Jayne Drake, NACADA President-Elect
It is one of the most important components in a wide array of NACADA initiatives in support of student success. It is an acknowledgement of the importance of sound academic advising on our campuses, and it is an important means of lauding the innovative and thoughtful strategies advisors employ to engage students in their own learning. NACADA’s Awards Program every year salutes the accomplishments of advising professionals and the innovations of advising programs on campuses everywhere. In the early months of every new year, NACADA’s Awards Committee receives scores of nomination packets in consideration of the Association’s various Outstanding Advisor, Advising Administrator, and Advising Program awards. Then every October, we celebrate excellence in advising at the Annual Conference with an Awards Ceremony in which we publicly and proudly recognize our awardees. How the awards process itself unfolds and how we publicly celebrate excellence have evolved and have been refined over the years in response to a number of factors, including the importance that our members themselves have placed on these awards.
In the three years that I served as Chair of NACADA’s Awards Committee (2002-05), we observed closely the number, kind, and quality of nominations submitted, listened carefully to the membership’s observations of our process, and solicited regular feedback from the Awards Selection Committee. As a result, a number of changes and improvements occurred in the way we did things, both behind the scenes and at the Annual Conference. For example, as the membership expanded, so too did the interest in nominating advisors for international recognition. The dramatic rise in the volume of nomination packets meant that the Awards Committee needed to expand the number of awards categories to address more accurately the kinds of highly competitive nominations submitted. The categories of awards restructured at that time are those still in place: Outstanding Advising Awards, Outstanding New Advisor Awards, Outstanding Advising Program Awards, Pacesetter Award, Service to NACADA Award, the Virginia N. Gordon Award for Excellence in the Field of Advising, Student Research Awards, and the Advising Technology Innovation Awards. Also included in the program are the Retiree Recognition and Research Grants, as well as the NACADA Scholarships including Administrators' Institute Scholarship, Assessment Institute Scholarship, and the Wesley R. Habley NACADA Summer Institute Scholarships. To handle the increased volume, the Awards Committee itself grew to 20—two representatives from each of NACADA’s ten regions, with staggered two-year terms that guaranteed continuity across the Regions and on the committee.
We also established an Awards Oversight Committee, advisory to the Chair, representing the diversity of the Association—in gender and ethnicity, and by regions, institutional type and institutional roles—to manage the increasing complexity of issues involving awards for the Association. We encouraged the expansion of the Service to Commission awards and helped in the development of regional awards and scholarships for the various NACADA institutes. New nominations forms were developed; an on-line submission process was introduced for some award categories, and existing forms and submission processes were tweaked. Except for the expansion of the awards categories, none of these initiatives and changed processes was particularly visible to the general membership, which is as it should be.
However, a number of high-visibility changes did occur during this time that dramatically changed the public face of NACADA’s Awards Program. What had previously been a wide-open awards recognition program during the Annual Conference became a private, exclusive by-invitation-only reception and ceremony for recipients, invited guests, and the NACADA leadership held just before the official kickoff of the Conference. This shift was meant to make the awards more meaningful to the recipients, to acknowledge the good work they are undertaking at their institutions, and to signal the importance of these very competitive awards. We then positioned photos of our award winners strategically around the conference site and projected them onto the large screens as the Conference’s opening and plenary sessions.
Yet, as important as the Awards Program’s internal processes and high visibility are, its influence is much more far reaching and amorphous than simply inviting the winners to walk across a stage to accept our thanks and their plaques. Like the ripples from a stone dropped into still water, the awards’ power extends far beyond the actual award and ceremony. Current Awards Committee chair Susan Fread (Lehigh Carbon Community College) describes its power as the 'warm fuzzy factor”: “the awards process is an affirmation that not only did you do a good job—you made a difference at your institution, and, more importantly, you impacted the lives of others. And this includes not only students but also colleagues.” Part of this ripple effect is also in providing the nominees with a copy of the actual nomination packet so they may take a glimpse into how others perceive them, see the nature of their impact on students, colleagues, and campus administrators, and learn just how much others appreciate their dedication and hard work.
Former Awards Committee Chair Rob Mossack (Lipscomb University) found his greatest satisfaction in the glow on the faces of the recipients as they walked into the room for the recognition reception and ceremony. “I always finished the evening knowing that we had done a good thing and that the hours spent reading the nomination packets and tallying the committee votes was well worth it... It is a great experience to learn about colleagues across the country and the neat work they are doing. It was actually inspirational to see the effects they have on the lives of their students and that their co-workers value them and their contributions.”
The “warm fuzzy factor” also extends to members of the Awards Selection Committee. To a one they agree that the long hours spent in reading the nomination packets allows them to come away with a renewed sense of the critically important work NACADA members undertake in defining student success on our campuses.