More than a Job: A Conversation with Associate Dean Dr. Toby Spiegel

Jul 1, 2015 by Tom Dellner

In early March, Dr. Toby Spiegel, associate dean of CalSouthern’s School of Behavioral Sciences, was presented with the Excellence in Advising Award from the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) at the organization’s western regional conference. The award recognized Dr. Spiegel’s impact on her students’ success as well as her contributions to the field of academic advising as a whole. The award should come as no surprise to those CalSouthern learners and alumni who have come to know Dr. Spiegel; her dedication to her students and enthusiasm for her work and for higher education is palpable.

The CalSouthern Sun sat down with Dr. Spiegel to get her reaction to receiving the award, to learn more about CalSouthern’s academic advising program and to explore her personal philosophy about the profession.


First of all, congratulations on the award! What was going through your mind when you received it?

I was extremely humbled. The nomination process is extensive, and there were many faculty mentors and academic staff who were involved in it, providing supporting documentation on my behalf and the like. It meant a great deal to me to have so many of my peers who I admire so much go to such great lengths to support my nomination.

I also was quite moved. It brought tears to my eyes. I love what I do so much, and to have my work validated in this way was an extraordinarily emotional experience.


We understand that your role with NACADA has been expanded.

Yes. Prior to the regional conference, I attended a NACADA Assessment Institute in Orlando, Florida. The institute examines ways that academic advising can support assessment, which is a data-driven process to improve a university’s academic programs and student services. I was asked to serve on the institute’s advisory board. I am honored, flattered and eager to serve NACADA in this way.


You were asked to deliver a presentation regarding CalSouthern’s approach to academic advising. Can you tell us more about it?

I presented with faculty mentor Dr. Enid Richey on the topic, “Academic Advising with a Personal Touch: A Collaboration between the Academic Advisor and Faculty Mentor,” which jibed perfectly with the conference theme of “Academic Advising with Aloha.”

Essentially, it focused on the culture of collaboration at CalSouthern which enables advisors to partner with faculty and with other university departments to create a support system for each student. We shared some of the technologies and best practices that enable us to build and maintain this system. Some of these include manageable caseloads for advisors, automatic alerts to contact students at regular intervals and when they are encountering challenges, individualized degree-plan orientations and constant communication between advisors and faculty mentors.


Did any of the conference workshops provide useful ideas that you might implement here at CalSouthern?

Yes, although much of it really just validates enhancements that we are already implementing. Some of my colleagues shared interesting ways in which they are using technology to meet with groups of students regarding topics of common interest. CalSouthern already does this with our Master Lecture Series, group orientations, clinical conferences, the Doctoral Project Boot Camp and other cohorts organized around the doctoral project, but we will be expanding these efforts. We will be organizing cohorts around research and academic writing topics, and I envision coordinating “town meetings” on subjects of interest such as the implementation of the DSM-5, for example. We have a great many practicing clinicians within our student body that have concerns or valuable information to share with their peers on this and other topics.

The qualifying exam is another area that is ripe for this. It would be helpful to bring groups of students together to allow them to share their concerns and trepidations about the exam, and to have faculty and staff available to answer question, provide guidance and to help demystify the experience. I look forward to spearheading the effort to bring students, advisors, faculty and staff together to address these and other common concerns.


What do you enjoy most about your work?

Oh, there are so many things. One highlight is checking in with a student prior to an exam or a big assignment that’s due, or perhaps it’s simply a regular “just wanted to see how you’re doing” email, and hearing that I’ve contacted them at just the right time—that the student really needed to know, right then, that we are here for them. These serendipitous moments happen all the time, and they always bring a smile to my face.

These sorts of interactions remind me that this is about so much more than merely coming into an office and doing a job. This is real for my learners. They are digging deep to achieve their educational and professional dreams. It’s heady stuff; I can remember what it was like for me. So whenever I am able to make that journey just a little easier for them, or to remove a small source of frustration for them, that is very meaningful and rewarding for me.

And, of course, seeing my learners at graduation. That’s probably the pinnacle, seeing the joy on their faces when they have completed that journey. It’s very emotional and I’m blessed to be able to share that moment with them.

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