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Sara E. Gomez, Jonathan Z. S. Pollack, & Maria Stockton, Madison Area Technical College

“Education is what people do. Learning is what you do to yourself. Focus on being connected, always learning, fully aware and super present”—Joichi Ito (Ito & Howe, 2016).

Jonathan Pollack.jpgSara Gomez.jpgColleges and universities continue to focus on ways to enhance academic and career advising. Administrators, faculty, and staff are asking what makes institutions successful in achieving these goals. Bennis and Biederman (1997) argue, “One is too small a number to produce greatness.” As authors, we propose that in order to produce greatness in our students, we need to produce collaboration and greatness within our institutions and in our projects. In turn, our collaboration will help students complete their personal educational plans in order to be more satisfied with their experience. As advisors at Madison Area Technical College (Madison College), we are fortunate to be working at an institution that has been awarded a Title III Strengthening Institutions grant from the US Department of Education to put these ideals into action.

In 2017, we were delighted to learn that our institution won this grant. The main project goal is to define a comprehensive strategy and implement a systematic process to help students confirm their career and educational plan, while supporting their efficient progression to degree credit courses, credential completion, and/or 4-year college transfer. To accomplish this goal and vision, stakeholders across the campus continue to come together to formulate plans through involvement in committees and teams. This seems congruent and similar to one of the overall goals of NACADA, which is to “promote student success by advancing the field of academic advising globally” (NACADA, n.d.).

The authors of this article were part of the advising and career services team and environmental scan sub-team. Some of us really enjoy researching, history, and looking at best practices from various institutions, which matches our own interests. Therefore, this seemed to be a perfect team to join. The team consisted of one of the project leads, Director of Academic & Career Advising, faculty advisors, and academic advisors. Sara Gomez represented academic advisors, Jonathan Pollack represented faculty advisors, and Tina Stockton represented the project leadership. The advising and career services team was responsible for the review and development of faculty advising curriculum; training and delivery; creating and implementing a college-wide, multi-level approach to advising; and creating new and different ways to advise students to supplement current practices. The team also researched best practices for career development, enhancing existing career development tools, and aligning career planning resources across the college to increase student success and retention.


As part of the advising and career services team, we researched best practices across campus, surveyed the current state of advising-related resources and services at the college, and found best practices from community colleges across the state and country. What we really enjoyed the most was the stimulating dialogue and cross-college, inter-department connections between us as faculty and academic advisors—the collaboration! We were all working toward this common goal: to implement a systematic process that assists students to confirm their career and educational plan toward completion and/or transfer.

The implementation of the CARES Title III (CT3) grant at Madison College focused on student retention and success, starting with the seemingly simple premise of improving the student experience. One of the 11 teams formed in the first year of the grant included one focused on an environmental scan of career and advising services. The environmental scan (ES) team was the first of the CT3 teams to meet in the spring of 2018. The team approached their work in three distinct phases: 1) current state, 2) best practices, and 3) future state. Prior to beginning the environmental scan, the team agreed to define advising as practices focused on student support and learning and as such looked to all areas of the college. To ensure cross-college buy-in of the results, the team took a semi-scientific approach to this work. They compiled, analyzed, and reported on data, removing as much subjective input as possible. This work was not about one area of the college defining ideal student support—it was a collaborative definition.

Four team members broke off into smaller teams and went across the college asking the same set of questions:

  1. How do you support students?
  2. What technology do you use?
  3. What types of students do you support?

This became an overview of the current state of advising at Madison College and comprised hundreds of rows of data.

At the same time, the team was learning about student support at the college, they were also reading journal articles, papers from higher education consortiums like AACU and CCRC, and talking to other schools on how they advise students. Members compiled source summaries (of articles, interviews, and surveys) and salient points of their readings into a spreadsheet, thereby creating another artifact of the teams’ work.


The last step was the most time consuming as it involved pulling together all external resources into identifying best practices for student support (advising). Once the team identified those practices, the last step was to look at the current state to see how Madison College was already following best practices and where we could do more. This step was a confirmation that as a school Madison College was on the right track for some of our work and highlighted gaps from the current state to where we want to be. The gaps became the focus of the new strategic vision for student support.

The work of the ES team was foundational for much of the work done since 2018 on the CT3 grant, as well as for the college’s overall strategic vision of improving retention by improving the student experience. The ES work ultimately supported:

  1. The strategic vision for career and advising services at the college (turned into a report published in spring 2019)
  2. A graphic used to explain work of the grant to internal and external stakeholders by illustrating the ideal student experience
  3. An RFP for a new student success platform, which was an opportunity for 170+ stakeholders to provide input into the requirements for a technical solution and give feedback on selected vendor presentations
  4. A fresh approach to training all college employees that focuses on integrated student support, which means that every employee at the college has the ability to support student success within their role, given the appropriate training and opportunities.

Even if your colleges do not have an external driver like a major grant to compel you to engage in this kind of environmental scan, we strongly encourage our colleagues to pursue similar plans at their institutions. Researching collectively as we did can bring you comfort about what you are already doing and point you toward new opportunities.

Sara E. Gomez, MS. Ed
Lead Academic Advisor
School of Business & Applied Arts
Student Development & Retention Services
Madison Area Technical College
[email protected]

Jonathan Z. S. Pollack, PhD
History Instructor and Coordinator, Arts & Humanities Pre-Major
Madison Area Technical College
[email protected]

Maria Stockton, MSE
C.A.R.E.S. Title III Business Analyst
Madison Area Technical College
[email protected]


Bennis, W. G., & Biederman, P. W. (1997). Organizing genius: The secrets of creative collaboration. Addison-Wesley.

Ito, Joi.  & Howe, J. (2016). Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future.

NACADA. (n.d.). Our vision and mission. https://nacada.ksu.edu/About-Us/Vision-and-Mission.aspx

Shane, D. (1981). Academic advising in higher education: A development approach for college students. NACADA Journal 1(2), 12–23. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-1.2.12

Cite this article using APA style as: Gomez, S.E., Pollack, J.Z.S., & Stockton, M. (2020, September). Scanning your college environment to boost student success. Academic Advising Today, 43(3). [insert url here] 


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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.