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Michael S. Wilson and Jamaica DelMar, Metropolitan State University

Jamaica DelMar.jpgMichael Wilson.jpgThe value of recognizing and highlighting academic advising through advising awards is supported by theory. In formal interactions within or across teams and work units, rewards based on knowledge sharing behavior are effective in creating a feeling of cooperation, ownership, and commitment among employees (Allen & Smith, 2008). The need for awards is also supported by the experiences of faculty advisors who often feel generally satisfied with the advising they provide but not responsible for providing all of the kinds of academic advising that are important for students to receive (Bartol & Srivastava, 2002).

Those who recognize the value advisors bring to an institution would agree that developing a formal process for recognizing outstanding work done by advisors is important. For our institution, Metropolitan State University in Minnesota, recognizing academic advising awards has been a challenging experience with uneven processes, especially since we rely on student evaluations to select award winners. Developing such a process can be challenging when relying on student nominations, and it is important to recognize that a lack of nominations does not necessarily mean advisors are not doing good work. For those that review advising nominations, it is critical to identify the aspects of advising that are most valuable when choosing academic advisors for formal recognition.

The Idea

For many students, advisors are the closest confidants they have on campus, yet in a mid-western university with over 5000 enrolled students each assigned to an advisor, there have traditionally been fewer than 20 nominations submitted each year. The primary reasons for a lack of nominations were the awards are not well known by the student body and the nomination deadline is in August when most students have been out for summer break. At Metropolitan State University, we attempted to acknowledge and celebrate the small number of nominations received by underscoring the value of a nomination.

For selection of the academic advising awards, it was requested that previous advising award winners volunteer to serve on a selection committee. A group of four previous winners became the selection committee and were responsible for coming up with a rational method for selecting award winners. A brainstorming session ensued to predict student comments and come up with a hierarchy for the student nominations, and a rubric was developed by a committee member to assign values to student nomination themes.  The rubric was used as a pilot during the nomination process to recognize the various roles academic advisors play and to assign different weights to these roles to facilitate scoring for selecting award winners. 

The value of the approach was two-fold in selecting award winners: first to explicitly identify the academic advising skills considered most valuable and second to develop an objective process for evaluating the nominees, many of whom were close colleagues of the committee members.

In general, more points were assigned to student comments that involved life skill coaching. Based on anticipated student comments, the following five categories were used to capture the themes of student nominations and evaluate them as evidence of higher order life skill coaching:

  1. Course planning: At the basic level, student evaluations were expected to describe help in course planning. Students often cite their academic advisor as a key to helping them efficiently complete their degree program. The pilot recognized this work as basic to the profession.
  2. Career trait-matching: A more developed set of student comments refers to academic advisors that played a role of helping a student assess their readiness for a career. The assessment process is a part of a trait-matching role that academic advisors often play to help students understand if they are a good fit for their chosen path. Trait-matching was also considered basic.
  3. Coaching: A higher set of student comments included the role of the academic advisor as a coach. Students may cite the role an advisor played in challenging their assumptions or helping them think more critically of their future plans. Since coaching includes taking a personal interest, this theme was considered proficient.
  4. Sorting through chaos: An even higher level of academic advising may revolve around student comments that describe how an academic advisor helped sort through chaos. There are a number of challenges including personal, financial, or academic that can present significant obstacles to completing an academic program. A student nomination that included references to academic advisors helping them overcome these obstacles was representative of academic advising at a high level. Chaos sorting was considered a distinguished level of engagement
  5. Supporting self-actualization: Finally, students who discussed becoming self-actualized through their advising relationship were considered to be the highest form of academic advising. These comments reflect a description of academic advising playing a role resulting in the student feeling fulfilled by their education experience. These activities were considered to represent a higher level of distinguished performance.

