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Voices of the Global Community


From the President: A Year In Review

John Paul (JP) Regalado, NACADA President

JP Regalado.jpg

This past year has been one of the most amazing years in my life, both professionally and personally. When I was elected President of NACADA, I admit that I was a bit nervous. Here was a kid who grew up in a small town in Texas, was the first in his family to go to and graduate from college, wasn’t sure what he wanted to do in his life, stumbled into academic advising, and was now going to “lead” this organization of 11,000+ members? No puede ser!

Now that my term is almost up, I can truly say that it exceeded all my expectations. I was blessed to work with a great Board and Council, elected and appointed leaders, an incredible Executive Office and an unbelievable network of fellow NACADA colleagues all around the world doing their part to help elevate academic advising and help students achieve their academic and career goals.

In the last year, our Board has spent considerable time thinking strategically about NACADA’s future regarding leadership, research, and diversity. The Council has continued to work very closely with our Regional, Commission and Interest Group, and Administrative divisions to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our members. I can’t say enough about how proud I am of being a part of NACADA and what we do to support our institutions and students.

So, what has the year brought? In addition to what I mentioned, at our mid-year Board and Council meeting, we reviewed and approved a number of revisions and updates to our organizational by-laws. Many thanks to the by-laws task force members for all their work on this important initiative. This work is crucial to making sure that our policies and procedures are updated and transparent. Over the last few years, we have instituted a professional development element as part of our agenda for the mid-year meeting and this year, we focused on Diversity and Inclusivity. I thank the Board and Council for devoting a considerable amount of time to looking at our own biases and what we bring to the table, and how we can apply that knowledge and self-awareness to our positions at our institutions and within NACADA. There were some difficult conversations, but I appreciated everyone’s openness and participation.

Regarding our continuing focus on leadership within the organization, we are instituting some new initiatives with our continuing and newly elected NACADA leaders that we think will help our leaders transition more effectively into their roles and hopefully lay out some clearer “pathways” for those of you interested in getting more involved in NACADA. Interestingly enough, this is patterned very much after many of our members’ initiatives with students: how to provide information in such a way that it is not overwhelming but is productive and timely. This is not an easy task, as it takes into account individual differences in learning and comfort levels. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank our Sustainable NACADA Leadership Committee members for all their work with these initiatives.

One of the most exciting initiatives that I have been a part of this year is our Task Force on the Center for Academic Advising Research. This group has been on task from the get-go on brainstorming, discussing, and creating a potential vision, mission, and goals; doing extensive research (pun intended) on other centers that exist in higher education, and exploring the organizational make-up of such a center and its role with/within NACADA and Kansas State University. The task force is finalizing its comprehensive report that the Board will be discussing soon. We have received some tremendous and positive feedback from our members regarding this initiative and we appreciate all the time and attention this task force has invested in this effort.

On a personal note, I have to tell you how unbelievably AWESOME it was to go to Hawaii for the Region 9 conference as well as our International Conference in Melbourne, Australia this last year. Yes, the locations were absolutely beautiful but the lasting impact was in the connections I made with our NACADA members at those conferences, the sessions and keynotes I attended, and the discussions I had with NACADA members all over the world. We share a lot in common with each other while maintaining important and distinct differences in our student bodies, institutions, and geographical locations.

As we look towards our Annual Conference in Las Vegas, I continue to be humbled by the amazing journey I have had this year, but I couldn’t be happier with or prouder of the direction in which NACADA, and academic advising, is moving. I want to take these last few lines to say thank you to our Executive Director for his leadership, to our past Presidents, Vice Presidents, Board of Directors, Council, and elected and appointed leaders for all you have done to help make NACADA what it is today. Speaking of our leadership, I have great faith in our President-Elect David Spight, Vice-President-Elect Dana Zahorik, and our newly elected and appointed Board, Council and leaders.  They will do a great job and will serve NACADA well.

Lastly, to those of you reading this, thank you for all you do for NACADA and for your institutions, and most of all, for your students. It continues to be both an honor and a privilege to serve as your President. Thank you!

John Paul (JP) Regalado, President, 2014-2015
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising
Executive Director of Academic Advising
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
[email protected]

From the Executive Director: NACADA The Global Community for Academic Advising Keeps Expanding our Reach and Mission

Charlie Nutt, NACADA Executive Director

Charlie Nutt.jpgWhile the impact of our association is much greater than our number of members would suggest, I am excited to say that this year we have surpassed 13,000 members for the first time! While much of this growth has been built upon the huge increase in participants attending our 10 regional conferences this spring and the over 4,000 participants joining us in Las Vegas in October, the influence and impact that NACADA is having in higher education globally keeps expanding across North America and the World and, thus, we are reaching more professionals who see the value of a NACADA membership.

I feel this growth in both new members and returning members will continue to grow due to the outstanding work and plans being implemented by our Membership Committee chaired by Dave Marchesani and our Sustainable NACADA Leadership Committee being chaired by Casey Self. Both of these groups are doing amazing work and I strongly encourage you all to become involved with the variety of activities and opportunities that will be provided to new members at our annual conference in Las Vegas, as well as the ongoing opportunities throughout your membership in NACADA.

As we all know from seeing the major emphasis that higher education globally is putting on the success of our first generation students, I am excited to say our first webinar this season will focus on First Generation Students, their experiences, and strategies to help in their transition to college. I am even more excited that the webinar will be a panel discussion of our NACADA leaders, President JP Regalado, Vice President/Incoming President David Spight, and Incoming Vice President Dana Zahorik, who all were first generation students themselves and will discuss how this impacted their college experience. 

Additionally, on September 28 we will offer a free webinar, an open forum with questions and answers, featuring JP, David, and Dana. This is designed specifically to allow our members to ask questions or voice concerns about our association and to ensure transparency between our leadership and our members at large. We will host a series of these open forums each year from now on, and while they are free, participants must register for the webinar as capacity is limited.

NACADA is always working diligently to be sure our association is at the forefront of our profession. The NACADA Core Values are a key foundation for our work and we want to be sure they are always guiding what we do. Therefore, President Regalado and VP Spight have named a task force led by Past Presidents Joanne Damminger and Jayne Drake to conduct a comprehensive review of the Core Values and recommend changes that will guide us in the future. This will be a very open process so members will have opportunities at our Town Hall meeting in Las Vegas and at all 10 Region Conferences next spring to have input into this reviews.  Please do not miss this opportunity to be actively involved in such an important process.

While I look forward to seeing many of you in Las Vegas, which promises to be our largest conference ever, I want to take this opportunity to make you aware that this is the NACADA Executive Office’s 25th Anniversary of being housed at Kansas State University in the College of Education. This partnership has been invaluable to the growth of our profession and our field as well as very positive for the university. Please join me in recognizing the hard work and vision of Dean Emeritus Michael Holen and NACADA Executive Director Emeritus Bobbie Flaherty as this partnership truly comes back to their vision of the future of our association. 

See you all soon in Las Vegas!

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

Mercer Named Among 30 Most Influential Deans of Education

(reprinted with permission from K-State Today, July 28, 2015)

Dean Debbie Mercer.jpgThe dean of Kansas State University's College of Education is getting some high praise.

Debbie Mercer has been recognized as one of the 30 most influential deans of education in the U.S. by Mometrix, a test preparation company. To compile its list, Mometrix researchers checked ranking systems, honors, awards and commendations to education deans.

According to Mometrix, Mercer's accomplishments include her efforts to create technologically advanced learning environments at the university, including securing iPads for all preservice teachers and instructional faculty, and her efforts launching the Go Teacher program, which brings Ecuadorian
 teachers to the university and other institutions to enhance their English proficiency. The program has served more than 3,000 students.

Mercer is the only education dean from Kansas to earn the recognition and just one of two deans from the Big 12 Conference recognized.

 Cite this article using APA style as: Nutt, C. (2015, September). From the executive director: NACADA the global community for academic advising keeps expanding our reach and mission. Academic Advising Today, 38(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]  

How Advisors Can Focus on Student Excuses to Prompt Behavior Change

Alexander Kunkle, Western Oregon University

Editor’s Note: Readers who will attend the upcoming NACADA Annual Conference in Las Vegas can hear more from Alex by attending his conference session, Disorienting Dilemma: How Dispreferred Statements can Change Student Behavior.

Alex Kunkle.jpgThe student who does not complete their homework and then provides an outrageous excuse to their instructor is one of the most common tropes in popular culture.  An excuse is provided, the student shrugs their shoulders, the instructor gives a sideways grimace, and then the audience laughs. Advisors know that, in academics, excuses are a regular occurrence and not as funny as television makes excuses seem.  Our culture’s social norm dictates that excuses are often a required element of conversation.  Since excuses are expected, society often ignores the underlying reasons behind why excuses are being provided.  During advising appointments, if advisors highlight how students use excuses and how those excuses can harm a student’s academic performance, advisors can trigger a process of self-reflection within the student, focusing on how excuses are a reflection of their own choices.  Advisors can prompt this reflection in an effort to change future student behavior.

Advisors, when working with suspended students at Western Oregon University, have begun following a process which highlights excuses, in an effort to change the student’s academic behavior.  This process merges a communication analysis concept titled dispreferred response, detailed by Sidnell (2011), with the transformative learning process, coined by Mezirow (1991).  Analyzing excuses made during advising sessions has been done in an effort to trigger Mezirow’s disorienting dilemma (1991), which is the first step in the transformative learning process and changes student behavior through an understanding of their language patterns.

Dispreferred Responses: Being Willing Versus Able

Sidnell (2011) concluded, “One of the most obvious things about conversation is that it involves people taking turns at speaking” (p. 36).  Advisors in their primary role are conversationalists.  When a student is struggling academically, one of the most identifiable components of their conversations, which an advisor can identify, is what Sidnell describes as a dispreferred response (p. 78).

During conversations with their advisee, advisors will structure the conversation in an effort to prompt responses.  Often, the questions have a preference (p. 77) order in which the advisor wishes the student to provide a particular response to their question.  An example to this is asking the student “Did you complete your homework for the class?” or “Did you attend all of your classes?”  With both of these questions, the advisor’s preferred response is “yes.”

If the preferred response it not given, as is the case with many struggling students, the student provides what is called the dispreferred response.  When the dispreferred “no” is given, conversational social norms dictate that the student must either prepare the advisor for the dispreferred response, justify their response, or both.  The most common of these characteristics that advisors face from students are called accounts (Sidnell, 2011,p. 79), also known as excuses.  Accounts will contain justification for giving the dispreferred response: “I didn’t do the homework, because I was stuck in traffic.”

When the student attempts to justify their academic struggles with excuses, these excuses often contain components which create a rank of preference between accomplishing or accepting the preferred response and an object which prevented that from happening.  Examining the excuse which the student provided above, the student was prevented from completing their homework because of traffic.  Through this excuse the student is able to accomplish two goals; first, they are showing the requestor that they wanted to complete the request, but due to circumstances beyond their control, they were unable to.  Second, they have removed the feeling of guilt off of their conscience, as it was beyond their control.

