Transition Programming for First Year Students at Niagara College

Katherine Gottli
Cynthia Manzo

Katherine Gottli and Cynthia Manzo are both Academic Advisors at Niagara College in Ontario, Canada.


The new reality of post-secondary education, particularly in one and two-year institutions, is one that no longer welcomes a homogenous demographic of students every intake. Post-secondary students represent a wide spectrum of identities in every sense of the word, which can make implementing effective, responsive programming challenging for student services professionals. To find the common denominator in a flurry of inconsistency as a starting point for program development, however, we can rely on clichés: the only thing you can count on is change.

Incoming post-secondary students are all navigating a change in their life. Transitions can transcend, but also complicate a student’s identity. To address this, and establish a student-centered community of support, Niagara College has adopted a wrap-around transition program that includes pre-Orientation activities, Predictive Assessment, and 6 weeks of outreach and engagement opportunities at the beginning of a student’s program. The use of these early intervention strategies has allowed for meaningful student-centered transition programming that addresses student persistence, community, and identity.

Academic Advising Group Sessions & Kick Start

In the summer of 2016, Niagara College piloted the delivery of academic advising group sessions for new students starting classes in the fall. Academic Advisors were extremely busy during the first weeks of the term, meeting with students who had questions that could have been easily answered ahead of time in a group session. It was determined that by providing students with key information before classes started, they would be better equipped to make informed decisions at that stage of the term without the need of consulting with an Academic Advisor. Therefore, it was time to design and put into action a new early intervention strategy, one based on a more intrusive advising model to address the high volume of inquiries that a first-year student would typically have in the first couple of weeks. This programing would also ease students and their supporters into “NC Life”, including developing relationships with their advisors and peers, with a focus on academic success. The academic advising team fortunately had the institutional support to move ahead with this new initiative. Niagara College recognized the value and importance of activities like this and the impact it would have on student success. As Garing (1993) mentions: When these strategies are integrated as necessary components of the institution’s advising system, not only are the efficiency and effectiveness of advising enhanced, but the retention of students is ultimately affected in a positive way due to the solidness of this critical student-adviser link” (p. 97).

Students were invited for a two-hour group advising session in the month of August. Each individual session was delivered by the Academic Advisor assigned to a given program of study. According to Kuh (2008), the advisor plays an important role in establishing an early connection with those new students whom they will be working with throughout their time at college. He also suggests that it helps them navigate the college system to overcome barriers until they graduate. Some of the topics included in the group advising session were the key dates in the term, the progression policy, and the student services available, such as the Health, Wellness and Accessibility Office, the Test Center, and the Library. Students also learned about how their Program of Instruction (POI) is structured and they identified if there were pre-requisite courses in their programs. Academic Advisors also wanted students to be familiar with Blackboard, which is the learning management system used at Niagara College. They learned about where and how to locate information related to their courses and how to communicate with their instructors through the platform. The implementation of the academic advising sessions in the summer was very well received by the new students and their parents/supporters. However, it was decided that there would have been a better outcome if the advising sessions were part of the pre-orientation program Kick Start, which also takes place in the summer.

Since student success is Niagara College’s top priority, Academic Advisors wanted to make sure that the transition for new students was as enjoyable, smooth, and comprehensive as possible for them. We are well aware that sometimes students will be more receptive to new information if this comes from different parties that recognize that the responsibility of student success lies not only on Academic Advisors, but also on Faculty, Co-op and Career Consultants, Counselors, and other staff members. This is what Kuh (2008) describes as the “tag team approach.” Therefore, in the summer of 2017 we formally integrated the advising group sessions with NC’s Kick Start pre-orientation program. Kick Start is a 1-day transition based program offered to all incoming students to give them the opportunity to get familiar with the college environment before they start classes. This program offers campus and residence tours, a Blackboard session, and the opportunity to pick up their student ID card and program materials ahead of time. There are also some parent/supporter sessions, students are able to meet their classmates, and their Academic Advisor during the advising session. The newly designed and more fulsome Kick Start has yielded great success and positive feedback. It has served to bring resources together, has achieved improved efficiencies and mirrors NC’s integrated service approach.

Student Strengths Inventory (SSI)

With student persistence and retention as a goal, Academic Advisors utilize Early Alert strategies to best allocate time and resources.  Connecting with students as early and as meaningfully as possible in their academic career at Niagara College has become the foundation for our advising philosophy. To achieve this, the Student Strengths Inventory (SSI) is facilitated within the first two weeks of each term for incoming students. Within a predominantly two-year institution, the ability to predict the possibility of retaining a student if curated supports are provided is significant given the short time advisors or other student services have to make an impact (Napoli & Wortman, 1998). The SSI allows Academic Advisors the ability to gain key insights directly from students on how they view themselves and their learning. This approach creates a common measure across all student demographics and allows for differentiation by program/program cluster. The SSI assess non-cognitive or psychosocial attitudes and behaviors that are present in successful people (Gore et. al., 2019). It measures two main indicators; academic success and retention probability through a series of 50 questions on personality and motivational habits and attitudes that facilitate functioning well within a post-secondary setting (Campus Labs, 2012).

