Kelsie Poe, Iowa State University
Rafael R. Almanzar, Texas A&M University
NACADA identifies new academic advisors as those who have been in the profession fewer than three years (Folsom, 2015, p. 3). Unlike most professions, there is no direct blueprint toward becoming an academic advisor. Advisors come from different lived experiences, educational fields, and professional backgrounds. Advisors can enter the profession directly from college, come from unrelated professions, and have a degree in any subject area. Considering the multitude of paths coming into the field, it is essential to work with new advisors to support them through their transition into the advising field and retain them for the future of the field.
Academic advising is an instrumental piece of a student’s success in higher education, and supporting and retaining new advisors gives students the best educational experience possible, while also providing a positive learning experience for new professionals. As in any profession, starting can be exciting and scary at the same time, and it can be overwhelming for an individual to learn their new role and responsibilities. It is important for institutions and advising supervisors to train their incoming advisors to provide a smoother transition into the profession and to ensure advisors stay in the field. Below are strategies for new advisors and supervisors to support new advising professionals.
Developing a Professional Identity
According to Justyna (2014), “advisors should ask themselves who or what they want to be and do, and create an intentional plan to get there.” Developing a professional identity will not only bring satisfaction into the profession, it will improve advisor retention. To help develop a professional identity, new advisors should take time to reflect on their purpose. This reflection can take the form of an advising philosophy statement. Advising philosophies serve many purposes and can aid new advisors as they reflect on their purpose and find their niche in the profession. Once advisors have identified their niche, they should work on developing that calling and building their identity around it. For example, if an advisor is interested in supporting first generation college students, that advisor can help brand themselves by contributing to the research and developing best advising practices towards first generation college students as well as volunteering at first generation programs and connecting with others interested in first generation topics. The advisor can enhance their professional identity by conducting research, presenting at NACADA conferences, or publishing for NACADA. Developing a professional identity will not only bring personal and professional satisfaction, it will also improve retention of new advisors.
For academic advisors to be effective, it is important that they be given on-the-job training in their new positions, no matter what their background. New advisors should receive training from their units, either by their supervisor or a colleague. Advisors should also look at their institutions, particularly the human resources department, to discover if there are new staff workshops and to learn about the policies, procedures, and campus climate of the institution. If advisors are in an institution that has an advising organization, they should check with that organization to see if they offer new advisor orientation programs. Other campus organizations can be another resource in the training of new advisors, either in addition to existing programs or to supplement if no formal training program exists. These training programs should always be focused on the professional identity of the advisor and helping move forward the mission of the advising philosophy. For instance, attending workshops from the student counseling center or disability services to learn about the resources offered to students could support an advisor’s goal of being knowledgeable about health issues on campus. These workshops and trainings can give new advisors a chance to meet others on campus, as well as learn more about the institution and climate.
Utilizing NACADA Core Competencies
New advisors should have more than just information training on institutional policies and procedures as a part of their training and development. To be well rounded and fully developed advisors, supervisors should support development plans that mirror the NACADA core competencies (NACADA, 2017). Core competencies focus on conceptual, informational, and relational components. New advisors should be guided by experienced advisors to determine what areas of the core competencies they need to develop. For example, advisors starting in their first career may have more questions relating to conceptual ideas behind advising and how to start conversations with students, whereas someone coming from a student affairs background into advising might know how to have the conversation but need more information about policies and procedures. Supervisors should be tasked with helping new advisors identify areas where they are lacking or want to build more skills and connect them with the appropriate opportunities. Core competencies should be reviewed on a continuous basis, with new advisors self-reflecting to find pieces where they need more information or want to grow their brand and supervisors assisting in filling holes a new advisor might not notice.
