Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Promising Practices: A Faculty Advisor on Appreciative Advising and Virtual Advising Strategies

Submitted by Dr. Benjamin Norris, Frostburg State University


The relationships that academic advisors build with their advisees play a critical role in promoting student success (Gordon-Starks, 2015; Higgins, 2017). These relationships are so foundational that they are one of three core competencies for academic advisors identified by NACADA (2017). I recognized early in my career that academic advising had to be more than a series of transactions leading to registration for the next semester. I built mentoring relationships with my advisees and then used those relationships to drive conversations about connecting a student’s academic, personal, and professional goals. I helped them see how their academic choices would help them launch the phase of their lives after completion of their degree. This relationship is well-suited for upper division students who are committed to their academic program and planning for their profession. But what about first-year students who may not be as certain?

In this blog post, I will share two promising practices. First, I will share how I build relationships with first-year STEM students. Second, I will share how virtual advising during the pandemic has improved the way I communicate with my advising relationships and how I help my students start relationships with their next academic advisor.

Promising Practice: Building Relationships with First-Year STEM Students using Reflective and Appreciative Advising

I advise first-year students by teaching Frostburg State University’s first-year student advising seminar. This course is a wonderful intersection of advising, teaching, and learning that exemplifies the NACADA (2006) Concept of Academic Advising. As my program is small, I typically advise students in other STEM majors. I will likely not be the permanent academic advisor for these students. Therefore, I must build a strong relationship with my advisees in a short time before helping each start a new relationship with another academic advisor.

I build these relationships through a combination of reflective practice (Hughey, 2011) and appreciative advising (Bloom and Martin, 2002) to better understand and connect with each advisee. Hughey (2011) describes these as essential skills for building interpersonal relations. Below are the phases of appreciative advising: 

Disarm: positive first impressions, building rapport

Discover: learn about student strengths and skills

Dream: student’s hopes for the future

Design: creating a plan

Deliver: how the student achieves the plan

Don’t settle: setting the bar high and addressing challenges

(adapted from

Each advising meeting is based on open-ended reflection assignments from the advising seminar (the discover phase of appreciative advising). Prior to the first meeting, my students reflect on their academic and career interests as well as their strengths. At the meeting I prompt them to think about how they can build connective tissue between their interests and their strengths. By focusing this first meeting on positive topics, I help disarm them and we begin to dream about the future.  

Prior to the second meeting, my students reflect on their academic challenges. At the meeting we talk about the feedback I received from their instructors on our early intervention survey. We don’t settle if they are struggling. Instead we focus on a path forward, identifying resources the student can access to support them. Prior to the third meeting, my students reflect on the extra- and co-curricular experiences they wish to pursue. At the meeting we connect those back to their interests from the first reflection and begin to design an academic and experience plan.

I help my students transition to their permanent academic advisor as soon as they are ready. For many of them, this transition occurs as early as their second semester. Before the pandemic, this transition involved me walking across campus with each advisee to introduce them to their new advisor or the advising contact in their academic program. My advisees have built a trusting relationship with me. By personalizing the hand-off to their next advisor, I communicate that this next advisor is someone I know will help them deliver on their plan.

Promising Practice: Virtual Advising During the Pandemic

When higher education went remote in March of 2020, so too did my advising. My favorite advising practices for building relationships relied on in-person meetings with close contact. I knew I would need to adopt virtual advising, but could I replicate my existent practices over video conferencing? Would my students engage?

Virtual advising worked, and my students responded well. I had broken down a major barrier between my students and me. Advising was no longer limited to those few times when they could arrange their schedule to meet with me in person. I had taken advising to them at times that were more convenient to them.

Virtual advising made me more accessible to my advisees. In this new format, they wanted more frequent, but shorter, check-ins with me, and I was able to provide that. I met with some of my advisees several times over the summer for various updates. I would not have been able to do that without virtual advising to bridge the distance between me and my students.

Technology improved my advising in other ways. My students and I could share our screens through the video conferencing platform. I could see what they were seeing and walk them through issues directly instead of just providing instructions for them to follow later. I also started to use a booking platform that integrated with my calendar and automatically sent customized email messages to help manage the more frequent appointment requests while preserving time for other commitments.

Virtual advising also changed how I manage the handoff to a student’s next academic advisor. In the fall semester of 2020, for the first time ever, I hosted a joint advising meeting between me, my advisee, and their new advisor. I introduced the student, and we talked about where the student was academically and what their goals were. After a while, I could drop off and let the student and their new advisor have some additional time to work on their new advising relationship.

Practical Considerations

If you are looking to integrate some of what I do into your own practice, here are some recommendations.

Even if you do not teach an advising course or if you are working with upper level students, you can still use my approach to academic advising. Give your students open-ended reflection assignments prior to your advising meetings and use them to help you frame the stages of appreciative advising. Remember that academic advising is teaching and learning.

Even when we can return to more in-person advising, keep virtual advising as an option. Virtual advising increases access and breaks down barriers. Virtual advising meetings will always be an option for my students, especially for shorter check-in meetings.

Use booking software to manage your advising schedule. You can set up automated communication and reminders with your advisees. If the software interfaces with your existing calendar, it can also help you preserve and protect your other time.

When your advisees need to transition to another advisor, personalize that handoff. Invite their new advisor to a joint meeting, in person or virtual. Walk with your student to meet their new advisor.


Bloom, J. and Martin, N.A. (2002, August 29). Incorporating appreciative inquiry into academic advising. The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal, 4 (3)

Gordon-Starks, D. (2015, September). Academic advising is relationship building. Academic Advising Today, 38(3). Retrieved from

Higgins, E.M. (2017, June). The advising relationship is at the core of academic advising. Academic Advising Today40(2).

Hughey, J. K. (2011). Strategies to enhance interpersonal relations in academic advising. NACADA Journal, 31(2), 22-32. doi:10.12930/0271-9517-31.2.22. Retrieved from

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2006). NACADA concept of academic advising. Retrieved from

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. Retrieved from


I have been a chemistry faculty member at Frostburg State University since 2010, and I have been advising students for almost that long. Early on in my academic advising journey, I advised mostly upper level students majoring in chemistry. Now I mostly advise first-year students majoring in other STEM programs. I am a three-year member of NACADA, and I just finished serving as one of two institutional liaisons for Frostburg State’s participation in the charter cohort of the Excellence in Academic Advising (EAA) Project. I have presented twice at the NACADA annual conference as part of a panel about EAA and how it can lead to the transformation of academic advising. At Frostburg, I teach organic and medicinal chemistry courses, as well as our foundations course for students preparing for general chemistry. I am also in my second term as chair of our Faculty Senate. I have diverse research interests in chemistry and academic advising: chemistry using renewable feedstocks, small molecule chemosensors, the role of training in shaping faculty perceptions of academic advising, and the use of data analytics to understand first-year student retention. I can be reached at


  1. Dr. Norris,
    Thank you for sharing your ideas and perspectives. It was great to read about your transition to remote advising going so well!

    Dani McCauley

  2. Dr. Norris,
    I enjoyed your post for several reasons, Gordan-Starks, who you cite in the opening sentence is a valued colleague here at Drexel. As an Academic Advisor for First-Year Exploring students we transition all of our students once they find a major and like the idea of setting up a virtual hand-off. We currently do so via an introductory e-mail. I also agree that post-pandemic adding the option of virtual appointments to in person and phone is a postivie take-away to advising and meeting our students needs.
    Karen -