The SSI is administered in all first year first term classrooms. Academic Advisors typically attend the classroom themselves to facilitate the assessment, which doubles as important face time with the class, establishing the Academic Advisor as key contact on campus (O’Keefe, 2013). Immediate, curated feedback to the student is presented as ‘Next Step’ statements to students, dependent on their ranking in the following categories: Academic Engagement; Academic Self-Efficacy; Campus Engagement; Educational Commitment; Resiliency; Social Comfort (Campus Labs, 2012). This information bridges the gap between the administration of the SSI, and any initial meeting with an Academic Advisor. The hope is that students begin to access these resources within their first weeks on campus to better develop their Niagara College identity and affinity to the NC community, academically and socially. Providing this information to students recognizes the holistic nature of the role of Advising on campus – we view students as a “whole package”, understanding that partitioning student needs into ‘Academic’, ‘Health and Wellness’, ‘Social’, etc., diminishes the effectiveness of any kind of interventional strategy, and can complicate their transition.

Students are sorted into ‘Low Risk’, ‘High Risk’, and ‘Target’ groups based on their Academic Success and Retention scores, and individualized interventions are facilitated with the groups. The Target group (High Academic Success, Low Retention) receives the most aggressive interventions in the form of an individual meeting request from their Academic Advisor within the first month of the semester. Often, this meeting will result in follow up meetings over the course of the student’s academic career, as it can establish the Academic Advisor as a teacher who understanding the greater narrative of that particular student’s education (Lowenstein, 2005). Academic Advisors are able to link student concerns to supports on campus, furthering the wrap-around approach to student success Niagara College has employed.

First Six Weeks Programming

Niagara College’s approach to connecting and engaging with a diverse student population has evolved over the years. The Center for Student Engagement & Leadership has made extensive efforts to maximize the effectiveness of its programs. Working under the premise that student engagement plays an important role in student success and retention (Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, & Whitt, 2005), it has been necessary to re-think the delivery format of the orientation program for first year students. In the past, the orientation program was structured in a way that all welcoming activities – including campus tours, welcoming parties, program sessions, and the student services fair – were all scheduled to take place over the course of a couple of days. A more comprehensive and strategic model, however, was implemented in the fall of 2019.  

Matthews (2009) suggests that the first six weeks, in college or university for new students, will contribute significantly to solidify a trusting relationship between the student and the educational institution, “It is the make-or-break period for many students regarding their academic, social and emotional engagement with their chosen institution” (para.12). Based on this idea, a group of different activities and information on college resources, programs and services was put together to address academic, financial, and personal areas to achieve student success. The Six Weeks Program was designed to provide the relevant information students need to avoid feeling overwhelmed in the early part of the semester. Details on the scheduling of activities were disseminated via email, promotional boards, and social media channels, such as Instagram. The participation received through Instagram was very positive since students felt quite comfortable connecting with staff by using a platform that they typically use to engage with their own friends. Obtaining immediate responses to their questions helped them feel connected and heard which contributes to making transition to college smoother.


Student success, academically, socially, and professionally, is the reward Student Services professionals can all hope to experience with their students. This success planning starts from the moment a student connects with any member of our student services team at Niagara College. As we guide students through their transition to post-secondary, the Niagara College tag-team approach has had a real impact on a first-year student’s affinity to the Niagara College community. First year students can rest assured that they will be connected with suitable support to navigate their new home. It is imperative for staff at Niagara College to encourage and empower students to utilize the resources available to them, which starts with pre-orientation, early intervention, and first six weeks programming. 

Academic Advisors consistently revisit and adjust the program goals of transition programming, and continually collaborate with other areas to emphasize that we see our students as a whole package. Moving forward, as we assess these programs term to term, the hope is that students will continue to validate our assumptions of the impacts of these initiatives. Providing students with the tools to persist and develop resiliency are skills that are applicable throughout their lives. If Academic Advisors are a piece of that personal development, then we validate the role of Academic Advising in post-secondary institutions. 


Campuslabs. (2012). “Using the Non-cognitive Factors of Beacon in Advising” [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

Garing, M. T. (1993). Intrusive academic advising. New Directions for Community Colleges, 1993(82), 97-104. https://doi:10.1002/cc.36819938211

Gore, P. A., Leuwerke, W. C., Metz, A. J., Brown, S., & Kelly, A. R. (2019). Measuring Noncognitive Factors Related to College Student Outcomes: Development and Initial Construct Validation of the Student Strengths Inventory. Journal of Career Assessment27(1), 47–60.

Kuh, G. D. (2008). Advising for Student Success In Academic Advising. A Comprehensive Handbook (pp. 68-74). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kuh, G. D., Kinzie, J., Schuh, J. H., & Whitt, E. J. (2005). Student Success in College. Creating Conditions that Matter. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lowenstein, M. (2005). If Advising is Teaching, What Do Advisors Teach?. NACADA Journal. 25(2), 65-73.

