Career and Professional Development and Academic Advising Initiatives partnered to host the 13th annual Advising Matters Conference on Friday, March 3, at The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center. 

Over 225 professional and faculty advisors from Virginia Tech and other institutions — including James Madison University, Ferrum College, and Emory & Henry — attended the one-day conference, designed to be a means for sharing ideas, staying up to date on best practices, and providing professional development for advisors at Virginia Tech and in the region. 

“Our goal is to provide a quality conference with numerous possibilities for advisors to engage and learn among their peers,” said Kimberly Smith, associate vice provost of Student Success Initiatives. “We appreciate the collaboration and participation from other state schools as it brings value to the work we do. The more advisors learn and grow together, the more our students will benefit.”

The theme for this year's conference, “Advising Matters: Designing Successful Student Experiences through Academic and Career Advising,” pointed toward the need for a more holistic approach to advising that integrates academic and career advising services. In surveys, 85 percent of first-year students at Virginia Tech indicated that their primary reason for pursuing an undergraduate degree was to prepare for their future careers, 51 percent said it was to get a better job, and 34 percent wanted to develop a strong foundation for success in graduate or professional school.

“Academic advisors welcome first-year students and discuss their course schedules," said Donna Ratcliffe, director of Career and Professional Development. "This is where the career exploration and planning can begin as college students. Class subjects, engagement in student activities, campus jobs, internships, and other experiences help students discover their own personal attributes and explore career options.” 

This year’s keynote speaker was Meg Flournoy, program director for Alumni Career Services at Duke University. She also serves as an academic advisor to Duke first- and second-year undergraduate students. Flournoy has more than 20 years of experience in providing career coaching and programming for traditional undergraduate and graduate students as well as returning adult students and alumni in transition. Flourney presented a session on advising like a designer, defining what it means to design a purpose-driven advising and career program.

Emma Weaver joined a panel of five Virginia Tech alumni to speak about the importance of academic and career advising to their college and career success. “As a transfer student that was also switching majors, it would have been expected to have to tack on an extra year before being eligible to graduate. However, Lauren Varboncoeur [an academic advisor in the College of Natural Resources and Environment] worked with me and my schedule to ensure that would not be the case for me,” said Weaver. “She was able to get my schedule both manageable and inclusive with the classes that I was excited to take. She also was able to provide me with opportunities and options for post-graduation that met my interests.”

Weaver is a 2021 Virginia Tech graduate with a degree in wildlife conservation. She is currently employed as a grant program assistant with Virginia Outdoors Foundation. 

Concurrent sessions added to the quality of the conference with topics focusing on career development, decision-making, techniques for effective and confident communication, and appreciative advising. Presenters from Virginia Tech, Emory & Henry, and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia brought new and innovative ideas for advisors to implement in their daily work with students.

“For a seamless and successful student experience, both academic advising and career advising must work hand-in-hand to inspire student choices during college as they develop and pursue their career plans towards post-graduation jobs and/or continued education,” said Ratcliffe.

Written by Chenaye Woods

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