Jerry Harrell, Ivy Tech Community College - Indianapolis
I'm a bicyclist. I love the road. I tried off-road cycling, but I didn't like the uncertainty of the trail. There were too many turns, obstacles, and variables for my liking. I like a well paved, proven, and clearly marked path with unambiguous edges and boundaries. It is my comfort zone.
When I approached advising, I wanted the same thing - a well-defined, clear path without obstacles. I sought a clean edge. But, as I have discovered, I would never experience new possibilities until I was willing to move out past the edges. The terrain out past the edges is filled with a rich fauna of color and texture. It is here that I have found the fullness of advising.
My journey began in 2004 with a colleague. Our chancellor asked us to work on a grant to request funds for the improvement of advising services at our college. We knew that we needed to demonstrate that we had a clear plan if we were to gain funding. We contacted NACADA for guidance. Prior to submitting the grant proposal, the NACADA Consultants Bureau gave us ideas on how they could assist us in the process. As a result, we wrote our grant to include NACADA consulting services. We secured funding for three years to 1) assess current advising needs, 2) develop an advising system that responds to those needs, and 3) measure whether improvements increased student satisfaction. From the start, the NACADA consultants brought validity to our plan and to our grant; they have been valued partners since.
In spring 2005, a team of NACADA consultants came to our campus to begin the process of evaluating our advising program. They looked for things we couldn't see. They liked the brush. They turned off the clearly paved road others and I had made. They immediately went beyond the edges. They looked for the trees, the hills, the mud, and the holes - the stuff that makes a journey challenging, yet fulfilling. They talked to students, faculty, staff, administrators, chancellors, deans, and passers-by. It was then that I realized that new roads are discovered, defined, paved, and traveled when we are willing to stand back to see the full terrain.
The NACADA consultants began with assessments that included interviews, focus groups, and staff discussions. They were able to do what we couldn't: create open and objective forums through which students, staff, faculty, and administrators could express their perceptions and thoughts about advising needs and services at our college. The written report they provided became our guiding document for improving advising. It also gave us credibility with senior management when we began to design new systems. The consultants built a bond of trust with our senior management that paved the way for exploration and change.
The consultants first helped us realize that student satisfaction is not the truest measurement of a successful advising program. It is a result, but not the primary goal. The goal is to have clearly defined learning objectives and outcomes for students. It wasn't until we determined what students needed to learn that we were able to pave our first path in the new advising terrain. Eight staff members - representing faculty, administrators, and advisors - attended the NACADA Academic Advising Summer Institute. We spent five days working together to develop our mission statement, learning objectives for students, and professional standards for advising staff. All the while, the Institute faculty were there to help us.
Following the Summer Institute, we created specialized teams to address the objective and outcomes we had outlined in our guiding document. We have involved over 50 faculty, staff, and students in discussing advising needs, intervention strategies, and implementation plans. We began with our six most challenging tasks: new student entry, undecided students, developmental students, academic-risk students, integration of career and advising, and professional development. The consultants returned to our college two times in this process to guide us.
This summer the consultants worked with us to deliver our first professional development workshops for general and faculty advisors. In the fall, we will implement new advising programs and begin the process of developing assessment strategies to measure the effectiveness of our initiatives. In preparation, four of our staff members attended the NACADA Academic Advising Assessment Institute, where the faculty guided us in understanding how to create an effective assessment plan. The consultants will return to our campus this fall to help us develop our assessment tools and evaluation timelines.
I have been asked on many occasions if the NACADA Consultants Bureau has worked well for us. Each time, I struggle to express the gratitude I have for the consultants. It is difficult to describe the experience of emerging at the other end of a journey, realizing that we have arrived in a much better place than the destination originally planned.
I recall a long ride I once made when I first began to cycle. Twenty miles from my destination, I broke a derailleur while climbing a hill. I had planned my water, food, and travel needs, but I had no tools to fix my derailleur or my chain. I began to walk. After a short distance, someone stopped to offer me a ride. I was grateful for the lift, but I was more grateful for what I learned. He was a bicyclist, yet he had many years of experience over me. Because of his guidance I now carry a simple tool kit that allows me to fix many things on my bike. It has gone on many journeys with me.
Maybe this is the greatest benefit of the NACADA Consultants Bureau - I now have tools. And, I have new friends who want to take the journey with me.
Ivy Tech Community College - Indianapolis
Cite this article using APA style as: Harrell, J. (2006, September). Out past the edges. Academic Advising Today, 29(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]