academic probation. NACADA Journal, 35(1), 29–41. https://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-13-043

Schwebel, D. C., Walburn, N. C., Jacobsen, S. H., Jerrolds, K. L., Klyce, K. (2008). Efficacy of intrusively advising first-year students via frequent reminders for advising appointments. NACADA Journal28(2), 28–32. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-28.2.28

Sedgwick, J. A., Merwood, A., & Asherson, P. (2018). The positive aspects of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a qualitative investigation of successful adults with ADHD. ADHD Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders11(3), 241–253. https://doi.org/ 10.1007/s12402-018-0277-6

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Why Should Academic Advisors Care About Students' Sense of Belonging?

Tonjala Eaton, Lansing Community College

Tonjala Eaton.jpgWhen students do not feel a strong connection to the institution, they often depart before completing their goals. Tinto (1993) categorizes the differences between departures as institutional and systematic. Students transferring to other colleges and/or universities is referred to as institutional; systematic departure occurs when a student decides that college is not a good fit and leaves the sector completely. Although there are many factors that determine if a student will persist or depart, the focus here is on discussing the value of students experiencing a connection to faculty, staff, and students. A student’s inability to become socially integrated into the campus community can lead to both institutional and systematic departure (Tinto, 1993).  

Social integration can occur through several different types of student interactions, including academic advising, thereby increasing a students’ sense of belonging. Strayhorn (2019) defines belonging as a students’ perceived social support on campus, a feeling or sensation of connectedness, and the experience of mattering or feeling cared about, accepted, respected, valued by, and important to the campus community or others on campus such as faculty, staff, and peers. Belonging is heavily based on perceptions and an individual’s understanding of an experience. Furthermore, belonging is highly social and relationship dependent. Belonging is unlikely in the absence of relationships.

Students’ relationships with their academic advisor is one where belonging can develop. Advisors address students’ concerns and assist them with navigating the institution and developing academic and career plans (Hovland, 1997). Moreover, advising sessions have the potential to be opportunities for students to express their most authentic selves. A true place of belonging allows all people to feel that they can bring their true selves to a place. Imagine an educational environment where a student feels that they can bring their true selves to the environment. This type of educational environment is void of shame related to academic under-preparedness or bias, and is an environment in which students feel supported as they evolve personally and academically to new levels of growth.

Why Is Belonging Important for Black Male Students?

While this type of setting is beneficial to all students, it is vital to retain more black male students. The majority of black male students start their college education at community colleges (Strayhorn, 2019). However, more depart from community college than those that graduate (National Center for Education Statistics, 2018). After three years of entry of first-time, full-time degree students at two-year postsecondary institutions, 53.4% of black male students were no longer enrolled and had not transferred as compared to 41.3%, 47.0% and 33.2% for their white, Hispanic, and Asian counterparts respectively (National Center for Education Statistics, 2018).

There are many factors that influence departure, which include social challenges. Belonging in particular is important for black male students because being on a campus in which they represent the minority is an isolating experience. Isolation is further exasperated by the lack of black male faculty and administrators in higher education (Strayhorn, 2019). Having academic advisors that understand the experience of black male students is very important and can potentially reduce the complications of alienation. In order to effectively advise black males, advisors must be aware of their many challenges to be partners in their success (Wood & Harris, 2015). Here are examples of cases, with pseudonyms used for student privacy, in which black male students have been vocal about their experiences related to belonging.

Case of Jahlil. When Jahlil stands, his 6’3” husky frame can be dominating. Yet on this day as he sat humped over in the chair, his aura was more subdued. With his full head of black curly hair bowed down, he mumbled, “She doesn’t call on me.” Confused, I asked, “Who?” Jahlil responded, “My chemistry teacher. I know I don’t say anything in class, but neither do other students and she calls on them.” We were in the middle of discussing his experience as a first-year student. Jahlil went on to state that he felt many of the teachers had not been athletes while in school and have negative perceptions of athletes. 

As Jahlil shared his story, I knew that my primary advisory role at the moment was to listen and provide support as he processed his experience. Jahlil taught me about the importance of creating mindful spaces where students can unpack their experience. He also offered me insights about why some students are quiet in class. In Jahlil’s mind, his chemistry teacher believed that he did not comprehend the material, and therefore, she never called on him. In an effort to not prove her right, he never spoke in class, whether he understood the material or not. The professor’s actions alienated Jahlil from feeling connected to that professor and his classmates. He departed college at the end of the next semester.

Case of Kevin. One day after class, Kevin told me that I was his favorite professor. When I asked him why, he responded that I was the only one who made him feel like he belonged. I knew this comment deserved more attention. As I looked into Kevin’s face filled with tattoos, I asked him what happens in his other courses that make him feel that way. He responded by saying “I cannot put it into words. It is just a feeling.” Kevin did not return for his second semester.

