Published on Oct. 8, 2020
For Cecilia Olivares, people are paramount. Developing relationships, facilitating fulfillment and helping others pursue goals motivates her every day at Mizzou. When she joined NACADA, the global association for academic advising, in 2008, she took those concepts worldwide. NACADA connects academic advisors with the resources they need to succeed and extends those bonds beyond state lines and international borders. Through this chain of connections, advisors can help each other find jobs and collaborate on projects that impact advising across the country.
“I have made such great connections with colleagues in so many different places,” says Olivares, director of the MU Transfer Center and interim director of Mizzou’s recently launched Discovery Center. “For me, it has been nice to have people from other campuses to bounce ideas off of.”
Born in Pennsylvania, Olivares’ family moved around during her childhood because of her dad’s job in the national lab system. Their longest stop was in Los Alamos, New Mexico, but she attended the University of Puget Sound in Washington. Eventually, she ended up at Iowa State University.
“I met my partner, and we have bounced around because of his job,” Olivares says. “He was the strength and conditioning coach for Mizzou football and now he is an assistant athletic director. Our careers have paralleled because of our work in higher education.”
Olivares didn’t intend to go into academic advising. She got involved in multicultural student programming and student activities in college, and worked as a hall coordinator for three years. But after the birth of her second child, she moved off campus and found a job as a community college academic advisor. For her, it was about connecting with students, helping them find their path and choose a major. She gained a lot of skills working with college students, which led her to academic advising.
“You can’t get a bachelor’s degree in academic advising,” Olivares says. “It’s not traditionally what people are thinking when it comes to a career. Although I didn’t have a lot of direct academic advising experience, I had a lot of experience working with college students and there are a lot of transferable skills.”
After joining NACADA, her connections helped her settle in at Mizzou. For her, the people in the Columbia community made everything special.
“Mizzou has felt like the best combination of a professional and personal home,” Olivares says. “The collective energy here is unique.”
Olivares currently directs two campus-wide resources housed in the Student Success Center: the Transfer Center, a one-stop shop for all things related to the transferring process, and the Discovery Center, a new resource for students who are exploring academic options. Olivares works with students to help them consider different majors and find what works.
“There are a lot of different pieces that go into completing the picture of what someone’s life will look like,” Olivares says. “To me, it’s an interesting and fun challenge everyday to meet students and help them navigate Mizzou.”
Now, Olivares is experiencing a different side of advising as her daughter goes into college.
“I definitely understand college parents better now having gone through the process myself,” Olivares says. “There is a different level of empathy.”
In October, Olivares will serve a one-year term as NACADA’s board president. She’s prepared for the role having worked with colleagues in the same position, but her duties will be different due to the pandemic. She will help facilitate online conferences and events, coordinate with campuses on how to advise remotely and assist in finding new ways to work through the challenges facing academic advisors.
“It’s a huge honor and commitment to serve a large global association for the next year as president,” Olivares says. “Having a space for people to connect and time for people to learn from each other is critical. The exciting part is being a part of something beyond Mizzou. There’s a lot happening out there that we can share and learn from.”