by Annie Dubois

Deb Dotterer, assistant dean for university advising, was recently awarded the National Academic Advising Association’s (NACADA) Service to Region 5 Award for her dedication and service to a region that spans Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Ontario and Nunavut, Canada. 

Dotterer received a B.S. in Education from Miami University and a M.A. in Education from MSU. Her career at MSU spans over 22 years, and before starting her current position as assistant dean for university advising, she worked within the College of Natural Science as director of undergraduate student affairs, and more recently as assistant dean and director of undergraduate studies. Dotterer has also served as an academic advisor for the MSU College of Engineering and assistant to the dean for James Madison College. Prior to starting her career at MSU, Dotterer held administrative positions at both Ivy Tech State College and Saint Francis College in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Dotterer is the former NACADA Region V Chair, having also served as Michigan Liaison to the Regional Steering Committee, Chair of the STEM Advising Commission, an Emerging Leader Mentor, and a Great Lakes Great Leader Mentor.

What does it mean for you to win the NACADA Service to Region 5 award?

This award looks at how members serve the region and expand its growth and accumulate more members, so this award means a great deal because it means that my colleagues felt strong enough about the work I’ve done and my commitment to the region to nominate me. I was very pleased to win the award and honored to do the work and be of service to this region.

What opportunities did you have while serving NACADA’s Region 5?

I first became a member of the Region 5 Steering Committee when I was elected to be the Michigan Liaison for that committee. Within my role as Michigan Liaison to the Regional Steering Committee, I co-chaired conferences for region 5, served in reviews for presentations, and helped start the first Michigan Academic Advising Association. After my term as liaison, I was elected as the Region 5 Chairperson. When I was Chair, I continued to serve on subsequent conference committees, standardized the scholarships and awards for the region, and started looking at advisor mentoring programs for the region. Perhaps the biggest achievement during my time as Chair was hosting the largest conference that the region had ever hosted at the time, with over 700 people in attendance. 

How does your involvement with NACADA influence your work at MSU?

NACADA has afforded me a lot of opportunities to work with diverse groups of people in accomplishing common goals. Whether that’s putting on a conference or presenting or developing scholarships and awards, NACADA has allowed me to work with a diverse group of colleagues to bring in their different opinions. My ability to learn from those experiences and learn leadership skills has been tremendously valuable. 

NACADA has also given me the understanding that there’s always room to learn and grow. One thing about being in a professional organization is that you learn about the wonderful things many institutions are doing across the country and learning about those new ideas increases your opportunity to grow and bring those ideas back to help your institution serve students better. 

Throughout your career at MSU, what administrative and advising practices have you noticed to be crucial for student success? 

I always approach the student as an individual. It’s important not to fit people into boxes, because everybody brings their own unique experience to the table, and so student success is really about working one-on-one with students to get them where they want to be. Part of my role is also to help students understand what they want to get out of their college education and where they see themselves post-graduation. So, as an advisor I try to help connect students to experiences that help them explore those post-graduation opportunities. 

Higher education is not just about going to class and getting good grades. The classes are critical, the grades are important, but perhaps most important is how students synthesize and move from the classroom to the environment of work or community engagement, and how they bring the skills learned from the classroom out to their work post-graduation.

How has advising changed with COVID?

Advising has changed in its entire approach. I know my advising colleagues are struggling with the fact that they can’t see students in person, but I think they have transitioned very well into this online environment and are trying to engage with students virtually. What’s difficult for me and for students is that because you are not on campus and engaging with each other as regularly, you don’t have those built-in “nudges” or reminders when you talk to friends about academics. Being online constantly also wears people out, there’s no doubt about it. So, it’s meeting those interpersonal interactions that are tough, but we have tried to do the best we can in this remote environment. I do think virtual advising has been helpful for some students who have very tight time schedules because they are able to do an online meeting rather than traverse campus for a half-hour meeting, and I don’t see practices like those going away post-COVID.

Why were you initially drawn to student affairs and services?

I knew about student affairs work when I was in college, but before coming to college I thought I was going to be a teacher. I became an RA in the residence halls in college and explored more about how my supervisors and their supervisors got into their profession. This experience enlightened me to the point where I realized that student affairs and services is what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to work in higher education and work with college students, so I came to MSU to finish my masters and get more experience in the field.