Case of Quincy. Graduation is always one of my favorite times of year, especially when I personally know students who are graduating. When Quincy was in line to go to the stage, I snuck in a photo of both of us in our cap and gowns. When the announcer called his name, I yelled in sheer delight. It took a lot for Quincy to accomplish that milestone. A few months later, Quincy asked me to send him our graduation photo because he was going to make a post on Instagram. I logged into Instagram and there was our photo with a caption that read “I want to take a moment to shout-out to my community college and even more so to all the beautiful people, both staff and students, who’ve elevated me to new heights in life.”

The stories of Jahlil and Kevin are examples of black male students reflecting on the lack of belonging they experienced in the classroom. On the other hand, Quincy’s caption demonstrated that he had a very strong sense of connection to the institution that went beyond relationships with staff but also included students. Furthermore, students are aware of their belonging and it is important that they have space to reflect upon it. Their level of belonging directly influences whether the leave college or persist to graduation.

Academic Advising Solutions

Academic advisors cannot control if a student decides to persist toward completing a degree or not, but they can determine the level of support they provide their students. The prerequisite to facilitating a strong sense of belonging for students is caring about their success. Whether or not the student achieves their goals has to matter to the advisor. A caring attitude will determine if the following strategies will be effective.

Next, it is important to understand what is motivating the student to attend school. Here is a list of questions to help foster personal dialogue so that a connection can be formed which would eventually lead to creating a sense of belonging for the student:

  • What brings you to school at this time in your life?
  • What is motivating you to attend school?
  • You may experience challenges in this process—what is going to keep you fighting to come here?

Third, it is important to discuss the student’s goals and how being in school will help them reach their goals. This is very crucial during the early stages of establishing the student-advisee relationship.  Students must understand how their education connects to their ability to accomplish other goals.

The fourth component of the process is to inquire about the student’s barriers and challenges that may prohibit them from accomplishing their goals.

Last, the fifth component is to help the student brainstorm solutions to addressing the barriers they mentioned.

Reflect on Their Perception of Belonging 

In addition to creating space to connect with black, male students on campus, academic advisors can reflect with students about the level of belonging felt in class and with other individuals on campus. The focus of this dialogue is to gain an understanding of how the student perceives their current level of connection to the institution. This is both helpful for the advisor and the student, because the advisor can make effective referrals and/or introductions. Meanwhile, the student becomes more mindful in assessing if they want to engage in activities that will enhance their sense of belonging. Here are a few questions to encourage the student to reflect on his belonging:

  • How would you describe your relationships with your instructors?
  • How comfortable are you to approach your instructors if you do not understand something or have a concern about participating in their class?
  • Do you know many people that attend school here?
  • Have you met many friends at this school?
  • Where do you spend time on campus?

Students experience academic institutions very differently based on their identities. The advising role lends itself to being the perfect space to help students connect to the institution and feel that they belong despite differences in identity.

Tonjala Eaton, M.A., GCDF
Academic and Career Advisor
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Transfer Advisor
Lansing Community College
[email protected]


Hovland, M. (1997). Academic advising for student success and retention. USA Group. Noel-Levitz.

Strayhorn, T. (2019). College students’ sense of belonging. Routledge Press. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203118924

Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. University of Chicago Press.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2018).
Table 326.20. Graduation rate from first institution attended within 150 percent of normal time for first-time, full-time degree/certificate-seeking students at 2-year postsecondary institutions, by race/ethnicity, sex, and control of institution: Selected cohort entry years, 2000 through 2014. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d18/tables/dt18_326.20.asp?current=yes

Wood, J., & Harris, F. (2015). The effect of academic engagement on sense of belonging: A hierarchical,multilevel analysis of black men in community colleges. Spectrum: A Journal on Black Men, 4, 21–47. https://doi.org/10.2979/spectrum.4.1.03

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Are They Taking Notes? Promoting Student Responsibility in Academic Advising

James R. Wicks, Middle Tennessee State University

James Wicks.jpgRecently in fall semesters, I have been hosting student workshops for first-generation STEM majors wherein we discuss the value of taking notes, among other things. As a demonstration, I read an excerpt about a topic that I am fairly certain the students know nothing about, and they are instructed not to take notes. (I simply tell them to listen as intently as possible.) The passage is usually about 500–700 words and is highly technical, the most recent of which detailed the process of making optical glass. After I finish reading, students are handed an index card and instructed to label one through six. Then they are asked six questions about what they just heard, pop-quiz style. Invariably, no one gets all six questions right: the most anyone has gotten correct was five, and that was one out of more than thirty students. Their correct answers average somewhere between two and three; i.e., most of them fail. Next, I read the same passage again, only the second time I encourage them to take notes. They are then quizzed again on a new set of questions, and as one might expect, they do much better.

