Erin Justyna, Advisor Training & Development Commission Member
It is an exciting time for the field of advising. As a result of the diligent work of NACADA staff and volunteers, the last 37 years have seen advising move from an afterthought to a recognized, crucial contributor to student success. Progress has always been steady, but in recent years, the momentum of the association and its work has been markedly palpable. Today, the efforts to professionalize advising can be seen rippling across the association—in the Core Values Review Committee’s work to update the core values that guide advising practice; the Professional Development Committee’s work to develop an Academic Advising Core Competencies Model; the establishment of the NACADA Center for Research and the hiring of its inaugural director, Wendy Troxel; and the multitude of efforts designed to improve our effectiveness as an international organization. NACADA members have a unique opportunity to be a part of the incredible work being done by and through the association.
In the June 2016 edition of Academic Advising Today, NACADA Executive Director, Charlie Nutt, and NACADA President, David Spight, challenged members of NACADA to consider their role in and their contributions to the profession of advising. Nutt (2016) and Spight (2016) urged the membership to become students of and change agents for the association and the field of advising. Their appeal may seem like an enormous undertaking for a group of individuals who may feel inexperienced and who typically have a great deal on their plates without enough time or resources with which to accomplish it all, but with intentionality, their charge is attainable. The work that lies ahead for NACADA members comes with the challenge of an evolving profession, and NACADA members will need to work collaboratively and steadily to capitalize on the momentum that has been created.
Challenges of the Advising Profession
In a field working toward true professionalization, it is quite natural to experience growing pains. In a recent phenomenological study of academic advisors, Aiken-Wisniewski, Johnson, Larson, and Barkemeyer (2015) asked participants to describe the general term “profession” as well as the specific concept “occupation of advising” (p. 60). The data revealed four outcomes that illustrate participants’ perspectives on the academic advisor position: inconsistently defined advising practice, internal and external frameworks, responsibility dichotomy, and a perceived lack of power. As indicated above, NACADA has both anticipated and acknowledged these lived realities of advisors and continues to provide support and resources for advisors and the students whom they serve. The revised core values and the core competencies model will continue to define the advising profession and provide a solid conceptual framework within which advisors can work and will allow for more consistency in advising practice. As advising practice becomes more consistent and professionalized, the lack of cohesion in advisor responsibilities and the feelings of powerlessness should also subside.
Another perceived challenge for the professionalization of advising is the experience level of the majority of NACADA members. Many professional disciplines benefit from the expertise and permanence of their members (e.g., medical doctors, accountants), but academic advising has traditionally been a field whose members have less longevity. While this trend may be changing, partially as a result of the growth of academic programs aimed at preparing professional advisors, data from the NACADA Executive Office indicates that approximately one third of NACADA members have been advising for less than three years (NACADA, 2016). Roughly half of members have been advising for less than five years (NACADA, 2016). It is understandable that individuals new to the field of advising may not feel prepared or empowered to contribute to the body of knowledge or take on positions of leadership. Perhaps advisors believe they need more training and experience before they can do so. Advisors may reexamine this belief and consider that advisor training and professionalization occur in tandem. One of the strengths of NACADA is its ability to plug individuals in to the work of the profession as soon as they join.
One of the most powerful things advisors can do to contribute to the professionalization of advising is to deliberately develop their own identity as an advising professional. The concept of professional identity among academic advisors was previously discussed in an article titled, “Developing a Professional Identity” which appeared in the March 2014 Academic Advising Today. The article suggested advising professionals chart their professional development/career path using the analogy of a brand. In considering their brand as an advising professional and establishing a presence for that brand, advisors can be intentional about the projects and activities in which they engage (Justyna, 2014). It would be very powerful for the field if advisors consciously reflected on their professional identity and built that around the NACADA brand (as outlined in core values, core competencies, strategic goals, etc.). As each individual considers their professional identity, they can then turn their thinking toward their own strengths and goals within the profession—considering what areas of scholarship (e.g., research, writing, assessment), teaching (e.g., presentations, webinars), and service (e.g., volunteering, task force/advisory board/committee work) they can most effectively contribute to the advancement of advising as a profession.
Being a profession of advising requires a great deal of work and commitment, and every NACADA member has a role to play. There is a near limitless amount of work that needs to be done, and as Nutt (2016) and Spight (2016) pointed out, opportunities to contribute are infinite. Though the task of being a profession of advising is great, advisors should not become overwhelmed by the enormity of work to be done. There is strength in numbers, and no one individual need feel as though the contributions they choose to make must be done alone. Author Bruce Larson, speaking of the behavior of sandhill cranes, reminded readers that leadership is not a solitary endeavor:
These large birds who fly great distances across continents, have three remarkable qualities. First, they rotate leadership. No one bird stays out in front all the time. Second, they choose leaders who can handle the turbulence. And then, all during the time one bird is leading, the are honking their affirmation (as cited in Maxwell, 1993, p. x1).
NACADA is a large association of thoughtful, hardworking advising professionals. Each NACADA member should strive to be a leader in the work towards being a profession of advising—one who handles the inevitable ups and downs occurring in our roles as advising professionals in stride. However, advisors should not feel pressure to be at the front of the charge at all times. Creating and relying on a network of other advising professionals allows each advisor to take the lead when they can/where appropriate, but also allows them to move into the background and support and applaud as others take over for a while. It is a time of unprecedented progress and a time to continue the push toward the professionalization of advising, and NACADA members are equipped for the challenge given by Drs. Nutt and Spight.
Center for Active Learning and Undergraduate Engagement
Texas Tech University
Aiken-Wisniewski, S. A., Johnson, A., Larson, J., and Barkemeyer, J. (2015) A preliminary report of advisor perceptions of advising and of a profession. NACADA Journal, 35(2), 60-70.
Folsom, P., Joslin, J., & Yoder, F. (2005). From advisor training to advisor development: Creating a blueprint for first-year advisors. NACADA Clearinghouse. Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Training-Blueprint-for-New-Advisors.aspx
Justyna, E. (2014, March). Developing a professional identity. Academic Advising Today, 37(1). Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Developing-a-Professional-Identity.aspx
Maxwell, J.C. (1993). Developing the leader within you. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2016, February). NACADA Member Demographic Information [Handout]. Board meeting of The Global Community of Academic Advising (NACADA), Manhattan, KS.
Nutt, C. (2016, June). From the executive director: Are you a student of academic advising? Academic Advising Today, 39(2). Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/From-the-Executive-Director-Are-You-a-Student-of-Academic-Advising.aspx
Spight, D. (2016, June). From the president: Change perspective. Academic Advising Today, 39(2). Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/From-the-President-Change-Perspective.aspx
Cite this article using APA style as: Justyna, E. (2016, December). On being an advising professional. Academic Advising Today, 39(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]