Kent State’s Exploratory Program Receives National Recognition

Kent State University’s Exploratory Program in University College has been awarded two prestigious national awards for its work with exploratory students.

 NASPA (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators) has selected Kent State’s Exploration Plan – Major Action Plan program as the 2021 NASPA Excellence Bronze Award winner for the Academic Advising, Careers, Graduate Professional Category. 

The NASPA Excellence Award recognizes and highlights innovative initiatives related to the programs, policies, procedures, best practices or services. 

“In the fall of 2015, the Exploratory Program revised its Exploration Plan, which included the addition of the Major Action Plan (MAP),” said Nicole Kotlan, director of the Exploratory Advising Center at Kent State. “The Exploration Plan includes six components, including MAP; it is relevant and connected to Kent State’s Students First priority and University College’s mission ‘to help students explore, engage and succeed with a purpose.’”

The program was acknowledged during the recent NASPA Virtual Conference, which took place in March. Kent State’s Exploratory Program will receive a NASPA Excellence Award Bronze Certificate and recognition among other winning entries on the NASPA Excellence Awards page. Additionally, a letter of congratulations will be sent to Kent State Vice President for Student Affairs Lamar R. Hylton, Ph.D., and Kent State President Todd Diacon to mark the distinction. 

“I am really excited about our winning this award; it demonstrates the true impact that our Exploratory Program has on students who are navigating their academic journey toward declaring a major,” Hylton said. “It also demonstrates the true power of teamwork and collaboration across the university that I think has been recognized now on a national scale, and that is great.”

The honors continued with the Exploratory Program’s team chosen as the 2021 recipient of the NACADA (National Academic Advising Association) Region 5 Innovation in Advising Award for its Major Action Plan (MAP): Start to Finish program. The award shines a spotlight on a professional or advising team that has creatively improved practices by either promoting or thinking outside the box with innovative advising strategies to enhance effectiveness and efficiency, translating into student success.

The Start to Finish program was launched in 2018 when the Exploratory Program’s academic advisors identified a need to develop a more sustainable and engaging alternative to the previous structure of MAP advising meeting and career readiness conversation. The program created a meaningful format for exploratory students to connect with campus resources, peers, student leaders and exploratory academic advisors. The Start to Finish program now serves as a flagship program for the Major Action Plan.

Kotlan said the Major Action Plan: Start to Finish program not only connects students to resources but also prepares students for being adaptable for future careers. The results of the program immediately reflected active student engagement in their Major Action Plan and Exploration Plan, as well as year-over-year improvement in retention rates.

“Since the implementation, the retention rate for exploratory students has increased by 4.1%, 2019 compared to 2017, and students who attended the program, when compared to their peers that did not, had a significantly higher retention rate, 81.0% versus 58.3%,” she said. “Additionally, more than 85% of exploratory students confidently choose their major within three semesters of starting their Kent State career.”

Kent State student Sean Gauntner can attest to the success of the program firsthand. As a student in the Exploratory Program last year, he used the Major Action Plan to help him find a path for declaring a major, also adding it helped him learn about himself and pinpoint a major. In fact, he was so inspired by the program that he now serves as a mentor helping exploratory students on their path to confidently declaring a major.

“The Major Action Plan is a wonderful program to help exploratory students who have no idea where to go for major exploration get started,” he said. “The Exploratory Advising Center’s advising team is always eager to help students find who they are and what they want to do. They are a great support for students and want to see them succeed.”

The award was presented on April 7 at the NACADA Virtual Region 5 Conference. 

“We are honored to receive both awards from organizations that serve as pillars for recognizing outstanding contributions of academic advising practices for student success,” Kotlan said.

Kent State’s Dean of University College Eboni Pringle, Ph.D., was also overjoyed by being recognized on a national level.  

“These two new national awards for the Exploratory Advising Center, plus their two previous awards, recognize the caliber of our exceptional academic advising staff and Exploratory Program,” she said. “It also shows their commitment to meeting the needs of our students through innovative and transformative practices.”

For more information about Kent State’s Exploratory Advising Center, visit

For more information about the Exploration Plan, including the Major Action Plan, visit

For more information about the NASPA Excellence Award, visit

For more information about the NACADA Region 5 Innovation in Advising Award, visit

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Media Contacts:
John Jewell,, 330-672-1902
Emily Vincent,, 330-672-8595

POSTED: Wednesday, April 7, 2021 11:47 AM
UPDATED: Wednesday, July 17, 2024 10:41 AM
Matt Lupica