This exercise mimics a student’s experience in the classroom where they hear a lecture and are expected to retain the information that will be on quizzes and exams. The less information they retain, the less likely they are to perform well on those assessments. This is particularly true if the student has never been exposed to the material or simply has no interest in the subject. Instructors encourage note-taking in their classes because notes augment students’ understanding of course material (Kiewra, 1989; Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014). Students who do not take notes are just more likely to fail.

Notes are instrumental for student success and instructors understand that, but do academic advisors? Given developments in the delivery of academic advising over the last few decades (Grites, Miller, & Voller, 2016), asking a student to take notes during an advising session may seem counterintuitive and make the advising experience seem more prescriptive and transactional. Today’s advisors are encouraged to take a developmental approach to their meetings with students, which means being collaborative and relational and exploring students’ overall experiences on campus; the whole approach in practice is very conversational. Less common now, at least in theory, are sessions in which advisors merely discuss or write down a student’s schedule and send them on their way.

This distinction reflects Crookston’s (1972) paradigm of advising as teaching, moving advisors away from prescriptive advising, which emphasizes telling students what to do and expecting them to do it, to a more holistic approach in which students learn by building relationships with campus personnel who subsequently guide them towards academic self-efficacy. One of the hallmarks of developmental advising is setting the stage so that the student can share their experiences; open up in a way that might guide an advising session. This allows the student to be an active participant in their advising so that they can assume more ownership in their academic decisions. When students guide their sessions by inquiring about institutional policy, like registration times, financial aid requirements, waitlist requirements, payment and confirmation deadlines, or add and drop dates, advisors respond with what they know to be helpful. On this content, depending on their role at their institution, advisors are the experts, just as an instructor is the expert of his or her content area. In these situations, advisors should be encouraging students to take notes, just as an instructor would in their classroom.

With this in mind, to respond to student questions about institutional policy expecting them to retain the information without notes is naïve given what advisors and professors expect from students in the classroom. Similar to classroom content, institutional policy is nuanced. Take waitlists, for example. At Middle Tennessee State University, students can get onto a waitlist for a closed class and potentially get a seat if another student drops the course. Once a seat opens up, the first student on the waitlist receives an email informing them that they have a twelve-hour window during which they can register for the course. This means that if an enrolled student drops a course at 8 p.m., a waitlisted student has a registration window that expires at 8 a.m. the next morning. I often explain this scenario to my students and encourage them, if they wish to get onto a waitlist, to set up email notifications or alarms on their phone and frequently check to see that their registration window has not escaped them. This is but one topic among many similarly nuanced topics that come up during a single advising session. Like the exercise I mentioned in the beginning, I would bet that if I quizzed my students after our meetings on policy nuances discussed therein and they had not taken notes, they would fail that quiz. And this is how students are being sent out to deal with the policies and expectations of their institution.

Some advisors reading this may feel that the outlines they provide students following their sessions are sufficient summaries of what was discussed. Indeed, it is good for advisors to give students an outline of the content addressed in their sessions. However, consider by analogy instructors providing their power point presentations to students as study materials. Most of the time, these presentations lack the depth and nuance that only reinforce the importance of in-depth comprehensive notes. And often, class presentations are like this by design. Instructor presentations are to assist instructors in covering the topics that they think are important. They typically are not designed to be handed to students as comprehensive study material. So too are advisor summaries of what is discussed with students during advising sessions.

Furthermore, an advisor giving summaries of the content in their advising sessions to students, while not a bad practice, denies the student the opportunity to take responsibility for the information exchanged in a session. If advisors take seriously the mission of helping their students become self-efficacious, they should take every opportunity for students to take responsibility for their academic decisions, which includes navigating nuanced institutional policy.

Notes are encouraged by professors to supplement course material and augment student understanding of important course content. Students who do not take notes often struggle on quizzes and exams, and ultimately fail to perform at their highest level. Academic advisors often compare their role to that of teachers, helping students develop and learn and take responsibility for their academic success. However, advisors typically rely on conversational and relational modes of information exchange without encouraging students to take their own notes during advising sessions. This practice hinders students’ ability to retain important information, particularly related to institutional policy. Just as professors encourage note-taking in their classes, advisors should be encouraging note-taking during their advising sessions. While this is not a cure-all for student lapses regarding institutional policy and procedure, it helps put them one step closer to owning their academic success.

