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J.D. Beatty, NACADA Emeritus Charter Member

JD Beatty.jpg J.D. retired from formal academic advising and administrative advising responsibilities at Iowa State University in September 2000, after 30+ years of experience. He began as an academic adviser in the Department of English, moved to college-level advising and leading the liberal arts college Open Option Advising Center, and then added chairing the University Academic Advising Committee and leading efforts to make academic advising the keystone experience of the university’s recruitment and orientation programming. In addition, he was a member of the planning team that created the ISU  Learning Communities Program, a program whose instructors initially were composed of a number of academic advisers. During his tenure, the university evolved from mandatory admission into a major to the possibility of “open option” admission, and the job title of professional adviser was created to complement and strengthen the traditional faculty advising model.

Photos are now digitized, phone calls wireless, letters replaced by electronic email, and casual conversation a tweet. Academic advisors leverage every technology to enhance student satisfaction and achievement but, most fundamentally, academic advisors are humans assisting other humans in a myriad of ways—what is more important than that? 

From Louisville until nearly the end of the 20th century, I was the volunteer photographer for NACADA, the Association’s “paparazzi” if you will, photographing speakers, session presenters, conference venues, and award winners. Most of all, I was the guy who tried to catch “candid shots” of the membership being human. I shot thousands of pictures at nationals—many are in the Association’s archives and under tight security to protect the guilty! The amazing feature, as I think back about my 21 nationals, is that the prints I developed during my 15 or so paparazzi years, both as the unofficial and official photographer, provide a record of members having fun, being confident and committed to the Association, modeling collaboration and community—even in spite of a few sibling squabbles.

My NACADA experience began in Omaha in 1979, a trip that was like going home (though Wolfe asserts that is impossible), because I grew up on a farm about 30 miles from the conference hotel. In many respects, that conference felt like my home town—cozy, yet with an edge issue (insufficient diversity in the leadership positions). There was homogeneity of purpose—people committed to excellence in academic advising, because it was the right thing to do; it could make a difference in students’ lives. It was a group, as I remember, that acknowledged the skeptics who populated their campuses. It had aspects of a support program, and some sessions and break conversations revealed an underlying theme: “My name is Pilgrim, and I’m an academic advisor,” and in response, “Welcome, Pilgrim.” We were on this quest together, but didn’t fully understand what it was that we were in to, maybe a bit like Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author.

From that first “hometown reunion,” NACADA gave me the opportunity to explore an evolving vision of what academic advising was about and how it could be delivered, an opportunity to travel from coast to coast and to renew friendships with fellow pilgrims.

Ashville Conference2.jpgOn the east coast there was Asheville, and a national office wasn’t even a glimmer in someone’s eye. Imagine our Manhattan office as an outgrowth of the Biltmore House. Besides the sessions and workshops and networking, there was a beach in Miami, and I met Mickey in Orlando. On the west coast, few “knew the way to San Jose”; only 310 attended. It was a turning point. NACADA’s goals were never in question, but new strategies were needed to make national conferences special. Four years later in Seattle, we hit 800 and still had time to watch guys throw salmon at the market; by Anaheim we were almost living in Cinderella’s castle with more than 1000. Wow! This was big stuff for an Iowa boy.

We also journeyed to the heartland, places like Chicago (with deep-dish pizza), Louisville (Maker’s Mark chocolate), and Houston (the Galleria in Texas with an ice rink, who would have thought?) to search for roots. The Association continued to evolve, the breadth of research and practitioner advice melded, the impact of excellent academic advising continually gained credibility and thus administrative support. What is more American than a strategy to generate a long-term positive bottom line? The Association took on the mocking criticism that it was attempting to create a fantasy profession and has continued to succeed in turning skeptics into believers.

Ah, these were heady times! We continued to work toward defining excellent academic advising: we knew what it was when we saw it, to paraphrase a justice of the Supreme Court dealing with another issue, but it was tough to parse the interdependent elements of academic advising and create a paradigm in order to develop a canon of research on effectiveness in practice. Fortunately members did not give up and today the fruits of those efforts are continuing to ripen.

The Association has developed a strategic plan for a robust future, a plan that led to major reorganization assisted by an energetic national office with outstanding leaders, a leadership development program, and an academic credential program.

As I look at the past decade from the outside, one thought comes to mind: we need to create an interest group for elder care of emeriti members, assuming those of us in need could remember to attend!

As I reminisce and look at some photos, I am struck by the youth, fitness and trim physiques—the “beautiful people” who have given so much to NACADA. They are a great generation, and I am a better person for having had the privilege to share time with them! The current and future leadership are and will be equally gifted, so the best continues to evolve.

That is my story and I’m sticking to it.

J.D. Beatty
[email protected]

Cite this article using APA style as: Beatty, J.D. (2009, September). Snapshots from 21 national conferences: My world before digital cameras. Academic Advising Today, 32(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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