Book by Marcia B. Baxter Magolda
Review by Monica Kempland
Pre-Professional Health Studies
Saint Louis University
Every advisor will find a familiar ring to the stories of young adults presented in Making their own way: Narratives for transforming higher education to promote self-development. How often have you found yourself sitting across from an advisee who asks “How do I know that this is the right decision?” or is concerned that the decisions that they are making today will not be the right choices for their future? Baxter Magolda took upon the task of conducting a longitudinal study of 39 young adults with these same concerns; she followed the students from college to age 30, detailing their narratives throughout their journeys of self-discovery.
Baxter Magolda deems that “self-authorship” is central to students’ development, but unfortunately is not fostered in most undergraduate experiences. The well-respected author/theorist contends that students who are able to progress through four phases of development toward developing an internal voice before entering their post-graduate professional careers will be better prepared and struggle less in their transition. Advisors can play an essential role in facilitating students on this journey.
As advisors well know, many students want simple, direct guidance, including a planned curriculum that will provide solutions to the students’ quests. However, upon reflecting upon Baxter Magolda’s insights and the extensive student narratives presented in this book, it may behoove advisors to challenge students beyond these basic assumptions. By guiding students through their journey to self-authorship, we can facilitate their development. The simple fact is that this is no easy task for advisors, given advisee loads and lack of resources that many advising offices face, nor for advisees, as societal expectations are often so intertwined with the students’ own definition of their goals. Challenges also arise when curriculum or university policies dictate that students make decisions about their majors before they are truly ready to do so. But, according to the author, facilitating our advisees’ journeys toward achieving power over their own lives by establishing their own internal belief system can be extremely rewarding for both advisors and advisees.
Additionally, the examples that Baxter Magolda cites as evidence of students’ movement toward self-development, may answer confounding questions and concerns that are routine topics among advisors. For example, advisors may be perplexed that their advisees sometimes seek the advice of their peers, rather than a professional staff advisor; upon reading that this may be a trait exhibited as a student is evolving in his or her decision making, toward self-authorship is comforting. Not only are the author’s insights helpful for advisors, but the narrative excerpts woven throughout this book provide further contextual meaning in this dimension of student development.
Although an advisor can find much to appreciate in the first part of Baxter Magolda’s book, perhaps the second part provides the most value for day-to-day advising practice; one section is devoted to framing self-authorship within academic advising. The transition to self-development is presented as an analogy of a journey, in which advisors and other student personnel professionals serve as guides or “good company” along the way. Baxter Magolda suggests we can facilitate students’ development through our practices empowering them to discover their own authorship. Advisors are encouraged to give students’ responsibility in exploring and reflecting upon their decisions. The practical suggestions and advice provided can certainly benefit advisors as well as advising administrators who wish to empower students in their decision making.
Making their own way: Narratives for transforming higher education to promote self-development. (2004). Book by Marcia B. Baxter Magolda. Review by Monica Kempland. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 356 pp. $24.95 (paperback). ISBN # 978-1-57922-091-4