Monday, November 30, 2009

What doesn't Count

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.


  1. Huzzah for good advising. So ridiculously important, and apparently so overlooked...

  2. Anonymous11:21 AM

    Recently, the folks in our Advising Center (although faculty do advising, there are also paid non-faculty advisers available to help with the influx of students and to work with new students in the summer)have made a point of identifying faculty advisers (announcing their names at the fall all college meeting, for example) who go above and beyond in terms of advising, thus giving out some kudos for such good work.

    They've also started asking graduating students to fill out surveys, including a question related to the quality of advising they received.

    It's a new trend here but one that is long overdue since we do so much advising...

    So kudos to you, Bardiac.

  3. One of my regrets on my campus is that faculty *don't* do advising -- we have an advising staff. There are some advantages -- I don't have to learn all the arcane rules -- but I think there are times when there is a real loss.

  4. I had two students recently ask me what classes they should take in the spring, and I spent some time with them looking at the offerings and talking about their interests. The problem? I'm not an adviser, not full-time faculty, and I don't know what GE they "have" to take. So while I worked with them on a sort of friendly basis, I told them that they really needed to talk to their major advisers too so that they could get their required classes taken care of. I felt a little awkward in this position. On the one hand, I was happy to talk to the students about their interests, etc. On the other, I worried that I might be steering them in the wrong direction. So I made sure, a couple of times, to say, "Be sure to run this by your adviser!"

  5. It counts as retention, surely -- students who know faculty care about them (as opposed to students who can clearly see faculty are treating them like sheep) are more likely to stay on a given campus and finish at that campus.

    Sadly, as you point out, there isn't any box in our promotion portfolio where we can put evidence of our work in this area -- though I did include letters from students I had advised & counseled in my portfolio, saying how much they appreciated the time & advice I gave them, so I guess I slipped it in that way.

  6. Dr.GunPowderPlot10:01 AM

    Well done, Bardiac! I do worry about this a lot. My guess is that the faculty member in question doesn't know much about course offerings outside hir department, and probably knows even less about required courses. So s/he probably felt uncomfortable advising a student outside hir box. You, on the other hand, can clearly problem-solve and saw this as a good opportunity.

    At my institution, advising is done by both faculty and "professional" advisors. The quality of both kinds of advising varies wildly. In my office (I'm an administrator of a smallish program), we also use peer advisors. I'm starting to think that these fellow students are a truly excellent and under-used resource. When a student advisor reaches her knowledge limit, the student automatically meets with me, and as a faculty/admin person, I can advise across the university. I have my own agenda, of course, which usually includes grad school or at least graduating before getting married and starting a family.

    Also, at my institution, our "professional" advisors have nearly twice the recommended advising load. So yeah, it's a problem at probably all big publics.