The Annual 2017 OAAP conference saw close to 300 attendees and 25 different presentations at York in October! Some of our conference presenters have shared articles on their presentation topics for this Newsletter to keep the excitement going. For those that attended the conference AND for those that weren’t able to, this Newsletter captures the excitement from the conference for sure and it’s a jam-packed one – the biggest we’ve ever published!
OAAP 2017 Conference Themes
By Devon Hutchinson, University of Waterloo
Throughout the conference student mental health came up regularly as a growing concern across all of our campuses. It impacts so many things for the student, and impacts us in our job as Advisors. How are your campuses coping with the demand? Is it enough? What can we as Advisors do to help our struggling students? Paul Radkowski is the CEO/Founder of the Life Recovery Program (LRP) and was a Keynote speaker at the 2015 OAAP Conference. The Life Recovery Program (LRP) is an on-line self-directed, internationally awarded on-line wellness platform for individuals, families and organizations struggling with addiction, mental health and other stress related issues as an immediate, anonymous, accessible wellness solution. It’s like having your own personal wellness coach 24/7. Paul wrote an article that outlines some alarming statistics that support what we see each day in our students, and some of the reasons why. The article Paul cites “Crisis on Campus: Universities Struggle with Students in Distress” is demonstrating that this unfortunately is an ever growing trend. St. Paul’s University College is part of the University of Waterloo and are currently using this on-line program to assist with addressing this burgeoning concern [read press release].
The focus of the 2017 OAAP Conference wasn’t mental health, but it was clear in every session I was able to attend that it’s a huge issue for all of us. My own institution has started making major changes, but only just this year. The President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health was launched to take a closer look at the issues our students face with open two-way communication between the President and students. Our central Student Success Office pushed to get an on-campus staff person trained as an instructor for the 2-day Mental Health First Aidprogram (which I have done and 100% recommend as essential training for any Advisor!!!). The primary goal to open up more on-campus training opportunities for our Advisors. Katie Schulz and Luke Balch shared some of the resources and approaches they took to make this, and more, happen in their conference session “UWaterloo Community of Advisors: How We Got Here & Where We Want to Go”.
I assisted in Lara Ubaldi’s “Calling All Leaders” session where the main topics we decided as a group to discuss were the Clarity, Consistency, and Communication that is needed for and within Advising. The conversation circled quickly to focus on how institutional leadership and communication directly impacts how Advisors are viewed and valued across many campuses (and we had GREAT provincial representation in this session!). Attendees in the session agreed we need all need an institutional strategy of what Advising is, but finding the time to frame that and move it forward is so hard. And then our OWN mental health comes into play with too much to do and too little time… and isn’t that exactly what our students say to us about what they are feeling?
This is the beauty of conferences! Misery loves company that’s for sure (how many times do you sigh and say “me too!” when attending an Advising conference?) but we also get to share what’s happening on our campuses, gathering ideas for modified versions of what others are doing that could be implemented on our own campuses. Want to host the next conference for OAAP and get your Advising team involved? Contact us for more information.
On behalf of the OAAP Steering Committee, again we want to extend sincere thanks to the York Advising team for hosting us and working so hard to make this years’ conference happen. And to thank all of the presenters who shared their great ideas with us so we can be inspired to move things forward at home.
Decision Making Without Regret
By Robyn Parr, Ryerson University
There never seems to be a time when we aren’t busy in our roles supporting academic advising. Increasingly, we’re asked to make faster decisions with limited information and potential long-term effects. Decision making is a process that needs to respond to inputs as you interact with the world. Inputs are those things that influence which direction you take. As inputs change, so does your decision.
In my career as a project manager and higher education administrative leader I’ve leveraged two approaches to guide my decision making. Incorporating self-reflection makes it possible to make decisions without regret.
Data Informed decision making starts with collecting data. This may seem obvious but far too often we see leaders decide on a solution and then work backwards, collecting data as a way of supporting a business case. You should not know the outcome of your decision before you start collecting data! When it comes to interpreting the data you’ve collected, it’s important to consider are there external influence which may be impacting the data on a short term basis? Asking students how much they enjoy university is going to differ radically if you ask during orientation versus asking them during exam week. Be sure that you factor in how those external influences can skew your data. Bias can also significantly influence your data informed decision making. I’ve found it effective to have someone at arm’s length from the decision to collect data. That way you’re mitigating the impact of bias. For instance if you want to collect student satisfaction data – don’t limit your data collection to student staff’s opinion on your services. Of course they’re going to say nice things!