An advisor then has the opportunity to explain the distinction between being able to accomplish something and being willing.  While there are situations which are beyond an individual’s control, most excuses form because the individual made a choice which prevents them from providing the preferred response.  This distinction, if explained to the student, can trigger the disorienting dilemma.  The student chose to leave their home, for whatever reason, without first completing their homework.  Thus, getting stuck in traffic was a by-product of their prioritization of travel over the completion of their homework.  This implies that they were unwilling to re-prioritize their homework above their travel, not, as the excuse indicated, that they were unable.

By beginning this conversation around the context of how excuses are used within our culture, the student gains an understanding of how language is used and begins to question their prior understanding of excuses.  A new perspective, one which explores how excuses mask our choices and shields an individual from their own truth, has begun to form through a process of self-reflection.

Mezirow’s Transformative Learning

Mezirow (1990) explained, “To make meaning means to make sense of an experience; we make an interpretation of it.  When we subsequently use this interpretation to guide decision making or action, then making meaning becomes learning” (p. 1).  Once an individual is presented with a decision, they recall similar situations in an effort to determine a course of action.  Students use excuses because they have learned through past experiences that excuses are expected within language.  Excuses are designed, on a basic level, to ask for forgiveness for providing the dispreferred response.

When students are presented with the explanation that their excuses are actually a reflection of their choices and priorities, students must then question their learned interpretation of excuses.  Mezirow (1994) explained that this reflection, “involves a critique of assumptions to determine whether the belief, often acquired through cultural assimilation in childhood, remains functional for us as adults” (p. 223).  When students question what they have experienced in the past, through the presentation of the dispreferred response information, Mezirow’s (1991) transformative learning process is prompted.

The transformative learning process (Mezirow, 1991) begins with the disorienting dilemma, and then transitions through a process of reflection on the student’s beliefs, values, actions, and behaviors, which leads towards behavioral change.  Mezirow (1991) detailed his ten phase process, which students go through during moments of reflection.  This process can be modified to fit the need(s) of the student, but follows the general process:

  1. A disorienting dilemma;
  2. Self-examination (with feelings of shame or guilt);
  3. A critical assessment of epistemic, sociocultural, or psychic assumptions;
  4. Recognition of a connection between one’s discontent and the process of transformation;
  5. Exploration of options for new roles, relationships, and actions;
  6. Planning a course of action;
  7. Acquisition of knowledge and skills for implementing one’s plan;
  8. Provisional trying of new roles;
  9. Building of competence and self-confidence in new roles and relationships;
  10. A reintegration into one’s life on the basis of conditions dictated by one’s new perspective (p. 168).

Unless students are made aware that their behavior and language patterns are trained mechanisms which no longer will function in adulthood, change is unlikely.  Students must genuinely examine their struggles and subsequent beliefs in order to make a positive change.  If advisors can break the students of their habitual learned patterns, the disorienting dilemma will be triggered, which sparks the development of a new perspective.

Behavior Change: Moving the Student Forward

Now the advisor has sparked a dilemma within their advisee.  Excuses are holding back academic performance.  What then?  While the entirety of Mezirow’s (1991) transformative learning process is not necessary for behavioral changes, the student must recognize that their view of excuses has caused harm, build a new process for using excuses, and integrate this new process into their lives.  This does not necessarily mean that the student will stop providing excuses, mainly because it is an expected social practice.  What this does mean is that the student will understand that excuses are used to protect their own ego, and reflect upon their own priorities within a given situation.  By understanding the implications of excuses on their own performance, students can then make different choices in an effort to avoid excuses going forward.  If society all gave the preferred response, excuses would not be necessary; perhaps if students prioritize their academics, they would not be.

Alexander Kunkle, M.S.Ed
Academic Advisor
Western Oregon University
[email protected]


Mezirow, J. (1990). How critical reflection triggers transformative learning. Fostering critical reflection in adulthood: A guide to transformative and emancipatory learning (1-20). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Mezirow, J. (1994). Understanding transformation theory. Adult Education Euarterly44(4), 222-44.

Sidnell, J. (2011). Conversation analysis: An introduction (Vol. 45). Malden, MA. Wiley-Blackwell.

Advising Portfolios and Orientation as a Rentention Tool

Candice van Loveren Geis, Northern Kentucky University

Candice van Loveren Geis.jpgIn an age where budgets are low and student numbers are increasing, advising has the opportunity to clarify curriculum and engage students in academic choices.  The Department of Visual Arts at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) has a first-time, traditional student population averaging over 100 students each year.  In an effort to streamline advising and propel students to take control of their education, the use of advising portfolios and an interactive department orientation were initiated in a program called A PAART of NKU or Advising Portfolio as a Retention Tool

Nationally, 34% of college freshmen did not return to the same institution for their sophomore year (MSNBC, 2010).  Richard Light, who has aided in developing the undergraduate experience at Harvard University, asserts that, “good advising may be the single most underestimated characteristic of a successful college experience” (2001, p. B11).  At NKU in the Department of Visual Arts, an advising structure that utilizes a retention specialist/lecturer for all first-year students and faculty mentors for sophomore students and above, dedicated team members, active communication, and students who share responsibility in the advising process, along with a rigorous first year curriculum has led to solid improvements in retention rates and student success.

For students who began study in the Department of Visual Arts at NKU in the fall of 2002, the six-year graduation rate was 32.55%.  In the summer of 2009, the department was awarded an internal grant from NKU’s Strategic Enrollment Management Office in order to provide students with an active orientation experience, personalized advising information, and an opportunity to interact with current visual arts students with the goal of improving retention rates.  The first step in the project was to create advising portfolios with individualized information for each student.  Considering that art students are increasingly working in the digital realm and are part of “the backpack generation” identified by James M. Curtis as “born between 1982 and about 2003” (2001, p.35), the advising portfolio was loaded onto 1GB drives with the department logo for use in a digital format.  A binder was then created for each student to allow easy access to the information with or without technology.  The hard copy portfolio included organizational materials such as a pocket for storage of documents, business cards, and labeled tabs for each segment of the binder.  The binder included the following sections:  (a) an introduction to explain how to utilize the portfolio in the advising process, (b) an advising syllabus and contract, (c) a 2-year advising calendar, (d) major and general education checklists, (e) advising and registration step-by-step instructions, (f) success tips, (g) university forms, and (h) a university catalog.  During orientation, students were educated on how to use the portfolio to help them collaboratively plan a personalized education with consistent progress towards graduation.

Sloan, Jefferson, Search, and Cox out of Tallahassee Community College strongly hold that one of the integral aspects of their advising system is “providing both students and faculty with updated resources” (2005, p. 660).  The Department of Visual Arts at NKU has 17 faculty members who teach and advise.  Dissemination of updated information related to university resources and degree requirements is critical for faculty to feel confident in advising.  As part of the initial project, faculty participated in two training sessions in order to become more familiar with the advising portfolio and how to direct students to use it effectively.  Practical degree information and university regulations are available in each student’s advising portfolio, allowing faculty members to spend more time connecting with students instead of deciding a class schedule.  The students bring the advising portfolios with them to advising appointments, giving shared responsibility in the experience.  Updated documents and student/faculty preparation forms for advising were also posted on the department’s public website and on a private online learning environment, Blackboard. 

The second aspect of the project was to alter the orientation experience for first-time freshmen in the Visual Arts, allowing students to eat lunch as a group in a private setting.  Students participated in a creative icebreaker activity and received the 1-GB hard-drive loaded with the personalized advising portfolio.  In addition, students were given binders along with an explanation of the grant project goals.  Orientation students then had the opportunity to talk with the department chairperson and their advisor about the program and student expectations.  The New Student Meeting, as it was known, gave students the opportunity to interact with each other and representatives from the Department of Visual Arts.  Each student then had a scheduled appointment that day with his/her advisor or the department chairperson.  During their individual appointments, students could rearrange their fall schedule, ask questions, and express concerns about their transition to college.   These meetings were valuable because, as Charlie Nutt, Executive Director of NACADA, explains, “advisors offer students the personal connection to the institution that the research indicates is vital to student retention and student success” (2010, p. 1).                

In order to engage students throughout orientation while waiting for individual advising meetings, continuing students offered additional activities, such as a department tour that gave access to studio spaces, discussions/viewing of student artwork, and sign-ups for student organizations.  Student organizations can give students a “social and personal support” network that they may need upon leaving the secondary education environment (Light, 2001, p. B14).

The culmination of the project was to assess the changes by conducting student surveys and tracking retention rates.  The initial survey, given in the second half of fall semester of their first-year experience, focused on student satisfaction with orientation and the advising portfolio.  Over 58% of students found the new student meeting informative and felt more prepared to begin their education after the orientation program.  Student perception of the advising portfolio showed that 83.3% of respondents found the personalized advising portfolio easy to use and 75% planned on using it in the future.  The other aspects of orientation led by current students received mixed reviews, although 91.7% of respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with the student artwork on display.           

In the second half of spring semester of their first year, students were given a second survey, which contained questions related to student perception, as well as questions related to graduation requirements.  All of the students who responded to the survey understood the differences between Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts degree tracks.  Over 53% of respondents knew the required number of credit hours to graduate.  Almost 88% of respondents identified that they were able to register through the online registration system.  In addition, approximately 41% of respondents were involved in a university student organization, with 19.51% as members of a Department of Visual Arts student organization.  Charlie Nutt acknowledges that “academic advising programs cannot be solely responsible for retention rates on a campus,” but that advising is a part of what contributes to a university’s ability to provide students with a connection to campus (2003, p. 1).  Giving new students an instant, intentional opportunity to become involved on campus through student groups or talking with a student who has persisted in college, are some of many techniques that surround students with a support system.               

Through the second survey, the majority of respondents reported feeling stronger as a student and/or artist because of their college studies with 73.17% feeling confident that the Department of Visual Arts at NKU was the right choice for their college education.   In addition to student perceptions, 85.37% of respondents had used the advising portfolio in digital or traditional format during their first year of study.               

At the start of the spring 2015 semester, corresponding to the halfway point of the participants fifth year in college, 48.31% of the students in the full grant program have been retained at NKU.  Of the students retained, the average GPA is 3.203, promoting continued progress towards graduation.  35.96% of those retained have graduated with a bachelor’s degree earned, a 3.41% increase for the department.               

In contrast, an additional 8 students participated in part of the grant program because of their late enrollment at the university, receiving the digital and traditional personalized advising portfolios and attending a succinct group meeting with individual advising following.  These students are often of significant concern to college faculty and administrators because of the late orientation date and thus rather late registration only a couple of weeks prior to classes starting.  This small sampling of 8 students has a 0% retention rate as of spring 2015 semester.  However, since it was such a small group of students, the results are not statistically significant.               

The Department of Visual Arts, the University, individual faculty, and the chairperson of the department are dedicated to surrounding students with support in order to increase academic skills and success.  Small class sizes, clarity in advising, opportunities to learn outside of the classroom, and an accessible university all contribute to the ability of an individual to persist and succeed long-term.  Thus far, the Advising Portfolios as a Retention Tool program has added another piece that enables students to control their educations and keep the end goal of graduation in sight.

