Dr. Doris Carroll Develops E-book for Graduate Course

By Patrice Scott

2014 College of Engineering students.

A College of Education faculty member created an e-book that is saving graduate students the cost of two textbooks.

Doris Wright Carroll, associate professor of special education, counseling and student affairs, developed an e-book for multiple sections of the course “Multicultural Aspects of Academic Advising.” Carroll received a $5,000 award from the university’s Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative to develop the resource. Over the course of the academic year, the e-book is saving approximately 120 students $13,500.

“Because I teach graduate-level distance courses, my motivation for doing this was to help the students who are taking this course around the world,” Carroll said. “I routinely have students enrolled who are in Canada, South Africa, Europe and on Army bases around the world. This population of students experiences a number of challenges when ordering textbooks and very often would not get their books until week four of the course or would incur additional costs.”

Carroll earned her doctorate degree in counseling psychology from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. She has been on faculty at K-State since 1999 and conducts applied research in student affairs practice and higher education administration, with special focus on online graduate education. Carroll’s current research focus is on cultural competency development.

The Student Becomes the Master – Advisor

By Jaimie (Engle) Newby

JaimieI’m from a town of 150 people, on a peninsula surrounded by the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Neither of my parents completed more than 3 college semesters. When I went to Illinois College (IC) in Jacksonville, IL, my life was immediately transformed. Although I felt behind my classmates, due to the various limitations of my high school (enrollment of 60), I did what I had to to catch up and feel not only capable but worthy of higher education.

At IC, I had a fantastic faculty advisor, Dr. Winston Wells, who helped me become the first ever International Studies major to concentrate in World Religions, although I wasn’t sure what I’d do with this major. I have always pictured myself as a teacher, and had experience teaching Sunday school and vacation bible school at my church. However, I didn’t enjoy teaching younger students, but preferred to work with older students wanting to better themselves.

I really don’t recall when I decided that advising would be the way to fulfill my desire to teach, but toward the end of my junior year at IC, I got a job as an academic mentor for at-risk youth at a local child welfare agency, as a way to gain advising experience. A month later, I met some professors from Maryland on a BreakAway (2-week study abroad trip) to Cuernavaca, Mexico. They recommended that I look into NACADA, for more info on becoming an academic advisor. I did this as soon as I returned home.

Shortly after this I was promoted to coordinator of the mentoring program, a challenge I was more than excited to take on. My senior year began, and I also took on a 2-semester internship in the Office of Study Abroad and BreakAways at IC, in order to gain experience in college administration. With recommendations from professors, I applied and was accepted to K-State’s Distance Education Academic Advising Masters program, which I began in fall 2012, and completed this past May, 2014.

I hadn’t considered graduate school before I was introduced to NACADA, but it was an obvious next step for someone as passionate about learning and bettering one’s self as I am. This was an amazing experience, to have professionals in the field as my classmates, and some of the top sources in the field as my professors. I also did substitute teaching while completing grad school, which only reaffirmed my decision to work in higher education rather than elementary or secondary education.

Just before completion of my M.S., I finally got my foot in the higher education door as an Admissions Counselor at MacMurray College. I consider myself to be a visionary. Whether consciously or subconsciously, I somehow manage to make my visions into reality. When the admissions team was asked to meet individually with the new provost, I immediately pictured myself telling the provost about my qualifications and desire for academic advising even though MacMurray employs faculty advisors and had no central administrative unit for advising. I looked at this meeting as an interview for what my future at the college could behold. The provost quickly became intrigued, as he places a lot of value in advising. Two months later, along with restructuring the Admissions Office, he informed me that I’d be moving from Admissions to the newly created position (for me!) of Director of Academic Advising. Yet another challenge I was thrilled to take on.

Now 3 months into my new position, I’m overseeing all faculty advising, as well as single-handedly advising all incoming students until they declare a major. I was immediately charged with developing a comprehensive advising model, to include advising processes, evaluation and assessment, and development activities for both students and faculty. Although I skipped a step in my career plan, going straight into advising administration without first holding an advising position, I am incredibly fortunate that I so recently finished graduate school at K-State. Not only do I benefit from having my education fresh in my mind, but my papers and projects are still relevant and often applicable resources in my new position.

I also had the opportunity to attend my first NACADA national conference in 2014 and refresh myself on best practices in the field. And, I finally got to meet some of my K-state professors! It was like meeting celebrities, having read all their publications and having only communicated with them online. They were so easy to talk to in person! Dan Wilcox even asked how my wedding went, having remembered me from his Career Advising course the previous year. I was incredibly flattered!

