Finding a professional home for advisors in Canada

Any good storyteller will tell you that the key to a good plot is tension. For many years, the tension for academic advisors in Canada has been centered on our own professional identity.  As academic advisors, do we fit within the sphere of student affairs professionals?  As Canadians, do we see enough common ground to fit within NACADA? For faculty advisors across Canada, professional development is often housed within their academic discipline which can exclude primary-role or professional advisors. Without a common professional home that is inclusive for all, the result is a lack of common identity for Academic Advisors in Canada. The tension builds . . .

I have been a member of NACADA for eight years and in that time, I have served as a Regional Conference Chair, Region Steering Committee member and most recently, I have taken on the role of co-chair for the Canada Interest Group.  I know that the number of Canadian members of NACADA is a small percentage of those who advise across Canada. Many of us join NACADA in those years that we plan to attend either a Regional or the Annual conference and few of us take part in or recognize the other value-added benefits of our NACADA memberships outside of conference attendance.

The story for conference attendance at CACUSS is somewhat similar for academic advisors, we only become a member of the association when we plan to attend an annual conference.  I also think that it’s challenging for academic advisors to actually see where they fit within CACUSS because, for many years, it’s been challenging to find advising related sessions at the annual conferences. The development of the Communities of Practice model over the last three years has provided an opportunity for academic advisors to find space within CACUSS and see themselves as members of the association.

My goal in becoming involved as the co-chair of the Canada Interest Group for NACADA and a co-chair of the Integrated Academic and Professional Advising Community of Practice with CACUSS was to reach out to advisors across the country and help promote awareness of advising in and across Canada.

In the December issue of Academic Advising Today, a NACADA publication, Erin Justyna wrote about advising as a profession and several of the initiatives currently underway that will contribute to the conversation, namely Advising Core Values and Academic Advising Core Competencies. Both happen to be under revision, as Justyna (December, 2016) adds, “the revised core values and the core competencies model will continue to define the advising profession and provide a solid conceptual framework within which advisors can work and will allow for more consistency in advising practice.” And closer to home, CACUSS recently launched a set of core competencies for Student Affairs professionals, including academic advisors (Fernandez et al, 2016). The establishment of the core competency framework through CACUSS is reflective of the association identifying the need for student affairs professionals, and among them academic advisors, to acquire the skills needed to advance professionally at an introductory, intermediate and senior level. These frameworks from both CACUSS and NACADA, in effect, establish a professional space for academic advisors in Canada.  Academic advising has been recognized at many Canadian institutions as an activity that is critical to student success and the work on competencies and core values at both NACADA and CACUSS provide an opportunity to inform and advance the field of advising.

The story is by no means over, but perhaps we are ready to begin a new chapter with the work that NACADA and CACUSS are doing on behalf of academic advisors and student affairs professionals. NACADA’s executive director, Charlie Nutt wrote in that same December, 2016 issue of Academic Advising Today, that academic advisors are fortunate in that we often have “ . . . had a foot in both academic and student affairs . . .” and our work should be on building bridges between the two spheres rather than competing against one another. He adds, “just as higher education is complex, the work we do across campuses to increase student success is complex and cannot be done in isolation or in established silos” (Nutt, 2016, December). It is possible to work together between and within professional associations to achieve practical goals that will support our students and ourselves as professionals.  This is a good news story for advisors in Canada. We have the opportunity to become engaged members wherever we see that our professional development interests are being met and where we feel that we have a voice that allows us to make a meaningful contribution to our profession.

by Shea Ellingham

References

Fernandez, D., Fitzgerald, D., Hambler, P., & Mason-Innes, T. (2016) CACUSS student affairs and services competency model. Overview retrieved from: http://www.cacuss.ca/Student_Affairs_and_Services_Competency_Model.html

Justyna, E. (2016, December). On being an advising professional. Academic Advising Today, 39(4). Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/On-Being-an-Advising-Professional.aspx

Nutt, C. (2016, December). From the executive director: Building collaborative partnerships to support student success. Academic Advising Today, 39(4). Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/From-the-Executive-Director-Building-Collaborative-Partnerships-to-Support-Student-Success.aspx

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