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Elizabeth Nunley, The University of Oklahoma


Elizabeth Nunley.jpgProfessional development is one of the best things advisors can do for themselves, their students, and their institutions. It encourages personal growth, helps students by renewing advisor skill sets, and helps institutions by providing a venue for discussion of new ideas.


My campus hosted our 4th annual professional development seminar for advisors this past year. Each seminar has been a great success! Achieving a successful event takes lots of planning, time, and effort, but it is truly rewarding. A review of notes taken when I chaired the planning committee led to the outline below of how to plan a professional development event. Hopefully, this information can aid other advisors in planning successful professional development event on their campuses!

Build a planning committee. The first and most important step to a successful professional development seminar is developing a committee; it is amazing what a group can accomplish when members work together. Ideally, committee members should represent advisors from across campus. Committee members should feel comfortable enough with each other to be honest and share ideas. All members should be willing to share the extra work load... there will be plenty to go around. Make sure all committee members are clear on their responsibilities – this helps accomplish goals with no unnecessary repetition of work. Everyone must participate and work together!

Organize. Organization, notes, and documentation are imperative. Ideas will be shared and numerous conversations will take place. A “planning notebook” can help organize receipts, agreements, and arrangements as they are made. Not only does a notebook help keep track of what has been accomplished, documentation can be referenced as needed. It also makes an excellent tool for future committee chairs, so be sure to include contact names, email addresses, and phone numbers.

Research, research, research. Everyone on the committee should research current topics and issues in advising. Check the NACADA Web site for the Academic Advising Consultants & Speakers Service and the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources for potential speakers, topics, and materials. Look at Web sites for higher education organizations, e.g., NACADA, ACPA: College Student Educators International, or NASPA - Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education for hot topics from their recent conferences. Great ideas can develop from previous conference agendas. Talk to people who have attended recent conferences; find out which sessions or presenters made an impact on them. Personal references are a great way to find keynote speakers!

Money. A budget should be developed by planning all aspects of the conference and creating a detailed schedule. Include conference rooms and supplies for each event. Get quotes for room reservations, set up and take down, food expenses, speaker’s fee, flight, hotel, and transportation costs.

  • On a tight budget? Consider local resources. Ask colleagues to make presentations. Sharing knowledge and experiences with each other can be invaluable.
  • NACADA Webcasts (either live or on CD) are another great resource. Webinars provide a way to have a “keynote” without the extra travel expenses, plus the CDs make scheduling more flexible.  
  • Ask for donations. Campus administrators (e.g.,deans, vice presidents, or provosts) and local businesses are often willing to support campus conferences. Requesting small items like pens, paper, and folders quickly add up and can save lots of money. Of course, larger donations are always welcome to help defer the cost of food or room rental. 

Let the Planning Begin! Location arrangements should be one of the first assignments completed by the committee. Many conference details can not be decided until the location of the event is set. Each committee member should take the lead on a specific aspect of the event. It helps to have one contact person oversee all arrangements and keep track of the details. During committee meetings each member should share new information with the committee keeping everyone apprised of progress. Communication is the key to a successful event!

Legalities. Depending on the event and the keynote speaker, check compliance with the institution’s legal office regarding contracts and the accounting office about per diem requirements and payment arrangements. Some speakers and services require that payment be made “up front” for their services, while others require payment on conference day, and still others will send an invoice. Make sure the committee will be able to accommodate all payment requirements and make arrangements well in advance.


Success is in the details. A day or two before the event make a detailed timeline. Make sure everything is covered and all arrangements have been made.

  • Conference attendees should be comfortable so they can focus on the presentations. Room temperature, water availability, after-meal mints, and clearly marked restrooms all help make a conference successful. A change of scenery is also nice. Moving across the hall for lunch or having sessions in different rooms allows people to “stretch their legs” and “clear their heads.”
  • Plan “breaks” throughout the day. Ice Breakers are always a great way to get the conference off to an energetic start. Allow time for advisors to visit with each other even if everyone is from the same campus. Advisors rarely have time to socialize and share with one another what is going on in their departments.
  • It is nice to include one “fun” session. Book a campus student entertainment group to do a special presentation; these interludes help people relax and see a different side of campus.

Get people there. Do not underestimate how much advertising is needed. Once a date is confirmed, tell people about the conference. Have the event announced at meetings and start sending emails!   Save on the cost of printed invitations by sending e-vites. Several online companies provide free online invitations and these sites can keep track of the guest list. Keeping track of RSVPs is vital for planning food and for selection of room sizes.

Evaluate. Evaluations are key to planning future events. Find out what participants liked and what they did not like about the event. What topics would they like addressed at future events? Do they have suggestions for future locations?  Can they recommend speakers? Was this a good time of year for the event? This information can help in planning for future events.

Every campus has its own climate. The benefits are infinite for advisors who plan a campus professional development event that addresses their specific needs. With some planning, sharing, and camaraderie great opportunities abound for the entire campus!

Elizabeth Nunley
Senior Academic Counselor
Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts
The University of Oklahoma

Cite this article using APA style as: Nunley, E. (2010, September). Nine steps to a successful campus professional development event. Academic Advising Today, 33(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2010 June 33:2


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