I couldn’t be more satisfied with my blossoming career, and my decision to pursue my M.S. in Academic Advising with K-State. I am looking forward to many more years of advising/teaching students, continuous professional development, and meeting like-minded professionals at future NACADA conferences!

Jaimie (Engle) Newby
M.S.
 2014, Kansas State University
MacMurray College
Jacksonville, IL

This is one in a series of student profiles. To read more Academic Advising Success Stories please visit the Global Campus website: http://global.k-state.edu/education/academic-advising/masters/success-stories. Submit your story to acadad@ksu.edu.

Dr. Bimper Looks at Black Student Athletes’ Experiences in College Sports, Improving Graduation Rates

For many student athletes, life off the field may be the tougher opponent.

Albert Bimper Jr., assistant professor of special education, counseling and student affairs at Kansas State University, researches race and diversity issues in sports as well as the experiences of student athletes in higher education. His goal is to find how the experiences of student athletes, particularly nonwhite student athletes, can be enhanced to improve their education and increase graduation rates.

Bimper played football at Colorado State University and in the National Football League as a center for the Indianapolis Colts. He said the topic is meaningful to him not only as an educator, but also as a former player who has friends and teammates who are unsure what to do since their athletics career ended.

“Some scholars have looked at and characterized the black student athlete experience as being very unique,” Bimper said. “In Division I athletics, black student athletes make up 61 percent of the basketball player base and 46 percent of the football player base. Yet they represent a very small portion of the overall student population and have a lower graduation rate than nonblack student athletes.”

Football and basketball are the highest-grossing college sports. Of the 70 college teams that competed in 2012 bowl games, 51 percent of those teams had at least a 20 percentage point difference between the graduation rate of black student athletes and white student athletes, Bimper said. Additionally, a quarter of those 70 teams had a 30 percentage point difference in graduation success rates.

For an ongoing research project, Bimper interviewed black student athletes at various universities in the Midwest about their experiences in academia and in the context of race. Student responses were analyzed through critical race theory, an academic discipline that combines race, law and power in a critical examination of society and sociocultural influences, in an effort to illuminate a greater understanding of black student athlete experience and the causes of students falling short.

Bimper recently presented his research at the university’s inaugural 2013 Faculty Showcase with the lecture “Is There an Elephant on the Roster? Race, Racism and High Profile Intercollegiate Sport.” He is currently preparing his findings for several academic journals.

In his research, Bimper found that the black student athletes have a complex relationship with sport culture and academics, which may lead to lowered academic performance and degree completion. Often the athletes felt as if their accomplishments on the field were highly celebrated while those in the classroom were not, creating a skewed sense of priorities and expectations, Bimper said.

Many stated they experienced lowered academic expectations because they were athletes and black.

“There are beliefs and perspectives that student athletes are ‘dumb jocks,’ and that burden is greater for black student athletes,” Bimper said. “But what does it mean to be a dumb jock? Based on the data, we could say that dumb jocks are not born, but rather they are being systematically created and institutionalized by the culture of sport that is creating this disparity we see between academic performance and graduation rates.”

Some athletes said they felt as if their options for an academic major were limited because of influences, pressures and lack of knowledge about available disciplines. Several student athletes reported enrolling in a major because they had seen advertisements for it at sporting events or it was simply the major of an athlete they admire.

According to Bimper, universities could capitalize on the increasing trend of high school student athletes graduating in December and beginning college in January. Programs could be offered in the summer that showcase science, technology, engineering and mathematics — or STEM — majors as well as critical majors such as ethnic studies. Similarly, programs could offer opportunities for young students athletes to get involved in research.

“It takes advantage of that shortened time frame and bridges what they did in the summer to their first semester,” Bimper said. “When they enroll for classes, they can talk to their adviser or whomever about this really exciting program and how they can keep doing that thing. They have an investment in a subject they care about and will want to see it through.”

Finding time to take advantage of such programs is a considerable challenge faced by student athletes and those working with athletes at a collegiate level. The goal, however, should be to not only graduate, but to educate student athletes, Bimper said.

Additionally, universities could look at offering more STEM-oriented classes and labs before afternoon practice sessions; integrate a multicultural program in athletics programs, similar to those integrated in academic arenas; and introduce a transition program that helps student athletes prepare for the rigors of academia while living in a new city.

“We can’t assume that student athletes have been on a college campus before and that they’ll easily adjust to the new environment they are in, especially if they’re coming from a largely multicultural area to a predominantly white area,” Bimper said.

