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Advice for academic advisors

Academic counsellor blogs from the NACADA regional conference
April 10, 2013
By Shoshana Kalfon

Shoshana Kalfon is an academic counsellor in the Faculty of Arts and Science. She recently attended a professional conference for academic advisors.

The National Academic Advising Association (NACADA), housed at Kansas State University, works to improve the educational development of students and foster effective academic advising through research and “best practices.”

The NACADA Region I conference, held from March 20 to 22 in Montreal, attracted more than 300 participants from the northeastern region of the U.S. and Canada. It was a great success.

Attendees were able to learn from, listen to, and discuss academic advising with professional advisors and faculty members. I was fortunate to meet advisors from McGill University, Vanier College and Memorial University.

My fellow attendees from Concordia told me they learned a lot about how we can better advise our athletes and our students on probation, improve retention and assess how advising is taking place in our institution.

This was the third time Concordia has participated in the NACADA Region I annual conference. Ollivier Dyens, Concordia’s vice-provost, Teaching and Learning, accepted my invitation to be the opening keynote speaker. During his address, he suggested that advising should become a part of the curriculum. It’s an interesting idea, but how do we make it happen?

What became most apparent to me at this conference is that improving retention starts with advising (connecting with students), and effective advising starts with a solid advising program. I would love the opportunity to really assess the Faculty of Arts and Science’s current advising situation. As noted in the first session I attended, Enhancing Advising through Assessment, going through an assessment process is about learning – what are our values, what is our vision, and what is our purpose?

Some other questions that I often struggle with include: How do we prepare our students better for the university experience? How do we improve the retention rates of our first-year students? How do we reduce the number of students in academic difficulty?

The Seminars for Success program tries to improve the academic standing of second-year students. But, is it being given at the right time? Should we start working with at-risk students earlier?

The second session I attended was given by an advisor from Memorial University, which has started a comprehensive program for first-year students, providing them with special courses, smaller classes, and additional teaching time. I really enjoyed learning about the changes Memorial is making.

The final conclusion I came away with is: Change is good if it is done right. But doing it right is often harder than it seems.

Related links:
•    “Academic advisors meet to share tactics” — NOW, March 20, 2013
•    Concordia’s Faculty of Arts and Science

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