Refection Pause: Implicit leadership theory says that we make more favourable decisions about something that is similar to us. Can you think of a decision you made in the last six months that you weren’t sure was the right one? What sort of data did you collect to make that decision? Can you identify any bias?
Based on the data you’ve gathered I’ve found it useful to ask myself a series of question to be sure that I’ve considered the larger impact of my decision. I’ve included a link to the Decision Making Matrix we use.
The second approach to decision making is trusting your gut. When we talk about your gut what we’re actually talking about is your body’s sensory response. It’s your nervous system’s way of communicating. So what you gut is actually telling you is I’ve collected all sorts of data when you don’t think you’ve been paying attention and this is what I think you should do.
There is great value in listening to your gut because it doesn’t lie. What you need to be aware is that you gut only knows what it knows. If you gut is telling you to invest all your money in solar power and you know nothing of the energy market… don’t listen to it! This is when you should be checking your gut. This is where data informed decision making should take over.
As leaders, we don’t always have the privilege of time. Increasingly in our roles you are expected to make decisions faster – – as a result, we end up making decisions using our gut vs. data informed on a more frequent basis. As a leader, I’ve learned over time when to say – this is not a decision I can make without collecting the data. Usually that has to do with how experienced I am with the decision.
Refection Pause: Reflecting on a life changing decision you’ve made, did you trust your gut in this decision? What did your gut tell you and do you have any insight into why your gut said that? Is your gut telling you something differently now that it did then?
This is the most important thing I am going to tell you today. You can forget everything else. Don’t fall in love with your decision. If you at any time think that you regret a decision, make a different one. Reflect on it, reevaluate your inputs. Change your mind. So often we make a decision and then never think about it again but we have to give ourselves credit for making the best decision based on the inputs we had at the time. Learning through self-reflection means not regretting but using that information to help inform better decisions in the future.
Early Alert and a Collaborative Approach
By Andrea Tran, Niagara College
In 2015, Niagara College identified the need for the development of a formalized early alert strategy that aimed to retain and support first year students. It was at that time the Academic Advising team implemented Beacon, a tool set for case management and early alert. Since implementation the goal of the initiative has remained to provide our Academic Advisors a method to best determine a group of students that with proactive outreach and support they could have the most effect on; those at risk academically, but easily engaged. Secondly, the college was interested in tracking the journey of students in respect to the services and activities they were engaged with on campus. Data collected on engagement would prove valuable in determining activities which students were most utilizing, as well as informing future programming and resourcing. The current early alert strategy is multifaceted, and involves a two-fold approach:
- Identify a target group of students by using the Student Strengths Inventory (SSI) assessment, and provide targeted, proactive interventions to this particular group early on in the term
- Develop and expand upon campus partnerships with key service areas to widen the support network and collaboratively serve the needs of the students
The Student Strengths Inventory (SSI) survey is a non-cognitive assessment tool within Beacon that is used to predict the probability of academic success and retention in first year students. The survey consists of a range of questions on personality and motivational habits and attitudes that facilitate functioning well in school. As part of the early alert strategy, the Advising team facilitates the SSI to all incoming, first year students within the first two weeks of the semester. Once completed, students receive recommendations, tailored specifically to their individual survey results. The Advising team then use the survey scores to identify a target group of students. This particular group consists of students whose scores indicate they may be at risk academically, but have high levels of engagement and commitment, which makes them more likely to follow through on recommendations. As such, this group receives specific and targeted interventions from their Advisor, with the intention of making meaningful contact with students as early in their first term as possible.
Students in this group are invited for one-on-one meetings with Advisors to discuss their SSI results in further detail, allowing Advisors to provide differentiated supports based on individual student experience and need. At this stage, Advisors also make intentional and purposeful referrals to appropriate key service areas and college partners, again, based on the identified needs of the individual student. The intervention continues as students also attend follow-up meetings with Advisors at critical points during the term. Students outside of this target group receive passive interventions, as their results indicate either very low levels of commitment and engagement, or a high probability of academic success. These students receive mass, untargeted outreach, such as email communications regarding supports and services, open invitations for meetings with Advisors, and other key information.