Bimper said athletics offers numerous opportunities for many black student athletes, though many improvements can be made to enhance their experiences and potential for success beyond sport.

“Sports are one aspect of our society that many believe dismantles race,” Bimper said. “Black student athletes have a complex sense of equal opportunity in the context of sport. It offers them a unique place where they see themselves as equal, though they still recognize that racism exists in the culture of sport. Practicing and playing together helps navigate race, but it doesn’t transcend it.”

This article originally appeared in K-State Today, April 25, 2013. Dr. Albert Bimper, Jr. teaches in the academic advising graduate program.

Negotiating Civil Discourse in Academic Advising

This article originally appeared in Academic Advising Today (Vol. 34, No. 4) December 2011. Shannon Burton completed a Master’s in Academic Advising from Kansas State University in 2009.

Shannon Burton, Michigan State University

Higher education professionals have come to recognize that our students are an amalgamation of their family structures, race and ethnicity, gender, religions, and educational experiences. As students converge upon our campuses, they are challenged to confront their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in new ways through coursework, the people they meet, and the extra-curricular opportunities in which they engage. Advisors hope to create environments where students feel safe sharing their views on coursework and their activities, but we realize that the comments students make can be positive, negative, or sometimes even inappropriate.

How should advisors engage students in deeper discussions when we hear comments about an experience that borders on incivility? What can we do to help students begin to develop healthy means to discuss experiences?  Academic advisors can help students put their views and experiences into perspective when we teach students to maintain discussions that support, rather than undermine, societal good in the academic environment. While it may be difficult even for advisors to reflect upon controversial topics, there are strategies we can use to manage civil discourse. To facilitate appropriately, advisors must examine our perspectives on societal issues first.

Understanding Ourselves

  1. Advisors should have an understanding of our views on issues so that biases can be checked.  The key is to engage students and allow them to reflect upon what they are saying versus imposing our beliefs upon students.
  2. Advisors should be aware of the ways in which we may respond to comments we consider “uncivil” and determine how we may mitigate our initial reactions. Remember, students should continue to feel that advisors’ offices are safe and secure places to talk about themselves and issues that may affect their academic success. Reacting, however instinctively, in a negative way may have reverberating repercussions for continued relationships. Additionally, as professionals and as representatives of the institution, we are role models for appropriate behavior and how to express views within the institutional culture.
  3. Advisors should be aware of our communication styles and how these styles affect our interactions with students.  We may need to offer other means for communication or ask for space to reflect so that appropriate responses may be given.
  4. Advisors should encourage students to use the advising time to discuss ideas. We should let students know that regardless of their opinions, advisors will respect them and guide them towards academic success.

Once advisors set the above parameters, we can use the following strategies to help engage students.

Civil Discourse Strategies(Landis, 2008):

1. The Five Minute Rule (Landis, p. 109):

Ask students to consider opposing viewpoints for a few moments. Have them reflect on the following questions:

  • What is interesting or helpful about this view?
  • What are some intriguing features that others may not have noticed?
  • What would be different if they believed this view, if they accepted it as true?
  • In what sense and under what conditions might this idea be true?

Students should only think positively about the opposing viewpoint at this time. This strategy allows students to try on a less popular view and entertain it respectfully for a short time.

2. Reframe the Discussion (Landis, p. 154):

This strategy provides a means to uncover the hidden historical, social, and political aspects of a position.   Advisors should help students identify the experiences informing their perspective and help them reflect upon the following questions:

Option One:

  • From what discourse or discourse community does this view originate?
  • In what social or political structures is this view most at home?
  • How does this discourse relate to different power structures in which believers might find themselves?
  • What does holding and voicing this opinion do to shape individuals and their different roles or relationships?

Option Two:

  • What kind of cultural work does this view promote?  Are proponents trying to get individuals to believe in something, act in specific ways, or change their minds about something?
  • Who loses?  Who gains? Which groups benefit and who is penalized?
  • What ideas gain traction because of this perspective, and which ideas are minimized?
  • What perspectives are mobilized if this view becomes accepted, and which are constrained, limited or eliminated?

3. Shared Writing (Landis, p. 199):

Personal journals are effective and safe spaces for students to consider and develop their ideas about controversial topics before engaging in dialogue with others.  Encourage students who have difficulty expressing themselves to write in their journals every day.  Ask students if they are willing to share their journals so we can help them think through issues in constructive ways.

