Advising practice and scholarship

by | August 8, 2008

I attended a private brick and mortar university for my Doctorate in Educational Leadership. The school was small compared to Capella: Capella confers more doctorates in one year than my alma mater will confer in the next 50 years. When I first entered the EdD program, I was assigned a faculty advisor; however, I never thought to schedule an academic advising conversation with my assigned advisor. If I needed advice on an available course or the correct form to file to meet a deadline, I went to the department administrative assistant who knew everything. That is, she knew every course that was offered, not necessarily the best courses for my academic degree. I still cringe when I think about the course on Spirituality at Work that I took one semester, solely because it was offered at half-price.

I was not aware of the value of academic advising until I had completed my required coursework and my newly chosen dissertation chair grimaced as she looked at my course room transcript (even though I had a 4.00 point GPA). Thankfully, she encouraged me to take a couple of independent study courses that would help me to prepare for my dissertation research. Of course, my dissertation chair did not always know which form to file or all the deadlines to meet, and the administrative assistant was not versed in the components of the dissertation, but between the two, I finally received good, solid, academic advice.

NACADA, the National Academic Advising Association supports research of practice and scholarship in academic advising in higher education. At Capella, we have the opportunity to explore best practice in the field of academic advising. Advisors at Capella are not administrative assistants, although we certainly know the myriad of forms that each learner needs to complete to make academic progress. On the other hand, we certainly are not faculty or mentors, although we do understand the details of the doctoral process. I would like to open a discussion on advising at Capella. Tell us about your academic advising experiences, at Capella or elsewhere. What role would you like advising to play in your doctoral journey?

3 Responses to "Advising practice and scholarship"

  1. Jonathan Gehrz says:

    Prior to coming to Capella, my advising experience was largely limited to sitting down with a tenured faculty member, less than a year from retirement, being asked how my quarter was going, small talk, and a signature saying go register for the next quarter and a hardy hand shake followed by “Good job kid.”

    Fortunately for me, the then hot shot Freshman, received his comeuppance early on. Back then, I was on the self-proclaimed track of becoming our nation’s next president, majoring in political science and international relations. Second semester, I elected to take a seminar taught by a nationally renowned faculty member, notorious for his track-record of failing people brave (or stupid) enough to take his course. Never one to walk away from a challenge, I elected to claim the glove on the ground, enrolled in his course, only to receive a double “F” on my first writing submission, followed by a then public flogging as an example of how not to write a paper.

    Embarrassed and evaluating how to best quit college why preserving self-excellence, I approached the faculty member with my rationale for why my paper wasn’t “that bad” and deserving much higher marks. Before completing my first thought, he proceeded to forecast my academic future, citing, “Today, you failed, but you have a choice. You can let that failure define you and walk away today. After all, college isn’t for everyone. Or, you can learn from your failure and resolve not to fail again. It won’t be easy. The first year you’ll be a solid D, maybe a C, student. The second year, you’ll start making progress and maintain a consistent C average. By the third year, you might just start catching on and pull out a few B’s. And by the forth year, if you work hard today, you’ll come out a solid “B” learner with a desire to continue your path of self-improvement. But before you decide, you have to decide whether you can accept failing again and whether you’re prepared to learn the lessons of failure.”

    It was my first substantiate advising encounter and remains the measure I use for my own advice and counsel today, here at Capella.

    What role would you like advising to play in your doctoral experience? Personally, and borrowing from NACADA, I’d like to see Capella Advising cultivate the intellectual habits that lead to a lifetime of learning, a mission to help learners think critically about their roles and responsibilities as future PhD’s, and to prepare them be educated, well-prepared scholar-practitioners in a global community.


  2. Ilene Risley says:

    I believe advising plays a critical role in the success of our Leaners at Capella University. I have been at Capella over ten years and was even here before we had advisors. So, my role was a little of both, telling prospective learners about our programs and about the market, but most importantly what was it that they wanted to accomplish and hopefully finding the best fit within the programs we had to offer. If we didn’t have the program fit at that time, then we always told those who we spoke with that we really didn’t have the best fit at the time, this was 8-9 years ago. I have a Masters in Guidance and Counseling and was an advisor at a State University so this was not foreign to me. Now since Capella has advisors who can follow up from the Enrollment Counselor’s initial discussion to provide consistency, direction and redirection if needed, this is a perfect model for success of our learners. We also have a wonderful Career Center now that is a great resource for our learners. After all no matter what our age,,, we are always trying to find out what we want to do next or be when we grow up. An active involvement from the time you call Capella, to deciding to attend and all the way through is a critical link to our learners success. But,,, interesting, it is always those who pro-active and stay involved with their advisors who succeed and complete their degrees. So, as in anything in life, it is the constant involvement, interaction, focus, motivation and being plugged in that makes or breaks the experience. The same is true in education, especially with your advisor who is available to give guidance all the way through your program is committed to helping you succeed. Even when you are assigned your mentor and have them to help you through the research phase,, your advisor is always there to lend an ear and give guidance and assistance as well. It is up to you to use this resource constructively and creatively.

  3. Phyllis Misite says:

    Although this is not on topic, I am compelled to say that advisors aren’t just for learners. I have been an adjunct with Capella for nearly six years. Advisors like Jon (especially Jon), have helped me all along the way, and of course, that translates to helping learners.

    I received my Ph.D. from Boston College in 1994. My advisor was a tenured faculty member (two years from retirement) who had a full teaching and dissertation committee load. The fact that the advising role has transformed in the past decade is surprising to me as well as a blessing to students and faculty alike.

    In all honesty, I was ready to praise the advisors at Capella, especially Jon because I’ve known him the longest, for their commitment to helping learners succeed. I saw about 200 doctoral learners cross the stage in Minneapolis this afternoon — proof of that success! I was ready to praise the Capella advisors for knowing all of those forms and regulations inside and out and being there for both learners and faculty. But, as Jon mentions, the possibilities are really endless. The role of the advisor continues to change exemplified by a more holistic approach than was taken only a decade ago. Jon articulates this when he states in his blog narrative: “I’d like to see Capella Advising cultivate the intellectual habits that lead to a lifetime of learning, a mission to help learners think critically about their roles and responsibilities as future PhD’s, and to prepare them be educated, well-prepared scholar-practitioners in a global community.”

    The advisor’s role can also be about cultivating learning, critical thinking and life-long contributions to the intellectual community. I challenge learners to turn to their advisors for academic as well as procedural advice. It’s not all about forms and procedures.