Donna E. Ekal, The University of Texas at El Paso
As a big believer in planning ahead, I love crossing things off lists, inserting those little check boxes in a document, and creating tables or charts of programs and policies. But – and this is an important but – my delight in planning and organizing must be balanced by being open to what life puts in my path.
While I was planning and organizing my academic career, life unexpectedly tossed academic advising in my path, and I haven’t looked back since. As the Program Coordinator of the Medical Professions Institute at the University of Texas at El Paso, academic advising was certainly a piece of my duties. It was a piece that I did well, enjoyed, and through which we were able to create some successes in our program. In fact, due in large part to improved advising methods, we were able to double the number of UTEP students who were accepted to post graduate medical professions (medical, dental, and vet) schools in just one year.
Our improved advising program consisted of:
- providing complete, consistent information spread across the conceptual, informational, and relational frameworks;
- creating hands on programming for career enhancing skills such as writing a personal statement and interviewing; and
- working with students to enhance their out of classroom experiences through relevant work, volunteering, shadowing, and mentoring with professionals in their fields of interest.
We celebrated student successes, worked through difficult times, and became a strong and focused group with a sense of purpose. The Medical Professions Institute office became the champion for these students, and they reveled in the feeling of having an advocate on campus who was taking care of and telling people about them.
UTEP’s leaders are always looking for ways to improve the undergraduate experience. Our vision of access and excellence is more than just a link on our Web page; it is absolutely a guide for constant tinkering. They noticed our success and gave me the chance to co-chair an Advising Task Force to examine the state of academic advising on campus and identify areas where we could improve. My year co-chairing the Advising Task Force was tremendous. I was able to meet and work with a wide variety of people on campus – faculty, staff, students, and administrators – who all had stories to tell about advising. We organized conferences, held Task Force meetings, divided into subcommittees, sent out tons of e-mails, met with student focus groups, wrote reports, held a final retreat, and came up with a product that included the voices of over 300 stakeholders across campus. That product, our Advising Task Force final report, became the framework of our Action Plan to revitalize academic advising on our campus.
Now, when I was first asked to co-chair this Task Force, I was certainly delighted to be acknowledged for the work at the Medical Professions Institute, but a little worried that I did not know enough about the field of academic advising to lead this effort. So, I did what we all do when we need to see what’s out there – I turned to Google. It didn’t take long for Google to lead me to NACADA, and I felt like I had found the Mother Lode. My first action was to sign up for the appropriately timed NACADA 2007 Summer Institute held in Salt Lake City. Charlie Nutt was my small group facilitator and the rest, as they say, is history.
NACADA opened my eyes to the network of academic advising resources available and provided me the opportunity to develop an Action Plan (complete with a chart and check off boxes) for leading the Advising Task Force. It was a tremendous preparation for the year and served us well.
During that working year, I was able to attend the NACADA Administrators and Assessment Institutes in San Diego. Again, these were experiences where I learned a great deal about academic advising, extended my resource base, and came home with a plethora of ideas to incorporate into our academic advising structure. Toward the end of our year with the Advising Task Force, I was invited to accept a new position within the university as Associate Provost of Undergraduate Studies. I know that there were several factors that came together at the right time for this opportunity to happen; but I also know that academic advising was one of them.
I am fortunate to work at a university that values academic advising as a key component of student success and has put energy and resources into creating an advising environment that is positive, coordinated, and all about the student. I am also fortunate to have found NACADA, which has given me opportunities to learn about academic advising in a way that has translated into a better advising environment for our students as well as an incredibly satisfying component of my career for which I can plan, make lists, and coordinate to my heart’s content.
Donna E. Ekal
Associate Provost for Undergraduate Studies
The University of Texas at El Paso
Cite this article using APA style as: Ekal, D. (2008, December). Embracing life's unexpected journeys. Academic Advising Today, 31
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