Candice van Loveren Geis
Lecturer/Retention Specialist
Department of Visual Arts
Northern Kentucky University
[email protected]


Commonwealth of Kentucky. (2011). Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education: Retention and Graduation Rates. Retrieved from http://cpe.ky.gov/info/retention/index.htm

Curtis, James M. (2001). The backpack generation and art history.  Journal of Aesthetic Education, 35(1),  31-44.

Light, Richard J. (2001). The power of good advice for students. Chronicle of Higher Education, 47, B11-B16. Retrieved from EBSCOhost database  http://advising.utah.edu/uaac/education/SECTION%208%20RESOURCES%20Light%20article.pdf

MSNBC Interactive News LLC. (2010). Making the grade:  Keeping college kids on track. NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. Retrieved February 3, 2011, from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032619/ns/nightly news with brian williams/#32634348

NACADA. (2014). NACADA executive Office. NACADA Website. Retrieved March 18, 2015, from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/About-Us/Executive-Office.aspx

Nutt, Charlie L. (2003). Academic advising and student retention and persistence. NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Advising-and-Student-Retention-article.aspx

Sloan, B., Jefferson, S., Search, S., Cox, T. (2005). Tallahassee Community College’s progressive advising system:  An online academic planning and resource system for individualized student advising. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 29, 659-660.

Advising African American Males

Terrance J. McClain, Texas State University-San Marcos

Terrance McClainAs an academic advisor, I find great reward in serving my students.  I never realized that I would have such an impact on my students, specifically my African American male students.  Race, ethnicity, and culture are powerful variables that influence the way that people behave, think, perceive, and define events (Sue & Sue, 2013).  Several cases have been noted about African American males’ “encounter with racism, racial stereotypes, microaggressions, and low expectations from professors and others that undermine their academic outcomes, sense of belonging, and willingness to seek help and utilize campus resources” (Harper, 2013, p. 3).  Academic Advising for African Americans can be complex and requires specific skills and knowledge from the advisor (Helm, Sedlacek, & Prieto, 1998) in order to establish a more safe and welcoming environment that fosters a humanizing, holistic, and proactive approach.  It is good to be aware of the challenges that many African American males encounter so that advisors can become partners in that student’s success.  In addition, it is important to note that while group identities are useful when advising, it is just as important to consider individual identities.

Background Information for an Average African American Male

As practitioners, advisors directly influence the personal, institutional, and societal success of their students.  Therefore, it is the advisor’s duty to ensure their own cultural awareness.  As part of this awareness, it is important to remember that these are issues that many African-American men may encounter, however this does not reign true for every African American male.  It is imperative to remain sensitive to the relative nature of these suggestions.  As an advisor moves forward, it is good to begin with understanding background information on what this student may have encountered pre-postsecondary education.

History provides evidence of attacks towards African American males by associating criminal behavior as an inherent characteristic.  These attacks begin as early as childhood, specifically around the fourth grade when an African American male for the first time notices a lack of positive peer group visibility, disproportional encouragement towards athletics, and experiences feelings of marginalization (Kunjufu, 2012).  Throughout the life of the average African American male, he may experience high levels of worry about a range of concerns including but not limited to (a) being wrongfully arrested, (b) being a victim of violent crime, (c) being unfairly treated by the police, and (d) being a victim of racial discrimination (The Opportunity Agenda, 2011).  The compilation of negative stereotypes and the reinforcement that media provides leaves this student with feelings of marginalization.  In addition, this student may appear disengaged or reserved in an academic appointment as a result of years of oppressive acts in his life.  This disengagement can directly affect the advising relationship by weakening rapport with this student as well as creating a barrier for the student to actively participate in the advising session by asking questions, providing input, and making decision about their upcoming course schedule. Being aware of outside factors that affect many black males before they enter our advising office will create a meaningful understanding of this student and provide motivation to seek methods of performance to serve this him through advising.

Methods of Performance for Academic Advisors

As an advisor we should seek to provide humanistic, holistic, and proactive approaches when advising students.  While these three approaches are applicable to all students, provided are three methods that can assist in achieving an advising session that incorporates humanistic, holistic, and proactive approaches when working with African American males.

  1. Enforcement as Performance. In a study conducted by Anthony L. Brown (2009), he pointed out several methods of performance for educators that address the needs of African American male students.  The first method was “enforcement as performance.”  The “enforcement style” enforces clearly defined expectations in the classroom.  This type of “performance style” relates to the idea that educators must set higher expectations for African American students.  When educators stereotype students and place lower expectations on them, those educators lower their commitment to the success of the student (Casserly, Lewis, Simon, Uzzell, Palacios, & Council of the Great City, 2012).  As a result, the student will have lower expectations for himself, and therefore, exhibit passive and disengaged behavior.  This method is extremely important when advisors are helping these students choose majors and/or particular class schedules.  If we are not careful, any stereotypes/prejudice that we may have about this student can influence our advising practice when aiding with major selection such as recommending a major that could be viewed as “less difficult” due to the students racial identity, socioeconomic status, and upbringing.  It is a good practice to detach personal values from the advising appointment and establish the clear expectations for the student while encouraging them in their success with comments such as “You can do it!”   As academic advisors, we must also be careful with the things that we say when interacting with students because it can easily trigger a student and cause them to be passive and disengaged.
  2. Playfulness as Performance. Another method of learning that was incorporated was “playfulness as performance.”  Educators that used this method of instructing possessed a carefree approach and used laughter and playfulness to engage their students in different topics and conversations (Brown, 2009, p. 428).  This style of learning assumes that many African American males need space to laugh, joke, and vent.  Engaging in different conversations and topics from sports to popular culture allows one to create a space that is both welcoming and safe for African American male students.  Incorporating “playfulness as performance” will allow an advisor to have both an approachable and humanistic advising style because this method allows students to “cathartically release tension and share aspects about themselves that other teachers silence and/or censor” (Brown, 2009, p. 428).  In an advising appointment, an advisor could use the casual conversations with students to make relevant connections to different academic tasks.  These connections can also encourage students to make deliberate and critical discourse and debate about their academic career.  The “playfulness as performance” method is an effort towards breaking down barriers. In addition, learning how to pronounce the advisee’s name demonstrates that the advisor cares about and is committed to the success of the student.  A name is a person’s identity and pronouncing it correctly will aid in breaking down barriers.
  3. Negotiating as Performance.  The final method of learning that was demonstrated in this study was “negotiating as performance.”  Negotiating by the instructors was a method used to learn how to create expectations that students will reasonably follow (Brown, 2009, p. 430).  When an educator works with an African American male, they must understand that this “is an act of negotiating different personalities, learning styles and personal circumstances.”  This reminds educators that there is no room for stereotyping and that there are no clear-cut and defined methods of approaching every African American male.  The “negotiating” strategy will help advisors to regularly provide discussion, counsel, and questioning as a method of developing solutions and sorting through different context (i.e. self-doubt, personal dilemmas) to reassure a student’s ability to achieve an academic task.  This method is crucial because it provides advisors with the opportunity to have a holistic and proactive approach with the advisee.  Understanding both nonacademic and academic challenges that the advisee has will aid the advisor in making referrals and providing the student with the proper accommodations.  This goes hand-in-hand with being proactive by helping the advisee connect with the institution.  For example, if we notice that the advisee is having a hard time with adjustment, it might be worthwhile to refer him to different resources or student organizations on campus that support black men or even connecting him with a faculty/staff on campus that could assist with mentoring.

So what now?  How do I move forward now that I have this information?  The most important task that any advisor can do is to actively educate themselves and to remain aware of their individual biases and how they affect the advising relationship.  An advisor must be aware that cultural differences do exist and to not be apprehensive of a student’s cultural differences.  If the advisee is experiencing difficulties, ask why.  Do not automatically attribute the difficulties to upbringing, low income, or environment.  Last, remember to help the advisee to overcome barriers.  Do not be an extremist by “carrying” the student through college.  However, be sure to address aspects of the advisee’s educational experience that may be detrimental.  While many of these strategies could apply to any subgroup of student, they are strategies that work well when advising African American males from a collective group perspective.

When incorporating humanizing, holistic, and proactive approaches while advising African American males, combining Brown’s three methods of performance can prove profitable.  While these are valuable insights to establishing a more effective helping relationship, advisors should also be aware that these might not be applicable for every African American male student due to their individual/personal experiences.  Although the student may identify or appear to fit into the perceived group of an African American male, the person has unique experiences that may not align with the information provided. For examples of programs that focus on African American males, advisors can find schools such as The Ohio State University (Bell National Resource Center) and the University of Arkansas Little Rock (African American Male Initiative) that are successful.

Terrance J. McClain, M. Ed
Academic Advisor I
Texas State University-San Marcos
[email protected]

References and Resources

Black Youth Project (2015).  Black boys and 4th grade failure syndrome. Retrieved from http://www.blackyouthproject.com/2010/08/black-boys-and-4th-grade-failure-syndrome/

Brown, A. L. (2009). “Brothers gonna work it out:” Understanding the pedagogic performance of African-American male teachers working with African-American male students. Urban Review: Issues and Ideas in Public Education, 41(5), 416-435.

Casserly, M., Lewis, S., Simon, C., Uzzell, R., Palacios, M., & Council of the Great City, S. (2012). A call for change: Providing solutions for Black male achievement. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED539625.pdf

Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (2014). The Role of academic advising programs: CAS standards contextual statement. Retrieved from http://standards.cas.edu/getpdf.cfm?PDF=E864D2C4-D655-8F74-2E647CDECD29B7D0

Cusion, S., Moore, K., & Jewell, J. (2011). Media representations of Black young men and boys. Report of the REACH media monitoring project. Retrieved from http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/jomec/resources/media_representations_of_black_young_men_and_boys.pdf

Harper, S. (2013). Five things student affairs administrators can do to improve success among college men of color. NASPA Research and Policy Institute Issue Brief. Retrieved from http://www.naspa.org/images/uploads/main/5THINGS-MOC.pdf

Helm, E., Sedlacek, W., & Prieto, D. (1991). Career advising issues for African American entering students. Journal of the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition 10 (2), p. 77-87.

Kunjufu, J. (2012, October 15). Countering the conspiracy to destroy Black boys. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQ779V1JEjQ

McGilloway, S. (2010). Understanding of multicultural competence. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/256414/Understanding_Multicultural_Competence

Museus, S. D., & Ravello, J. N. (2010). Characteristics of academic advising that contribute to racial and ethnic minority student success at predominately white institutions. NACADA Journal: Spring, 30 (1), 47-58.

Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2013).  Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

The Opportunity Agenda. (2011). Opportunity for black men and boys: Public opinion, media depiction, and media consumption. Retrieved from https://opportunityagenda.org/files/field_file/2011.11.30%20%7C%20Report%20%7C%20Opportunity%20for%20Black%20Men%20and%20Boys%20%7C%20FINAL.pdf

Utsey, S., & Payne, Y. (2000). Race-related stress, quality of life indicators, and life satisfaction among elderly African Americans. Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology, 8(3), 224-233.

