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Debbie Marlow, 2007 NACADA Summer Institute Scholarship Recipient

DebbieMarlowe,jpgAs I prepared to attend the 2007 NACADA Summer Institute in Salt Lake City, I wondered how the Institute would differ from NACADA Annual and Regional Conferences. Institute faculty asked each participant to come to Salt Lake City with their institution’s mission statement and an advising problem to consider, so I suspected participation in the Institute would involve a more focused intent than conferences, where we pick and choose from a wide variety of session topics. My assumption was correct. The Institute format, which combined presentations, workshops, small groups, and luncheons, provided a level of in-depth discussion not easily achieved in conferences and not readily available to many advisors on their home campuses. The Institute kept us focused on a few key themes, defined by faculty, and a handful of problems, defined by the members of each Small Group. The primary value of the Institute for me was the rich, complex dialogues that emerged from those themes and problems.

The faculty set and reinforced the Institute’s framework. NACADA 2007 President Susan Campbell outlined the central themes in her opening address. Daily, faculty-delivered General Session lectures kept bringing us back to emphasized key themes that NACADA identifies as guiding principles for academic advising. Good academic advising helps students question and arrive at some understanding of their goals and how they want to live. Advisors encourage students to connect what they learn in the classroom with their beliefs and goals. We also connect students to campus resources. Institute faculty continually reminded us of our role in helping students make those kinds of connections.

Each participant was assigned to a Small Group that met every day. Because our groups were composed of participants from a variety of institutions, diverse perspectives emerged in our discussions. In our groups, each participant set to the task of defining an advising problem on their campus and forming an Action Plan they would take back to their campus to set into motion. Throughout the small group sessions, Jayne Drake, the faculty leader for my group, kept us on task by asking us to think about our institutions’ mission statements and where our institutions fit with what we heard from our institutions’ missions. Jayne asked us every day to consider how a theme from that morning’s opening lecture resonated for us in our work with students. Small Group discussions gave us the opportunity to find out how other campuses define their challenges and to find out what works on other campuses, as well as what does not work. While NACADA conferences enable advisors to identify some of those issues and to hear about certain workable solutions, the Institute’s group discussions provided a unique opportunity to find out what has not worked for different types of institutions – and why.

General Session presentations reminded us of the principles of good advising, group discussions provided us with the forum for a rich, multi-institutional dialogue on particular advising problems, and faculty gave us their expert advice through workshops, concurrent sessions, and individual consultations. Those experts, who have long engaged in the kinds of discussions in which we were immersed during the Institute, told us how they would handle the kinds of advising problems we were tackling. This expert advice added another layer to our multi-perspective dialogue around central advising problems. I knew that the work we did in our small groups was important when I realized that in the topical sessions and workshops, faculty reaffirmed conclusions we were coming to in our small group discussions.

Though we worked hard, I also enjoyed relaxing and fun moments during my week at the Institute. Salt Lake City is a wonder in architectural achievements, highlighted by Temple Square and the music hall where I watched the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearse one evening. The Institute colleagues with whom I shared much of my free time kept me laughing when we were not comparing notes on our jobs and advising on our campuses. I knew I was in trouble, though, when I boarded the bus bringing us back to our hotel after an evening of dinner and dancing at a lodge in the mountains. It was a long ride back with Charlie Nutt leading a sleepy chorus singing John Denver tunes!

The NACADA Summer Institute provided a unique opportunity for every advisor to learn more about their role in serving students. Those who clearly defined an advising problem on their campus and developed an Action Plan probably extracted the greatest benefit from the week, but it seemed that even the least-experienced advisors with less-defined action goals left with a roadmap for how to improve their own advising practices. Participants also gained a good sense of the principles that inform the way their institutions provide connections for their students.

Debbie Marlow
Advising Specialist
The University of Arizona
dmarlow@email.arizona.edu

Cite this article using APA style as: Marlow, D. (2008, March). NACADA summer institutes provide unique opportunities for every advisor. Academic Advising Today, 31(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2008 March 31:1

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