James R. Wicks
Academic Advisor
College of Basic and Applied Sciences
Middle Tennessee State University
[email protected]


Crookston, B. B. (1972). A developmental view of academic advising as teaching. Journal of College Student Personnel, 13(1), 12–17.

Grites, T. J., Miller, M. A., & Voller, J. G. (2016). Beyond foundations: Developing as a master academic advisor. John Wiley & Sons.

Kiewra, K. (1989). A review of note-taking: The encoding-storage paradigm and beyond. Educational Psychology Review, 1(2), 147–172.

Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science, 25(6), 1159–1168. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797614524581

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Supporting Early-Career STEM Students

Kim Charmatz and Lindsay Crawford, University of Southern Maine

Lindsay Crawford.jpgKim Charmatz.jpgScience, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) major requirements are unique; advising students in these fields requires unique approaches, supports, and resources. Majors in these disciplines can include traditional majors such as biology, chemistry, engineering, environmental science, physics, and math, and can also include majors such as nursing, health sciences, and athletic training. In this article, the focus is on students in the natural sciences, engineering, and technology majors.

STEM students have curriculum requirements that are highly sequential, time intensive, and interdisciplinary. There are high expectations for STEM students to excel in multiple disciplines including different fields in the sciences, high-level math courses, writing, and critical thinking skills. Students who are looking to graduate in the traditional four years in a STEM-related discipline must enter the major with a strong background in math and science. The conversations with students in these disciplines vary and change when advisors have realistic discussions with them about these expectations and what they will need to accomplish to succeed. 

Advising students in STEM majors is grounded in the NACADA Core Competencies (NACADA, 2017) in some of the following ways: 

  • Conceptual: understanding advising theories relevant to the unique nature of STEM majors (e.g. inquiry-based learning in advising [Bernold, 2007])
  • Informational: understanding the interdisciplinary and sequential degree requirements of STEM majors
  • Relational: facilitating students’ development of goals and problem solving; developing supportive relationships with students that encourage them to take ownership of their STEM educational path

Strategies for STEM Students

The nature of working with early-career STEM students often requires an intrusive advising approach with multiple meetings during their first semesters (Rodgers et al., 2014). Applying an inquiry-based learning approach in these meetings gives students the opportunity to help build and understand their pathway while also introducing responsibility as a key component to taking ownership of their education (Bernold, 2007). The following are some strategies that can be incorporated into any advisors’ practice when working with STEM students.

Managing Expectations. Students in STEM disciplines have different expectations regarding the work required to complete their chosen field of study. Advisors can start the conversation by asking what interests them about their major and their expectations for their major coursework. This can lead naturally to talking about the high expectations of STEM majors, upper-level math requirements, strict sequencing of courses, and the transition from high school-/community college-level academic expectations to the rigor required at the four-year institution.

Students also have different expectations about their own abilities related to work in the STEM fields or their self-efficacy in regards to the work that is expected of them. For example, a student who places into a math course below the course recommended for the traditional four-year plan may express feelings of low self-efficacy in an advising meeting. One approach to addressing low self-efficacy is working with the student on setting goals and creating an action plan to achieve them.

Creating Action Plans and Goal Setting. For the STEM major, setting goals and creating action plans are especially important for students’ success and path to meeting their graduation goals (Steele, 2008).  Several strategies can help in setting realistic timelines and creating a graduation plan:

  • Presenting pre-STEM courses as building blocks for preparing students for their major coursework. This includes strengthening math and writing skills before beginning a science or upper-level math sequence of courses. 
  • Including summer or winter courses in their plan. Planning for terms in addition to traditional fall and spring semesters can allow students to catch up in their sequence of courses and has the potential to improve their overall graduation timeline. It is helpful to provide students with resources on learning strategies for taking a course in an accelerated or shortened format. 
  • Adding supplemental semesters to their plan, if needed. If courses are not available or possible over accelerated terms, having a realistic conversation with students about adding additional semesters to their plan is important early on when meeting with students. 

Developing Faculty Connections. Encouraging students to meet early and often with their faculty is incredibly important to motivate students in STEM majors as well as help them succeed in their chosen discipline. In addition to being able to talk about the major and career goals with an expert in the field, they can connect with their faculty on how to be successful in their specific classes. Advisors can help connect students with their faculty by showing them how to find their office hours, maintain proper email etiquette when communicating online, and brainstorming questions to ask faculty. At the University of Southern Maine, there is a partnership advising model, and staff advisors frequently work together with faculty advisors on students’ academic goals.