Welch, K. (2007). Black criminal stereotypes and racial profiling. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 23, 276. doi: 10.1177/1043986207306870

Working with Women to STEMulate Interest

Stephanie H. Soto, Florida International University

Stephanie Soto.jpgDuring the early stages of their undergraduate education, every student must choose an area of concentration, or major.  Female undergraduate students outnumber their male counterparts, yet there is a great underrepresentation of women in majors considered to be traditionally male; specifically, almost three-fourths of women choose female-dominated majors.  This has led to a disproportionately small number of women in STEM areas of concentration: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Among first year students, approximately 29 percent of all male freshmen plan to major in a STEM field, while only 15 percent of all female freshman plan to do the same (Hill, Corbett, & St. Rose, 2010).  Even when women have decided to pursue a STEM major, over half switch to another major before completing their undergraduate degree (Morris & Daniel, 2007).  These disparities persist despite women’s interest in STEM fields.  This has led to a low number of female students earning STEM degrees; women are earning only 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees in physics, engineering, and computer science (Hill, Corbett, & St. Rose, 2010).   

It is crucial for colleges and universities to impact those statistics by counteracting the factors that enforce gender roles.  By examining the factors that influence a woman's choice of major, academic advisors can develop strategies and create programs that expand a female student's options of major.

In order to examine this underrepresentation, it is imperative to analyze the factors that influence a female student to not choose a male-dominated major.  According to Cheryan and Plaut (2010), “Academic fields, like all social groups, possess particular prototypes, or idealized group members who best embody the group’s perceived traits and attributes.”  Gender role stereotypes include the perception that there are appropriate career choices for women versus men.  Societal beliefs about gender roles and stereotypes can influence a student’s choice of major.  Women often avoid majors in the STEM fields due to their socialization in traditional gender roles.  Female students may feel their identity will not be valued in these domains, or even be discriminated against.  These assumptions are called social identity threats (Murphy, Steele, & Gross, 2007), and can discourage women from pursuing particular fields.  An unwelcome environment can inhibit a female student's own idea of self-efficacy, as can the people surrounding the student, including their family and those currently working in the industry.  It is possible for an academic advisor to address the social identity threats that correlate with each factor: environment, familial influence, mentorship, and self-efficacy.


Women often will not feel welcome in traditionally male-dominated fields of study.  These feelings are derived from experiences of being singled out or ignored because of their gender, which lead to a loss of confidence.  Some examples of how a college campus may create an unwelcome environment are: discouraging women from participating in class, allowing disparaging comments about women and their intellectual abilities, ridiculing women’s perceptions and feelings, using examples that reflect stereotypical roles such as referring to a doctor as he, and appearing more attentive to male students (Morris & Daniel, 2007).

What Academic Advisors can do:

  • Foster a supportive learning environment.  The interactions female students have with other students, faculty, and staff members can contribute to the environment.  Situational cues, such as differential treatment or lack of encouragement, may contribute to an experience of social identity threat.  In order to create a supportive environment, academic advisors must take steps to address those situational cues.
  • Learn about our own biases.  Gender roles are a set of social norms associated to a certain sex.  Gender role stereotypes include the perception that there are appropriate career choices for women versus men.  To recognize the bias prevalent in an own office, take notice of the images around the office space or on the department’s website, the language used in an advising meeting, and how career options are presented.  With a few changes an advisor can create a more inclusive environment for female students.

Role Models and Mentorship

The perceptions of similarity between the students and current individuals in the field can shape a person’s interest in that field.  It can be difficult for women to find mentorship in STEM, because when looking for mentorship people try to find others who they perceive to be similar to them.  As there is a lack of women currently in STEM disciplines, female students may feel discouraged to pursue those subjects in college.

When Christine, a Junior at Florida International University (FIU) studying Environmental Engineering, was asked if she has a female role-model in her field, she responded:

No.  I think about this often.  I have problems being assertive and I really want to find a strong knowledgeable female in my career field to look up to.  I really wish I had a mentor like this.  I have so many questions from what is appropriate to wear in the office (that looks professional, yet stylish, yet does not draw attention), from how to negotiate salaries, to how to be most respected in this field without having to become more masculine (in character).

What Academic Advisors can do:

  • Identify female role models.  Student may assume they will have to change to meet workplaces’ standards, so it is important to invite female community members who have been successful in STEM fields to on-campus events.  Creating opportunities for a student to meet a role model or mentor is the greatest evidence that the student will be successful in the field.
  • Create an on-campus community for female STEM students.  Find an on-campus club or organization for students to get involved with.  FIU has just started a living-learning community for first-year female residents.  This community offers multiple opportunities to connect with faculty, mentors and other students.  To get involved on campus look for volunteer opportunities with student STEM organizations, living-learning communities, the on-campus women’s center, or other campus events.  Academic Advisors can also build a bridge between students and female STEM faculty members.  Only 18 percent of full professors in STEM departments at research institutions are women, so students may not have a female professor as an instructor.  Advisors can connect female faculty and staff members, who can serve as mentors, to students throughout their degree. 


Familial relationships play an important role in a student’s decision about valid career choices.  The support, or lack of support, received from family members can guide the student towards a certain major.  Family is also one of the greatest sources of information for the student.  Research shows there are strong links between a college student’s major and their parents’ educational attainment and socio-economic status (Porter & Umbach, 2006).  Many college students are likely to choose majors that would help them follow in their parents’ footsteps.

What academic advisors can do:

  • Actively recruit female students.  Prior to the start of college, students depend on family opinions and advice. Without family knowledge of the STEM fields the student can pursue, the female student may never consider the option to pursue a major in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. Perform outreach programs for high school students, undeclared college students, and incoming transfer students.  These events should be designed as a way for those attending to learn about, and spark interest in, STEM majors and possible careers that correlate.  
  • Emphasize the broader applications of STEM degrees.  Teach students about the wide-ranging application and social relevance of STEM fields.  STEM sub-disciplines with a clear social purpose, that are directly beneficial to society, like Biology, have succeeded in attracting a higher amount of female students.

Student Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in their ability to succeed in a certain area.  A student who expects to be successful is motivated to persist in that field of study.  Women are more likely to assess their abilities more negatively than men.  Female students expect to perform worse in STEM fields in comparison to their male peers.

What academic advisors can do:

  • Teach female students to accurately assess their abilities.  The more positively that students assess their abilities in a subject, the more likely they are to enroll in classes within that subject.  STEM majors are rigorous, and it is common for average grades to be lower than in high school.  It is important to explain this to students upfront.  Academic Advisors should motivate students within each advising appointment, discuss class averages, talk about the difference of expectations between high school and college, and challenge low academic self-efficacy statements.
  • Make performance standards in STEM clear.  Women often hold themselves to a higher standard in traditionally male fields like STEM.  This gives them an unrealistic expectation that they must be exceptional to succeed.  Academic Advisors should be prepared to help the student create realistic expectations for themselves.  Male students may find it easier to persist after earning low test scores, but women often must be supported.  Academic Advisors can teach students how to be resilient and direct them to resources on campus that can help them be successful within those intensive courses.

Every institution should not only be making an effort to discuss issues about major selection and gender, but creating an action plan that encourages women to pursue their studies in STEM fields and provides support for those students once they choose a STEM major. Academic advisors can play an integral role in creating a welcome environment, identifying and connecting students with female role models and mentors, providing detailed information for prospective students that may not understand the broader applications of STEM degrees, and challenge the student’s low academic self-efficacy by motivating them throughout their bachelor’s degree. Supporting female students in their pursuit towards a degree in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics will foster an open and diverse scientific community in the future.

Stephanie H. Soto
Academic Advisor
College of Education
Florida International University
[email protected]


Cheryan, S., & Plaut, V. C. (2010). Explaining underrepresentation: A theory of precluded interest. Sex Roles63, 475-488.

Dawson-Threat, J., & Huba, M. E. (1996). Choice of major and clarity of purpose among college seniors as a function of gender, type of major, and sex-role identification. Journal of College Student Development37, 297-308.

Dick, T. P., & Rallis, S. F. (1991). Factors and influences on high school students' career choices. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 22(4), 281-292.

Hill, C., Corbett, C., & St. Rose, A. (2010). Why so few? Women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics. (1st ed., pp. 2-28). Washington, DC: AAUW.

Morris, L. K., & Daniel, L. G. (2007). Perceptions of a chilly climate: Differences in traditional and non-traditional majors for women. Research in Higher Education49, 256-273.

Murphy, M. C., Steele, C. M., & Gross, J. J. (2007). Signaling threat: How situational cues affect women in math, science, and engineering settings. Psychological Science18 (10), 879-885.

Porter, S. R., & Umbach, P. D. (2006). College major choice: An analysis of person-environment fit. Research in Higher Education, 47(4), 429-449.

St. Rose, A. (2010). STEM major choice and the gender pay gap. On Campus with Women, 39(1).

Dialogues for Dispositions: Promoting Professionalism through Advising

Travis Nakayama, University of Hawaii at Hilo

Travis Nakayama.jpgPrevious articles in NACADA’s Academic Advising Today have focused on academic advising and using dispositions as part of the evaluation process in determining whether or not certain students have the aptitudes to be successful in particular professional programs.  Lee Kem’sAvoiding Teacher ‘Dropouts’“ and “Academic Advising and the Dispositions Assessment Process” highlight the dilemma advisors face when using dispositions as assessments.  In instances where student dispositions do not coincide with the disposition required for a specific profession, advisors have little input in the admissions process, albeit advisors do have a more comprehensive vantage point than instructors.

Even though advisors do have a small role in the selection process of students within their professional program, advisors can have a profound impact in the development of their students.  By being transparent at all advising sessions and by using intrusive advising strategies, advisors can assist their students in developing the dispositions required to be successful in their professional program.

What Are Dispositions?

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) (n.d.) defines professional dispositions as “Professional attitudes, values, and beliefs demonstrated through verbal and non-verbal behaviors as educators interact with students, families, colleagues, and communities.  These positive behaviors support student learning and development.”  NCATE further mentions that “institutions are expected to assess professional dispositions based on students’ behavior in educational settings.”  The basic part of this definition can be related to other professional programs, as all programs and professions have a set of professional attitudes, values, and beliefs to which each student must adhere.

Why Are Dispositions Overlooked?

According to Diez (2007), the 1970s competency based movement placed a strong emphasis on content knowledge.  As such, to measure content knowledge, the use of standardized tests were implemented as part of the admissions criteria.  Diez also implies that dispositions tend to be overlooked because standardized tests are easily measured.  By having this strong reliance on content knowledge, the tendency is to overlook dispositions.  This trend can be seen where admissions criteria of professional programs solely focus on strong academic backgrounds and standardized test scores, which normally relate to strong content knowledge.

Why is There Such a Strong Need to Assess and Emphasize Dispositions?

Rike and Sharp (2009) suggest that assessing and emphasizing dispositions are mutually beneficial to programs and their students;  by having disposition systems in place  programs set expectations upfront and allow for reflective growth.  These systems allow faculty members to screen and eliminate those who do not meet the dispositional standards required of the profession.  At first, while many will not meet proficiency for some of the dispositions, successful students will improve and act on the feedback given to them.

