Akens, C., Wright-Mair, R., & Stevenson, J. M. (2019). College students and their environments: understanding the role student affairs educators play in shaping campus environments. Springfield, IL, USA: Charles C Thomas Publisher, Ltd.
Review by Dane Zdunowski, M.Ed., Temple University, firstname.lastname@example.org
As academic advising professionals, a big part of what we need to know are campus resources to best support and refer students based on different situations. On any campus, student affairs has a major role to play in the student support network. I chose to review the book College students and their environments: understanding the role student affairs educators play in shaping campus environments for this very reason. Also, when looking at the NACADA core competencies, within the informational competency, advisors are tasked with knowing, “Campus and community resources that support student success” (NACADA, 2017a). Besides, student affairs will always hold a place in my heart since my pathway to academic advising and a career in higher education started way back in my undergraduate student days when I was nominated and became an orientation leader. My passion for higher education only grew from there.
This book is a great overview of student affairs, its history, current application of theory to practice, and future directions of the field. I would recommend this book for all higher education practitioners, especially to new professionals, for its comprehensive coverage of student affairs. This is demonstrated in the range of chapter topics- from the history, philosophy, and values of the student affairs profession to supporting and understanding the needs of various diverse student populations (Akens et al., 2019). Furthermore, the book’s chapters have insights into student affairs provided by practitioners in the field, which I found to be very helpful and meaningful. Each chapter also concludes with reflection questions prompting the reader to critically think about the chapter topic, and helpful references utilized for that specific topic and chapter.
The topic of supporting diverse student populations is where the first of many connections to the NACADA core values, specifically the core value of inclusivity. According to this core value, “Academic advisors respect, engage, and value a supportive culture for diverse populations. Advisors strive to create and support environments that consider the needs and perspectives of students, institutions, and colleagues through openness, acceptance, and equity” (NACADA, 2017b). Creating inclusive environments is at the core of what student affairs professionals do on a daily basis. The book has a whole chapter on creating inclusive environments in the classroom. An example given to creating inclusiveness is for faculty to involve students as a co-constructors of learning (Akens et al., 2019). This ties into the learning-centered approach in advising (also known as advising as teaching) where the advisor helps facilitate learning, much like a teacher in any given course.
“With academic affairs and student affairs working in true partnership, the alignment of university goals across campus is attainable” (Akens et al., P. 28). Academic advisors know the importance of creating partnerships with campus offices and resources for the betterment of supporting their students. I have always been a proponent of the ideal that it takes a village. Not only knowing the campus resources, but being able to speak to their benefits for students only adds to the professionalism and respect between the student and their advisor (NACADA, 2017b).
By far my favorite part of the book was the chapter on using case studies to apply theory to practice. The book introduces decision-making framework (DMF), a best practice approach for case study analysis. “The four phases of the DMF include (a) identifying the problem, (b) conducting a scan of possible solutions, (c) implementation, and (d) assessment of agreed-upon decisions/solutions” (Akens et al., P. 199). Then, ten case studies are presented to the reader. Each case study is unique in topic, and places the reader in the perspective of a student affairs practitioner. At the conclusion of each case study are prompting questions for the reader asking how they would handle situations and circumstances detailed in the case study. This can certainly be translated into academic advising since I believe it's beneficial for any advising group to learn best practices through a case study analysis approach. Self-reflection and group reflection of how you approach situations can be a powerful tool.
I enjoyed this book very much and will make sure it is a mainstay in my office book collection for professional development purposes. If it is not yet, this book should be a required textbook in any higher education program and introduction to student affairs course. It truly highlights the important role student affairs practitioners play in any college campus, and I am further motivated to collaborate with colleagues on my campus after reading the book.
- Akens, C., Wright-Mair, R., & Stevenson, J. M. (2019). College students and their environments: understanding the role student affairs educators play in shaping campus environments. Springfield, IL, USA: Charles C Thomas Publisher, Ltd.
- NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017a). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx
- NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017b). NACADA core values of academic advising. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreValues.aspx