A shared approach to student need is an integral part of the first year support framework and the second component to the early alert strategy. By developing relationships with faculty, coordinators, and key services areas within the college, students receive support from an integrated and holistic approach. Partnerships were developed in a number of ways:
- Including Faculty, Program Coordinators, and Associate Deans in the implementation of the SSI, and discussions of SSI results
- Seeking Faculty input regarding student concerns to help inform outreach by Advisors
- Integrating Academic Advising activities into pre-orientation and orientation programming
- Linking key service areas to SSI recommendations that students receive directly upon completion of the survey
- Notifications to Advisors when students interact with college services to help inform Advisor conversations with students
- Increasing visibility of Academic Advising within the college overall
As a result of these partnerships, students are able to connect with an integrated network of services and supports throughout all stages of their post-secondary journey at Niagara College.
Overall, the SSI has proven to be an effective early alert tool, as it has enabled the Academic Advising team an opportunity to optimize and formalize their first-term outreach activities. This has allowed the team to better focus their efforts based on SSI results while also promoting a wider college team approach in achieving student success across campus. This is inclusive of both student service areas and academic schools. Although a deep analysis of data is currently in development, on the surface, the preliminary data on student outcomes seems to suggest that the strategy has been effective so far. The statistics show that the target group of students, as well as the group of students with high probabilities of academic success have much better end of term outcomes related to grade point average and academic standing, than the group that did not complete the SSI, and the group whose scores indicated low levels of engagement. This was true for both the 2015, and 2016 cohorts. With this in mind, the Advising team continues to develop and explore best practices for supporting first year students.
Project Management for the non-PM
By Robyn Parr, Ryerson University
It’s becoming more common for employees with institutional knowledge to find themselves managing projects that are broad in scope and short on time; the assumption being that if we know the operations well, we are equipped to manage complex projects. The Project Management Institute defines a project as a temporary endeavor designed to produce a unique product, service or result with a defined beginning and end (usually time-constrained, and often constrained by funding or deliverables), undertaken to meet unique goals and objectives, typically to bring about beneficial change or added value. The Project Manager’s role is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to meet project objectives. A PM’s role is to get the job done without any authority or positional power so what they need to be very good at is building and maintaining relationships.
The Project Management Body of Knowledge aka PMBOK Guide (6th edition), covers the global standards of project management. I won’t spend a lot of time boring you with the five Project Management Process Groups or the ten Knowledge Areas but I will highlight for you some key takeaways.
Pay attention to your Initiating and Planning stages. By far the most work you’ll be doing is in the first two stages. Questions you should be asking yourself, what problem are you attempting to solve? Who needs to be involved? How do we measure success? What’s included and what’s not? How are we going to communicate? What can we agree on in advance? What don’t we know? The goal at the end of the Planning stage is how the team is going to achieve the work and what it entails. Your role as the PM is not to do the work but ensure that it gets done.
In the Monitoring and Controlling stage anticipate that things will change many times over the course of the project so accept it, don’t fight it. Your role as the PM is to managing the change and see how that changes impact the constraints you identified in the earlier stages.
As a PM, the Stakeholder Knowledge area is your opportunity to leverage your relationships and have real impact on the project. Leveraging your stakeholders means that you don’t need to know everything. Think about what stakeholders you can consult with who have the knowledge and expertise that can rely on in other areas of the project. Consulting with Human Resources and IT partners during the Planning stage of the project puts you in a much stronger position when it comes to Execution. By engaging early on you can foster champions who will demonstrate buy in and role model support for other areas. To this point, it’s important to ask for feedback from stakeholders who will be positively impacted but also negatively impacted by the project. Once you collect that feedback be prepared to demonstrate where that feedback was incorporated into the project. Don’t ask people if you don’t care about their feedback!
The final takeaway for those acting in a PM role is to communicate widely about the project. People will move in and out of the project over time so the Communication Knowledge area is important to ensure that everyone has the information they need to meet objectives. Decide early on how and how often people will receive information about the project. In the absence of information, people make information up and it’s never positive! Solicit the advice of someone external to your project to review your project plan and communications prior to release. It is likely that if they have questions your staff will to. Once published, the project plan should be available to anyone who’s interested.
With these takeaways I trust your project will come in within cost, on schedule and of good quality!
We hope you enjoyed this Newsletter, and all of us on the OAAP Steering Committee wish you healthy, restful, and happy holidays!
OAAP Steering Committee