The University of Hawaii at Hilo School of Education Professional Disposition System

Effective spring 2013, the faculty of the UH Hilo School of Education voted unanimously to assess every student in their undergraduate prerequisite and preparation classes on various professional attributes essential to the teaching profession.  These professional dispositions are:

  • attendance
  • punctuality
  • oral expression
  • written expression
  • tact/judgment
  • reliability/dependability
  • self-initiative/independence
  • collegiality
  • response to feedback
  • professional ethics
  • professional demeanor

Each faculty member rates each student on a 3-2-1-0 scale, with 3 being “consistently,” 2 being “generally,” 1 being “sometimes,” and 0 being “rarely.”  Any student earning a rating of a 1 or 0 on any of the professional attributes are automatically “red-flagged” for admissions into the Master of Arts in Teaching Program.  While these professional attributes are intended to evaluate teachers, these dispositions are very general and may be appropriate to other programs and professions. 

What Role do Advisors Play in Helping Students Improve Their Dispositions?

As students frequently meet with their advisors for a variety of reasons, advisors play a crucial role in helping students develop and improve their dispositions.  Often, dispositions are tendencies students develop over a long period of time, and advisors should identify which tendencies are consistent with their program and profession at the initial advising session.  Based on the aforementioned professional attributes, below are several ways in which advisors can identify if students meet the professional dispositions.

  • Attendance:  Does the student attend advising sessions when appointments are set?
  • Punctuality:  Does the student show up on-time to advising appointments?
  • Oral expression:  Is the student expressive? Or quiet and reserved?
  • Written expression:  Does the student use proper and formal English when conversing through e-mail? Or are e-mails written in a casual tone?
  • Tact/Judgment:  Does the student have a solid academic background?  Are there notes in his/her advising file that raise any concern?
  • Reliability/Dependability:  When you advise a student to do a certain task, does s/he follow through immediately?  Does the student need several reminders?
  • Self-initiative/Independence:  Has the student prepared for the advising session beforehand? Has the student met some or all of the admission requirements prior to the initial advising session?
  • Collegiality:  Is the student personable during the advising session?  Or is the student confrontational?
  • Response to feedback:  When a concern is raised about a student, does the student improve or regress?
  • Professional ethics:  Does the student behave in a manner that is consistent with being a professional?

At the end of each advising session, advisors should note down whether or not their advisees met the dispositions.  If advisors notice an alarming trend that certain dispositions are never met, advisors should communicate their concerns to the student.  In this dialogue, advisors should specify what happened, their concerns, and why establishing these dispositions are critical for success in the program and profession.  With having this system in place, advisors will consistently reinforce to the student that their dispositions are constantly being evaluated, and that developing these dispositions are crucial for their own success.


Although there are many admission criteria advisors need to be aware of, advisors should not overlook the dispositions students need to possess to be successful in their program and the professions they represent.  As advisors are frequently visited for advice on the application process, advisors need to be extremely proactive and assist with the development of professional dispositions.  By being transparent throughout all advising sessions and utilizing intrusive advising strategies, advisors can build a community of trust and engage in dialogues to foster the development of the dispositions required of their professional programs.

Travis Nakayama
Jr. Specialist/Advisor
School of Education
University of Hawaii at Hilo
[email protected]


Diez, M.E. (2007). Assessing dispositions: Context and questions.  In M.E. Diez and J. Raths (Eds.), Dispositions in Teacher Education (pp. 183-201). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Kem, L. (2006, February). Academic advising and the dispositions assessment process. Academic Advising Today, 29(1). Retrieved from: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Academic-Advising-and-the-Dispositions-Assessment-Process.aspx

Kem, L. (2008, March). Avoiding teacher 'dropouts'. Academic Advising Today, 31(1). Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Avoiding-Teacher-Dropouts.aspx

National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. (n.d.). NCATE Glossary of Terms. Retrieved from http://www.ncate.org/Standards/UnitStandards/Glossary/tabid/477/Default.aspx

Rike, C.J., & Sharp, L.K. (2009). Developing and assessing teacher candidates’ dispositions: A beneficial process for all.  In P.R. LeBlanc and N.P. Gallavan (Eds.), Affective teacher education:  exploring connections among knowledge, skills, and dispositions (pp. 61-78). Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Education.

Vantage Point banner.jpThe MA Student In Need of Improved Career Advisement

Rebecca Brazzale, Brigham Young University

Rebecca Brazzale.jpgAs a current career and academic advisor, I have had several conversations with M.A. students about life after graduation.  Most of these students, humanists through and through, came to graduate school in pursuit of a Ph.D. because they liked what they studied as undergraduates and were very successful.  However, after two years of rigorous studies and major life changes such as marriage, children, and increased student debt, some have contemplated taking a break from academia and entering the workforce.  During all of our conversations, the same question comes to the surface: “What can you do with an M.A. in the humanities?”

The question about what one can “do with humanities” is not new.  Many publications, such as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences report The Heart of the Matter (2013), Daniel Pink’s 2008 proposal that “The MFA is the new MBA” (as cited in Bell, 2008), the Brigham Young University Humanities Pathways study (2013), and others continue to advocate the legitimacy of a humanities education in today’s job market.  Furthermore, the conversation on helping humanities Ph.D. graduates transfer their skills outside of academia has been spotlighted by several reports including Pathways Through Graduate School and into Careers (Wendler et al., 2012), Supporting Careers and Scholarship Beyond the Tenure Track (Rogers, 2013), and Reports on Rethinking Humanities Graduate Education (Rumsey, 2012-2013).  All of these express not only the legitimacy of the humanities in today’s job market, but also the importance of translating humanistic studies into practical skills that can be articulated on a résumé.

Still, compared to a Ph.D., it is less clear what you can do with a master’s degree in the humanities.  Besides Cassuto’s (2015) recent punishing remarks in his article “The Degree for Quitters and Failures,” most of the research in job placement for humanities graduate students is dedicated to Ph.D. candidates, whose situation is unique from that of a master’s student.  For example, M.A. graduates cannot entirely relate to the Versatile Ph.D. (2015) or #Alt-Academy (2015), because as master’s students they are not as specialized nor committed to their field of study.  Furthermore, the majority of the job-placement initiatives for humanities graduates in the universities are directed at Ph.D. candidates, whose prestige-potential outweighs that of a master’s candidate.  When the occasional graduate student wanders into the undergraduate advising office, they may receive some career advice, but feel uncertain as to the applicability of that counsel.  In essence, the M.A. student is in an academic limbo with no specific resources to call their own.

While talking to some M.A. students recently about their own educational path, two stated that while they really did love the subject matter, the master’s was seen as a postponement of the job search.  One explained, “Anxiety about entering the job market was a big factor in me getting a master’s.”  Another chimed in “That’s why I want to be a professor; the job market scares me.”  Another student, who left “super depressed” after a Ph.D. preparation workshop, returned from his Christmas break mentioning that he may now be considering law school as a “better” professional alternative (personal communication, February 2014).  In harmony with these testimonials, Rogers (2013) explains, “The data shows that many graduate students begin their studies without a clear understanding of their future employment prospects, which signals that we are failing to bring informed students into the graduate education system” (p. 11).  Furthermore, her findings conclude "students report receiving little or no preparation for careers outside the professoriate during the course of their studies, even though the need for information about a variety of careers is acute” (p. 11).

Thus, professional guidance for master’s students is greatly needed.  This is not to say that the Ph.D. route should not be considered nor encouraged; most M.A. candidates in the humanities love academia and are seriously considering making a career of it.  Still, students should be compelled to explore several options and investigate a variety of career paths before they commit to an additional 4-6 years in the ivory tower.  Furthermore, advisors should also discuss the reality that a master’s degree is not a solution for indecisiveness or fear of the job market.  As Wendler et al. (2012) advocates, “career transparency” should be the new focus in college advising.  This is especially true in the Liberal Arts, as the career path is exceptionally ambiguous at times.  Although many enter academia with the hopes of a tenured professorship, M.A. students should also be aware of the discrepancy between the numbers of Ph.D. graduates compared to the slim number of tenured positions available (Hacker & Dreifus, 2010, p. 57; Pannapacker, 2013).  

In summary, advisors and administrators should consider the plight of the master’s student alongside that of doctoral students when providing academic and career support.  I also echo the argument presented by Pannapacker (2013) in his article “Just Look at the Data, if You Can Find Any” that states, “In addition to providing more-reliable information, we need to create new pathways for students in the humanities so that graduate school does not seem like the only place where they can pursue the things they ‘loved’ as undergraduates.”  Further advising dialogue in the humanities should address how master’s students can continue to stay relevant in the job market as they pursue their studies, so as to empower them during their studies instead of allowing the culture of insecurity to persist throughout the doctoral program.

By developing an advising plan that advocates both academic and professional options, starting at the bachelor’s level and continuing all the way to the doctoral level, students will be able to better demonstrate how vital the humanities are to society, both artistically and professionally.  Furthermore, they will be able to provide an answer to the difficult question “What can you do with an M.A. in the humanities?” that is purposeful, meaningful, and relevant.  As Richard Brodhead, President of Duke University and Co-chair of the Commission on the humanities and social sciences, stated, “The issue for me is how to help [students] incorporate the humanities and social sciences into what they are doing [and] also develop a plan that leads to some sort of career. . . . It's not either-or.  It's how to put the two things together” (Chicago Humanities Festival, 2014).

Rebecca Brazzale
Career & Academic Advisor
College of Humanities
Brigham Young University
[email protected]


“#Alt-Academy: A media commons project.” #Alt-Academy. (n.d.). Retrieved 15 June 2015 from http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/alt-ac/welcome

American Academy of Arts and Sciences. (2013). The heart of the matter. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/68662447   

Bell, K. (2008, April 14). The MFA is the new MBA. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2008/04/the-mfa-is-the-new-mba/ 

Brigham Young University College of Humanities. (2013). [Interactive graph that shows alumni career data for the BYU College of Humanities for 2001-2012]. Humanities Pathways, 2001-2012: Thinking

Beyond a Job to a Lifelong Career. Retrieved from http://humanitiespathways.byu.edu/

Cassuto, L. (2015, June 1). The degree for quitters and failures. The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/The-Degree-for-Quitters-and/230533/

Chicago Humanities Festival. (2014, January 27). The heart of the matter - Chicago humanities summit.  Video retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLGul2YQc2M

Hacker, A., & Dreifus, C. (2010). Higher education?: How colleges are wasting our money and failing our kids---and what we can do about it. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin

Pannapacker, W. (2013, June 17). Just look at the data, if you can find any. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Just-Look-at-the-Data-if-You/139795

Rogers, K. (2013). Study: Supporting careers and scholarship beyond the tenure track (pp. 1–41).  Retrieved from http://libra.virginia.edu/catalog/libra-oa:3480

Rumsey, A. S. (2012–2013). Scholarly Communication Institute reports on rethinking humanities graduate education (pp. 1–22). Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, University of Virginia. Retrieved from http://libra.virginia.edu/catalog/libra-oa:3266

Versatile PhD. (2015). Retrieved from http://versatilephd.com/

Wendler, C., Bridgeman, B., Markle, R., Cline, F., Bell, N., McAllister, P., & Kent, J. (2012). Pathways through graduate school and into careers (pp. 1–47). Educational Testing Services and the Council of Graduate Schools. Retrieved from http://pathwaysreport.org/

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Professional Staff as Graduate Student Academic Advisors

Lydia Cross, Georgia Southern University

Editor’s Note: The Advising Graduate & Professional Students Commission meeting will take place this year at Annual Conference in Las Vegas on Monday, October 5th at 3:15 p.m.  Check the Annual Conference schedule for location if you would like to attend.