Learning Strategies for STEM Students

STEM students, particularly those who are underprepared, may struggle with the rigor required for their major coursework. The following strategies are important for students to keep in mind:

Time Management. One important strategy for students who are managing a high-credit course load is time management. This can be a struggle for any student, but is important especially for students in majors with restrictive curriculums. Talking through strategies and planning not only a student’s weekly schedule but entire semester schedule is very important to success. There are multiple hands-on strategies, like creating a weekly or monthly calendar as well as multiple free smartphone and desktop apps that can help keep track not only of scheduling, but also assignment due dates, task or to-do lists, and professors’ contact information all in one place (e.g. iStudiezPro [2009]).

Reading STEM Textbooks and Note-Taking Strategies. SQ3R Method  is a great method for utilizing an active, inquiry-based approach to reading textbooks and comprehension (University of Southern Maine, n.d. & Robinson, 1978). The SQ3R Method encourages students to survey (review chapter titles, headings, diagrams, etc.), write down initial questions that may pop up, and then read the chapter, recite (or summarize), and review what is learned. This encourages the student to retain what they have learned and process the material before moving on to the next section.

The T-Method note-taking strategy is a great way to take notes for STEM-specific courses (Sellers et al., 2015). The student can write the example equation on one side of the page and personal note/ explanation to help their personal understanding and/or any questions they have regarding the problem. Other methods include the Cornell Method (Pauk, 1984), mind-mapping, and outlining.

Study and Test-Taking Strategies. Supporting students’ awareness of metacognition can be a good first approach to study and test-taking strategies. Metacognition is a reflective technique that includes thinking about one’s thinking or learning process. Metacognition is also connected to inquiry-based learning through asking questions about your understanding of course material; this can identify gaps in understanding, and help with test preparation (The Learning Center, n.d.).

In addition, there are many online resources that provide study and test-taking strategies helpful to students in STEM majors. Tamarkin et al. (2010) wrote an online free Guidebook for Studying and Learning in STEM. The guidebook includes practical strategies students can implement such as in-class, reading, studying, and test-taking techniques. 

Peer Support Networks. Studying in groups can help STEM students support each other in a learning environment and “promotes conceptual understanding and reasoning ability” (Cracolice & Deming, 2005). Study groups encourage teaching and learning from other students, help improve confidence in material, and give students a forum outside of the classroom to ask each other questions and prepare for upcoming exams. Meeting regularly also helps to keep students accountable and gives a structured environment to help supplement individual studying time.

Exploring Alternative Majors and Careers

For some students, their expectation of the STEM major they originally declared is different from the realistic curriculum of the major. For these students, exploring alternative majors and careers can be an important discussion to have with them (Steele, 2008). The following are some steps that advisors can take in their meetings:

  • Continue to revisit long term goals—and different majors or avenues for achieving those goals
  • Work with other offices and resources on campus such as the Career Center
  • Review career-related and personality assessments such as StrengthsQuest, Myers Briggs Type Indicator, O*NET Interest Profiler, and the Holland Code to also revisit long range plans and majors that fit the student’s interests and strengths
  • Review and compare similar majors to the student’s original declared major—for example, health science vs. biology, environmental planning & policy vs. environmental science, information technology vs. computer science

In addition to the above strategies, advisors can also connect students to offices outside of advising for additional support.  

Some possible resources include:

  • Subject-based tutoring
  • Math and writing center
  • Learning assistants program
  • Career center/services
  • Peer advising
  • Student organizations in STEM areas
  • TRIO academic support
  • Health and counseling center
  • Disability services
  • Jobs for America’s graduates
  • Prior learning and assessment

Kim Charmatz
Academic Advisor, Advising
University of Southern Maine
[email protected] 

Lindsay Crawford
Academic Advisor, Advising
University of Southern Maine
[email protected]


Academic Gains through Improved Learning Effectiveness (AGILE), University of Southern Maine (n.d.). Retrieved from https://usm.maine.edu/agile

Bernold, L. E. (2007).  Preparedness of engineering freshman to inquiry-based learning. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, 133(2), 99–106. https://doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)1052-3928(2007)133:2(99)

Cracolice, M., & Deming, J. (2005, December 20). Peer-led team learning: Promoting conceptual understanding and reasoning ability. [Conference Paper].Winter 2005 CONFCHEM Online Conference: Trends and New Ideas in Chemical Education, Online.

iStudiez Team. (2009). iStudiez Pro. https://istudentpro.com/

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx

Pauk, W. (1984). How to study in college (3rd ed.). Houghton Mifflin

Robinson, F. P. (1978). Effective study (6th ed.). Harper & Row.

Rodgers, K., Blunt, S., & Trible, L. (2014). A real PLUSS: an intrusive advising program for underprepared STEM students. NACADA Journal, 34(1), 35–42. https://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-13-002

Sellers, D., Dochen, C. W., & Hodges, R. (2015). Academic transformation: The road to college success (3rd ed.). Pearson Education.

