Advisors at Central Carolina Community College
Is there a secret sauce to advising? Maybe not, but perhaps one secret to advising well is having an appreciation of the different experiences and needs of the students we serve as advisors as well as the faculty and staff who serve our students. Our college, Central Carolina Community College (CCCC), is spread across a large three-county geographical area in the piedmont area of North Carolina. Much of our service area is rural and consists of small towns and farms. The northern region of our service area, however, is impacted by the nearby urban areas and is adjacent to three national universities (the University of North Carolina, North Carolina State University, and Duke University) and the state capital, Raleigh. To the south, our main campus borders Cumberland County, home of Fort Bragg, an Army installation that employs more than 50,000 military personnel. In addition to a primary campus in each county, CCCC also maintains 20 satellite centers that provide career training. Along with these more traditional programs, we also have an in-house college credit earning program at the high schools in each county and an educational program at a local medium security prison that serves male inmates.
All of these local influences have contributed to the unique culture found on each of the three county-specific campuses and the types of educational programs chosen to best meet each county’s needs. Serving students at so many diverse locations presents several challenges. For example, creating consistent advising messages and approaches that could be applied college-wide require very careful analysis and consideration of the unique features of each campus. Connecting with colleagues located at other campuses is infrequent; individuals teaching the same course content often only cross paths at departmental meetings and the college-wide gatherings that occur at the beginning and end of each semester. We thought that a good way to tackle these challenges would be to have a diverse group of individuals from across our college attend the NACADA Summer Institute and work as a team on advising initiatives that had arisen from our strategic planning and Quality Enhancement Plan processes.
Why Advising and Why NACADA
Our Dean of Arts, Sciences & Advising, Scott Byington, embraces the importance of excellent advising. His influence is evident in that our CCCC college-wide Strategic and Quality Enhancement Plans include academic advising goals. Scott had previously attended a NACADA Summer Institute. In the spring of 2017, he also attended the three-day NACADA Assessment Institute along with six faculty members he had invited. The accompanying faculty represented different programs from the three primary campuses. The Assessment Institute experience was positive and resulted in several initiatives that were further developed after returning to CCCC.
Building on the initial successes of the Assessment Institute, Dean Byington initiated another NACADA learning experience for a new group of faculty members. The Summer Institute, being much longer, provided an even more intense opportunity to develop our advising plan. As with the earlier Assessment Institute, the goal of the group composition for the Summer Institute was to maximize the “representation from different campuses and divisions of the college” (S. Byington, personal communication, February 5, 2018). The Summer Institute participants included instructors representing Cosmetology, Early Childhood Education, Engineering Technology, and several University Transfer disciplines. All of the participants served as advisors, in addition to work as instructors, lead instructors, department chairs, or as a division dean.
Because of the size and structure of our college, many of us had never worked together before and in many cases, had never met before the Summer Institute. The opportunity to attend Summer Institute allowed us to create professional relationships across the college that may never have formed otherwise. These relationships were quickly established beginning with our initial contact at the departure area of the Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
Armed with a draft of our advising mission, advising syllabus, advising student learning outcomes, advising pilot probable strategies, and checklists for advising, we arrived at the Summer Institute ready to tackle some important questions about our advising processes.
Structure of the Institute
The organization of each day followed a similar format, including foundation sessions with all attendees, a variety of topical sessions that each participant could choose from, and a series of focused work groups. The structure of the Summer Institute provided many opportunities to learn fundamental aspects of advising, application of theory, and time to work with participants from other institutions. The informational background also facilitated our being able to quickly form a cohesive team during our small workgroup sessions. In these sessions, participants had time to listen to each other and “see advising from the perspective of different departments on campus” (J. Brown, personal communication, February 6, 2018). As colleagues, we quickly recognized that the awareness and appreciation of these perspectives would “in turn help us foster greater buy-in when we implement those changes to the college-wide advising program” (K. Meadows, personal communication, February 6, 2018).
Three days into the institute, participants began consultation sessions. Along with two groups from two other colleges, our group from CCCC worked with a very knowledgeable and charismatic consultant, Jermain Pipkins. Jermaine led us through activities, provided thoughtful feedback on each groups’ action plan, and, when we needed energizing, provided a little Michael Jackson music to rock out to. Following our consultation with Jermaine, our Central Carolina group continued our action plan work in a sheltered area overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. By this point in the institute, our efforts with the action plan no longer felt like work. The perspectives we had built on during the institute sessions had laid the groundwork for productive dialogue. Many in our group felt it was useful to learn about an idea or practice and then discuss it among the team to see how we could possibility incorporate that into our advising paradigm.
Only one member of the team had attended a Summer Institute previously but had done so as an individual. He found that “the team experience was richer, fuller, and more productive” (S. Byington, personal communication, February 5, 2018) because as a college team we could process, explore, and collaborate on ideas that were fresh on our minds. When we met as a group with one of the summer institute faculty to consult on our work project, it was great to both contribute and listen from a variety of perspectives.
Benefits of Attending
The physical location and scheduling of the Summer Institute provided an optimal setting for our work. Although this could have been accomplished by simply meeting off campus, we feel like the distance allowed us to truly disconnect from our ongoing work and life responsibilities. Without these competing responsibilities, participants were much more able to focus on defining excellent advising and building a working model for our college.
The scheduling of the institute during the summer also made attending much easier as our varied work responsibilities at Central Carolina are more flexible during this time. The location, where we were able to see, hear, and smell the Atlantic Ocean contributed to feelings of calm for all of the members of our group. During the institute, we frequently found ourselves relocating outside to work, reflect, or simply walk the beach with coworkers. “For me, in particular, being able to get away from the traditional setting in my office was a very efficient move, as we have an open-door policy at our college and I find both students and other faculty/staff in my office pretty regularly. This makes it difficult to spend extended amounts of uninterrupted time working on a particular project” (C. Boahn, personal communication, February 7, 2018).
Time spent outside of the institute’s scheduled hours also provided a platform for those relationships to bloom. In fact, two of our team members, who had never met before the departing flight, finished up the institute by going on the SlingShot ride together. As we dined as a whole group or in smaller groups and participated in activities together, we were able to gain some insight on how advising operates in other areas of the college and get out of our “advising rut” (J. Brown, personal communication, February 6, 2018).
So, why should you consider bringing a team to a future summer institute? You may have some ambitious advising projects and bringing a team would allow you the opportunity to discuss and make plans for how to accomplish your goals. Perhaps you need to create more unity and a sense of purpose across an office or division at your institution? The Summer Institute does afford you opportunities to bond, laugh, and step outside traditional roles while you accomplish your advising goals. We also found that the ability to truly work as a college team allowed us to produce something better than we have been able to individually or in a college setting.
Constance Boahn, Department Chair, Engineering and Information Technologies, email@example.com
Ginger Harris Bartholomew, Department Chair, Early Childhood, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jessica Brown, Biology Instructor, Math and Sciences, email@example.com
Teresa Butler, Cosmetology Instructor, Barbering, Cosmetology, & Esthetics, firstname.lastname@example.org
Scott Byington, Dean, Arts, Sciences, & Advising, email@example.com
Becky Finken, English Instructor, Humanities, firstname.lastname@example.org
Katherine Meadows, Chemistry Instructor/QEP Coordinator, Math and Sciences, email@example.com
Holly Schofield, Psychology Instructor, Social Sciences, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cite this article using APA style as: Boahn et al. (2018, June). Taking a group to the summer institute. Academic Advising Today, 41(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]