Julee Braithwaite, Brigham Young University
As the anniversary of my appointment as an academic advisement center supervisor approaches, I have become reflective. Although I had 20 years of experience as a professional academic advisor prior to my installment as supervisor, I had minimal training specific to supervising a team of student employees and academic advisors responsible for providing advisement to literally thousands of students. Over the course of 10 years, I have witnessed an ever-changing student advisee clientele, an expected turnover in my student employees, a clean sweep in my advising staff, numerous shifts in administrative leadership, and a total of five associate deans in my direct line of reporting. As I have matured in my position, I have acquired and subsequently shared lessons of learning with my staff, hoping to provide them with training that just might prepare them for supervisory positions someday!
Presented here are my 10-in-10 offerings to my eventual successor:
- Provide a constant message addressing the function and importance of academic advising. Years ago, I created an instructive presentation on the value of advising as a class assignment. The intent was to provide a true portrayal of the academic advising profession that could be presented to the college council and then to a more broad college audience; when those possibilities proved to be beyond my personal control and in fact impossible, I targeted departments instead with rather lukewarm results. Therefore, I have finally succeeded in communicating my message to newly hired advising staff in my office, members of the campus advising community, our college curriculum committee, each of my bosses, and any other willing audience.
- Beat the drum. In my earliest supervising experience, I could easily identify our advisement center’s resource needs; however, it quickly became clear that our needs were often denied by higher powers as resources were allocated elsewhere. I begrudgingly surrendered to denial decisions beyond my control while trying to stay hopeful and forward-thinking. Luckily, I had an associate dean that was a wise mentor. On one occasion, he patiently listened as I very frankly enumerated my frustrations. His response proved to be a lastingly profound mantra: Beat the drum. He kindly explained that denials are not personal, but routine in an institutional setting. Resources are limited and not automatically gifted upon request. He suggested that I persist in continuing to promote my area’s resource needs. In that way, if and when resources become available, advisement requests are immediately memorable and retrievable by decision-makers.
- Recognize and utilize the strengths of your staff. One of the greatest challenges in assuming my supervisory role originally was the inheritance of someone else’s hiring decisions. That circumstance coupled with a temporary hiring freeze was ultra-limiting. When the freeze lifted and employees eventually phased out, I was painstakingly careful in handpicking an ideal advising staff well-suited to my management style. Among the practices that I have incorporated into the hiring process to screen ability and suitability are:
- A two-tiered interview process which includes an initial traditional appointment committee interview complete with questions and real-life scenarios, as well as a mock student appointment.
- A determination to never feel pressured to make a hasty hiring choice. If the applicant pool doesn’t produce a well-suited candidate, it is better to re-open the position than to settle with the hope that extensive training can compensate for lacking ability/qualifications.
This process spanned several years; however, I now have an advising dream team assembled! Our success together is not due to meticulous hiring efforts alone—it is also attributable to observing on-the-job interactions and contributions, noting who really shines in various scenarios, and making staff assignments based on proven yet varied strengths.
- Delegate. As a new supervisor, I initially functioned under the mistaken perception that I needed to personally take on as much as possible in order to avoid overburdening my staff. Although my intentions were well-intended, the tradeoff was not ultimately worth it—in fact, this approach resulted in undue stress, uncompensated over-hours, and an under-utilized staff. The real jolting wake-up call came to me directly from my Dean, when he captured me after I had produced three convocation ceremonies in one day. Out of genuine concern, he instructed me to offload some of the roles that I had clung to for years.
That instruction was needed; however, the offloading process has taken some time. Not surprisingly, my willing advising staff has assumed some of my responsibilities. Perhaps more surprisingly, we discovered that due to longstanding expectations, our office provides services to our college community that are not directly related to advising. Offloading those services has been more difficult to nuance since we do not want to appear to withhold service to our colleagues. With gradual and tactful effort, we have made strides in empowering college units to meet their own needs on their own timeline.
- Continue professional training and development. In the past, I halfheartedly dabbled in professional development opportunities. A feeling of complacency, contentment, and a bit of suspicion once prevailed in our campus community; therefore, I struggled to commit my efforts to formalized (and technically optional) professionalization. More recently, the overall environment and my personal attitudes have changed significantly. I can honestly report that my sense of professionalism, citizenship, and stewardship are now heightened due to training and development participation—my perspective is enhanced, knowledge expanded, practice refined, networking circles broadened, and the bottom line is clear: students, staff, and I are benefitting from additional professional training.
- Teach and trust students. Obviously we interact with a lot of students in our profession—not only advisees that seek our academic assistance, but also employees that sustain our office operations. As academic advisors, we are teachers of a sort to both student populations. Philosophies related to “advising as teaching” (Crookston as cited by Appleby, 2008, p. 85) and developmental vs. prescriptive (Crookston, 1994) and intentional vs. strengths-based advising (Schreiner & Anderson, 2005) are all applicable in our interactions with students.
