Patsy Krech, Wesley R. Habley NACADA Summer Institute Scholarship Recipient
“You had to be there.” No doubt we have all heard people say these words after recalling what, to them, was a hilarious story, only to have the listeners look at them quizzically. Describing a NACADA Summer Institute is like that experience. Explaining what occurred at the Summer Institute in Portsmouth, Virginia, June 22-27, 2008, is not difficult, but conveying the depth and impact of the experience is challenging!
At the suggestion of Karen Thurmond, Director of Academic Advising and Degree Planning Resources at The University of Memphis, I submitted an application for a Wesley R. Habley Summer Institute Scholarship and received one of these annually-awarded scholarships. Since I had attended several excellent NACADA annual and regional conferences, I was expecting a similar type of experience. As a part of my scholarship application, I had written a draft for a project which I wanted to complete, so I thought I was well prepared. Like many of our students, I soon realized the wealth of information available on my topic – and a number of resources yet to be studied.
The SI Small Group Institute was led by seasoned advisors who served as faculty for general sessions, roundtables, topical sessions, and workshops. Over the course of the week, participants engaged in considering theories of advising, student development, advisor development, special populations, assessment and more. In addition, each participant was assigned to a small group which met each day, with one of the institute’s faculty who served as the Small Group leaders. In my group’s first session Tom Grites, our facilitator, encouraged each participant to discuss an idea for an Action Plan– a project to enhance academic advising on our own campuses. We were challenged over the next several days to determine the goals, background, and methods for implementing our Action Plans. At each Small Group meeting, we added to our plans based on what we had learned in the general sessions, workshops, and other events of the day. Knowing our Action Plans helped each of us select sessions that applied to our work. Also, the other Small Group participants and our facilitator provided feedback as we moved through the stages of the Action Plan. We even had an individual conference with one of the institute’s faculty members to explain our Action Plans and receive feedback. By the end of week, all participants had a well-considered Action Plan, which we took back to our institutions.
My Action Plan involved assisting with further development of an online course for new faculty advisors. The course will inform advisors of academic requirements initially and will ultimately focus on the conceptual, informational, and relational aspects of advising. Our seasoned advisors will be asked to help assess the content and make recommendations for improvement. This online course will include visual and aural components so that advisors can learn in various formats. Through the Small Group I attended, I was challenged to consider the reception of this online course, the means of delivery, the hoped-for outcomes, and assessment possibilities. Having the knowledge base of a dozen advisors from across the United States and Canada made the process more challenging and resulted in a more thorough plan than I could have developed on my own. I enjoyed getting to know the people in my Small Group very much, but, more than that, I valued their challenges, their praise, and their encouragement. Although it has been several years since I have taken a class, this group reminded me of the camaraderie of several of my graduate courses with Tom Grites serving as leader, scholar, and chief inquisitor.
This leads me to the confession that, although we accomplished much at this institute, we also had a lot of fun. During our free time we talked or went to supper with our new friends. We rode the Elizabeth River ferry from Portsmouth to Norfolk and strolled to shopping or dining. Mid-week all the participants and faculty went on an evening boat ride toward the Chesapeake Bay. Many of our group demonstrated their dance skills as we enjoyed the sunset on the water. On many occasions, we shared stories and experiences with each other. At breakfast and lunch, and in our Small Groups, we shared comments about sessions we attended. I was struck by how often we shared examples speakers used to convey ideas. Four examples come to mind:
- As advisors, we should encourage students to “expand their comfort zone” instead of stepping outside it.
- We should consider how our institutions “court” or recruit students compared to how they are treated once they come to campus (the difference between courtship and marriage?).
- Students are like watering houseplants – all of them are different; watering each Tuesday and Thursday is okay if that is how often they need watering.
- Student learning is the heart of academic advising; advisors teach students the essentials needed to be successful in college and beyond.
Although “you had to be there” to truly understand the incredible experience that my fellow participants and I shared at Summer Institute, I encourage each NACADA member to experience a Summer Institute this coming summer or in the near future. Participants leave the Institute with a more thorough appreciation of what advising means, with a deeper understanding of the theory that supports our roles as academic advisors, and with more knowledge regarding how we can help our students succeed. Like the various vessels we watched cruise by our Portsmouth hotel – the barges carrying heavy loads, the tugs pushing the resistant cargo, the sailboats drifting with the breeze, and the ferries transporting passengers to their destinations – advisors serve their advisees in many capacities. Attending a Summer Institute provides more knowledge, skill, expertise, and enthusiasm for the voyage!
Director of Advising
College of Arts and Sciences
The University of Memphis
Cite this article using APA style as: Krech, P. (2009, March). You have to be there: Summer institute. Academic Advising Today, 32
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