Susan Campbell, NACADA Past President
The Baby AND the Bath Water
For NACADA, the Summer Institute has been, and perhaps always will be, the centerpiece of the curriculum-based professional development the Association offers its members. However, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as institutional interest in academic advising began to grow seemingly exponentially, the need to support those in administrative positions became apparent. In much the same way that the first annual conference and, indeed, the Association itself were the result of a conversation between concerned individuals, so, too, the conceptual framework for the first NACADA Administrators’ Institute was the result of a conversation between advising administrators and the newly appointed Associate Director of NACADA,Charlie Nutt. During that conversation—which was, not surprisingly given NACADA’s culinary reputation, at dinner—we designed a 2 ½ day institute that focused on leadership, management, training & development, and the financial/budgetary issues that advising administrators face on a daily basis. Central to the institute was the development of an action plan; something we borrowed from the Summer Institute and an element that has become the hallmark of all NACADA institutes. So, after that dinner, we were off and running!
The inaugural Administrators’ Institute was scheduled for February of 2003 in San Antonio, Texas. We thought that if we were able to attract 100 participants we would consider the Institute a success. Four hundred participants and two back-to-back Institutes later, we knew, without a doubt, that there was a need within the Association membership for organized professional development in this area!
The participants at this first set of Institutes provided great feedback to use in planning for the future. While satisfied with the content and format of the Institute, they expressed a desire to have more in-depth materials and discussions on topics of particular interest, such as technology, faculty advising, and assessment. As a result of this feedback, the next year a 1 ½ day “seminar” was added to the Institute. Our thought was that each year, we would sponsor a shorter seminar on a salient topic. Given the increasing interest in assessment within the academy, we decided that the first “seminar” topic should be assessment.
Frankly, this is when things got really interesting! First, we enlisted the support of Peggy Maki to serve on our curriculum team. Maki is an internationally known expert on assessment and author of Assessing for Student Learning (Stylus Publications, 2004). We wanted to make sure our design was grounded and “on target.” Our initial plans to have a single presenter for the “seminar” needed revision when, two months before the seminar, the person we identified was not able to participate. In retrospect, had it not been for this change, the NACADA Guide to Assessment in Academic Advising might not have been written! The seminar team (Charlie Nutt, Vicki McGillin, Tom Grites, Rich Robbins, and I) developed and piloted the Guide during the first seminar. As with the first Administrators’ Institute, our participant registration goals were modest; like the Institute, we exceeded those goals with more than 250 registrants. The “Seminar” ran for a second time the next year, again with an enrollment of more than 250 participants. Thus, the decision was made to transform the assessment “seminar” into the Assessment Institute and link it with the Administrators’ Institute. Of course, we kept on the 1 ½ day “seminar” for more in-depth topic consideration of another salient topic too!
The Importance of the Institutes
The Administrators’ and Assessment Institutes provide opportunities for networking as well as time for reflection and action plan development. Their value is in their design as “working” institutes: places where administrators develop strategies to address key campus issues and support of student success, and places where plans are developed to reframe academic advising as integral to the teaching and learning missions of our institutions.
The designs of both Institutes are reviewed, revised, and refined based on participant feedback and emerging needs within the academy. This approach to program development is intentional and intended to ensure that the topics addressed are timely. In addition, in much the same way that we must address the individual learning needs of our students, we also must understand and be responsive to the individual growth and development of our members. As a result, the Advisory Boards for each Institute have adapted and, as appropriate, expanded curriculum to be responsive to the needs of administrators with varying levels of experience.
The “seminars” have become NACADA’s program development incubators, where ideas are shaped into programmatic initiatives, refined, and then positioned within the Association where they make the most sense. As examples, the assessment “seminar” transformed into an Institute and the “seminar” on faculty advising was repositioned and connected with the Summer Institute—simply because it made more sense to be held at a time when faculty might actually be able to attend!
NACADA at Its Best
NACADA is an association committed to advancing student learning and development. As such, it has a responsibility to identify professional development opportunities that support and enrich academic advising practice. The pathway to the emergence of both the Administrators’ and Assessment Institutes outlined above represents NACADA at its best:
- an Association responsive to identified needs as defined by “those in the field”,
- an Association that draws upon the expertise of its members/practitioners to develop exemplary programs to enhance and enrich the student experience, and
- an Association that is reflexive, adaptive, and, most importantly, agile in its ability to adjust and reframe programs and services in light of the needs of its members.
Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs
University of Southern Maine