Steven Viveiros, 2007 NACADA Summer Institute Scholarship Recipient
It was the end of June, the weather in New England was warm, and I was headed to Burlington, Vermont to begin an incredible professional experience. The NACADA Academic Advising Summer Institute brought together over 100 advising professionals with experts in the field to work on impacting student success at campuses across the nation. As a Summer Institute Scholarship winner, I was fortunate to engage in a variety of programs, workshops and other sessions that provided me with a solid foundation in advising. All this learning afforded me the opportunity to take the next step with the advising program at my institution.
Upon arrival, we all convened for our first large group session on the Foundations of Advising; we got to work right from the start. This session provided some good insight for what to expect during the week. I felt something very different happening. This was not your average conference. This was not a drive-in workshop. This was an institute, an academic experience, and a refreshing start to the consideration of academic advising holistically.
Soon thereafter, we had an opportunity to mingle, meet, and network with colleagues from around the nation. In all honesty, I thought Vermont would draw advising professionals mainly from the northeast region. I was pleasantly surprised to meet colleagues who had traveled from as far as Texas and California. Their desire to travel such a distance demonstrated the tremendous worth of this opportunity.
To close the first day of the institute, we gathered in our Small Groups. This group came to serve as support and a pool of expert consultants. It was clear that the Small Group meetings were where the “rubber would meet the road.” We learned about each other, our backgrounds, and our initial thoughts on the development of an Action Plan. Led by NACADA charter member Tom Grites, the individuals in our Small Group started right away with defining our goals for the week and considering how we could use the various large group lectures, workshops, and topical sessions to shape those plans. There was work to be done; it would not be easy, but the comprehensive institute was intentionally organized to supplement the needs of our individual efforts.
As a new advising administrator, I was charged with looking at extending our first-year advising program to include meeting the needs of first-years in their second semester, as well as folding in transfer students in the future. Beyond my focus, I also found it advantageous to tap into the expertise of the faculty teaching at the Institute to extend my understanding of advising, given my new role. I was able to tailor the week through the selection of certain workshops and topical sessions that met particular needs for my situation. This flexibility allowed each participant to tailor their experiences as well as make the most of the large group sessions that discussed key topics in the field of advising over the next five days.
We all engaged in learning about advising structures and systems, research and development, and of course, politics and personalities as they pertain to setting an agenda for advising on our campuses. I was the apprentice and these masters bestowed their knowledge and gave me tools to create a strong program on my campus. This seemed to be the shared sentiment of all who joined me in Vermont: we were there to work, but we had some fun along the way too.
Mid-week we embarked on a voyage. We headed to the high seas of Lake Champlain for dinner, dancing, and relaxation. It was time to let loose and break away from our immersion in advising, and many of us did. I came to realize that Tom Grites was not only an exceptional advising expert, he was also a pretty good dancer! In no time, we had our entire small group showing the rest of the Institute how to bust a move. Ah, yes! A well deserved break was essential, and the night was capped off with an incredible sunset and some cookie dough ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s.
Enough fun was had, and now the final days of the Institute meant accomplishing some work. It might sound like a lot, but it was like running that marathon, mile after mile, and then in the end, realizing you had come a long way and accomplished a great deal. By the close of the week, we had the opportunity to meet individually with these advising mentors, develop some significant Action Plans for our individual programs, and discuss the realities of bringing these initiatives back to our campuses.
I left on Friday both energized and exhausted; I spent the next three hours on the road thinking about the tremendous amount I had learned, the relationships I had built, and the confidence I had developed to take significant steps towards improving the advising program on my campus. I felt as though I belonged as well. Summer Institute was a shared experience with other colleagues who care about the students we support; it was a professional development experience unlike any other.
I realize this might sound too good to be true, but it is real. Even today as I considered how I would write about my experience, I reconnected with a colleague I met at the Institute. We both were attending a meeting on transfer student issues in Texas. We made an immediate connection and realized that a bridge of support followed. We reflected on our time in Vermont, discussed our struggles and successes on our respective campuses, and planned to connect in the near future regarding the common needs of our advising programs. I credit the Institute with fostering this type of collegial network, and of course, with teaching me the vast array of themes and matters pertaining to advising in higher education. Just when I thought I knew it all, I realized I had much more to learn, and much more work to accomplish in order to create opportunities for student success. Many thanks and my dearest appreciation goes to the 2007 faculty of the NACADA Summer Institute in Vermont for all that they shared of themselves and their genuine passion for supporting students.
Academic Achievement Center
Bridgewater State College
Cite this article using APA style as: Viveiros, S. (2008, June). Preparing for action in the green mountains. Academic Advising Today, 31(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]