Steele, M. (2008, September). The challenges of advising science, technology, engineering and mathematics students. Academic Advising Today, 31(3). https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/The-Challenges-of-Advising-Science-Technology-Engineering-and-Mathematics-Students.aspx 

Tamarkin, D. A., Moriarty, M. A., & Hill, V. A. (2010). Guidebook for studying and learning in STEM. STCC Foundation Press. https://olemiss.edu/programs/biobootcamp/GuidebookSTEM%20Learning%20Student.pdf

The Learning Center. (n.d.). Studying for STEM. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. https://learningcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/studying-for-stem/

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Resolving Roadblocks to Timely Graduation: Graduation Help Desk and the Impact on Advising

Soyla Santos, University of Texas at Arlington

Solya Santos.jpgIn the great state of Texas, higher education has been tasked with achieving 60% certificate or degree completion for residents between the ages of 25 and 34 by the year 2030. This goal is known as 60x30TX (60 by 30 Tex) and requires higher education stakeholders to address college affordability, workplace skills, and, in some instances, re-imagine the college experience to better serve students (Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, 2015). Unfortunately, it is common for undergraduate students to encounter barriers to timely graduation, and some of these barriers are inadvertently placed before students by institutional or administrative structures, routines, practices, and procedures. College campuses may offer services to support students that are experiencing hardships, but these resources may be siloed and difficult to access. The 60x30TX goal is an ambitious goal, but one of its greatest attributes is that it encourages creativity. This is where an office like the University of Texas at Arlington Graduation Help Desk, with the help of the advising community, can make an impact.


In 2015, the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, learned that “college administrators and faculty often felt a strong desire to improve the degree prospects and life chances of their students and were visibly frustrated by their seeming inability to do this with limited resources” (Goldrick-Rab, Anderson, & Kinsley, 2016, p. 135). The implementation of programs like single stop at community colleges helped students connect with benefits by leveraging partnerships and technology to connect people to existing resources through a unique one-stop shop. Graduation help desks work in a similar fashion.

Established by the University of Texas System in summer 2017, each graduation help desk serves as a one-stop resource to help students overcome obstacles to timely graduation. All University of Texas campuses received funding for a graduation help desk with each campus deciding on location and staff needs. For instance, the Graduation Help Desk at the University of Texas at Tyler is located in the One-Stop Service Center with admissions, records, enrollment, and financial aid, while the Graduation Help Desk at the University of Texas at Permian Basin is located in the Student Success Center with tutoring and mentoring.

Regardless of location, the mission is simple: help ensure every student’s success. Each graduation help desk serves as a centralized office for university-wide collaboration to identify trends and roadblocks affecting students across academic units. Graduation help desks consolidate campus and community tools and resources to provide quick resolutions, and are able to be both data-driven and student-centered.

How It Works

At the University of Texas at Arlington, all students are referred to their academic advisor to discuss their concerns about any type of obstacle that may hinder their progression towards graduation. Advisors review and explore solutions. While advisors are often the most knowledgeable resources about specific degree requirements, they are not always positioned or empowered to recommend changes to institutional policies and procedures that may present roadblocks, nor do they necessarily have the authority to elevate students’ concerns beyond their office or department. If the student and advisor are unable to resolve the concern, then it is escalated via email to the graduation help desk by either the student or advisor on the student’s behalf.

The Graduation Help Desk at the University of Texas at Arlington was housed within the Division of Enrollment Management with two full-time staff members with over 25 years of academic advising and registrar experience. This year, the graduation help desk has transitioned to the Division of Student Success with a new model including one full-time staff member and six supporting roles.  The graduation help desk staff work quickly to review the barrier to timely graduation, investigate, and respond with a resolution within 48 hours. Resolutions require creative solutions from staff and agreements from key stakeholders. Top-level support from institutional leadership also plays an important role in the success of the graduation help desk.

It is important to note two factors. First, the graduation help desk is decidedly not neutral. Regardless of what has happened in the student’s academic or personal past, graduation help desk staff are student advocates. A resolution is provided to help the student progress toward degree completion. The resolution may not be what the student wants, but all efforts are made to remove barriers. Second, there are limitations to the types of obstacles that can be escalated. Again, the graduation help desk does not serve as a student’s first stop. Students are encouraged to work with their advisor as a first solution. In fact, the first question asked of the student is “What have you done on your own to resolve your concern?” Additionally, creating the ideal course schedule is not a graduation help desk priority; the focus is on what a student needs to graduate not which professor or course section they prefer.


