I recently had an opportunity to connect with Dr. Ebony Green, MSU’s new assistant dean for University Advising. Dr. Green comes to us with a degree in Telecommunication from MSU and a master’s degree in Liberal Studies from the University of Toledo. She has a doctorate in Education Leadership and Policy Studies from Wayne State University where she focused her research on leadership development for professional undergraduate academic advisors. She brings with her nearly two decades of advising experience. Most recently, she served as the director of Academic Opportunities and Support for the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan and before that as assistant dean of University Advising and Student Services at Ohio University.
At MSU, Dr. Green finds herself at the center of academic advising, a space that’s evolving as recent investments have opened the doors to opportunities to further support students as they learn, thrive, and graduate from MSU. She is the lead for implementing MSU’s Advising Initiative as well as standing up the new University Advising unit. As Dr. Green focuses on students, advisors, her new unit, and the initiative, I wanted to ask her a few questions about her time here on campus thus far and get a feel for her vision as we look to the future.
Dr. Green, tell me about your role. This is a new position that didn’t exist before, correct?
Yes and no. MSU has always had a home for exploratory students with a team of knowledgeable advisors led by a director. However, as advising has continued to play a critical role in student success, elevating the role of director to assistant dean is in alignment with best practices. Also, in addition to leading the University Advising unit, I have assumed the management and continued strategic planning for the Advising Initiative.
So you’re leading the University Advising Initiative in conjunction with the development of this new unit?
Yes, contrary to popular belief they are not one in the same. The University Advising Team, like all our college partners, is working hard to increase the exploration value of the first two years for students to make the best transition to their major of choice directly from University Advising.
Tell me about the team. How is the new University Advising Unit developing? You’ve been here about six months and there seems to be a lot of growth happening in your space.
There is a lot of growth. I was very humbled by the amount of work and dedication my team had put in prior to my arrival. Since October we have been able to increase our advising team to 15 members and we have open positions in educational design and assessment that we are working to hire as well. The team is being organized into smaller teams based on our Academic Interest Area themes.
Academic Interest Areas? Please explain.
The initiative is focused on four key areas: Assessment, Pathways, Leadership Development, and Personnel. These areas each represent a working group that is helping to shape this unit’s vision and mission.
In the Assessment space, we are focused on understanding current processes and evaluating outcomes. The Assessment Working Group aims to provide an institution-wide definition of academic advising. However, as it often happens, once these conversations began it was clear that this definition could not be created in isolation and that we needed to include the Personnel working group, along with other stakeholders, to address the broad variety of what advising means at MSU. Once a definition can be agreed upon it will allow the group to move forward in building an assessment plan for advising at the university.
The Leadership Development Working Group provides positive direction on how they’d like to see University Advising leadership and professional development training move forward. We are envisioning a standardized campus-wide MSU Academic Advising training program that will consist of an introduction to advising competencies and best practices, an overview of student development theory, and some form of annual campus-wide professional development opportunities. We are currently reviewing, revising, and reconfiguring the various training elements we have and packaging them into a more user-friendly and useful set of modules. We are also partnering with the Center for Teaching and Learning Innovation on this effort and hiring an Education Designer.
The Personnel Working Group had the herculean task of helping to reorganize several units under AUPE, which required an individual assessment and intentional review of each role. For University Advisors it meant setting a base pay and moving the team to continuing status, as well as the continued hiring and oversight within each unit. One of the hot topics on this team’s radar is reviewing equity in salaries, job titles, and hiring practices in APUE and across the MSU advising community as a whole.
The Advising Pathway Working Group has done amazing work up to this point. This group submitted a new grief absence proposal that is currently being reviewed by the University Committee on Undergraduate Education. This group also created a framework for us to utilize as we work on creating a stronger structure for supporting our academic interest areas.
You, your team, and the Advising Initiative Working Groups have been busy! Can you please expand on your vision a bit more and your collaboration efforts with advisors across campus?
Right now, I’m working through what was, what is, and what could be. My vision is that University Advising will be a premiere space for exploring students to engage and connect their academic journey with their personal beliefs, which will equate to success.
As part of the Advising Initiative my hope is that the “entire” MSU advising community reimagines the support for our exploring students and works together to find effective solutions for soft landings, major transitions, and overall student well-being that close opportunity gaps and increase our graduation rates. In a space as dynamic and decentralized as MSU, we have to think more about the collective Spartan and if we (staff and faculty) are ready to serve the student that is in front of us.
Your vision will require some changes then?
Yes. For example, there are changes in the Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative (NSSC) concept, but not in design. It is still critically important that students continue to be able to connect with the engagement centers and the support that happens in that space. The major change is that academic advisors will now report specifically to an advising assistant dean to support and maintain consistency, training, and development. Advisors will continue to be housed in the engagement centers.
Tell me about your advisors. How will they make all this happen?
We’re hiring more advisors to ultimately help as the colleges continue to discuss and rethink when and how students will be directed in the exploring phase. There is absolutely no one-size-fits-all for this process because college autonomy in working with students is real. My role is to engage with the advising leads in each college to identify programming initiatives, appropriate timetables for transitions, etc. To effectively do this work, we must increase our staff to support students, keep them from swirling through multiple colleges, and provide them with action-based resources that help focus their decision-making process. This will happen in a variety of ways: increased advisor training, specific curriculum or action-based activities for students to encourage major alignment with skill and joy, and a more long-term look into general education and how its breadth and depth should ultimately serve all colleges.
Back to the University Advising Initiative. Your new team will create an experience that supports and empowers every student we admit until they graduate, with and in support of our college-specific advisors on campus. Unpack that a bit more for me please. What does that mean? How do you see that working?
It is definitely a different approach from how we have addressed student retention and graduation in the past. It’s not just about academic advising, it’s about true exploration. By taking a more collaborative approach with the colleges, our goals are twofold: get students into majors that suit them more quickly and thoughtfully, and build better transitional programming that bridges the work we’ve been doing this past year. We want students to tangibly see, hear, and experience how various majors will feed into different career paths.
We don’t have all the answers, but we have begun conversations with colleges to explore what could happen. Some (most) steps will be small. There is no blanket, or one-size-fits-all answer because our students and colleges need different things. With that said, part of my charge is identifying strategies that do work in multiple spaces and collaborating with colleges that may have similar practices. For example, there could be opportunities to centralize processes for students with secondary admissions policies or for schools that naturally park students in other majors as holding patterns. University Advising could work with those students more intently during those holding semesters to keep them engaged and focused on their goal of entering that major or creating actual written parallel plans that guide them in another direction that they are passionate about.
Is there anything else we should know at this point about your efforts?
I would like to take a moment and thank all the advising leads and college deans for their interest in this effort. I hope you know how hard your appointees are working with us. Each group has been integral to our success and my learning so far. I can’t stress enough to college leadership and advising leads how important it is to touch base with the members that you’ve assigned to these committees and help them connect within the college so we can truly be as representative of all voices as possible.
And there you have it. An examination of the new University Advising unit as it relates to the recently implemented University Advising Initiative and how the two play distinct yet crucial roles in their development of one another. As this space continues to mature and unfold over time, Dr. Green will be providing consistent updates in APUE’s student success newsletter, within the University Advising unit’s website, and to various stakeholders across campus. As with any change, a lot of effort, time, data, research, and conversation has gone into the development of where we are today. Dr. Green, her team, and those working on the University Advising Initiative are committed to our students and their success while they navigate their college experiences.