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.




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.

Mindset and Grit – The keys to unlocking student success?

This is part 1 of 2. Part 2 will focus on providing practical strategies to advisors and academic coaches who are applying growth and grit to their advising practice. Part 2 will come later in the Winter 2018 Term.

Neil Cole

Neil Cole, Academic Advising Support Coordinator, University of New Brunswick (Fredericton)

“Mindset” and “grit” are now among higher ed’s buzziest buzz words, but they are not “fad concepts” like MOOCs, which have come and gone. Rather they are proven to be successful approaches in student development, and for good reason.

So what is mindset? What is grit? Is grit different than perseverance? Why are they important to student success?

Briefly, mindset is an area of study in psychology pioneered by Carol Dweck and several research colleagues. In their work they discovered that there are two basic mindsets that people have: either growth or fixed. In short, a growth mindset is the idea that one’s ability, talent, and intelligence can grow and be strengthened, much like exercising muscles. On the other hand, a fixed mindset is the idea that one’s ability or intelligence is (you guessed it) fixed and unchangeable. A growth mindset is one centered around self-development, while a fixed mindset ties one’s success or ability to identity. In a growth mindset, a “failure” or “set back” is a learning opportunity, but in a fixed mindset, a failure is an attack on one’s self-identity, whatever it may be.

Growth mindset is supported by new research in the field of neuroplasticity that has recently discovered the brain is always growing new neural pathways when actively learning and actively applying previously learned skills and information.

What about grit? Grit and perseverance are generally the same, and have gained more traction the past several years through research by Angela Duckworth. Duckworth may not have discovered grit the same way Dweck discovered mindsets, but her work is nonetheless important to understanding our students and how to support them the best.

The remarkable link between mindset and grit is how a growth or fixed mindset may influence a student’s grit or perseverance. A student with a fixed mindset has been shown to have low grit. In other words, if you believe you can’t do a task, and you believe no amount of effort will make you better, then you’re likely not going to work any harder at achieving or completing your task. Flip the coin, though: if you have a growth mindset and you know that with the right amount of effort combined with appropriate strategies that you can learn or complete that which is difficult, you are more likely to persevere when the difficulty emerges.

In the example above, a gritty, growth mindset will stick to the difficult task until it is done, or until the appropriate learning is accomplished. A gritty, growth minded student understands that learning is hard and requires lots of effort to be highly successful, whereas a low-grit, fixed minded student will often buckle under or give up as the earliest signs of struggle or challenge.

So why are these concepts important to student success?

As educators, counselors, advocates, advisors and coaches, financial aid officers, administrators, accessibility officers, career practitioners, health officers, residence staff, or whatever you do, we all have a role to play in helping our students unlock their gritty, growth minded potential.


You can learn more from these resources:

Mindset, by Carol Dweck

Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset, animated video by Sprouts

The Power of Yet, TedxNorrköping, Carol Dweck

The Power of Belief, TedxManhattan Beach, Eduardo Briceno


Grit, by Angela Duckworth

Grit: the power of passion and perseverance, Ted Talks, Angela Duckworth

Grit, animated video by Sprouts


Take the Mindset Quiz and Grit Scale Self-Assessments

Mindset Quiz (online self-assessment)

Grit Scale (online self-assessment)



The Brain that Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge

The Brain that Changes Itself, The Nature of Things Documentary


CACUSS and NACADA Competency Frameworks Compared: Which works best for the Canadian Advising Professional?

Paul SileikaThe CACUSS Student Affairs and Services Competency Model and the NACADA Advising Core Competencies Model were both released relatively recently. For those of us who are involved in NACADA and CACUSS, we are in the advantageous position of having two frameworks to work with when looking to implement training and development for our institutions.

On a personal note, the emergence of these competency models also mirrored my professional life.

I work full-time at Ryerson coordinating university-wide projects for supporting academic advising.  As we begin to move forward with training programs I have been using the NACADA model to design advising workshops with the first series being centred around the “Relational” component, with the “Informational” and “Conceptual” to follow in the future.

I also teach a class for the Student Advising and Support Certificate at George Brown part-time in the evenings. As part of the curriculum, we spend the first class discussing the CACUSS Competency Model since we have students in this course who may work across several different student affairs roles. We typically begin the first class by reflecting on our strongest competencies as well as our weakest so that we can direct our learning based on what we want to improve.

Below are my thoughts on the two competency models. If you agree or disagree we would love to hear from you! Feel free to start a discussion in the comments.

NACADA Competency Model Advantages

1) Specifically designed for the role of academic advising

The NACADA core competencies are based on three components: Conceptual, Informational and Relational with more details listed under each component. The conceptual refers to theories and approaches of advising, the informational to institutional knowledge, and the relational refers to your advising skills. These competencies can help most advisors find where they have room for improvement in regards to their professional practice.

The CACUSS competency model, on the other hand, is meant to cover a whole array of student affairs roles with its 11 different competencies (more details below). It does have seemingly equivalent competencies: higher education acumen could stand in for informational, emotional and interpersonal intelligence could stand in for relational and student learning and development could stand in for conceptual. On some level, CACUSS could be considered equally apt however it is much broader and not meant solely for advising staff and faculty. For simplicity, the NACADA model works well for departments that are focused solely on advising as opposed to a broader Student Affairs department.

