Advising the advisors

Our students have now registered for their fall classes, which means I got my first taste of academic advising. I only have two advisees at the moment, but there will be a lot more where they came from.

All of my experiences with being on the receiving end of advising were at the large state schools I attended. I met with an academic adviser twice in my entire undergraduate career: once at freshman orientation, and once to declare my major. But now I’m at a school that probably has a smaller student population than my freshman dorm did, and we’re expected to be a little more involved.

My big concern with advising is mismanaging scheduling so badly that a student needs to stick around for an extra semester or year. That’s happened to a few students I’ve taught over the years, and it cost them dearly. My school has an agreement with the students that, as long as meet certain standards, they will graduate in four years. If the school can’t keep their end of the bargain, tuition will be waived for any extra time the students need to spend at school. It’s not like the bursar’s office will deduct this tuition from my paycheck if I mis-advise a student or anything, but we do make a big deal of this agreement, and I don’t want to be the one to screw it up.

We don’t have an official advising orientation here, but one of the members of our stellar first-year-faculty cohort reached out to the head of our Center for Teaching and Learning, who put together a great session. We met with the head of advising who went over the requirements, the catalog, and the software with us.

What may have been more valuable than all those basics were the tips he shared with us about how to best manage our advisees. He meets with each of his students four times a semester (!), and keeps a record of what they discuss and what the student’s responsibilities are going forward. He provided us with some forms he uses with them to keep them accountable. For instance, before their first appointment early in the semester, he gives his advisees “homework” answering questions like: Have you attended all your classes? Look at all your syllabuses – when will you be the busiest this semester? How do you plan to stay ahead of your deadlines? He also has the students do a little bit of goal-setting for their year. Later on in the semester, he checks in again to see if students need help accessing any of the support resources on campus.

I’m not sure I’ll ever meet with my advisees that frequently or be that involved with keeping them all on the straight and narrow. I have gotten both of my students registered for the spring, even though they both seem determined to bite off more than I’d like them to chew. But I’ve usually been the type who’s too stubborn to accept advice, and was even worse when I was 19, so I can’t fault them too much for going their own way. We’ll meet again in the first weeks of the semester to re-evaluate and adjust if necessary. I’m pretty sure they’ll be fine.

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One Response to Advising the advisors

  1. Donald Hackler says:

    Back in the prehistoric era, when I was first an undergraduate, I expected that my faculty advisor would have a firm grasp of degree programs and such. He did, as long as matters were confined to mathematics. Not so much with other science subjects, and forget liberal arts & any other pertinent subject areas such as good study habits. I frankly received better advice from the upperclassmen in the dorm, who actually seemed to understand and care. A consequence was that, years later, I made damned sure I understood all these things, so that I might render coherent advice to *my* students — and not just those who might one day pursue graduate studies in math and statistics.

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