Over the last two years, the Graduation Help Desk at the University of Texas at Arlington has resolved nearly 1000 referrals with an average resolution time just under 24 hours. The data is compelling. Annual reports have been a tool to promote the implementation of policy and procedural changes and additional academic advising training.

During the 2018–2019 academic year, the Graduation Help Desk at the University of Texas managed 513 unique student cases. A majority of referrals were women (58%), and nearly a quarter of referrals came from students in health-related majors. Over 65% of students came from underrepresented ethnic groups: Hispanic/Latino (22.61%), Black/African American (18.91%), Asian (21.25%), and American Indian/Native Alaskan (2.53%). It is no surprise that most referrals were seniors, but the second highest referral group was freshman (16.57%); very few referrals came from sophomore or juniors (less than 10% combined).

Nearly half of all referrals involved students in their final semester who were desperate for help. Most common barriers included financial concerns, missing credit, course equivalency issues, grades, GPA, enrollment holds, class availability, and, the dreaded, misadvising. Most concerning was the frequency in which graduating seniors were referred to the graduation help desk, after census, with one credit hour short of degree requirements. In a majority of cases, with the exception of financial concerns, academic advisors were a vital link to understanding the backstory and needs of the students, although advisors were not submitting the referral. Over 60% of referrals came from students and less than 20% were from advisors. 


On the road to reaching the goals of 60x30TX, the Graduation Help Desk at the University of Texas at Arlington has uncovered some basic truths about academic advising and timely graduation. Most notable, students from underrepresented groups need more guidance as they maneuver through the systems within higher education. Academic advisors are well suited for the task and can best serve their students when they are creative thinkers, empathic, and empowered within their position. Having a one-stop resource like the graduation help desk encourages a culture of completion for both students and advisors.

Students, especially those in underrepresented groups, deserve the best advisors—advisors that are willing to provide hope and encouragement and advocate for their students without judgement. Advising is a unique student service in that advisors reach all students throughout their academic journey and help them bounce back after both academic and life set-backs. To become the best, advisors need consistent and continued training and support not only in the areas of academic policy and procedures, but also leadership, communication, and resilience.

According to Tripathy (2018), “creativity is one of the most essential skills among effective leaders.” Academic advisors are leaders, and creative thinking is an absolute must when seeking solutions to barriers to degree completion. However, advisors are often stalled at the first or second step of creative thinking: collecting information and engaging in thinking or attempting to find possible solutions (Tripathy, 2018). Advisors should be able to troubleshoot nearly any barrier that arises for their students. This means that advisors also need to be positioned and empowered to find and act on possible solutions. Being unable to select the best solution and put it into action can be frustrating for both advisors and their students. 

Working environments that leave academic advisors with no time to read professional literature, attend professional conferences, or without freedom to explore “wouldn’t it be cool?” projects stifle an advisor’s ability to be a catalyst for student success and timely graduation. Advisors should be encouraged to grow as a professional and visualize degree plans as roadmaps with a multitude of possibilities for reaching the destination. Cultivating a culture of creativity is highly recommended as the alternative leads to an advising culture of uninspired and burnt out advisors (Kirkner & Levinson, 2010). Mistakes are made in this type of environment and students pay the price.   

Furthermore, leadership should rely on advisor insight, in addition to resources like graduation help desks, because of their firsthand knowledge from working directly with students. Great advisors know their students and their roadblocks to graduation. Advisors should be prominently involved in conversations that recommend changes to institutional policies and procedures because advisors can provide solutions that will make an impact (Steele & White, 2019).

Soyla Santos
Associate Director, Graduation Help Desk
University of Texas at Arlington
[email protected]


Goldrick-Rab, S., Anderson, D., & Kinsley, P. (2016). Paying the price: college costs, financial aid, and the betrayal of the American dream. The University of Chicago Press.

Kirkner, T., & Levinson, J. (2010, September). Inspiration and innovation: The value of pursuing 'wouldn't it be cool?' projects in challenging times. Academic Advising Today, 33(3). https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Inspiration-and-   Innovation-The-Value-of-Pursuing-Wouldnt-It-Be-Cool-Projects-in-Challenging-Times.aspx

Steele, G., & White, E. (2019). Leadership in higher education: Insights from academic advisers. The Mentor: Innovative Scholarship on Academic Advising, 21, 1–10. https://journals.psu.edu/mentor/article/view/61110/60874

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. (2015). 60x30TX. Texas Higher Education Strategic Plan: 2015–2030. http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/reports/PDF/9306.PDF?CFID=57485581&CFTOKEN=60423954

Tripathy, M. (2018). Role of creative thinking as an imperative tool in communication at workplace.  Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict, 22(2), 1–7. https://www.abacademies.org/abstract/role-of-creative-thinking-as-an-imperative-tool-in-communication-at-workplace-7438.html

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Explaining Academic Advising

Anthony Smothers, Hawkeye Community College

Anthony Smothers.jpgHave you tried explaining academic advising to your parents or friends? My beginning attempts included phrases like “help students find a major and get registered” or “assisting students in learning about the university.” Mom would ask, “Is that a full-time job? I thought you worked at a university.” An entrepreneur friend asked, “Anyone can do advising, right?” My reply, “Yes, just like anyone can master running five food restaurants.” He replied, “Point taken.”