Our advisement center mission statement contains a universal aspirational goal shared within the advising profession: “Teach and empower students to reach their potential” (Fine Arts & Communications Advisement Center, n.d.). In the recent past, the student employees in our office were awarded wage increases based primarily on longevity. After exploring other compensation models, we adopted one wherein students voluntarily complete several tasks and assignments in a series of certification levels to demonstrate skill, knowledge, and achievement.
Similarly, our student advisees are seeking training, instruction, and rewards (if not literal compensation) related to their academic needs. As academic advisors, we contribute to those needs; however, methods and models may vary. I appreciate the scaffolding analogy (Harland as cited by Hagen & Jordan, 2008, p. 23) wherein advisors provide a supportive structure for students in their formative college experience and gradually remove it as students learn to stand and function on their own.
With either student population, I have found that if we provide trusted training (scaffolding) and well-defined expectations (supportive structure), students will respond and often flourish.
- Establish a presence in curricular matters. Fortunately, my college has a longstanding tradition of including advisement in curricular issues, yet I am often shocked to find that this might not be common practice. I have suggested to several colleagues that they must maneuver their way into curriculum discussions, committees, and councils. As advisors, we view, track, interact with, and enforce curriculum pieces with experience, foresight, and history that faculty and departments may not fully comprehend due to ever-evolving assignments and ever-changing curriculum. Advisement truly needs a firm voice and established presence in curriculum planning and implementation.
- Value collegial relationships. One of the most rewarding and essential lessons that I have learned throughout my advising career is the value of associating with and learning from colleagues. I have benefitted from collegial associations on several levels. At whatever level, I have profited from these associations in a number of ways (e.g., broadening my circle of acquaintances, identifying referral resources, learning best practices, developing friendships, observing leadership styles, discovering go-to contacts, gaining respect for truly caring professionals, witnessing tactful communication and conflict resolution, and creating an environment that is welcoming on a daily basis).
- Practice humble confidence. I am admittedly an introvert. As such, I often prefer to observe from a distance rather than be in the thick of things. Prior to my appointment as supervisor, I had observed examples of leadership—some good, others not-so-good—that provided training to draw from. Luckily, I had some leadership opportunities in my personal, if not professional, life that somewhat prepared me for a supervisory position.
The conditions of my appointment were unconventional: I was presented a letter of understanding stating that I would act as interim supervisor for an indefinite period. After the fact, I theorized that because college administrators had not had the opportunity to view me (an introvert) as a leader due to a rather extroverted predecessor, they wanted me to prove myself; therefore, the position was offered on a tentative basis. I exerted myself then and every workday since then to be an active leader. One of my greatest professional compliments came a few months into my interim status when the then-Dean stated that I had assumed my position with aplomb. Within six months, I was officially named advisement supervisor. As I have functioned in that capacity since, I have sought a pleasing balance of humility and confidence.
- Honor personal needs. Leonardo da Vinci offered these powerful words of advice: “Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Since to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose power” (Leonardo da Vinci, n.d.). Although work might be all-consuming and all-important at times, personal needs and self-care are too. We must learn to strike a balance between viewing our personal needs as an indulgent luxury rather than an actual necessity! “Go away” at appropriate times in order to return ready, refreshed, and rejuvenated.
College of Fine Arts & Communications
Brigham Young University
Appleby, D.C. (2008). Advising as teaching and learning. In V. N. Gordon, W. R. Habley, and T. J. Grites (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (2nd ed., pp. 85–102). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Crookston, B.B. (1994). A developmental view of academic advising as teaching. NACADA Journal, 14(2), 5–9. Retrieved from http://nacadajournal.org/doi/pdf/10.12930/0271-9517-14.2.5
Fine Arts & Communications Advisement Center. (n.d.) Our mission statement. Retrieved from https://advisement.cfac.byu.edu/about/mission-statement/
Hagen, P. L. & Jordan, P. (2008). Theoretical foundations of academic advising. In V. N. Gordon, W. R. Habley, and T. J. Grites (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (2nd ed., pp. 17–35). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Leonardo da Vinci Quotes. (n.d.). Goodreads. Retrieved July 27, 2018 from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/39001-every-now-and-then-go-away-have-a-little-relaxation
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2006). NACADA concept of academic advising. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/Concept.aspx
Schreiner, L. A., & Anderson, E. (2005). Strengths-based advising: A new lens for higher education. NACADA Journal, 25(2), 20–29. doi:10.12930/0271-9517-25.2.20
Cite this article using APA style as: Braithwaite, J. (2019, March). Supervising in academic advising: Ten lessons learned in ten years. Academic Advising Today, 42(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]