Matthews, B. (2009, November 2). Retention Matters. Retrieved November 29, 2019, from

Napoli, A. R. & Wortman P.M. (1998). Psychosocial Factors Related to Retention and Early Departure of Two-Year Community College Students. Research in Higher Education, 39(4). 419-455.

O’Keffe, Patrick. (2013). A sense of belonging: Improving student retention. College Student Journal, 47, 605-613.

Cue Vitamin C Graduation Song

Allison Scully

Allison Scully (that’s me) is Lead Hand, Career and Student Success Advisor at Humber College. She (aka me) is also a proud member of the NACADA Canadian Advising Steering Committee.

The Countdown Begins

In 14 days and 4 hours and 59 minutes (not that I’m counting), I will have completed my masters degree. I have been waiting three and a half years to say that. Well, if I’m being honest, I’ve been waiting 12 years to say that.  My journey to a masters felt a bit like a temper tantrum: I felt I should get it but I also really didn’t want to go back to school, and couldn’t feasibly see how I could while working.

I knew I had to find a masters program that I was truly passionate about if I was going to commit the time and money.  After a career change (goodbye digital marketing), I made my way into the post secondary world. Here it became even more obvious a masters was the route I needed to take to develop into the professional I wanted to become. In the PSE world, the two masters programs that kept tapping me on the shoulder were masters in counseling and higher education/student affairs. But I still wasn’t convinced.

Aha Moment!

Then one magical day, my manager at the time recommended I look into the masters program through NACADA.  I had no idea that was even a thing. I did my research and – aha! – I knew immediately I had found the program for me. It was a Masters of Science in Academic Advising at Kansas State University (KSU), in partnership with NACADA. And, even better, it was completely online. This meant I could study something I was passionate about and everything I learned in school I could apply to my job (and vice versa). Added bonus, KSU’s football team are the Wildcats. Yes, that’s right, I would be living my own version of High School Musical. Dreams do come true!

I frantically wrote my letter of intent and applied. Spoiler alert: I got accepted. I was excited and nervous at the same time. Did I even remember how to write an essay? I was used to the no homework life; would I still have time to nap on weekends (one of my guilty pleasures I wasn’t willing to give up)?

Reality Time

Here are the realities of being in a masters program:

  • You will have moments of wanting to take the semester off. Don’t do it. Your future self will thank you;
  • If you’re like me and do most of your assignments during the weekend, you will start to dread weekends. But take the power back and still find time to do fun weekend things, just bookend it with school work; and
  • Whoever you live with will feel ignored. Remind them daily it’s for the greater good and it won’t last forever (unless you do your doctorate, then it might).

Being a Student is Hard

The biggest thing I learned from my masters? No matter how good of a student you are, all of the things you advise your students not to do, you will do yourself:

Why Specializing Your Studies on Advising is 👍💯

Many of you reading this may already have a masters or may be considering your options. Let me tell you why the KSU MSc. in Academic Advising is, in my opinion, the best masters program for advisors (Note: All opinions are my own, NACADA is not paying me for this, but I will accept the honour of being valedictorian if that’s available 😉) :
  • Your professors are the experts in the world of advising. When you read about research and theories in advising, you say with pride “that’s my teacher, I know them”;
  • You learn alongside other advisors from all levels of their career and are exposed to their experiences, lessons learned and best practices; and
  • You take a deep dive into student development theory, students with special needs, multicultural aspects of advising, learning principles, career development, research methods, interpersonal relations, student athletes and assessment of advising.

Sappy Reflection

The greatest gift the masters program provided me is my newfound confidence. I’m no longer afraid to do or say the wrong thing. I use theory and research to back what I do as an advisor rather than relying on my own experience and bias. And if I am stuck on how to help a student, I have the resources and community to support me.

Moral of the Story

Why did I want to share this with fellow Canadian advisors? If you are looking for that sign to push you to continue your education, this is it. Do it. Now’s the time.  It will be hard; it will be tiring and you will want to quit. But I guarantee, it will be one of the best things you will do for yourself both personally and professionally.!!-:strip_icc-!!-/2015/03/20/836/n/1922283/4d38b4e63ad74df1_bFG4Emq/i/Finally-She-Gives-Epic-Graduation-Speech.gif

If any of you have any questions about the MSc in Academic Advising at KSU, I’m always happy to chat. You can reach me at

Three Ways to Face Academic Adversity

Shehna Javeed
Academic and Learning Strategist
University of Toronto Scarborough
Shehna Javeed

Note from Editor: This was originally posted on Shehna Javeed’s LinkedIn and she has kindly allowed us to share it on the Canadian Advising Community blog.

Shehna Javeed is a higher education professional who works as an Academic Advisor and a Learning Strategist at University of Toronto Scarborough. She is also a TEDx speaker and an actively engaged citizen who volunteers and encourages civic engagement.

What a week!

We just passed the first week of classes as students return to continue their journey in higher education. It can be filled with eager anticipation, or dismal disappointment. Some students will proceed smoothly, forging ahead to the next year of their studies, while others have just come up against a devastating obstacle – academic failure.