Lydia Cross.,jpgTraditionally, graduate students have been advised by faculty within their academic programs.  As faculty demands increase in other areas, there has been a shift at some institutions from faculty to professional academic advisors, mostly in master’s degree and professional programs.  Unlike the undergraduate level, which has had time for considerable focus on resources, advisor practices, and specific outcomes for professional academic advisors, the shift to professional academic advisors on the graduate level remains small and difficult to track due to the inconsistency in institution and program types.  Within this shift, there is a small group of professional graduate academic advisors who meet yearly at NACADA’s annual conference.  This has been the only formal outlet to share ideas and best practices and takes place through peer presentations and informal conversations.  This is an area in need of attention and research to better train, prepare, and provide resources to assist graduate student professional academic advisors who come from staff positions other than faculty.

The majority of scholarly research on graduate student advisement has been on the faculty-student relationship, with a focus on career and research mentoring (Bloom, Propst Cueva, Hall, & Evans, 2007; Selke & Wong, 1993).  With both the proliferation of online graduate programs and the incorporation of more full-time professional staff for campus-based graduate programs, there has been a slight uptick in the numbers of professional staff as graduate student advisors, but there has been little to no research on best practices offered for these professional academic advisors.  Until more research is done, professional academic advisors of graduate students must extrapolate and draw from current research and best practices in graduate advisement and modify where appropriate.  These factors and characteristics from research on the traditional faculty-graduate student advising relationship can help professional academic advisors forge meaningful relationships with their students and provide legitimacy to their role as professional academic graduate advisors.  Some of these ideas are described below with a commentary of personal experiences as a professional graduate advisor.  This is not meant to be an exhaustive review of the research, but to provide a starting point to have conversations about the role of graduate professional academic advisors.

Successful Graduate Advisor Characteristics

As seen in the study by Bloom, et al. (2007), an outstanding graduate advisor cares for students and their successes and is accessible.  Selke and Wong (1993) highlight maintaining regular contact with graduate advisees.  These are universal characteristics that any advisor, professional or faculty, undergraduate or graduate, can exhibit to create a successful advising relationship. 

While the context from the Bloom et al. (2007) study was of faculty advisors, professional academic advisors can show concern for successes by advocating for their student, ensuring benchmarks in programs of study are recognized and celebrated, and creating a relationship with the student outside of simply relaying academic information and processes.  A professional academic advisor can relate to a graduate student personally and professionally by inquiring about the student’s goals, family, and personal interests.  While the career and research mentoring relationship may not be there, especially if the professional advisor comes from a different discipline, the advisor can build a successful working relationship with the graduate student.  In many situations, a professional advisor can assist graduate student connections to the faculty as professional academic advisors have daily workings with faculty in their schools or colleges.  Partnerships are critical between professional staff and faculty as these partnerships can provide a more robust advising experience for students.

Accessibility and availability can be easily achieved by professional academic advisors and in many cases, are a primary benefit of having a professional graduate academic advisor model.  As professional academic advisors tend to be 12 month staff positions, accessibility is inherent in the job description.    Professional academic advisors are generally available between semesters and are able to respond to most advisee needs relatively quickly.  With increasing numbers of graduate students completing programs and courses through distance education, many of the issues students encounter are related to technology.  In these situations, professional academic advisors have the opportunity to learn the systems and offer quick guidance to students struggling with the administrative aspects of enrolling and taking courses.  Embedded within accessibility is the concept of maintaining regular contact with advisees.  It is essential, especially as mentioned with distance education graduate students, to maintain regular contact with graduate students.  Professional academic advisors can excel in this area by using student information systems and advisement tracking models to track progression. 

Personal Experiences as a Graduate Student Professional Academic Advisor

As with most experiences related to graduate education, my own experience as a graduate academic advisor is not meant to be a generalizable experience.  This narrative is simply meant to begin the discussion on professional staff as graduate academic advisors and share the knowledge I have accumulated in the last four years.  The students I advise are from the same discipline I received my master’s degree in, so I can relate to many of their experiences, understand the vernacular of the field, and have seen many of the issues they and their teachers face. 

The benefits I have noticed as a professional advisor of graduate students include having the time to learn about my advisees and being generally aware of what life events are happening for them.  I am accessible, to a fault at times.  I regularly respond to emails and issues on the weekends, after hours, and during school breaks. By the nature of my 40 hour work week, I can easily find someone in another office that the student needs to reach for an issue (financial aid, registration, etc.).  A challenge I face as a professional graduate academic advisor is that I have not gone through the same program of study as my advisees and my knowledge of some of their courses and expectations are limited to what I know of each instructor’s syllabus.  An additional challenge is not having the extensive access to networking and resources related to advising: when meeting at NACADA, there are no more than 20-30 graduate advisors who attend sessions or the general meeting to discuss ideas and share best practices.    

Gaps in the Research and Conclusion

As discussed above, there are significant gaps in the research on the best practices, advisement models, and effectiveness of professional academic advisors for graduate students.  There also has been no systemic examination of what types of institutions or programs have moved to a professional academic advisor model.  For now, it is necessary to extrapolate factors and characteristics from prior studies on the faculty-graduate student relationship, but the professional advisor-graduate student relationship needs to be explored more fully to ensure effective advising will take place.  As more graduate and professional programs begin to rely on professional advisors and program directors to work daily with and advise graduate students, there needs to be research and resources to draw upon.  My sincere hope is that this article gets the conversation started among graduate student academic advisors to build the networks and resources necessary.  This is an exciting challenge and one I hope professional academic advisors of graduate students will take on.

Lydia Cross
College of Education
Georgia Southern University
[email protected]


Bloom, J., Cuevas, A., Hall, J., & Evans, C. (2007). Graduate students’ perceptions of outstanding graduate advisor characteristics. NACADA Journal, 27(2), 28-35.

Selke, M., & Wong, T. (1993). The mentoring-empowered model: Professional role functions in graduate student advisement. NACADA Journal, (13)2, pp. 21-26.

Vantage Point banner.jpgA Taxonomy of Professional Development

Barbra Wallace, University of California, Riverside

Editor’s Note: In this article, Barbra builds on her June 2014 contribution, Ten Skills Advisors Need for Promotion to the Next Level.

Barbra Wallace.jpIn my career as a college administrator, I’ve had a number of professional academic advisors from around campus ask what their next steps should be as they worked to ascend the campus career ladder.  While some advisors have been able to work on their next steps from a position they already held, others needed to find a new position with more responsibility to acquire the skills needed to reach the next level.  From those observations and conversations, I created a pyramid similar to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning (Bloom, et al., 1956) to try to describe what an advisor needs to focus on at each step along the way to their next promotion and eventually to their ultimate career goal. 

Like Bloom’s Taxonomy, I believe that advisors must achieve expertise in the first step before they can fully move on to the second, etc.  However, it is important to note that advisors may be on a different level for one part of his or her job than they are for another.  Regardless of their ultimate goal, I believe it is important for advisors to strive to reach the next step in each and every area of their job.  It isn’t sufficient to reach the next step in just a few or even most of the entire portfolio of responsibilities. 

In addition, every time an advisor is assigned a new task or a new area of responsibility, he or she will most likely need to begin back at Step 1 again.  Unfortunately, this is not necessarily a linear path, but probably more circular in nature.  It’s not as if an advisor will ascend each step in order only once during their career, then get to Step 5 and say “Whew, I’m glad that’s over, now I’m done!”

The advice here may be generic enough to be applicable to nearly any profession, but since my career experience is in higher education, I’m offering this pyramid as a step-by-step guide beginning at being hired as a new academic advisor through to promotion to a college administrator.  My hope is that this advice will be helpful to advisors who are working to reach the next level.

Step 1: Learn

When an advisor is first hired, there is an extremely steep learning curve.  Not only do advisors need to learn all of the policies, procedures, and tools necessary to do their job, but advisors must learn their job duties and responsibilities and become familiar with their boss, colleagues (other advisors), clients (students), and customers (the university faculty and administration).  Advisors need to learn their organizational chart.  Who’s really in charge?  Who’s the tiebreaker if there isn’t consensus?  What is the mission of the office?  What is the focus, the philosophy?  Where is the bulk of the effort focused?  What are the office’s service goals?  What are the supervisor’s expectations?  How are service goals communicated to the advisor?  How will advisors know and what will happen if these goals aren’t met?  Finally advisors will need to ask a lot of questions and listen carefully to the answers, and then ask even more follow-up questions to thoroughly learn their job. 

Step 2: Practice

Now that the foundation is built, it’s time for the novice advisor to strive for excellence, efficiency, and independence.  I believe some of the most important hallmarks of excellent academic advising are quality and consistency.  Advisors at Step 2 need to make sure the information provided is right each and every time and consistent for other students facing the same set of circumstances.  In addition advisors should make sure to double check their work and access resources to confirm accuracy to avoid a “sophomore slump” where advisors may begin to make careless mistakes.  Advisors should work to develop independence by developing and practicing research skills and trying to find the answers before asking their supervisors.  Once tentative answers are found, advisors at this level will need to confirm with their supervisor to make sure the information found has been correctly interpreted and applied.  Advisors at this level should engage their supervisors and assess their abilities, employ their strengths, and seek professional development to improve in any areas of challenge to prepare for the next level.

Advisors at this level should also practice their research skills to learn the office and institutional history.  It’s important to know the foundation of the current advising philosophy.  How did we get here?  Advisors should work to identify the “decision-makers” both inside and outside the advising office.  Beginning to look at the bigger world outside the advising office since changing campus administration can also change advising philosophy and goals.  Novice advisors need to begin to follow the information trail—keeping up with campus news cycles, attending open forums, and engaging mentors in conversations on current topics of interest for the campus at large.  Once the campus history is understood, it’s important for novice advisors to begin to figure out where the campus might be headed next.

Step 3: Analyze

Advisors at this level are practicing or at a journeyman level (experienced but not yet experts).  Journeyman advisors should now be experts in what’s written down and openly communicated.  The next step for advisors at this level is to seek to learn what isn’t written down.  Where are the “gray areas” in the advising policies, areas where the exceptions lie?  Journeyman advisors will need to expand their circle of knowledge and influence.  Although typically a solitary profession, advisors at this level need to develop their teamwork skills by beginning to work on cross-team collaborations within their advising offices.  Continuing to expand their knowledge of the campus at large, advisors at this level should also seek to learn what other people do outside their offices and why those jobs are important to the campus.  These advisors will also need to learn and begin practicing effective advocacy, practicing advocacy not only for individual students but for various student populations as a whole.  Finally, advisors at this level should begin to develop and implement new advising programs and services to increase efficiency and effectiveness while taking the first steps to learn how to analyze these programs and services to prove effectiveness and efficiency (data analysis).