2) Competencies can be applied in ways to fit your institution

One of the benefits of the NACADA competencies is that it can work within any institution’s mission and processes. For example under the Informational Component there are some competencies that lend themselves to institution-specific knowledge:

1- Institution specific history, mission, vision, values, and culture

2- Curriculum, degree programs, and other academic requirements and options.

3- Institution specific policies, procedures, rules, and regulations

7- Information technology applicable to relevant advising roles.

These points are generic but also applicable to every college or university. These points acknowledge the value of an institution’s unique mission and values.

CACUSS Competency Model Advantages

1) You can explore more nuances with the CACUSS Competency Model

The CACUSS Competencies include:

Communication; Emotional and interpersonal Intelligence; Intercultural; Indigenous cultural awareness; Post-secondary acumen; Equity, diversity and inclusion; Leadership; management and administration; Strategic planning; research and assessment; Student advising; support and advocacy; Student learning and development; Technology and digital engagement.

When I presented these two models to my students one of them pointed out that she found the NACADA competencies limiting whereas the CACUSS competencies allowed you more room to explore.

The higher number of the CACUSS competencies (11 with CACUSS versus 3 with NACADA) allows you take a strengths-based approach to your own career in student services. You can find the competencies that work best with your skills set and reflect on how that allows you to contribute to the field of student affairs. Professionals who use the CACUSS Competency Model can identify where they are already strong by using the levels of core, intermediate and advanced as outlined in the detailed CACUSS Competency Model document.

2) CACUSS has the Canadian context in mind

The CACUSS Competency Model describes itself as “uniquely Canadian.” The document states that “many noted provincial diversity, language differences, Aboriginal student success, and the differences between colleges and universities.”

Indeed many student affairs professionals across Canada are interested in supporting Indigenous students attending college and university. When my students rank their strongest and weakest CACUSS competencies, typically Indigenous cultural awareness is the one area where professionals are eager to learn more. This is just one of the ways that the CACUSS Competency Model may demonstrate itself to be a better fit for Canadian academic advising professionals.

So with these ideas in mind, which do you think is the best model for the Canadian academic advising professional? Leave your comments below if you are interested in engaging in a discussion on this exciting topic for advising in Canada!

2017 CACUSS Preview

As the 2017 CACUSS conference draws near, the task of planning one’s time to make the most of the event is top of mind.  Each year, we’re overwhelmed by the number of fabulous sessions to choose from and the variety of topics that are presented.  There is so much going on at the conference that it’s almost a test of stamina to be able to take advantage of the sessions and networking opportunities.  As a way of helping attendees focus on a particular interest area, the conference program this year will identify both the Communities of Practice (CoP) and the CACUSS competencies that are relevant to a particular session.  These will be added to the digital program to help you easily choose the sessions might be the most relevant to your interests. It is worth noting not every presenter added a Community of Practice to their proposal so it’s in your best interest to read through the program and find the gems of sessions that will enhance your conference experience.

As the co-chairs of The Advising CoP (as we will officially be known – phew – because our old name was just so much of a mouthful to say and type and don’t even get us started on printing buttons!), we have provided a list of topics for several of the advising specific sessions for your consideration.  From advising special populations, to advising models, to advising portfolios, the CACUSS conference promises to deliver a variety of sessions to address your advising challenges. The breadth of topics relevant to advisors and those with a keen interest in advising includes:

  • Advising special populations
    • Grad students
    • Online students
    • At-risk students
  • Advising models
    • Integration of career and academic advising
    • Collaboration between student affairs and academic affairs
  • Advising Approaches and frameworks
    • Advising and retention
    • Appreciative advising
    • Advisors as cultural navigators
  • Professional development
    • Advising communities
    • Student Affairs collective
    • Team building
    • Academic learning and storytelling

As an association that embraces student services of all types, we would be remiss if we did not encourage all attendees to find sessions that will help them expand their own professional practice.  And we all know that conferences are more than just attending fabulous sessions, they are also about opportunities to network with old friends and a chance to meet new colleagues from across the country.  Since the introduction of the CoP model a couple of years ago, CACUSS has built in opportunities for professionals to network with like-minded folk both during the conference and at social events.  This year, the Advising CoP will be hosting both a CoP social (Monday, June 12 at 6:00 pm at the Highlander Pub) and a CoP meeting on Tuesday, June 13 at 9:00 am (which is so much better than 7:30 am), we hope you will mark these in your calendar!

At our CoP meeting on Tuesday morning, our goal will be to meet with folks who want to either find out more about our CoP or folks who would like to become more involved with our activities.  We are open to your ideas about the types of activities that the CoP should be working on throughout the year, so reaching out to the co-chairs of the CoP is a great way to become more engaged and active.  We will also be launching our steering committee later this summer that will have a number of small projects over the course of the year.

Finally, we would like to thank Tim Fricker, outgoing co-chair for the Advising CoP, for his tireless work and effort to establish the Integrated Academic and Professional Advising CoP.  We hope that he will continue to be involved in the great advising conversations that we have been fortunate to have begun over the last couple of years.  Joining us as in the role of in-coming co-chair for the Advising CoP will be Paige Doherty from St. Jerome’s University, federated with the University of Waterloo.  Paige is currently working on her M. Ed and has been involved with CACUSS as a conference reviewer, presenter and CoP member for the past two years.  We are looking forward to Paige’s contributions in the Advising CoP.

Shea Ellingham, Mount Royal University
Darran Fernandez, University of British Columbia
Tim Fricker, Mohawk College
Paige Doherty, St. Jerome’s University