Exploring New Pinnacles in Academic Advising

Higher Education scholar Dr. Richard Light says, “Good advising might be the single most underestimated characteristic of a successful college experience.” This August, as Mason students were preparing to return to campus, the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) leadership team and advising staff were sharpening their skills at the CEHD Academic Advising Summit.

Conceived and organized by the Office of Student and Academic Affairs (SAA), with the support and encouragement of Dean Mark Ginsberg, the summit was not intended to train advisors. After all, Dean Ginsberg pointed out in his welcoming remarks, a quick look around revealed “that there are generations of academic advisors in the room, some who have been advising for about 30 years and others who have been advising for about 30 days.” Rather, the purpose of the half-day summit was to explore ways to enhance the existing advising model in the College; review key CEHD and University policies, procedures, and academic actions; discuss strategies for responding to student issues; and create an open space to examine the advising needs of the College. The purpose of the summit was realized through five sessions.

Session One focused on reacquainting the more than 50 participants with the CEHD Centrally Coordinated, Decentrally Delivered (C2D2) academic advising model, a term borrowed from The National Academic Advising Association (NACADA). Under this model, advising and student services are coordinated centrally though SAA but delivered decentrally through the academic programs and divisions. Dr. Ivory Berry, Director of Student Success, led participants in performing a SWOT Analysis of the C2D2 advising model to determine the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It was determined, collectively, that the opportunities are great but that the advising community must be proactive in minimizing the threats by enhancing communication between and across academic programs, schools and divisions, and SAA. 

In Session Two things got competitive as the group broke into smaller teams and competed in a trivia quiz testing what they knew, or thought they knew, about key academic policies and procedures. Given the constantly evolving nature of academic policy at the University as it strives to best meet student needs, it is not surprising that even the most seasoned advisors learned at least one new thing during the game. 

Associate Dean Ellen Rodgers moderated a panel of CEHD Bachelor’s/Accelerated Master’s (B/AM) program experts in the third session exploring the intricacies of advising students interested or enrolled in a B/AM program. Panelists guided participants through the B/AM undergraduate to graduate transition process, discussed strategies for collaborating with advisors from programs outside CEHD, and explored how B/AM students are living in both the undergraduate and graduate Mason policy worlds and the limitations of each. The session closed with a robust conversation about the opportunities and challenges of the B/AM program in its current existence and the need for reform. 

SAA Advising and Retention Coordinator, Sara Montiel, joined Associate Dean Rodgers in leading the next session, centered on minimizing the “Mason Shuffle”. The Mason Shuffle is the term used on campus to characterize the frustration students may feel when trying to navigate university policies and resources only to find they have the wrong form or are in the wrong office and need to continue looking for answers elsewhere. A series of case studies were presented to participants. In teams, participants discussed and debated how they would respond to various student concerns and incidents and make use of the appropriate College and University resources. Montiel reminded the advisors that they can be a bulwark against the shuffle by staying current on essential campus resources and keeping their advisees well-informed.

The final session of the summit, led by Dean Ginsberg, took place over lunch and provided an open forum for discussion and feedback about advising needs and resources in the College, and more specifically, in the various academic programs and divisions. 

The SAA staff received high marks for the overall summit experience including, but not limited to, the coordination, hospitality, methods for delivering content, and the look and feel of communications and print materials. 

SAA staff are currently exploring ways to transform the sessions held during the summit into a series of modules appropriate for new professional and faculty advisors as well as those who are interested in a refresher course.