Sitting face-to-face with students who are going through the painful realization that they must pause, detour, gather a wellness toolkit, change, maneuver, yield, reevaluate, I see their vulnerability and unyielding commitment to continue on the journey with strength and resolve.

What are some Skills Needed to Succeed at this Crossroad?


The examination of the self is very important at this point. And it is most important to be honest with oneself. No one knows you like you do.

What are the factors that may have contributed to being at this juncture? The reasons can be multi-layered and could include relationship issues, family and financial difficulties, physical health or mental health, procrastination or lack of motivation, lack of degree direction or simply a lack of engagement with the material. Honestly identifying which of these factors or others, may have gotten in the way, and then creating an action plan. The action plan can include small steps, of how to work towards working through these concerns and seeking realistic solutions. Developing a growth mindset (Mindset, The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, 2006) that is open to learning, and willing to savour the challenge of the change may be needed. This is easier said than done but without a critical analysis of the situation it will be difficult to change directions. A person with a growth mindset can begin to see the learning that happens in failure. This can be a monumental and powerful realization.

Acceptance and Decision-Making

In order to create an alternative plan of action, one must be able to make some choices which require making some difficult decisions. Perhaps in order to make a sound decision the individual might actually need a break to clear their head. Academic suspensions can sometimes be this painful but much needed break. Often, we roll from one thing to the next because it is what is expected and everyone else seems to be doing so. In this hustle and bustle we do not “pause” to reflect if the next thing is the right thing for us. A short break may be needed before sound decisions can be made with a clear mind.

Making decisions also requires an acceptance of the adversity at hand. It is not an acceptance of failure but it is an acceptance of the reality of the situation. It is acknowledging that this is an adversity that will need to be worked through. Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte, in their book the Resilience Factor (2002) discuss ways to lay the ground work to cultivate resiliency. Advising students is a delicate and authentic relationship where the advisor respects the humanity of the experience but the reality of situation must be worked through.

Reaching Out For Support

It may seem like no one will understand your situation or truly understand your challenges, but it is important to reach out and ask for help. Yes, asking for help requires courage and being vulnerable can be the hardest position to be in. But you are not alone.

Perhaps others may not exactly feel your pain, but people can be genuinely helpful and willing to help if you ask. Service-providers and professionals who provide support can help to be partners in your progress. Meaningful change can only come from a desire to reflect and take steps towards the goal.

There are many self help and mental health tools available online that can also be helpful. Big White Wall ( Bounceback by the Canadian Mental Health Association ( are examples of two mental health resources in the community that may be helpful in this journey.

Finding a partner such as a friend, a sibling or a parent, who can keep you accountable in your goals can also be a powerful motivator to keep on track. You can build check points with your partner that are weekly with preset markers and short-term goals. For example, if you procrastinate with gaming, you might want to schedule some reasonable gaming time and let your partner know when and how long you have set these for, and you can create mechanisms of checking in with each other on whether or not you are keeping to the plan.

Some Concluding Words

Be ready to recognize your own strengths. We are all good at some things but we are not all good at the same things. Identify your strengths and that which inspires a passion in you – some solutions may lie therein.

Remember that things can change and they often do. There is always hope because there are always many possibilities and alternatives as long as we are open to seeing them.

It is important for academic institutions to remember that when we celebrate students with high GPAs and beautiful accomplishments, we must also remember the extraordinary and untold stories of resilience and commitment that resonate throughout these institutions. These stories remind us that education is also about building character and strong citizens who can face adversity and emerge successful on their own terms and as a student development professional, I thank you for trusting us to be part of this transformation.

TEDxUTSC talk titled “Do you see people for who they are”

Pics credit to Ali Javeed, Shehna Javeed, and puzzle pieces pic from

Creating Community in Academic Advising and Student Affairs & Services

By Michelle Lynch

Community is about doing and feeling. It’s about people coming together to solve a problem, to share in an experience, or to help or care for others.  Community is also the feeling of acknowledgement and belonging. There are a variety of operating theories, models, and methods related to community development like sustainable, pragmatic, unnamedsocial action, and social planning.  I particularly like to integrate a kind of asset-based community development into my work in higher education. An asset-based approach appreciates and recognizes the many talents and resources individuals already possess and helps them navigate where they want to go.

Generally speaking, the goals of community development are empowerment and social justice.  Bill Lee (1999) wrote that empowerment is “the sense in people that they have the ability and right to influence their environment” (p. 43).  Within these goals are five objectives: involvement or participation, a sense of community, organization development, concrete benefits, and social learning.  Examples of these are all around us in higher education. We intentionally create opportunities for our students to experience community through our services, programming, clubs, events, and residence.  We have initiatives and programs for students to further their skill development outside the classroom such as service learning, work integrated learning, and research partnerships. Academic staff and faculty are working together with service departments to launch student success programming, share research findings, collaborate with program advisory members, and host events.