Step 4: Contribute

When advisors arrive at Step 4, they are expert at examining each advising issue from one side, but they need to learn to see the other sides too.  While practicing the advocacy skills learned in Step 3, advisors at this level should also continue to expand their influence by seeking out leadership opportunities on cross-campus committees and projects.  At this level, it is important for advisors to keep listening and learning at the campus level.  It is also important for advisors at this level to practice and gain expertise in the assessment methods learned in Step 3.  If possible, advisors at this level should begin to take on a supervisory role and/or participate in training new employees.  Advisors who don’t have the opportunity to supervise professional staff should consider creating a volunteer peer mentor team which will allow them to gain valuable experience in hiring, training, and supervising personnel.  Finally, it is crucial for advisors at this level to work to communicate their expertise when opportunities arise, both within and outside their office.

Step 5: Lead

At the final step, expert advisors will most likely be practicing professional supervision.  But remember, true leadership means working to create, communicate, implement, and analyze philosophies and goals, not merely supervising other advisors.  By this time expert advisors should work towards suggesting policy changes using major data analysis projects to prove policy changes are both necessary and likely to be effective.  Expert advisors will frequently be required at this level to write reports on program needs and effectiveness as well as new proposals to enhance services, again using data analysis to support their proposals.  Expert advisors at this level will also be responsible for development and implementation of advising training programs and will most likely be responsible for reviewing and/or creating new advising organizational structures.  Finally, at this level expert advisors will frequently be called on to take on significant supervision responsibility and campus-wide leadership roles in their area of expertise.

And remember, once an advisor has ascended to Step 5 and they find themselves in a brand new position, they will most likely have to start all over at Step 1 again.  Happy climbing!

Barbra Wallace, Director
Undergraduate Academic Advising Center
College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences
University of California, Riverside
[email protected]


Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, W. H., & Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay Company.

Vantage Point banner.jpgThree Strategies for Successful Supervision

William Sovich, University of California, Riverside          

William Sovich.jpgA supervisor’s time must often be divided among competing demands, sometimes to the extent that it becomes difficult to identify priorities and strategies for success.  In my role as an advising unit coordinator, for example, I am responsible to the students in my caseload at the same time that I am accountable to my higher administration.  Meanwhile, I must be available to the staff I supervise as I work with them to meet their short-term and long-term training and professional development needs.  With multiple stakeholders vying for my attention, keeping the three themes of rapport building, technical competency, and leading by example at the center of my focus has helped me to promote productivity and healthy working relationships among members of the advising team no matter what the conditions or constraints.

Through exploration of the literature on best practices in training and development, consultation with my own mentors, and reflection on both my successes and struggles as a team leader, I have identified these three themes as the most salient among all I have encountered.  In the words of Dickens, these strategies have served me well during "the best of times" when the unit was robustly staffed and more than adequate resources were available for professional development, as well as during "the worst of times" when budget cuts resulted in staffing shortages and a scarcity of resources.  Even in situations where supervisors feel as though they are staffing "advising outposts" in the wilderness with little support from higher administration, limited time for cross-training, or responsibilities so widespread that their accessibility is compromised, the following tips can be applied to keep a balanced outlook and maintain a positive approach to leadership. 

Build Rapport        

Much of an advisor’s success stems from their ability to establish relationships with students.  Similarly, a supervisor’s success in leading a team stems from their ability to establish relationships with individual team members.  As such, the underlying relational principles that guide my practice in the work I do with my students translate nicely to the work I do with my staff.  When interacting with students I often remind myself that although all advisors in a given unit would be expected to respond to a question regarding academic policy with a similar answer, not all students would receive the information the same way.  Rather than being based on the information itself, much of the students’ reaction would instead be determined by the way the information was relayed and their perceptions of the advisor’s ability to support or validate during the communication process.  It’s not so much what is said but rather how the information is conveyed that makes the difference.  To borrow from psychologist Carl Rogers, empathy, positive regard, and consistent affect on the part of the counselor are among the best predictors of a successful helping relationship (Rogers, as cited in Hill, 2004). 

I most often think of helping relationships as those that exist between university staff and students, but the relationship between supervisor and employee is another kind of helping relationship to which these principles apply.  With the teachings of Rogers in mind, I would assert that the most important activity I do with any new hire on their first day of employment is actually taking them to lunch!  During that time, the last thing I do is mention academic advising.  This is my opportunity to get to know them and to allow them to get to know me.  From that point forward, I make myself as consistently available as possible not only to address work-related issues but also to visit with staff members about their daughter’s upcoming kindergarten graduation, their recent San Diego vacation, or anything else going on in their lives that is important to them.  We celebrate and respect one another as people.  The rest follows.

Promote TOTAL Competency

Once rapport is established, it’s possible to begin assisting new advisors in building the technical skills they need to feel confident in their work.  Recent studies on advisor training and development have indicated that advisors often find the relational competencies required for the position are the most difficult part of the profession to achieve (Beres, as cited in Hughey, 2011).  Many of my staff agree, but they have also found that gaining self-efficacy in the informational and technical realms of the position in turn assists in mastering the interpersonal skills that so often prove to be more challenging.  In order to promote success while new professionals work to strengthen skills in all of these areas, I strive to set clear expectations early in the onboarding process and allow for as long and slow a training experience as possible.  During the process, advisors in training engage in one-on-one coachings with their supervisor each day, shadow veteran advisors in the unit who also serve as peer mentors, and participate in tandem advising sessions.  I use the acronym TOTAL as a reminder of the critical areas during the initial phases of the training period.  With this roadmap in hand to achieve TOTAL competency in the technical areas of the position, new hires become familiar with office standards, get an overview of the training process in advance, and see that they will be supported along the way:

T- transcript analysis and location of student records

O - organization of study materials, advising publications, training tools, and resources for professional development

T - tracking student progress to degree by performing degree audits and data queries

A - assisting with student enrollment to promote timely progress through the degree program and logical selection of coursework that aligns with academic, career, and life goals

L - learning approach that promotes critical thinking, collaboration, effective problem-solving, retention of key information, and the ability to defend one’s choices through data-driven decision making

Lead by Example

Positive behavioral modeling can supplement these rapport building and technical training processes, while poor behavioral modeling can quickly negate strides that have been made in those areas.  In short, following the idiom “do as I say, not as I do” is no way to gain the trust and respect of a work group.  Although I have taken part in campus supervisory competency programming since becoming an advising unit coordinator, I had little training in human resources or organizational leadership before these items became formal pieces of my job description.  To boost my development during my early days in my current role on campus, I reflected on my own former supervisors and in particular on the nonconstructive behaviors they sometimes exhibited.  As a result, I was able to put together a list of opposite behaviors that I believed to be strong managerial habits based on my personal experiences as an employee.  One of the most important of these is to model the behavior that is desired in others and to do so in a way that embodies the culture and vision of the organizational unit.  Managers can inundate staff with pages and pages of personnel policy or send behavioral counseling memos when expectations are not met.  However, the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” quickly comes to mind.  They can instead eliminate much of the need to use these tactics (which staff may often perceive as punitive) if they simply show rather than tell.  When I employ this approach, my staff see that I never ask them to do what I am unwilling to do myself.  The best way to motivate team members to report to work with smiles on their faces for a campus recruiting event at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday is to do so oneself.         

When I left my first advising position in order to transition to my current one, my supervisor at the time asked, "Why would you want to be responsible for other people's mistakes?”  While there is a great deal of responsibility that comes with being a team leader, I also find much joy in having the unique opportunity to influence others' professional growth.  In constructing my own approach to supervision, the most important question I have asked myself is, “What is the legacy that I want to leave?”  It’s not to build zombie clones of myself but to flavor the culture of the next generation of advisors in congruence with the overarching themes that forward the mission of the institution.  Keeping these three supervisory strategies in focus on a day-to-day basis has helped me to do just that.

William Sovich
Assistant Director
College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences Undergraduate Academic Advising Center
University of California, Riverside
[email protected]


Hill, C.E.  (2004). Helping skills: facilitating exploration, insight, and action. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Hughey, J.K. (2011). Strategies to enhance interpersonal relations in academic advising. NACADA Journal, 31(2), 22-32.

Academic Advising is Relationship Building

Dionne Gordon-Starks, Drexel University

Editor’s Note:  To learn more about the advising needs of first generation students, join us in the NACADA Webinar venue on September 16th, when “NACADA Leaders Share their Experiences.”

Dionne Gordon-Starks.jpgAcademic advising is relationship building!  Just as a meticulous gardener knows the value of watering and caring for the seedlings within a garden, those of us within the advising profession must also fully embrace the level of responsibility we have in nurturing our students.  We must be mindful that in the hustle and bustle of course recommendations, change of major forms, and registration requests, lays the incredible journey of a young college student and their academic goals.  As an academic advisor, I believe those faculty and staff members within the profession have the incredible responsibility of being able to impact the trajectory of a young person’s life by coaching and mentoring them along their journey.  Our position of power should not be viewed lightly because we have the ability to wield great influence among our students.

As trends in higher education shift from the recruitment of students towards retention, colleges and universities across the country are becoming more intentional about services and programming that will not only aid in their ability to keep students on campuses, but will assist with the student’s ability to accomplish their goals.  It is here that the role of academic advising and the value of relationships become elevated.  Advisors are important to a student’s ability to navigate university policies, procedures, resources, etc.  According to Bloom, Hutson & He (2008), “Contrary to the aggregated reports that colleges generate, students are not numbers: They are people, and advisors know this better than anyone else” (p. 4).

Each year students arrive to campus with many mixed emotions, with diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences.  They come in anticipating the very best from their experiences with their instructors, advisors, peers, etc.  Some may arrive confident given the accolades they achieved in high school.  Some may be transferring in from another institution and know exactly the major they want.  Others may be overwhelmed and have no idea what it is they wish to accomplish, but the common thread is that they all usually require a little guidance along the way. 

Looking over my own life, I have to say that as a first generation college graduate, I was very fortunate to have had the influence of dynamic parents, teachers, and advisors who actively fostered my potential.  I remember arriving as a college freshman in the early 90’s and encountering the first stumbling block.  I was a cultural minority at a small Catholic, predominately white college.  I came from a working class home in North Philadelphia and commuted to campus.  I majored in English with my eyes set on becoming an award-winning journalist, and went to one of my first of many classes.  It was there that I encountered a professor who made me question not only my choice of major, but also my ability to be successful at that college.  It shook me to my core—shredding away at my self-confidence—and sent me tearfully into an emotional retreat on a hallway floor. 

I was on the verge of heading to the bus stop to make my way back home, when a woman stopped and took notice of me in the hallway.  She was Black, like me, and explained that she was the Director of Multicultural Affairs on campus.   She sat with me and cared for me.  She coached me and took me under wing.   She told me that I had a right to be here and that I should not allow what was said to me deter me from my goals.  She continued to mentor me and made me work-study in her office.  She said that she needed to keep an eye on me and wanted to be sure that I was maximizing my college experience. 