Networking & Professional Development
As advisors enter the field, finding connections outside of the immediate workspace through professional development lends to learning and growth in the position. Many advisors will access professional development through organizations like NACADA that support advisor development. These organizations offer a breadth of knowledge and connections. Attending conferences can offer new ideas and forms of training, and supervisors should be supportive of these opportunities if they fit with a new advisor’s professional identity goals and needed competencies. At times, there may be financial or logistical barriers to a new advisor being involved in a large-scale professional organization or conference. If funding is a challenge, new advisors can look into funding opportunities, such as the scholarships offered by NACADA. Additionally, advisors can attend local conferences in their state for professional development which may be more cost effective than national conferences. Advisors should investigate if there are funding opportunities from their department or at the college and university level. Many professional development opportunities can be found online through webinars or journals, including options for on-campus professional development (Buckley, 2016). Professional development should always be focused on the identity an advisor is trying to make, giving a better sense of direction and offering more resources to targeted professional development opportunities. It is beneficial for supervisors to help new advisors choose the best professional development for them, given their circumstances, to guide them along the best path.
New advisors may benefit from mentoring programs as a form of professional development. Mentoring can offer new advisors a space as mentees to reflect on their experiences and process how their career is moving forward (Knippelmeyer & Torraco, 2007). Mentoring can fill in voids for core competencies that new advisors may be missing. For example, a mentor may have more experience in how to create successful advising interactions because they have fine-tuned their process for years. A new advisor can use that information for when they feel unsure of their response to a specific situation and lean on the experience of a mentor to help distinguish the best course of action. Mentoring can also lead to partnerships in professional development or positions in the future. An advisor looking to become an expert in an area of advising may shadow someone who already has a wealth of knowledge around that topic. Pairs may submit proposals for conferences, writing materials, or review job applications to use the knowledge of the mentor and develop the mentee. Getting to know another advisor, especially one who may have similar interests or goals, can benefit both mentors and mentees.
Mentoring opportunities are available through different professional organizations. NACADA’s Emerging Leaders Program is an example, as well as ACPA’s GROW program. These programs help advisors network with peers outside of their institution to gain more insight into best practices, advising approaches, and special interests. These programs are also helpful if there are few advisors on an individual’s campus that may be able to serve as mentors. Many NACADA regions also provide mentorship opportunities, as well as programs through departments and institutions at individual schools. If new advisors do not participate in a formal mentorship program such as those outlined above, there are many informal mentorship opportunities available. Options such as writing groups, Twitter chats, LinkedIn groups, or book clubs can connect new advisors with others who may have similar goals and interests. These opportunities are often free or low cost and fit into a busy schedule. They are more accommodating for many and should not be discounted for the lack of face-to-face relationships or codified structure.
Advising administrators and supervisors will hopefully take these ideas and implement them for new advisors. By creating comprehensive training programs, encouraging staff to participate in professional development programs, and guiding new advisors toward a cohesive professional identity, supervisors can ensure that new advisors will be successful in their career and feel more comfortable in the field. As these methods become more common in institutions and departments across the advising field, new professionals should begin to feel more comfortable, more supported, and more able to contribute to the knowledge and skills that students need from their academic advisor.
Academic Advisor II
Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication
Iowa State University
Rafael R. Almanzar
Senior Academic Advisor I
Biochemistry & Biophysics
Texas A&M University
Buckley, J. S. (2016, March). Making professional development accessible and impactful for new academic advisors. Academic Advising Today, 39(1). Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Making-Professional-Development-Accessible-and-Impactful-for-New-Academic-Advisors.aspx
Folsom, P. (2015). Mastering the art of advising: Getting started. In P. Folsom, F. L. Yoder, & J. Joslin (Eds.), The new advisor guidebook: Mastering the art of academic advising (pp. 3–18). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Justyna, E. (2014, March). Developing a professional identity. Academic Advising Today, 37(1). Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Developing-a-Professional-Identity.aspx
Knippelmeyer, S., & Torraco, R. (2007). Mentoring as a developmental tool for higher education. Paper presented at the Academy of Human Resource Development International Research Conference, Indianapolis, IN.
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCo mpetencies.aspx
Cite this article using APA style as: Poe, K., & Almanzar, R.R. (2019, June). Supporting and retaining new academic advisors. Academic Advising Today, 42(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]