Transition and academic success coach Lisa Brucken wins National Academic Advising Association award

Every semester, Norwich students arrive with one momentous choice made (where to go to college) but perhaps another weighing on them (what to study.) For four years, Lisa Brucken has stood ready to offer counsel and guidance. Students and colleagues have appreciated her work, and now she’s earned an award.

In December, just before winter recess, Brucken, a transition and academic success coach in Norwich’s Center for Student Success, learned she’s receiving the National Academic Advising Association’s 2020 Region I Excellence in Advising award.

The association, a Manhattan, Kansas-based nonprofit group, includes professional advisers, counselors, faculty, administrators and students who work to enhance students’ educational development. The association’s Region I includes Vermont, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Canada’s eastern provinces.

“Lisa has a unique way of being able to connect with her students on a personal level that is inspiring, understanding, and motivating. … Lisa instills hope, direction, and an expectation of success in all students she assists.” Stephen E. Looke, team director, Norwich Center for Student Success

Brucken will receive her honor, in the Primary Advisor Role category, at the association’s Region I convention March 11-13 in Mystic, Connecticut.

The Excellence in Advising awards recognize people who demonstrate qualities and practices that significantly contribute to improving academic advising.

Brucken, who holds a Master of Arts in military history from Norwich and a Bachelor of Arts in women’s studies from Wellesley College, has had her Norwich advising role since 2016. Her advisees graduating in May will be the first she has shepherded through all four years of study.

New students, both civilian and members of the Corps of Cadets, got to know one another early in the fall 2019 semester. Academic Success Coach Lisa Brucken works to help many new freshmen find their paths of study and thrive. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

Brucken, who advises more than 100 students each semester, is also a member of Norwich’s Academic Advising Council; has helped program Academic Day; has planned for workshops linked to EAB, a Washington, D.C., education consultancy; and has created advising-related guides for students.

“Lisa has a unique way of being able to connect with her students on a personal level that is inspiring, understanding, and motivating,” Norwich Center for Student Success Team Director Stephen E. Looke wrote in a letter of recommendation. “Some undeclared students do not get accepted into their first choice major and this can be confusing at first, but by working with Lisa they come to value the extra support and guidance they receive. Lisa instills hope, direction, and an expectation of success in all students she assists.”

Brucken’s efforts have boosted first-year retention rates from 60 percent in 2016 to 65 percent in 2017, Looke wrote.

A show of appreciation

Norwich students sang Brucken’s praises in nomination materials for the award, highlighting her personal attention to student needs, her ability to create informed academic plans for undeclared students and her standing as an integral Norwich adviser.

“I came into Norwich undeclared and still had no idea what to go into at the end of my first semester,” a Class of 2020 nursing major wrote anonymously. “Out of tons of class options, Lisa helped me nail down some that would be beneficial for various future paths. And now, even with changing my major twice, I am graduating with my incoming class.

“I really love just working with students one on one, and so to win an award for a job that I love is in some ways indescribable. … It’s a big honor.” Lisa Brucken, transition and academic success coach, Norwich Center for Student Success

“I can honestly say she is the most emotionally invested, caring, and genuine person I have had the pleasure to meet at Norwich,” the nursing major continued. “She makes me feel like I always have someone in my corner no matter what.”

An anonymous undeclared member of the Class of 2022 praised Brucken’s calm approach and helpful encouragement. 

“After not doing too well in a class my freshman year, she reached out to me to let me know that I could take it during the summer so that I wouldn’t fall behind,” the student wrote. “Even now, when I told her I am not good at math, she sends me email reminders of workshops and other opportunities to get better. I thought it was amazing that out of all the faces she sees she remembered me.”

Brucken said mathematics professor Joe Latulippe enabled her award by wrangling the necessary materials and submitting her name for consideration in November. She said reading the testimonials he gathered was reward enough, even if she didn’t win.

“I was really surprised; I’m not one of those people who actually ever wins anything,” she said. “I really love just working with students one on one, and so to win an award for a job that I love is in some ways indescribable. … It’s a big honor.” 

Seizing resources

Brucken said she enjoys helping students seize resources. She explains that faculty are real, approachable people who want to help them thrive. 

Brucken said she also likes helping students spot their potential, which they might not immediately see. A whole host of unforeseen options, students will reveal themselves through experimentation and trial, she said, a lesson she learned firsthand.

In a letter sent to the National Academic Advising Association, Norwich Center for Student Success Team Director Stephen E. Looke praised Lisa Brucken’s ability to connect with, understand and inspire students. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

For example, she said, when she arrived on Norwich’s campus in 2007, she tried many things — taking the classes that led to her master’s, serving on the staff retreat committee, teaching. All of these experiences meant she was ready and qualified to seize her current job when it was created.

Although not instantly seeing the college path can be unnerving, Brucken said, getting comfortable with not knowing can enable success. Just establishing themselves, building relationships, going to class, figuring out where and when to eat, can be work enough for incoming freshmen.

“The one thing I don’t want students to feel is unanchored,” she said. “One of the things I always say, particularly in the first semester, is ‘It’s your job to figure out college. … Just finishing your first semester of college … is an accomplishment in and of itself.”

Sometimes, Brucken said she explains that a hoped-for path may be harder, and more expensive, to achieve than forecast. Parents may imagine an engineering career for their daughter or son, but if that daughter or son struggles with math, the degree may take more than four years to achieve. And that child might discover success, and passion, for something else.

Brucken said she feels particularly gratified when students who were once her advisees come back to work with her even after they’ve acquired other advisers.

“I always tell them, ‘I can be your success coach,’” Brucken said. “Knowing I’ve had an influence on their whole college career as opposed to just a semester is really rewarding.”

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