Demonstrating the quality of leadership and academic advisement support the University of Central Missouri provides students, three university members were honored this spring at the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) Region IV/VII annual conference and awards program in New Orleans.

As UCM continues to build on its reputation for outstanding academic advisement, the university swept three major award categories at the regional recognition program for the first time in the institution’s history.

NACADA is a global organization that promotes and supports quality academic advising at higher education institutions in order to enhance students’ educational development and to help ensure a successful pathway to completion of their college or university degrees. It provides a forum for discussion, debate, and the exchange of ideas pertaining to academic advising through numerous activities and publications, while also honoring individuals for their exceptional work in this field.

Members of UCM’s award-winning academic advisement team who were honored by NACADA included Ken Schueller, senior director of student success, recipient of the Excellence in Advising – Advising Administrator Award, and Rachelle Webster, senior academic success advisor and recipient of the Excellence in Advising - Primary Role Advisor Award. Also honored was Robert Fernquist, Ph.D., sociology program coordinator and chair of the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Studies, who was presented the Excellence in Advising – Faculty Advisor Award.

The award recipients from UCM were selected among hundreds of professionals in NACADA’s Region VII. Individuals who were considered for awards are higher education professionals whose primary role is academic advising, faculty members who teach and spend a portion of their time providing academic advising services to students, and individuals whose primary role is to administer or direct academic advising programs. UCM’s honorees are part of a region that includes academic advisement professionals and educators in the states of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana.

“When you consider how many schools and advising programs there are in those six states, it’s  humbling,” Schueller said in talking about UCM’s NACADA recognition.
UCM’s success in NACADA continues a long string of university faculty and staff members who have been recognized by the organization. Since the establishment of the Student Success Center in 2015, at least one individual from the university has been honored every year as a winner in the state and region in either professional academic advisement or faculty academic advisement categories.

This is in addition to numerous Certificate of Merit awards. Two UCM members received global recognition in 2021, an achievement which all three of this year's regional award winners are now seeking. Since 2015, two other individuals also have been honored as new academic advisement professionals, one at the regional and one at the state level.

“This says a lot about the quality of student care we have here,” Schueller said.
Prior to receiving regional recognition, Webster, who won the Outstanding Academic Advisor Award from UCM in April 2023, and Schueller were both recognized at the state level by the Missouri Academic Advising Association (MACADA). The nomination process includes student surveys and letters of support for nominees provided by students and colleagues.

A retired Air Force veteran who has worked for UCM since August 2001, Schueller was surprised to learn that he received 49 endorsements from students, employees and staff members in his office that led to his initial recognition in fall 2023 at the state level. This motivated him to apply for the regional award.

“That’s the thing that just set me back,” he said gratefully. “You can think you are doing good and look at numbers, but the ultimate measure for me was that kind of support from the entire team. For me this is like the pinnacle of my career."

In 2018, while Schueller was directing the Open Options program for undecided majors, he was instrumental in combining five decentralized advising areas into a unified Advising Center within one location that pulled together advisors on campus. This team of professionals created a proactive advising model which now includes three significant components, advisors, success coaches and faculty mentors.

Schueller built the Open Options program from the bottom up, and created the content and curriculum for  the Exploring Majors program that his office follows today. He has worked with the UCM Alumni Foundation to secure funds for retention scholarships, and secured space for the Harding Student Support Services Center as part of a comprehensive college access and completion program for incoming freshmen, especially first-generation and low-income students.

The university has experienced record retention rates under Schueller’s leadership, and colleagues note that he has developed a reputation as “someone who administers with a personal touch by getting to know his employees and the students who visit his office."

Webster joined the university in June 2019 as an Academic Success Advisor, and is now embracing a senior leadership role at that post. She has a caseload of 250 undergraduate students majoring in Agriculture Science, Biology, Chemistry, Health Studies, Kinesiology, Medical Laboratory Science, Nursing, Open Option and Radiologic Technology.

As part of the awards consideration process, Webster said she and other nominees were asked to provide statements about their advising philosophy. This serves her well in a profession where she works with many students who come from backgrounds similar to her own.

Webster noted, “My advising philosophy was crafted through the lens of a Pell-eligible, first-generation college student that never thought she would complete a whole semester of college much less a master’s degree in College Student Affairs. Through awareness of my own academic journey in combination with experience and education, I aspire to continue to support those around me, repay the college advisors and mentors that aided in my personal and professional journey, and make a difference in the lives of many."

One of Webster’s colleagues who nominated her for the NACADA award noted about her, “Rachelle’s genuine care and attentiveness to student needs along with her profound grasp of knowledge in advising and student development theories drive her professional success. Rachelle views her role as a Success Advisor as more than a job, but an opportunity. An opportunity to help others grow into the best students and individuals they can be."

Fernquist has been a member of the Sociology faculty for 27 years, where he has taught numerous undergraduate and graduate courses. Student advising is an important part of his professional endeavors, and he said he is grateful for the opportunity to guide and support students in their academic journeys at UCM. He also appreciates the help and support he receives from the university’s success advisors. Statements he shared with MACADA and NACADA demonstrate his philosophy about student academic advisement and his commitment to their success.

“I have found that although students’ needs are varied, each student deserves my full attention—whether it be helping a student receive financial aid to purchase a textbook, working with administration to approve course substitutions for their major field of study, or contacting a student to see if they need any help registering for classes,” he noted.
As a college professor, Fernquist has never forgotten what it’s like to be on the receiving end of an education. Drawing from his personal experiences as a former student helps him to better serve today’s students while also contributing to a successful and satisfying career.

“I remember sitting in my introductory sociology class when I was an undergraduate student and wanting to do what my teacher was doing—be a sociology professor. As rewarding as teaching college classes has been, it is in the one-on-one moments advising and mentoring students that I find true satisfaction in my career,” he wrote. “Although the phrase ‘this is what I was meant to do’ may be viewed as trite and overused, this truly is the case for me. I have been blessed to help students both in and out of the classroom. And it never ceases to be rewarding."

Fernquist, Webster and Schueller will learn during the summer of 2024 if they have received NACADA global recognition in their professional academic advising areas. These awards will be presented during the organization’s national conference Oct. 27-30 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In the photo: From left, Robert Fernquist, Ph.D., sociology program coordinator and chair of the University of Central Missouri's Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Studies; Rachelle Webster, senior academic success advisor; and Ken Schueller, senior director of student success, were all honored by the National Academic Advising Association Region VII for their outstanding work and service to students in the area of academic advisement.

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