Amy Brock, 2017 Administrators Institute Scholarship Recipient
Across the country, college campuses are undergoing transitions, and Young Harris College (YHC) is no exception. YHC has experienced a host of changes that come with growth and advancement. Over the past decade, YHC has had two changes in presidential leadership, a substantive change (going from a two-year to a baccalaureate granting institution), faculty turnover, the creation of the Student Success Center (SSC), two Vice Presidents of Academic Affairs with different philosophies, and a new Vice President of Enrollment Management. In 2016, YHC’s new strategic plan recommended an assessment of advising potentially leading to a change in the campus advising model. In preparation, Jaime Miller (Director of the SSC and my supervisor) and I attended the NACADA Advising Administrator’s Institute in February 2017. Our goals were to craft a plan to assess advising across YHC’s campus, draft potential advising models that could be deployed after assessment, and define ways to further refine advising at YHC.
A NACADA institute is nothing like an annual or regional conference. Institutes are smaller and more intimate with colleagues from across the country coming together to talk through similar challenges and triumphs. This small community feel fosters a unique environment where advisors work together to develop solutions and share effective practices. In my experience, advisors are problem-solvers, and that held true for our cohort. The open discussion format of the sessions allowed participants to exchange ideas for a truly beneficial experience.
Each morning, institute faculty provided us with materials and a positive direction for the day. NACADA Executive Director, Charlie Nutt, led morning rallies that pushed us to think both broadly and deeply about our students and their unique needs at our home institutions. His discussions focused on advising and best practices. While his words, quotes, and themes were familiar, we were implored to push the field further. Charlie is an exceptionally talented speaker and leader, and his ability to inspire is boundless. He motivated me to think about the work I was doing on my campus and how I could improve upon it to provide students with a better experience. Although it was not one of my original goals, I was inspired to create an advising syllabus for YHC advisees and was able to act on this immediately. The new syllabus will be used with our fall 2017 cohort of students to better inform and educate them on the expectations and learning outcomes of advising.
The most valuable session of the week was the opportunity to work one-on-one with the knowledgeable faculty at the institute. I could not have asked for better mentors. Faculty member Casey Self provided Jaime and I with many good ideas, while still giving us room to talk through our own thoughts. He gave us great advice on how to assess advising in a fair manner across campus. We already knew we wanted to hand off our plan to someone not associated with advising, but Casey mentioned we should add focus groups to our list. We took the opportunity to brainstorm potential campus groups such as the Student Government Association, faculty advisors, professional advisors within our center, department chairs and deans, and the Registrar’s office. Casey’s advice was invaluable to our planning efforts.
We found support and advice of a different nature from faculty member JP Regalado. Casey’s advice was focused on our programmatic needs, while JP allowed us to share our personal professional challenges and give us encouragement and advice. I have had the pleasure to work with JP in the Emerging Leader Program (though he is not my mentor) and have always found his advice to be wise and thoughtful. His gentle compassion and pure concern for our needs were so important to our experience. JP was willing to just listen and offer kind words of support to us as professional colleagues in the advising field.
While at the institute, Jaime and I created several different strategies that we could take back to YHC. We agreed that in order to determine all of the gaps, we needed to assess advising across campus. We wanted to provide our Institutional Research office with the most appropriate questions about advising based on nation-wide best practice. I researched questions using the NACADA Clearinghouse and reached out to my NACADA network of colleagues. In addition to crafting an anonymous survey, we determined which focus groups could help us gather needed data. Finally, we realized that YHC has already collected useful data that could be used to look holistically at our advising practices (e.g. College Student Inventory and National Survey of Student Engagement data, a recent faculty advisor survey, student satisfaction surveys, and the Dare to Declare survey taken when sophomore students declare their major and transition to a faculty advisor). Combining all of this separate data would allow campus leadership to get a broad picture of the campus-wide advising experience at YHC.
With a plan for assessment in place, Jaime and I returned to campus and created important documents to provide necessary background information for assessment for YHC campus administrators. I wrote a brief history of advising at the college and identified cracks that have appeared in the system over the past five years. Further, we added a document listing all of the improvements already in progress (e.g. an advising syllabus, student learning outcomes, etc.). Once we created these documents, we scheduled a meeting with the appropriate campus contacts to begin moving forward.
We met with YHC’s Vice President of Student Affairs and the Chief of Staff (who also serves as our Institutional Research resource) in early May 2017. Both of these campus partners were understanding and excited to help us improve the quality of advising on campus. The Chief of Staff agreed to conduct an assessment of advising during the fall of 2017. I look forward to future phases of assessment where campus stakeholders can meet and create a plan for positive change for all YHC students.
Jaime and I were fortunate to have met all of our goals while at the Administrator’s Institute, and I am grateful for the opportunity. Without the guidance and conversations I experienced, we would not have been able to create such a holistic and thorough assessment plan. I feel confident now that when the time comes, we will be able to help our campus create an advising model that will better support the needs of our students. I cannot overstate how helpful the Administrator’s Institute was for us. If you have the opportunity to attend, please take the time to attend this valuable institute.
Assistant Director for Academic Advising and Planning
Student Success Center
Young Harris College