There is ample literature related to community development in academic advising and student affairs and services.  There is even a chapter dedicated to community development in Students Services: A Handbook for the Profession (Roberts, 2011). In it  the author writes that developing community is at the core of helping students prepare for their “interdependent and global” future (p. 448).  There are relevant books and articles describing ways that academic departments and service departments can collaborate together (some are listed below). In “The Recipe for Promising Practices in Community Colleges” (2010) the authors’ research findings suggest that there are four characteristics that played key roles in improving achievement rates in community colleges: cohesion, cooperation, consistency, and  “connection—the ability of program personnel to sustain interdependent relationships with internal and external entities, such as other departments within the college and industry representatives” (p.31).  Community is forged in the connections between students and students, students and staff/faculty, and all stakeholders and the institution.

We can choose the level of our individual participation in our communities and, to some of us, it can be taxing to ‘do more’, especially financially.  But, seemingly small gestures can help create a sense of community and do not have to cost extra money. Here are a few:

#1 Acknowledge People:

  • Sometimes, I do not meet up with a colleague the entire year, even though we work on the same campus! Once or twice a year I like to visit other departments (sometimes I bring treats) and say ‘hello’.  It is that brief interaction with some people I know and meeting people I don’t yet know which are moments that build community.  Sometimes when I visit, I take a few moments to thank someone for helping me with solving a problem or answering a question.  And, if I can’t do a visit, I phone or email them.


  • We train our new Student Learning Centre staff over a two-day workshop.  The coming together of new student staff and returning student staff provides an excellent opportunity for community building.  I was invited to facilitate a session to this group on the topic of giving and receiving feedback. While I delivered the fun, engaging, experiential, and collaborative exercise, community engagement was definitely happening.  Further community building came later when there was a few minutes left before the next session and we were all chatting. The students and I had a lovely, and totally unrelated, conversation about music. We shared in the experience of learning from each other and sharing something that is special.  What was unscripted became a very special moment of connection.


#2 Invite People:  

  • When the semester is up and running our Student Learning Centre (SLC) also has an open house each Fall and Winter term to welcome and share with students, staff, and faculty about the programs and services offered. The organizer makes it fun with food and prizes.  Also, the smell of popcorn attracts people (it’s science). Staff and faculty have a chance to meet their inter-departmental colleagues and catch up. Students come for the chance to win prizes and have a snack but while they’re visiting they are meeting new people and sharing in the experience of exploring what the SLC can offer.


  • I have invited my colleagues and hosted lunch and learns to watch pertinent lecture videos or webinars and have our lunch together.  Then, I guide a discussion of our impressions of content and any ‘takeaways’ relevant to our experience, reflections on the past, and ideas for the future.  Afterwards, at least one colleague will declare “we should do this again!”


  • Our Mechanical and Electro-Mechanical Engineering students have capstone or a final project course.  In this course students conduct research with an industry Invitepartner and design and develop a prototype. The department puts on a project showcase in the cafeteria and common spaces and student groups design posters and demonstrate their work.  I have participated in the organization of this event for many years. What I do, however, is not just list the event in the newsletter email. I personally hand deliver invitations to my college community members: other academic departments, facilities management, the bookstore staff, human resources, etc. It makes me so happy when folks from the Registrar’s office come and talk with the students about their projects.  It makes people feel happy to be invited.  It makes people feel good to belong.

These examples may seem small and insignificant.  These moments of connection can be glossed over and taken for granted.  However, our acknowledgement of and time spent with others serves as a model for our students.  Not every experience will be the best or the most positive, but the experiences students have and the connections they make during their time at our institutions are significant.

Many books and articles detail how a program or service came to be and how a new initiative or partnership increased student persistence rates, student satisfaction, or program quality.  However, it is the ‘why’ we do these things that what we must attend to. Peter Block (2018) writes that “the key to creating or transforming community, then, is to see the power in the small but important elements of being with others” (p.10).  It is through these moments which propels communication, furthers understanding, launches creativity, and motivates us for action. It is connection that transforms us from simply doing the same old things to creating something new, something that may not have even been considered before the connection.  Building community requires intentionally creating opportunities for belonging.  

What have been your moments of building community? Let us know in the comments!




Block, P. (2018). Community: The structure of belonging 2nd Ed. Oakland, CA:

Berrett-Koehler Publishers.


Lee, B. (1999). Pragmatics of Community Organization, 3rd Ed., Mississauga, ON:

CommonAct Press.


Levin, J. S., Cox, E. M., Cerven, C. & Haberler, Z. (2010). The Recipe for Promising

Practices in Community Colleges. 38(1), 31-58. Community College Review.

DOI: 10.1177/0091552110374505


Roberts, D. C., (2011). Community Development. In Schuh, J. H., Jones, S. R., &

Harper, S. R. (Eds.). Student services: A handbook for the profession

(pp.448-467). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.


Further Reading


Asset Based Community Development – Canada (n.d). Tamarak Institute.  Retrieved



Berson, J., Potter, D. L., Engelkemeyer, S., & Terenzini, P. T. (1998). Powerful

Partnerships A Shared Responsibility for Learning. A Joint Report. American

Association for Higher Education. American College Personnel Association.

National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.  Retrieved from:

red_responsibility_for_learning.pdf .


Ledwith, K. E. (2014). Academic advising and career services: A collaborative

approach. New Directions for Student Services, 2014(148), 49-63.


