Scott Byington, Wesley R. Habley NACADA Summer Institute scholarship recipient
I wanted to attend my first NACADA Summer Institute not because I was a new advisor. Quite the opposite—I had been a faculty advisor for more than 20 years. However, when I was tasked with a new responsibility, to oversee our college-wide advising program, I knew I would be faced with a whole new set of advising and administrative challenges. Since I had a passion for advising, I had known about NACADA and had even attended a couple of conferences, but I knew I needed more, much more, for my new role. The Summer Institute, described as an intensive, immersive advising experience by a colleague, seemed to be the answer. Then again, what did that mean?
I applied and was honored to be selected as a Wesley R. Habley scholarship recipient so that I could participate in the 2016 Summer Institute in Norfolk, Virginia. I was asked in the application to list some of my goals for my participation. I wanted to refine my knowledge of best, effective advising practices, learn more about how to administer and evaluate an advising program, and deeply examine how to bring about a culture shift at my institution to embrace advising, among other goals. Was I able to accomplish my goals? Absolutely, and I was surprised at how much more I was able to take away from the Summer Institute.
The NACADA Summer Institute turned out to be one of the most meaningful and useful professional development opportunities I have undertaken in my time in education. The agenda was ambitious, the days were busy but productive. The Summer Institute has a great blend of theory and practice, presentations and conversations, depth and breadth. The format was ideal for both the relatively new advisor to learn important, foundational elements of advising and the veteran advisor, who is learning new ways to engage students and interact with other advising professionals.
The Summer Institute was taught and facilitated by an outstanding group of advising experts and faculty. Not only did we have national leaders accomplished and experienced in advising guiding our sessions, we also had ample opportunity to interact with them. I cannot think of any other time in my career where I had the ability to bounce ideas off of the leaders in the field and get advice and guidance. I found my conversation with Karen Sullivan-Vance, one of the institute’s faculty, particularly illuminating: she gave me invaluable feedback on ways to structure and assess an advising program that is shaping what I am doing with advising at my institution right now. And while it was nice to get a question answered in the hallway between sessions, it was even better when one of the faculty or leaders would say, “Hey, let’s have lunch later and talk about this some more. I have some ideas to share with you and I’ll bring some resources which I think will help you.” Throughout the Summer Institute, there was a willingness on the part of everyone, leaders and peers alike, to share ideas, contacts, resources and expertise.
I enjoyed the significant amount of time we spent in our small group sessions where we could really process and understand the content from our topic sessions, foundation sessions and workshops. My group leaders, Kathy Stockwell and Cynthia Pascal, expertly kept us on task while allowing us to explore and wrestle with new information and ideas. Kathy and Cynthia asked key, insightful questions, like what was the advising climate like on our campus, how were we assessing advising and in what ways were we leading the advising conversations among our colleagues, that stimulated a lot of discussion. These types of questions clearly got us thinking about our roles in improving advising at our institutions. We also had the chance in our small group sessions to get to know one another, present our own institutional and advising challenges and receive productive feedback from the group. Our work group brain-stormed solutions to each other’s dilemmas, provided helpful and positive advice and became an advising family in just a week.
One of the more powerful elements of the Summer Institute was developing an advising action plan, a course of action to be implemented at our own institutions. Thoughtfully developing a plan was a terrific experience, especially when I had national experts and peers there to give me feedback and support. It is nice to go back to one’s institution after the Summer Institute and say, “this idea has been vetted by the best in the business and maybe we ought to try it.” I can honestly say without the “push” from the Summer Institute to develop an action plan and make it happen, I am not sure I would have been able to see it through. The feedback I got at the Institute (and even afterwards) from my group leaders and group members has helped my action plan, a new faculty advisor training program, become a reality at my institution this year.
The Summer Institute reinforced for me our mission as advisors—we need to be prepared to get to know our students, to advocate for them, to see that they are served and to help “mediate the dissonance between what students expect from the educational environment and what they experience in that environment,” to quote Wes Habley, the scholarship’s namesake. The Summer Institute challenged me to think about what I do well as an advisor (and now an advising administrator) and what I need to work on. It equipped me with the resources and perspective needed to bring about change at my college. I was impressed how practical and useful the Summer Institute was with a spoken and unspoken theme of the week: how will you be able to put these ideas into practice?
So . . . here is the question. Do you and your institution have a commitment to providing the best quality advising experience to your students? If so, you need to attend a Summer Institute. You may find that bringing a team from your institution will give you an even greater opportunity to take full advantage of the experience. Take part in this unique chance to focus, to create, and to broaden your advising perspectives. I’ll see you there, as I am making plans to attend again. And by all means, apply for the Wesley R. Habley Scholarship!
Please feel free to contact me if I can answer any questions for you about the Summer Institute!
Dean, Arts, Sciences and Advising
Central Carolina Community College
Habley, W. (1981). Academic advising: Critical link in student. NASPA Journal, 28(4): 45-50.
Cite this article using APA style as: Byington, S. (2017, March). Affirming, challenging, and rewarding: The NACADA summer institute. Academic Advising Today, 40(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]