I just had a conversation with a student (from my writing class) about what classes to take next term. The student's a first year, who declared as a major right off, and so has a major advisor. Let's just say that major is as far off from English as it's possible to be here at NWU.
The problem is, after taking the intro course in the major, s/he's not sure s/he wants to study that field. And when s/he went to the major advisor to talk about what to enroll in next term and get the enrollment computer thingy, the advisor wasn't as much help as he might have been. Basically, according to this student, the advisor pretty much said, "this is what you need to take next term for this major," and when the student told him s/he was thinking of changing majors, the advisor basically repeated the same thing.
Okay, I know the advisor's another faculty member and busy. I recognize that. And I'm guessing the advisor wasn't quite that abrupt. But the student ended up in my office for a reason, and it's not because I'm warm and fuzzy.
But still, here's a student who's a first year student, and what s/he needs is a little help exploring and figuring out what sort of major s/he wants to pursue. Most of our students seem to change majors a couple times, so it's not like this is a once in a lifetime issue. It's going to happen, and more than once. And to be honest, it's healthy for students to change majors and explore.
For early on in a student's career, basic advising involves talking about exploration, general education, and opening up opportunities. I ask a few questions about what the student's taking, what s/he enjoys, what sorts of things s/he wants to learn about. I listen and take some notes. We look at class offerings and schedules.
So we had a nice conversation and figured out what looks like a reasonable schedule; there's one more advanced class the student seems well-prepared for and several introductory classes that will serve for exploration and general education. The student seemed pleased by the possibilities and interested in the courses, and also has a couple classes to look forward to in the fall.
As pieces of the job go, this one's sort of important. But you know it doesn't get marked on my "good job" list by anyone, nor does the other advisor lose anything by not caring what the student's doing. The thing is, it's not that hard to do a good job with little advising things like this, and it makes a difference to a student who needs some help. It's one of those things that's important enough to do well, but not counted, like so many other things.