posted on August 24, 2021 01:14
Joe Latulippe, NACADA Administrators Institute Scholarship recipient
I became a member of NACADA a few years ago; right after I was appointed as the Academic Advising Coordinator for the undergraduate advising program at my institution. As with many advising administrative positions at small private institutions, this role is one of responsibility but not authority. My ascent into this position was based on my perceived ability to “do a good job” and had nothing to do with my background in advising. Sure, I had been a faculty advisor for over a decade, but my lack of experience in advising administration wasn’t enough to deter my appointment. I gladly took on the role as a way for me to grow professionally in a new area and to make positive contributions to my institution: its students, faculty, and staff.
As a new advising administrator, I had lots to learn and quickly joined NACADA to soak in as much advising history, information, practice, and experience as I could. One of my responsibilities was to assess our advising program, and so I naturally attended the NACADA Assessment Institute in 2019 to find out what this meant. It rapidly became evident that I had much to learn in order to bring my advising program in line with current practices and theories. My experience at the Assessment Institute was eye opening and became a launching point for rethinking how academic advising at my institution was organized and delivered. I returned to the Assessment Institute in 2020 having successfully argued the merits of the institute to my administration who committed scarce resources (money) to sending a team of four to the institute. Having attended two NACADA Assessment Institutes, I was thrilled and excited to participate in the 2021 Virtual Administrators’ Institute, knowing it would be an enriching professional development opportunity.
What struck me right away about the NACADA Virtual Administrators’ Institute is that it was relevant for new and seasoned advising administrators, for those in small programs with limited oversight and those in charge of large programs, for those overseeing faculty advisors and those in charge of primary-role advisors. The institute is designed to help you regardless of your role, experience, or background. New advising administrators may have found the sessions on the four NACADA Pillars, Advising Competencies, leadership, and creating student learning outcomes to be particularly helpful. Administrators focusing on team building and management had the opportunity to engage in sessions on change management, trainings and advisor development, and developing your dream team. While I could not attend all the sessions, the variety of topics and small group breakout sessions provided plenty of engagement opportunities in the specific areas that I was seeking to develop. All participants were treated to outstanding plenaries that ranged in topics from Leading Advising Administration when Black Lives Matter to Embracing the Role of Academic Advising in Supporting Student Success.
One of my favorite parts of the institute was the planned small group and individual working sessions. During these sessions, my colleague Stephanie and I developed a framework for building a comprehensive advisor training program at our institution, set forth a plan for delivering the training content, and prepared a timeline for creating several modules. We particularly benefitted from having one-on-one conversations with institute faculty while developing our action plan. With a breadth of experiences in just about any advising model, the institute faculty were at the ready to brainstorm, assess, and discuss various advising scenarios with participants. This made the experience enriching and gave it a personalized touch.
The pandemic has brought on an onslaught of virtual meetings and online conferences, and I have mixed feelings about the virtual experience as a whole. While virtual events are great at providing equitable access to individuals for whom attending an in-person conference is not possible, they cannot replace the experience one can have with an in-person event. For example, I have come to appreciate many of the small opportunities surrounding in-person events such as the ability to chat with others sitting around me, brainstorm ideas between sessions, and simply getting up and walking around the venue. When it came to the Virtual Administrators’ Institute, I was confident that the content would be great, but would this be just another virtual conference where time to reflect is limited and where no social interactions take place? Not at all! What I found was deliberate planning of optional engagement opportunities with sessions enabling participants to work creatively on action plans meaningful to them. This allowed participants to come away having had the opportunity to learn from an engaged community, create an action plan, and formulate a way to deliver that plan after the institute. The Morning Coffee, Lunch Break Conversation, and After-Hours Relaxation with Colleagues provided similar elements to the social opportunities one typically finds in an in-person event. The sessions were well timed and allowed for ample breaks in between.
My experience at the Virtual Administrators’ Institute was not only greatly positive, but I could also sense there was something special, a secret ingredient, to the program. What was it about this institute that made participants engage in a virtual dance party as we congregated online in the presession waiting room listening to the melodic techno beats playing in the background? Why did so many of us choose to participate in the optional social sessions? For me that secret ingredient was generosity. Leaning on the reputability, leadership, and trust that the NACADA community has built over the years, everyone involved was willing to share their stories, be vulnerable, add to the discussion, raise important questions, and all were willing to do it in an inclusive way. It made a huge difference over other larger, impersonal conferences that you passively listen to rather than engage with. I got just as much from participant comments as I did from the faculty and session facilitators. I wanted to engage during the optional sessions because I would get to know other advising administrators, form new relationships, and learn important insights on best practices in advising.
As the Virtual Administrator’s Institute came to a close, I recall looking around at my converted office/bedroom/craft room reflecting on the three days of the institute and being joyfully tired. The kind of tired one feels after putting in a hard day’s work and being able to step back and enjoy the fruits of those labors. The kind of tired that comes with the self-satisfaction of having made the best effort you’re capable of and one that reflects a total commitment to the success of the task at hand. I had gone all in with the institute, committing the time, space, and energy over three full virtual days and it paid off. While my colleague Stephanie and I used the group and individual working time to develop our action plan, the content of the plenary and concurrent sessions was relevant and gave the institute a sense of balance. As the last session commenced, I was feeling proud of our accomplishments and was excited to hear of similar stories from other participants during the session titled Dazzle Us. As this session rolled on, I was awed by what my fellow institute colleagues were able to achieve during the institute. The session summed up for me why NACADA’s Administrators’ Institute should be on every advising administrator’s “must attend” list. Participants came to the institute with open minds, expanded their knowledge base, engaged in vibrant conversations, and left with concrete action plans around their individual goals and objectives.
Director of Academic Advising
Cite this article using APA style as: Latulippe, J. (2021, September). The virtual administrators’ institute: A dazzling experience. Academic Advising Today, 44(3). [insert url here]