Culture of Support

Brandman hosts successful regional conference for academic advisors

March 17, 2016 by Cindy O'Dell
Don Scott, Sean Nemeth

Don Scott and Sean Nemeth were co-chairs of the academic advisors conference hosted by Brandman University at USC.

Brandman University hosted 500 attendees at “Surfing the Waves of Change: Advising for a New Generation,” the Region 9 conference of the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) this week. Although the event was held at the University of Southern California because of space considerations, Brandman people were everywhere.

Co-chairs Sean Nemeth, the associate vice chancellor of Enrollment Services, Retention and Advising at Brandman University, and Don Scott, director of Advising and Retention Services at Brandman, organized the event. Together they’ve spent a year securing the venue and hotels, calling for proposals, configuring rooms, planning social events and shaping a budget that would keep attendance fees reasonable.

Nearly 30 of the university’s 55 academic advisors attended the event and many also served as volunteers.

Scott said the event gives academic advisors from 2-year and 4-year colleges and universities, both public and private in California, Hawaii and Nevada, a chance to meet others with the same roles and discuss common issues.

“Attending the conference helps academic advisors rise to the next level in their professional development and understanding of the field,” said Nemeth.

Attendees chose from multiple breakout sessions focusing on everything from the use of social media for advising students to working with students trying to get off academic probation to confidentiality issues with peer advisors.

“We know academic advisors have had a great impact on Brandman’s success,” said Chancellor Gary Brahm while welcoming the crowd to the keynote luncheon session. “You take time to guide, support, mentor and engage with students so that they can be effective in their pursuit of academic, career and life goals.”

Dr. Wes Habley, keynote speaker

Dr. Wes Habley, keynote speaker

That happens because of the one-on-one relationship academic advisors have with students, said keynote speaker Dr. Wes Habley, a founding member of NACADA.

It’s one of the few things that hasn’t changed since the organization’s founding in the early 1980s. Habley said the first five national conferences had fewer attendees than the one this week at USC. The organization has grown from 200 members to more than 13,000 nationwide.

Habley urged the group to do a better job of proving that academic advising makes a difference through rigorous research.

“We know it makes a difference, but how do we prove it? We need research that provides direction for specific outcomes,” he said.

Not all academic advising is quality advising, he said, adding that the hallmark of all successful academic advising is a caring attitude on the part of the advisor.

Glenn Worthington

Dean Glenn Worthington was one of many Brandman faculty and staff members contributing to the conference.

Glenn Worthington, dean of Brandman’s School of Business and Professional Studies and the emcee for the welcome luncheon, added his own observations to that point.

“I go to a lot of graduations and I talk to students before they go on stage for that diploma. Almost all of them mention their academic advisor – that you are always there for them, year after year. You’re the caring personality that adds to their education,” said Worthington.

Senorina Saldivar, an academic advisor at Brandman’s Palm Desert campus who served as volunteer coordinator for the event, echoed Habley and Worthington when she said she’s found that it’s all about relationships. “It’s important that students feel comfortable coming to you, especially when they have obstacles. If you have a good relationship, they’ll come to you” before an obstacle becomes a crisis.

Scott said Brandman looks for advisors who demonstrate a caring attitude. The university also has a better ratio of students to advisors than many others in the region. The average is 228 students for every advisor while Brandman has 150 students per advisor.

“It’s important to remember that the job of academic advisor is to deal with attrition. It’s usually not a cataclysmic event that makes students leave college. It’s more of an erosion,” said Habley.

For Sarah Ellison and Emily Dubay, both academic advisors at the Victorville campus, the conference provided valuable insights. “I found that I am part of an amazing network of advisors who work very hard to help our students succeed,” said Ellison. “It is a great experience to gain knowledge and best practices from all different types of universities … and take it back to possibly apply to what we are working on here at Brandman,” said Dubay, who attended the conference for the first time.

The conference was a great success, said Nemeth. “We broke our attendance goal and provided some great opportunities for professional development and connecting with other advisors in the field.

“I walked away from this event feeling very proud of the academic advisors at Brandman University and how hard we have worked to build our academic advising model. It is one of the best in the country and has a profound impact on the educational experience of our students.”

Brandman staff members didn’t just organize, attend and emcee. Dustin Domingo, credential coordinator, performed with FOURTY4B, an a cappella group, during the Wednesday social gathering.

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