The next step may be to validate the academic importance of advising by referring to the NACADA Pillars of Academic Advising (NACADA, n.d.) including the Concept of Academic Advising, Core Values, Core Competencies, and advising standards from the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education. Advisors may see their friends’ and families’ look of confusion.

Advisors may then turn to their higher education knowledge and refer to very intellectual resources like O’Banion (1972) and Crookston’s (1972) developmental advising; Gordon’s (1984) constructs connecting academic advising and career advising; Fielstein’s (1994) prescriptive advising; Bloom, Hutson, and He’s (2008) appreciative advising; or intrusive advising by Earl (1988). Advisors may add in higher education theorists like Astin’s (1984) involvement theory or seven vectors of student development by Chickering (1969). Who knows, some may even enjoy reaching back further to that inquisitive relative Kohlberg (1969) and Piaget’s (1952) theory of moral development. 

After 15 years in advising and 26 in higher education, I have decided to attempt humor when explaining academic advising. Don’t get me wrong; I have developed my personal philosophy statement of academic advising and student success guided by my learning from NACADA. This is essential when visiting with professionals in the field. My humor when explaining academic advising to those outside the field is related to daytime talk shows where I have confidence in people knowing the celebrities and their themes.

Academic advising is like practicing the characteristics of Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and Dr. Phil. These famous talk show hosts embody the heart academic advising practitioners demonstrate every day, whether advisors choose to use developmental, prescriptive, intrusive, or appreciative advising.

Oprah Winfrey is all about “tell me your story.” Academic advisors ask students to tell their story: Where are you from? What are some of your hobbies? What was your favorite class during high school? What kind of books do you like to read? Tell me a little about your family. Why did you come to college? What were some of your initial goals and dreams? 

Advisors look to build a relationship and understanding with students on the direction they have with their academic, career, and personal goals. For example, a student may express a major, study abroad experience, internship, campus job, research, some involvement like a club, sorority/fraternity, or just where to get their parking pass. As advisors, we search for areas of discussion to meet the needs of students at that moment while also sharing information that we may know the student will need to be successful such as study habits or time management. While meeting the needs of the student, we try to inspire students and build confidence or self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997).

Ellen DeGeneres is known for believing that anything is possible and for sharing the humanity of relationships. Academic advisors utilize this theme when asking students what their dreams and initial goals are. A student states that they want to complete three majors, a few minors, a study abroad experience, and a research publication before they graduate. In their head, the advisor is thinking that this is an incredibly challenging list and likely not realistic. However, anything is possible when students are willing to learn, work hard, map out their adventure, and take risks to achieve their goals. Advisors must have faith in students and advise them with gusto; they also must take the time to evaluate, check in, adjust, praise, and inspire.

Dr. Phil is famous for gathering information and then asking reflective questions like “How is that working for you?” Advisors may hear students explain home sickness, not attending class, not studying enough, relationship difficulties, working too much, traumatic events, or confusion on the purpose of college (why am I here?). Advisors can use this question to assist students in their reality of progress toward their goals. Advisors provide resources, ideas, encouragement, understanding of their development, and tough conversations when the student is not meeting their goals.

Advisors have many tools to describe what academic advising is to their family and friends. A safe bet is to always answer, “I assist students at the college.” Enjoy the greatest profession at a college that touches so many students, faculty, and staff. We work with everyone!

Anthony Smothers
Records & Registration
Hawkeye Community College
[email protected]

Astin, A. W. (1984) Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Personnel, 25(4), 297–308.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. W.H. Freeman and Company.

Bloom, J. L., Hutson, B. L., & He, Y. (2008). The appreciative advising revolution. Stipes.

Chickering, A. W. (1969). Education and identity. Jossey-Bass.

Crookston, B. B. (1972). A developmental view of academic advising as teaching. Journal of College Student Personnel, 13(1), 12–17.

Earl, W. R. (1988, September). Intrusive advising of freshman in academic difficulty. NACADA Journal, 8(2), 27–33. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-8.2.27

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Posted in: 2020 March 43:1


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