Theme of student nomination


Course planning


Career trait matching




Chaos sorting





The pilot tool was used explicitly by a member of the committee for purposes of selecting one instructor and one professional academic advisor for an award. However, the other three committee members responsible for selecting award winners agreed on the same two winners. The discussion that followed confirmed the strength of the rubric because student nominations matched the themes of the advising rubric.

Theoretical Foundation

The theoretical foundation for the rubric is based on the GROW concept of coaching (Mind Tools, 2018).  The model was the work of business coaches and uses the same principles as planning a journey. First, you decide where you are going (the goal), consider your current situation (current reality), and explore various routes (options), before committing to the journey (the will).

The GROW model assumes the coach (advisor) is not an expert, but more of a facilitator who assists a student in selecting the best options without providing concrete direction. By serving as a coach or mentor, students are more empowered then they would be if conclusions were thrust upon them.

Key steps along the way include the following:

  1. Establishing the goal through degree planning. Identify the goal a student wants to achieve by ensuring that it is a SMART goal: One that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound.
  2. Examine the current reality. The key to this step is to recognize each student has a different starting point. Asking probing questions (e.g. “What is happening now [what, who, when, and how often]?”) can help to identify the current reality. This is important in trait matching. Students need to recognize where they are in their lives before they can know where they are going.
  3. After recognizing the current reality, it is time to explore possible options. This is done through brainstorming as many good options as possible, discussing these, and identifying the best ones. A good question at this stage could be, “What are the advantages and disadvantages of each option?” This is a form of coaching, and taking the time to encourage students to understand all options is a result of advising as a teaching and learning process.
  4. The final step is to motivate students to achieving their goal. The goal is to help students establish their will and boost motivation. Ask follow up questions like, “So, what will you do now and when?” Setting key dates is important. This results in a student (hopefully) feeling self-actualized. Once a goal is achieved, a student can feel fulfilled and motivated to take on further challenges.

The two most important skills for coaching using this approach is to ask good questions and listen effectively. Again, students are in the driver’s seat. Advisors simply hold the road map for them. Using the GROW model, academic advisors create a transformational experience which can have a significant impact on a student’s subsequent experiences, going above and beyond course planning and potentially leading to self-actualization of the student.

These principles are consistent with the preamble section of NACADA’s (2006) Concept of Academic Advising:

Through academic advising, students learn to become members of their higher education community, to think critically about their roles and responsibilities as students, and to prepare to be educated citizens of a democratic society and a global community. Academic advising engages students beyond their own world views, while acknowledging their individual characteristics, values, and motivations as they enter, move through, and exit the institution.

Student nominations for advising awards often reflect significant work on the part of academic advisors. Advisors that go beyond course planning and use coaching to help the student sort through the chaos in their lives and become self-actualized are worthy of recognition. Having a framework to evaluate student nominations can lead to a more objective evaluation rooted in advising theory. As advisors and administrators, we should celebrate the work performed by academic advisors who receive nominations and of those we select as winners of prestigious advising awards.

Michael S. Wilson
Associate Professor of Accounting
Metropolitan State University
[email protected]

Jamaica DelMar
Academic Advisor
College of Management
Metropolitan State University
[email protected]


Allen, J. M., & Smith, C. L. (2008). Importance of, responsibility for, and satisfaction with academic advising: A faculty perspective. Journal of College Student development 49(5), 397–411. Retrieved from https://learn.nsu.edu/iea/iea/image/AcademicAdvising_FacultyPerspective.pdf

Bartol, K. M., & Srivastava, A. (2002). Encouraging knowledge sharing: The role of organizational reward systems. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 9(1), 64–76. doi: 10.1177/107179190200900105

Mind Tools. (n.d.). The grow model of coaching and mentoring. Retrieved from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_89.htm

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2006). Concept of academic advising. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/Concept.aspx

Cite this article using APA style as: Wilson, M.S., & DelMar, J. (2019, March). Towards a more objective approach for selecting academic advising awards. Academic Advising Today, 42(1). Retrieved from [insert url here] 

Posted in: 2019 March 42:1


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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.