YU Advise Conference builds connections between students, advising community


York University’s academic advising community gathered for two days of professional development and connection at the annual YU Advise Conference.

Taking place on Feb. 24 and 25, the conference centered on the theme “Supporting Diverse Communities in Academic Advising” with an emphasis on self-care and “appreciative advising,” a holistic advising framework that aims to build relationships with students and help them co-create a plan to achieve their goals.

Advising: an evolving practice

York’s advising community has come together for professional development since the mid-2000s. However, advising has evolved over the years, which has necessitated ongoing professional development opportunities such as the conference, says Undergraduate Programs Advisor/Coordinator at the Schulich School of Business, Marianna Colalillo.

“Not all students follow a straight and narrow path,” she says. “How can we get students to stay at York, stay healthy, maintain good well-being and feel that connection to the University?

“The conference is here to give us the tools to help us stay connected as a profession, but also tools to keep the students connected.”

Advising has shifted towards a more holistic, appreciative advising framework. “We’re moving away from a prescriptive method of advising and moving towards developing strong rapport with students and asking questions to help discover their strengths and dreams,” says Student Success and Academic Advisor, Alison Furtado. “This ultimately leads to co-creating a plan that we help students to deliver in an encouraging manner.”

Colalilllo agrees. “We, as advisors are here to keep learning about how to keep the students engaged, help them feel connected, keep them healthy, understanding their diversity and give them the tools that they need to make informed decisions about their academic career.”

Supporting a diverse student body and practicing self-care

Day one of the conference began with an overview of York’s Athletics & Recreation services from Manager of Fitness, Lifestyle and Customer Service, Art McDonald. Attendees then participated in a guided meditation, yoga or nutrition discussion.

A talk by Student Leadership and Development Coordinator Urshian Khalid, titled “Owning Self Care: A Community Conversation on Courage,” allowed attendees to discuss supporting York’s diverse student body while engaging in self-care during these uncertain times.

“I appreciated the self-care conversations and activities alike, because so many of us often forget or don’t get the opportunity to take care of ourselves when the nature of our job and personal life is to take care of others,” says Furtado. “The thoughtful questions about diversity for the breakout rooms were extremely meaningful, which allowed for deep thought and important conversations.”

Vice-Provost, Students Lucy Fromowitz then discussed the evolution of advising, followed by an overview of appreciative advising by Assistant Director, Student Academic Advising Services, Derrick Fairman.

Day two opened with an introduction to York’s counselling services by Counsellor and Counselling Supervisor Bonnie-Sue Solomon, followed by a dance/movement therapy (DMT) session led by Health Education and Training Specialist Shaila Khan.

Furtado says she felt uplifted and connected with her colleagues during Khan’s session, especially when everyone was asked to extend their arms to the side. “We virtually connected in a way I didn’t think was possible. It felt like we were strengthening our community,” she says. “It reminded us that we all have to be there for and support each other no matter what happens.”

Exploring appreciative advising

Attendees then explored the six phases of appreciative advising – disarm, discover, dream, design, deliver and don’t settle. “On day two of the conference, a few of my advising colleagues did a fantastic job in presenting/dissecting the six phases of appreciative advising by giving examples of how they use those six phases in everyday practice,” says Colalillo. “This allowed those of us who are new to appreciative advising an opportunity to put the theory into practice through collaboration and discussion with advisors across campus.”

Attendees were asked: What is one action that you will commit to doing in advising sessions to show students that they matter? Their answers were captured in the following word cloud.

An image shows the capital letters YU
This word cloud shows the answers provided by participants

“This year’s YU Advise Conference was a great success,” says Director, Student Advising and Academic Services, Lara Ubaldi. ​“It focused on critical themes that allow our advisors to continue to learn, grow, and help our students through their journey at York, makes them feel supported and listened to and empower them to succeed in their academic programs.”