Reflections on the AVP Institute Experience

The AVP institute was recommended to me by my Vice President and supervisor after I was appointed to the Associate Vice President (AVP) position in January 2016. My goal for attending the Institute was to learn how to refine my student affairs practice in an effort to be successful at the AVP level. By far the AVP Institute provided a comprehensive checklist for success that I continue to use. The completion of the Institute surpassed my expectations. I can say with conviction that the AVP Institute was the reason that I was successful in my first year as the AVP at Morehouse College.

There were so many helpful/useful aspects of the Institute. The overall Institute curriculum expanded my curiosity to better respond to situations, improved my ability to engage members of my institution and provided strategies for sharing my successes in an effort to establish a team focused on continuous improvement. This was done through the informative sessions such as Politics, Supervision and Responding to Incidents of Bias to name a few. All of the presentations caused me to take copious notes – which are still reference points for me as I conduct my daily routine as AVP. A particular highlight for me during the Institute was the session with Kevin Kruger, NASPA President. Kruger’s session was designed to provide AVPs with a landscape of critical issues and topics that AVPs must grapple with while striving to have a successful practice.  His presentation on the current state of higher education was one of the most comprehensive overview I have ever attended. The reflective sessions with the faculty and my AVP peers created a space for me to think more critically about the material presented. I found this aspect of the institute invaluable because it was a seamless way for me to incorporate the new concepts that were introduced. In short, the AVP Institute provide an incomparable experience for me to develop excellence in the “number two” role. 

The faculty that were selected to facilitate the AVP Institute were seasoned, competent professionals who were eager to share their experiences to ensure that all participants were better equipped to face the challenges of the AVP role. Their authenticity when discussing personal situations that presented difficulty during their journey to a senior student affairs officer position was refreshing and provided excellent insight on navigating the AVP role. Additionally, the diversity of the faculty experiences and types of institutions they represented made all Institute participants feel included in all discussions. I appreciated this aspect given the various profiles of the Institute’s participants. The synergy between the faculty and their outstanding instruction and mentoring methods were qualities that were constant throughout the Institute.  

The book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, is something that has truly resonated with me during my first year in the Associate Vice President position. Essentially, the role of the AVP is one that requires continuous learning to have an effective practice. What I thought I knew about the student affairs profession has been challenged every day in my new role as AVP. However, keeping up on trends and reaching out to my peers has helped me reconcile any dissonance I have faced in my relatively short tenure in the AVP position. It is because of my desire to stay current on trends and incorporate best practices that I sought to attend my second Institute. Fundamentally, the AVP Institute is the preeminent forum for professional development for AVPs. My decision to attend the 2017 Institute was based on my opinion that the AVP Institute was the best opportunity for me to continue learning about being a successful and effective AVP. Outside of a few programs/sessions at the NASPA national conference, there was not another platform that provided substantive materials to improve my overall practice as a new AVP. In fact, it is my goal to continue my association with the AVP Institute and the related programs in the future.

I would strongly encourage those colleagues that are aspiring to become an AVP or currently in the role to apply. There is not a better opportunity to acquire a wealth of strategies in leading and managing in an AVP position. For me, the NASPA AVP Institute is the overwhelming choice for excellence in the “number two” role and it is a must do for anyone that seek to be a successful AVP! 

Below Vice Presidents for Student Affairs discuss the rewards of sending their "Number Twos" to the NASPA AVP Institute:

AVPs serve such essential roles in our organizations and in our efforts to serve students that I am grateful there is a community and institute that serves the unique needs of AVPs. As a vice president, I rely on my AVPs and need them to have access to the resources they need to be successful. In the past, I’ve sent my AVPs to NASPA’s AVP Institute because I believe in the value of community and continuous improvement.  I plan on sending AVPs again, too. 

While I’ve had the pleasure to work with incredible AVPs, I know what it takes to be successful in the AVP role is very different than the former roles these professionals have held. There is also misunderstanding about the actual role of AVPs. These factors make professional development and creating a community among AVPs so valuable. I’ve experienced firsthand the benefits of what they’ve brought back to campus after attending the Institute. 

As a former AVP, I know the transition into an AVP role can be challenging. Often times, what gets people to the AVP role is not the same as what will allow them to excel in that role. It’s been helpful to have a team of AVPs develop and implement a curriculum that aims to help AVPs navigate the role and excel. I’m looking forward to seeing the results on my campus after staff attends the 2018 NASPA AVP Institute in San Diego.

– Amy Hecht, Vice President for Student Affairs, Florida State University 

When NASPA invited me to lead the inaugural NASPA AVP Institute in 2014, I understood immediately why it could be such a valuable contribution to our field. As a vice chancellor, I relied heavily on my AVCs, and they carried a heavy burden on campus. They had to manage both up and down, translating division-wide priorities into departmental initiatives and deciding which issues needed the vice chancellor’s attention. They constantly had to make tough judgments, often without peers they could consult.

While AVPs serve at all kinds of colleges and universities and vary widely in portfolios and span of control, they share some meaningful commonalities. And the truth is, they are often lonely in their roles. The opportunity to gather with fellow professionals who share their positionality has been one of the real highlights of the Institute. The colleagues whom I’ve sent to the Institute have all enjoyed the speakers and the content and appreciated the in-depth nature of the curriculum. It has been within the small group discussions, however, where they have found the most value.

These discussions, led by an Institute faculty, gather AVPs from similar institutional types and size to apply what they’ve been learning together.  In this setting, they can struggle through their toughest issues confidentially, with vulnerability.  They can take away fresh insights and new strategies to employ. And they now have a new set of colleagues there for further consultation and benchmarking, making sure that the Institute is not just a three-day experience but a lasting network.

– Penny Rue, Vice President for Campus Life, Wake Forest University 

The old adage is that our profession is 'at a crossroads.' Each year, we begin with limitless opportunities and enthusiasm to work with our colleagues to nurture the best educational environments possible. Increasing fiscal, regulatory and political pressures have challenged us to serve our communities in a more nuanced and sophisticated manner. One of the areas I have focused more time on is the professional development of my colleagues.

Our communities cannot simply ask our employees to do more with less. Time and again these approaches have failed to serve our students and the missions of our institutions. I also find that investing in the development of my colleagues results in benefits to the individual, organization and our field. NASPA’s AVP Institute represents an opportunity that touches on all three of these areas.

As both a former Institute faculty member and supervisor that sent a staff member, I have witnessed the benefits of this program onsite, on a campus as well as over the long-term. The Institute learning environment enables the AVP to challenge their respective strengths while addressing skill-building opportunities. The design and intensity of the experience ensures that takeaways are usable on campuses. Over the long-term, the Institutes has become a supportive network of professionals that has extended the program’s usefulness far beyond the onsite experience. The AVP Institute is a treasure for our profession and should be in the developmental plans of all AVPs.

– Jason Pina, Vice President for Student Affairs, Ohio University

The 2018 NASPA AVP Institute – Excellence in the “Number Two” Role will be held January 18-20, 2018 in San Diego, California.