The MIACADA spotlight features a group of advisors from Henry Ford College that worked to garner collaboration and partnerships with college faculty to enhance student success. Lorraine Paffenroth, Manager of Academic Advising and Student Success, Troy Gibson, Student Success Navigator, Beth Michel, Student Success Navigator, and Dr. Michael Nealon, Vice President of Academic Affairs presented their efforts in a session at the May MIACADA conference where they won “Best in Show.” We had a chance to catch up with Ms. Paffenroth and Dr. Nealon to hear more about the positive change they’re inspiring at Henry Ford College (HFC).
What was the motivation for the topic of your MIACADA conference session (Becoming the River: Bridging Partnerships between Faculty and Advising for Student Success)?
“At a high level, Henry Ford College has embarked upon a new strategic plan centered on radical improvement of student success within the context of “ABIDE” – Advancing Belonging Inclusion Diversity and Equity. We figured out early on that if we were really going to move the needle on student success from pre-boarding (reaching out to students before even enrolling at HFC) to goal completion (whether that be an associate degree, a certificate, transfer to 4-year institution, or entry into their dream career), academic affairs and student affairs could no longer be “two banks of the river looking across one another,” but needed to get over our fear of water, wade into the river itself, and actually become that life-giving, always-moving, forward-thrusting force that could truly get our students to the promising tomorrows that they dream of and want for themselves.”
“During the MIACADA session we focused on sharing perspectives of what courage it takes to ‘get off the riverbanks’ and join in together; what academic affairs needs from student affairs (and vice versa) to do that; myth-busting the misconceptions that faculty have about advisors (and vice versa); and tips for becoming We instead of Us Vs Them. We shared our “ah-ha” moments of how we’ve instituted this approach at Henry Ford College. It is important to note that “becoming the river” must begin with recognizing that academic and student affairs have been operating as these two separate banks in our efforts to control and contain the river – but, in reality, it is the river itself that carves out the banks. The landscape doesn’t define the river – rather, the landscape is defined by the river. Together we have to let go of many of the systematic things that we put in place because they make sense to us or make life easier for us – and reframe things to what most helps and makes sense for our students.” - Dr. Michael Nealon
What are some practical steps you’ve taken at HFC to “become the river” and partner with faculty to mutually support student success?
“Here are some examples of what we shared during our MIACADA session:
Has this always been the culture at Henry Ford College?
“From my perspective, as the manager of advising, I’m going to say no, that hasn’t always been the culture. Part of our presentation explains why there is a disconnect. Faculty and advising have trust issues at most institutions. This is a not unique to HFC. Faculty have perceptions of advising that they’ve heard from a small set of students. Advisors feel like faculty don’t communicate their curriculum needs so advising can be pro-active. Our presentation focuses on things advising teams can do next day to foster relationship with faculty. I decided early on (3-4 years ago) I was going to be about the business of building relationship. I started with my biggest adversaries – the faculty that were most vocal about how horrible advising was. I reached out to them and invited them in and gave them the platform in front of the advising team to talk about their expectations and what they perceived to be the situation. They quickly found out that the folks in advising are pretty smart people! They do know things about the faculty member’s program of study. We are now building mutual respect and working better together. Advisors have insights, perspectives, and experience with their programs and with students face to face that they might not have thought about, so advisors can contribute to that conversation. We still have tons of work to do to make that connection and gain the trust and respect of our faculty partners, but we’ve made some really great progress.” – Ms. Lorraine Paffenroth
I’m hearing recurring themes of differing expectations amongst faculty and advisors and lack of communication. What have you done to help combat those issues so that student affairs and academic affairs can work together more effectively to support students?
“Part of the training for new advisors is to introduce them to faculty. Our advisors are assigned to programs of study, so one of the first things we do is make sure faculty, deans, associate deans, etc. know who the new advisors are for their programs. We start there with building those relationships. One of the expectations of the advising team is that they will use faculty as a resource. They work to build and continue that relationship throughout their time advising at HFC. We do a lot of great work on making those connections from the beginning.” – Ms. Lorraine Paffenroth
“One of the conditions of the Excellence in Academic Advising program in which HFC is currently participating (a joint program sponsored by NACADA and the John N. Gardner Institute) focuses on advising advisors how to advise. It’s about doing the real work of professional development for academic advisors. In most higher education institutions, two things are very often true: 1) the professors never took a course on how to each teach because they were primarily hired for their subject matter expertise, and 2) the advisors did not major in anything like advising -- yet both are the key influencers for every student that walks the campus. And so, it is especially important that academic and student affairs work together.” – Dr. Michael Nealon
***If you have any questions or want to follow up with Ms. Paffenroth or Dr. Nealon you can connect with them and learn more at the upcoming annual NACADA conference in Portland, Oregon this coming October, where they’ll be presenting again!