Levy, M. A., & Polnariev, B. A. (Eds.). (2016). Academic and Student Affairs in

Collaboration: Creating a Culture of Student Success. New York:  Routledge.


Lizzio, A. (2006). Designing an orientation and transition strategy for commencing

students: Applying the five senses model. Retrieved from:



Pace, D., Blumreich, K. M., & Merkle, H. B. (2006). Increasing collaboration between

student and academic affairs: Application of the intergroup dialogue model.

Naspa Journal, 43(2), 301-315.


Roper, L. D., Porterfield, K. T., Whitt, E. J., & Carnaghi, J. E. (2016). Embracing core

values: Finding joy in the challenges of our work. New Directions for Student

Services, 2016(153), 55-67.


Advising Student-Athletes as a Special Population

By Carmen O’Callaghan
This blog post was organized in collaboration with the Advising CoP within CACUSS and the NACADA Canada Advising Community 

The notion of providing academic advising support for special populations has been around for many years.  Students have been divided by program, by year of study, by whether they are at-risk or high achieving in an effort to provide the best services possible.  Many universities offer services specific to international students, indigenous students, LGTBQ students and students with accessibility concerns – so why should the student-athlete special population be different?  The answer is, that according to the research, they probably shouldn’t be and constitute their own special population.


Special Population

What constitutes effective advising for “special” populations does not differ markedly from effective advising practices for all students (Strommer, 1995, p 28), but that often resources are not available to provide the services to traditional students that are recommended for special populations.  In his research on issues in advising student-athletes and whether they constitute a special population, Gordon (1986) states that:

Academic advisors working with student-athletes need to be aware of the special characteristics they bring to the advising relationship and the critical issues affecting the advising process.  Four of these issues and their implications for advising include:

  1. the relationship between athletic participation and the academic performance;
  2. individual differences among student-athletes;
  3. the possible conflict in the roles of the student and athlete; and,
  4. the debate over the need for special programs for student athletes. (p 81)


Advising Considerations

Gruber (2003) takes the considerations of rules governing student-athletes a step further, and provides a list of questions that advisors should ask during initial meetings with student-athletes to facilitate a more effective advising relationship:

  • What are the participation expectations of these students?
  • How do these expectations differ from out of-season expectations?
  • What are the practice times, and how do these affect class schedules?
  • What training outside of practice (e.g., weights, running, etc.) is expected, and are these workouts to be conducted at nonscheduled times?
  • How many home and away games are scheduled during the season or year?
  • What kind of time and travel commitments must the student make, and how do these affect the student’s ability to attend classes?
  • Does the institution have a policy that allows for students who represent the school in an official capacity to be given make-up exams?
  • Do particular academic majors require exhaustive time commitments from students and conflict with their commitments as student athletes?
  • What are the eligibility rules for participation (conference/NCAA [U Sports])?
  • How is full-time status and normal progress defined?
  • What institutional support services are available to the student athlete based on his or her time constraints and commitments?
  • Does the institution offer academic support services specifically for student athletes? If they do, what are their mission and scope? What services are provided? What is their formal and informal relationship to the advising office? (p 48)

Developing academic goals, determining academic strengths and weaknesses, and envisioning potential career options are all areas in which the advisor may be quite helpful to the athlete (Gruber, 2003, p 47).


Effective Advising

Strommer (1995) states that what constitutes effective advising for “special” populations does not differ markedly from effective advising practices for all students (p 28), but that often resources are not available to provide the services to traditional students that are recommended for special populations.  Strommer (1995) also notes that:

Advising special populations of students calls for structure and intrusiveness, contact with individuals, or, preferably, small groups made routine by weekly, biweekly, or monthly meetings.  Encounters should not be left to chance or the demands of registration.  Advisers and advisees need to plan the content of these advising sessions and need to develop precise goals and tasks to achieve them to meet the students’ needs at particular times in the undergraduate years. (p 28)

Advisors can champion collaboration among campus support departments and initiatives, to ensure that student-athletes have the necessary resources given their time limitations outside of their athletic commitments (Rubin, 2015).  Having advisors with the knowledge and understanding of student-athlete specific issues and the desire to facilitate communication between faculty, campus support departments and the team managing athletics can only help to lessen the pressures felt by student-athletes as they complete their university degrees while competing on a national stage for their institution.



Gordon, R. L. (1986). Issues in Advising Student-Athletes. NACADA Journal, 6 (1), 81-86.

Gruber, C. A. (2003). What Every Academic Advisor Should Know About Advising Student Athletes. NACADA Journal, 23(1-2), 44-49.

Rubin, L.M., (2015). Advising student athletes. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources,   Articles/Advising-Student-Athletes.aspx

Strommer, D. W. (1995). Advising special populations of students. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 1995: 25-34.


advising athletes image

What exactly is a Profession? Is Advising a Profession?

Paul SileikaWhat is professionalization? And what does it mean for professional advisors?  

There has been a lot of talk over the past few years about the professionalization of advising. In my experience this topic has come up regularly at conferences, in the NACADA clearinghouse in the form of online articles, and generally in conversation among advising professions. 