As our relationship grew, there was not much I would not share with her.  She knew about my grades, internships, and service learning experiences.  She knew I took two buses to campus every day and knew the neighborhood I commuted from.  She even knew my favorite color.  She made that difference for me.  She helped to retain a student on the edge of deciding to withdraw from college.  I am proud to say that she watched me graduate on time!  She even introduced me to my husband, her son.  Having had someone put out the effort to develop a relationship with me as a student, I am a living testament of the feeling that advising is relationship building.  Students are under tremendous pressure to be successful and they are more apt to engage in a partnership with someone on campus who exemplifies genuine care and concern.  As the value of academic advising increases, the need for quality interactions with students has become more important than ever. 

I was very fortunate to have had the influence of dynamic individuals in my life that saw me as a person, not just an enrollment number, and actively engaged in fostering my success.  I am honored to be a part of a profession that helps others!  To be an active part of a young person’s future is a privilege that should not be taken lightly, and to be in the position to give back in some small way the kindness and grace that was bestowed to me when I needed it most is how I approach each day.  Advising is very much about relationship building, and it deserves the same care as a prize-winning lily!

Dionne Gordon-Starks, M.S.
Undergraduate Advising
College of Engineering
Drexel University
[email protected]

Dionne is Senior Academic Advisor with Drexel University’s College of Engineering and advises transfers, freshmen, and sophomore students.  She has been a professional advisor for 16 years. 


Bloom, J., Hutson, B. & He, Y. (2008).  The appreciative advising revolution. Champaign, IL: Stipes Publishing L.L.C.

Fit your Budget as well as your Schedule with NACADA Webinars

Yvonne Halden, Teri Farr, and Cynthia Pascal, NACADA Webinar Advisory Board members

For most of us in the academic advising community, there are never enough professional development dollars; we are always looking for ways to stretch funding and get the most that we can for our shrinking budgets.  Identifying professionals on our respective campuses or close by to present professional development programs takes time and expertise, and often our local experts are simply not available.  Many campuses look to NACADA Webinars to provide cost effective, timely, and quality professional development programs. 

Webinar broadcasts are accessible to advising personnel spanning the global community and can bring together participants from places as far apart as Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Australia, and North and South America.  If the live broadcast time is not convenient, a link to the webinar recording is provided to all registrants following the event and is available to personnel at a registered institution up to a month after the live broadcast.  The registrant or someone s/he has designated as “host” for the institution can determine a date and time to fit that institution’s schedule to share the recording with campus advising personnel. 

We hope that the examples provided in this article of how campuses are using the webinars will spur your own ideas about how you can take the webinar offerings through NACADA and expand or enhance your existing professional development program.

Over the nine seasons of webinar offerings, the Webinar Advisory Board has identified many ways that these online events can be used to supplement or re-energize campus professional development offerings.  A Web Event Host Guide created by past Webinar Advisory Board Chair Terry Musser is provided on the NACADA website to help hosts craft a professional development opportunity tailored to their specific advising team.  “Use of NACADA Webinars for Professional Development,” an article by past advisory board member Adam Duberstein (2012), walks us through a variety of ways we can utilize this resource.  Duberstein asserts that the webinar event can foster collegial relationships by bringing together a diverse group of people with different viewpoints and experiences.  In addition, webinars allow us to utilize user-friendly technology to bring the advising community together from all over the world.  With the new Zoom webinar platform, NACADA is providing us with a stable environment and a way for us to all stay connected. 

NACADA allied organizations, such the Illinois Academic Advising Association (ILACADA), have provided members with professional development grants to cover the cost of webinar registration.  ILACADA members can apply for grants awarding a webinar registration for an Illinois institution.  Speakers to assist with unpacking information learned in the webinar are arranged, and the registrant then reports back to ILACADA on the event. 

An advisor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign was a recipient of one of these ILACADA grants, and the Illinois Academic Advising Committee (IllIAAC) hosted the post webinar discussion following the March 2015 webinar “Advising Strategies for Students on Academic Probation.”  Sarah Watson, Division of General Studies Assistant Director, and Jennifer Brandyberry, Academic Advisor in the School of Molecular and Cell Biology, discussed ways that their respective areas on campus were spearheading initiatives to help students struggling academically and how their areas had developed programs designed to assist with students on probation. 

Another Illinois advisor, from Western Illinois University (WIU), received a grant to cover registration costs for the November 2014 webinar, “Integrating Academic and Career Advising.”  Discussion following this broadcast focused on applying principles presented in the webinar to their specific student population.  This event complimented the professional development theme of career advising that WIU put into motion for the academic year.  The webinar was also dovetailed with a common reading and discussion, as well as a workshop co-sponsored with the Career Development Center. 

At the University of Manitoba, they provide an open invitation to the campus community through the Learning and Organizational Development Office by advertising the NACADA webinars on the University LOD Registration System. Through this platform they hope to encourage many different offices on campus the opportunity to connect with each other as well as discuss and engage in the topic areas from their own particular perspectives.  Participants from your institution could include student services/affairs, faculty advisors, residential life and academic advisors who are interested in the specific topics.  

For those who do not have a professional development program already in place, this is a great opportunity to get one started!  Here are some suggestions we would like to offer for planning a NACADA Webinar Event to enhance advisor skills and profile on your campus.

  • Assess your needs and identify a NACADA webinar that supports your college’s goals or agenda.
  • Determine time and space. Just because a NACADA webinar does not align with your schedule or time zone, does not mean that you cannot enjoy the benefits of participating.  Choose a time and location that complements your timetable and you can work with NACADA to view a pre-recorded webinar or develop a webinar unique to your institution.
  • Prepare your participants by communicating webinar dates early and often.  Consider complimenting the webinar with a “common reader” article or a case study related to the webinar topic to engage participants early.  On the day of your event, prepare an ice breaker so that participants who rarely see each other can feel welcomed.
  • Keep it light.  Professional development is an opportunity for likeminded individuals to get together and learn something new about their trade.  For example, if you are watching a pre-recorded webinar, mix it up by pausing it for a discussion or an impromptu brain storming session.  If you prefer a quieter atmosphere, have participants tweet their thoughts or create running list of ideas on a shared document or flipchart.
  • Don’t leave them hanging.  When the webinar concludes, the discussion should begin.  Encourage the creation of workgroups to build bridges between professional development opportunities.  Have these workgroups create synchronous and asynchronous opportunities so that all may participate.
  • Share your best practices with NACADA and your college by writing a blog article, presenting at conference or meeting, or posting it to social media.

Yvonne Halden
Chair, NACADA Webinar Advisory Board (2013-2015)
University of Manitoba
[email protected]

Teri Farr
Incoming Chair, NACADA Professional Development Committee (2015-2017)
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
[email protected]

Cynthia Pascal
NACADA Webinar Advisory Board member
Northern Virginia Community College
[email protected]


Cox, J., Lively, K., Reddick, K., Preece, J., & Wong, C. (2015, March). Advising strategies for students on academic probation. NACADA Webinar Series #61. NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. Manhattan, KS.

Duberstein, A. (2012, June). Use of NACADA webinars for professional development. Academic Advising Today, 35(2). Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Use-of-NACADA-Webinars-for-Professional-Development.aspx

Musser, T. (n.d.). AdvisorConnect Web Event Host Guide. Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Events-Programs/Events/Web-Events/Facilitator-Tips/Web-Event-Host-Guide.aspx

Spight, D., Doyle, H., Steward, M.D., Griffin, P., Brown, N., & Elliott, J. (2014, November). Integrating academic and career advising. NACADA Webinar Series #57. NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. Manhattan, KS.


2015-2017 NACADA Emerging Leaders Class Announced

Since 2007, the NACADA Emerging Leaders Program has encouraged members from diverse backgrounds to get involved in leadership opportunities within the organization.  Each year, 10 Emerging Leaders and 10 Mentors are selected for the two-year program in which the Leaders and Mentors work closely to connect the Leaders to the areas of the association they are interested in and develop a plan for continued involvement and growth in the association. Leaders selected receive a $1,500 stipend to assist them with travel to NACADA conferences, institutes, and seminars.

With the program now entering its ninth year, many members of the Emerging Leaders classes have served in elected and appointed positions as chairs of NACADA regions, commissions, interest groups, committees, advisory boards, and task forces.  Emerging Leaders initiated the Career Advising Interest Group and the Advising at HBCUs Interest Group.  A number of Emerging Leaders have presented (some with their Mentors) at regional, annual, and international conferences, and many have served on region, C/IG or conference steering committees. Emerging Leaders have served as chairs or co-chairs of regional conferences, and one chaired our 2010 Annual Conference in Orlando.  Emerging Leaders have written for the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources and NACADA books, taken part in Webinar broadcast presentations, and been awarded NACADA Research Grants. Ten Emerging Leaders have moved on to become Mentors in the program, and this October, Erin Justyna will become the first Emerging Leader to take a seat on the NACADA Council as the Commission and Interest Group Division Representative!  Several have shared their stories in Academic Advising Today articles, which may be found linked from the Program homepage.  To learn more about the contributions of our ELP Classes, visit the Accomplishments webpage.

The 2013-2015 Emerging Leaders and Mentors (pictured below), who began work at the 2013 Annual Conference in Salt Lake City, have been diligently pursuing their goals over the past two years and look forward to receiving their Certificates of Completion at this year's conference in Las Vegas, where they will be recognized at the Awards Ceremony. 

2013-2015 ELP ClassEmerging Leaders Program Advisory Board Chair Cecilia Olivares (University of Memphis), herself an “Emerged” Leader, is pleased to announce the 2015-2017 NACADA Emerging Leaders and Mentors.  

Emerging Leaders

Brandan Lowden (Pikes Peak Community College)
Breanne Flores-Conteras (Texas A&M University-Kingsville)
Fai Howard (Edinboro University)
Jared Burton (University of Arizona)
Jonelle Golding (Michigan State University)
Joshua Adams (Texas Woman’s University)
Kyle Ross (Eastern Washington University)
Marcus Peanort (Montgomery College)
Meagan Hagerty (University of Minnesota)
Stephanie Kraft-Terry (University of Hawaii at Manoa) 


Erin Justyna (Texas Tech University)
Hilleary Himes (Pennsylvania State University
Kathy Earwood (Kennesaw State University) 
Kimberly Smith (Virginia Tech) 
Laura Mooney (Florida Atlantic University
Melinda Anderson (Virginia Commonwealth University
Nathan Vickers (University of Texas at Austin)
Sandy Waters (Old Dominion University
Teri Farr (University of Illinois)
Yvonne Halden (University of Manitoba)

New Emerging Leaders and Mentors will meet at the Annual Conference in Las Vegas to create partnerships and begin development, conversation, and group-building. Partners will develop goals pertaining to leadership in NACADA over the next six months and continue their work together over the two-year program.

Visit the Emerging Leaders Program website for more information.



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