At NACADA’s Annual Conference last week, our booth theme was Advising for the Future—a play on “Back to the Future” and an opportunity to go crazy with ’80s nostalgia like neon fanny packs, Ferris Bueller references, and a Pac-Man arcade machine.
For me, the theme could have been “Back to NACADA.” This trip marked my return to NACADA’s Annual Conference after missing out for the past six years . When I last attended, I was joined by a team of advisors and we would get up early, strategizing how to maximize our experience at the conference. We would then stay up late discussing how we would implement the best ideas we heard. It was a week filled with great memories and re-energized our work with students.
This year, I had a fresh perspective. In my role as a researcher at EAB, I now look for insights that can improve most advisors’ practices instead of those that will improve my own. While I no longer have the opportunity to advise students directly, the energy and ideas from NACADA flowed just as vibrantly as I remembered. Reflecting on the two days I spent in Louisville, I couldn’t help but notice a few ways the conference, and advising in general, has changed:
- Technology is now inescapable. I recently wrote about how technology won’t replace advisors, but it can help us do our jobs better. NACADA’s Annual Conference confirmed this—with many sessions showcasing unique ways advisors have used technology to reach, guide, coach, and teach students. When I last attended in 2013, technology was present but not pervasive. This year, you couldn’t scroll an inch in the event app without seeing some mention of tech, and you couldn’t walk anywhere in the event space without seeing the latest tech innovations available to colleges.
- Community college representation has grown. Tight budgets make it difficult to prioritize professional development opportunities like NACADA’s Annual Conference, but this year it was clear that more community colleges are making the investment in their advisors. It seemed that nearly half of the people I spoke to were from two-year colleges. And the sessions reflected their presence as well. There was a great mix of presentations from innovative universities and community colleges.
- Assessment of advising is gaining attention. The shift from reactionary and prescriptive advising to proactive and holistic advising offers more opportunity to influence student outcomes. Advisors want to know whether the strategies they are using with their caseloads are leading more students to persist and graduate. Advising offices are using the data they now have available to improve their advising approach and scale the practices that are most effective.
One thing that has stayed the same is how much the NACADA conference is about celebrating advisors and their impressive work, which often goes unrecognized. I was especially excited to meet and honor our 2019 EAB Advising Excellence Awards. Congratulations to the three winners:
Tameka Thomas joined the University of South Alabama’s academic advising and transfer services in 2015. She is known among her colleagues for her enthusiasm and empathy, as well as her expertise in university majors, polices, and procedures. She works with pre-nursing students and is especially committed to serving Pell Grant recipients. Through her use of Navigate campaigns, the nursing program saw Pell recipients persist at the same rate as non-Pell students from fall to spring.
Katie Etheridge was nominated by several peers and leadership at the University of Louisville College of Business. All spoke of Katie’s tendency to go out of her way to instill a sense of belonging in all the students she works with. She is known on campus as a truly “gifted listener” who is always open to trying new things, including when she helped launch a new Living Learning Community in the College of Business.
Kendra Wood excels at leading faculty, staff, and students in a truly caring way at Rappahannock Community College. She has been instrumental in driving Navigate adoption on campus (which is now at 100%) and helping colleagues understand the pivotal role the platform plays in improving outcomes and the student experience.
This year NACADA celebrated its 40th anniversary. They have grown from 429 charter members to more than 15,000 members today. If we had a DeLorean to take us back to college campuses in the year 1979, I don’t think most of us would even recognize the advising role. Fortunately, NACADA has grown and evolved to help us all develop the advising offices of the future.