But what is a profession really? Where do we delineate the boundary between vocations, occupations and professions? Furthermore, do we even want advising to completely professionalize, or are we better off with the status quo?

We must also consider the Canadian context. In Canada we have a longer ways to go to even recognize advising and student affairs as professions. I can recall a phone call last year with an American colleague where she said to me, “Aren’t you glad in this day and age every academic advisor typically has their masters?” I was shocked! This was not the case by a long-shot at my institution. Was her institution better off to have this higher requirement for academic advisors? Is being deemed a profession the ideal because of the prestige and potential pay? Or do “professions” exclude certain candidates because because of credentialism? 

For the purpose of this blog I will use a relatively narrow definition of profession i.e.  a job that requires a high level of training, qualifications and recognition. One of the frameworks to understand which occupations are professions that I find particularly useful is by Rudi Volti (2012). Volti uses the following checklist to determine if an occupation is a profession.

  1. A curriculum that consists of specialized knowledge (without being too narrowly
  2. Require training that includes university education,
  3. Hold a place of value in society,
  4. Trust in the work of the profession through an established code of ethics,
  5. Cooperation within the organization of professionals, and
  6. Function autonomously which includes a licensing board consisting of members from the profession

By no means is the only framework for a profession but for the purpose of reflecting on the field of academic advising we will analyze each item.

1 A curriculum that consists of specialized knowledge

NACADA recently released competencies related to academic advising. While this competency framework is a useful tool for institutions to use in regards to their advising roles, it is by no means a universal standard for academic advisors across Canada. Therefore it would not be accurate to say that we have specialized knowledge as academic advisors.

2 Requires training that includes a university education

Academic advising roles may require training on some campuses, but not always. Academic advising may also require an undergraduate education but not in any particular field. While Kansas State University offers an academic advising masters degree, this program is also not required across all institutions. So university education is a bit grey as many job postings do require a degree however this is not an explicit requirement of being an academic advisor.

3 Holds a place of value in society

I love the work we do. At the same time, I have to admit that the average Canadian is not familiar with the term “academic advisor” nor does it spring to mind as a potential career for the average high school student. While we have an important role within higher education, we are not yet well known enough to say that we meet this requirement of a profession.

4 Trust in the work of the profession through an established code of ethics

The Council for Advancement of Standards of Higher Education (CAS) is an association that promotes professional standards for higher education roles. We also have to abide by privacy laws with confidential information. One could argue we have some connection to ethics and standards.

5 Cooperation within the organization of professionals

Academic advising does have professional organizations such as NACADA, as well as smaller provincial groups. The number of conferences is also indicative of a healthy level of organization. Advising could claim that there is some organization of professionals.

6 Function autonomously which includes a licensing board consisting of members from the profession

This one is fairly straightforward. We do not have a licensing body for academic advising.

Conclusion: We’re not strictly a textbook “profession” and that’s a good thing! 

According to this framework we only partially meet the criteria for a profession. What does that mean?

Professionalization may seem like an obvious desire. When we think of doctors, lawyers engineers and other “professions” we often think of prestige and high pay. Are we in a bad situation if we are not yet known as a profession? 

I would say that we should be proud of the current status of our work even if we are not a “textbook” profession. This is because professions are more exclusive than many occupations. And not everyone needs to be part of a  exclusive profession. That is why I am proud that academic advising is an occupation that is open to individuals from different walks of life, and not to a select few who pursue a strict accreditation. Our diversity is our strength and so whether or not we ever reach the status of a “profession” there is no work that I would rather be engaged in than academic advising. We are the sometimes unsung heroes who know how to listen to students’ concerns, nudge them towards success and connect them to communities on campus. Important work like that may not be recognized as professional work, but it is full of meaning which can be even more valuable.

Worked Cited

Volti, R. (2012). An introduction to the sociology of work and occupations. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

Staying Grounded: What is Mindfulness Anyways?


Tyler Hall


Tyler Hall, Student Success Advisor, Dalhousie University


Throughout our day, a myriad of students come through our offices and share with us their stories. Sometimes they are stories of triumph, but others feel defeated and need support. Our schedules keep up busy and very rarely do we have time to collect our thoughts before the next student. It is vital as an advisor that we take a peaceful pause and stay grounded, even if only for a few minutes. Chaos can be tempting. It threatens to pull at us and rush us along on its path of uncertainty, but there are ways to resist the pull. It can be challenging at times, but I know I can always come back to one thing. Mindfulness.

The term Mindfulness is thrown around a lot as a magic cure-all band-aid for anxiety and stress. “Do some mindfulness and you will be fine.” Mindfulness takes practice. Mindfulness takes work. It takes commitment to notice when your mind wanders away from what is important and begins to drift to less productive thoughts. You begin to fall down the proverbial rabbit hole.

There are many ways to practice mindfulness and many definitions but for me, the first definition I heard stuck. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”. In that sentence, they summarize the 5 things one needs to do to stay mindful.

Pay Attention

This is often the hardest part, but the most important. To stay mindful, you need to notice when you are not being mindful. We all have had those interactions with students that leave us with our heads on our desks. Sometimes it is from feeling lost as to what advice to give, or sometimes a student has shared a particularly emotional story. Sometimes those feelings can stay with us all day. It is important to pay attention to our thoughts and notice when this happens. Without that attention, this feeling can continue to weigh on us and take us down even further.

In a Particular Way

Once you are able to notice these moments, it is adding intention that begins to create a mindful state. What you do once you notice these moments is the next step. How can you move through the experience in a useful way? How can you sit with these feelings and be comfortable with them? This is where the mindfulness techniques come into play.

On Purpose

Similar to the above statement, intention is so important. Mindfulness must be done on purpose, not by accident. If thoughts are noticed by accident and you deal with them and move on without a purposeful mindset, that is not mindfulness. Before I begin any mindfulness session, whether it is 3 minutes before my next student or 20 minutes at the end of my day. I say out loud, I am going to begin a mindfulness practice. Saying it out loud and defining it helps shift your thinking to the task at hand.

In the Present Moment

Sometimes you will hear mindfulness described as being present. The present is the only thing we have control over. The past has happened, and the future has yet to happen. How we deal with what is happening now can help us steer where we want to go. This can be one of the hardest things to do. Our minds like to wander away from the present. It could be thinking of past appointments with students or what you are going to make for dinner.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space, in that space is our power to choose our response, in our response lies our growth and our freedom” – Viktor Frankl

That space is the present moment and we need to embrace it. By slowing down and becoming aware of that space, we gain control of that power to choose our response. Sometimes autopilot takes over and doesn’t make the best choice.


Perhaps one of the most challenging parts of mindfulness is treating thoughts without judgement. Even when you have set an intention and are being mindful in the present moment, thoughts will cross your mind. It is important to give them no emotional weight whether positive or negative. Every thought is neutral as it floats through. The trick is to notice them and let them go and focus back on the present.

So what now?

Hopefully, you can begin to understand what mindfulness is and what it isn’t. There are many ways to practice it be it meditation, mindful eating, mindful driving, body scans, etc; but the heart of it lies in the five tenants that Jon Kabat Zinn sets out. Mindfulness is and will always be a practice. There is nothing to overcome, no blackbelt or Michelin star proclaiming you are the best. It is just about paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.

As advisors, we are constantly exposed to struggles and hardships faced by students. It is vital that we stay present not only to serve the students better, but so we can serve ourselves. For me, mindfulness is a way of life and a great comfort when things get challenging. I encourage you all to think about mindfulness and how the tenants above sit with your understanding.

Techniques to Stay Mindful

3 minute mindfulness

This was one of the first techniques that I was introduced to when starting my mindfulness journey. The best part is, you just listen to the video and follow the directions. I encourage you to carve 3 minutes out, find a comfortable position, sit intentionally ready to engage in mindfulness, and listen. The video below is just one of many on Youtube. Explore different ones and find which ones work for you.

Seated Mindfulness

Once you feel comfortable with guided mindfulness like above, you may want to branch out and create your own way of being mindful. One way to do that is to sit intentionally and focus on the present. Easier said then done. I often pick an anchor, something to focus on that is happening right now to keep me focused.

While seated, close your eyes if comfortable and set a timer. Start with 3 minutes if you can and work your way up once you feel more comfortable. Start by setting your intention and acknowledge that this is a mindful practice.

Sound – This is the first anchor that you can try. While being mindful, focus your thoughts on the sounds around you. What can you hear? What sounds are new now that you are being mindful? The challenging thing is to not judge these sounds. You may notice the tick of a clock come into your focus. This might be annoying. This is a judgement. Try to let that judgement go and focus only on the sound.

Breath – Another way to focus your thoughts on the present is to focus on breathing. Notice as it fills your chest and then leaves your body. Judgement can come in to play if you begin to worry about the rate at which you are breathing or the sound it makes. Let the judgements go and focus only on the breath.

Body – A third way to focus is on the body. One of the easiest ways is to do a body scan. Starting at the top or bottom, mentally scan your body and notice each part individually. Sometimes you will become mindful of pain or irritation. Try to notice these neutrally and then move on. An example of a guided body scan can be found here:

Inevitably your mind will wander, thinking about other things. When this happens, notice it and refocus on your anchor. That notice and refocus is what being mindful is all about. You may need to pull yourself back every few seconds when you begin but as you practice, you will be able to stay mindful with fewer distractions. You will never be perfect so treat each session as a practice without comparing to other times. Only the present matters.

These are only a few methods that can be incorporated right at your desk between students. There are a myriad of techniques to practice mindfulness, so I encourage you to try out ones that work for you. Some resources I have found helpful are below. Just remember, the act of practising is doing. There is no right or wrong, only practice.




Hanh, T. N. (1999). The miracle of mindfulness: An introduction to the practice of meditation. Boston: Beacon Press.

Harris, D. (2014). 10% happier: How I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works–A true story. New York: Harper Collins .

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hatchette Book Group.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York: Bantam Books.