Conclusion

These are three ways to engage students in deeper discussions about their thoughts. These strategies offer examples of how advisors can help students reframe discussions in healthy ways and engage in dialogues on controversial topics both inside and outside the classroom. Other strategies exist for classrooms and group environments.

Whichever strategies are used, advisors should make certain that we have prepared carefully. We should know what we think and why we think that way. We should be prepared for our instinctive reactions and know how to control for them. As advisors we must have the courage to make mistakes. We must be humble enough to stand corrected and apologize when necessary. Engaging students in deeper conversations is not easy, but our efforts can move students forward to lifelong learning.

Shannon Lynn Burton
School of Criminal Justice
Michigan State University
sburton@msu.edu

References

Landis, K. (Ed.) (2008). Start talking: A handbook for engaging difficult dialogues in higher education.  Anchorage, AK: University Press.

Resources

Teaching Tolerance. Founded in 1991 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Teaching Tolerance is dedicated to reducing prejudice, improving intergroup relations and supporting equitable school experiences for our nation’s children.  www.tolerance.org

National Issues Forum. This non-partisan network of educational and community organizations promotes the debate of current issues.  www.nifi.org

Choices for the 21st Century. Choices is a project of the Thomas J. Watson, Jr. Institute for International Studies at Brown University that has created 15 units on contemporary and historical U.S. foreign policy issues.  www.choices.edu

Difficult Dialogues National Resource Center. This center is dedicated to promoting civic engagement, academic freedom and pluralism in higher education. www.difficultdialogues.org

For Further Reading

Andrews, R. (1994). Democracy and the teaching of argument. The English Journal, 83(6), 62-69.

Barber, B.R. (1989). Public talk and civic action: Education for participation in a strong democracy. Social Education, 53(6).355-370.

Evans, R. W. and Saxe, D.W. (Eds.). (1996). On teaching social issues. National Council for the Social Studies Bulletin 93. Washington, D.C.: National Council for the Social Studies.

Parker, W. C. (Ed.). (2002). Education for democracy, contexts, curricula, assessments. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Peripatetic Advising: How Socrates, Advising, and Running Shoes Influence Student Success

This article originally appeared in Academic Advising Today (Vol. 34, No. 2) June 2011

Christina M. McIntyre, Virginia Tech
ChristineMcIntyre1.jpg

Advising is about relationships. Relationships are important. Relationships take time.

I recently discovered that my inherent advising philosophy is founded in the Socratic method. While not well versed in Greek philosophy, my influences have been others who were. George Sheehan, dubbed “Mark Twain in running shoes” and the author of Running and Being (1978) and Personal Best (1989), emphasized the connection between the intellectual life and the physical life. I first encountered Socrates’ phrase “the unexamined life is not worth living” in Sheehan’s writings. The challenge to examine one’s life is a difficult one. It requires a balance between solitary thought and intentional dialog with others. Socratic advising involves a series of questions asked not only to discover individual answers, but to encourage insight into who we are, what motivates us, what is the basis for our decisions. In this way, advising is teaching and teaching is advising. We must continually remind ourselves that students don’t know what they don’t know. They are limited by the awareness — or lack of awareness — of their own ignorance.

While advising frequently takes place in the office, other opportunities for advising present themselves throughout the day: walking across campus, at the grocery store, eating lunch or riding the bus. Aristotle was known as a “peripatetic” lecturer – he taught as he walked about the peripatoi of the Lyceum gymnasium in Athens.  Strikwerda (2007) presented the image of “students jostling to get close to the teacher, some rushing to keep pace while asking questions or taking notes and others distracted by a bird flying overhead” (p. 99). While this complication may be viewed as a drawback, it is actually a strength.  As students turn towards one another to ask What did she just say?, they begin to learn from one another. Troop (2010) discusses many in academia who use running as a way to “help create that classic ‘Eureka!’ moment, an experience common to runners and other athletes who work their bodies and let their minds wander” (6).

My peripatos is the Virginia Tech Drill Field, the Huckleberry Trail, or the cross-country course.  I have put out a call on the Honors listserv for “peripatetic conversations” and students have responded. They have googled the word, and curiosity has attracted those students who don’t often “need” advice. Whether one or ten students heed the call, the first five minutes entail a debate regarding the definition of the word and how it applies to what we are doing. The pace of the walk or jog is one that can sustain discussion.

In customary conversation, eye contact is often encouraged; however, eye contact can be the barrier to addressing an uncomfortable topic.  Having a conversation where eye contact is not practical (while walking or jogging side-by-side) allows for a unique openness and flow to the conversation. Awkward topics, such as struggling with a course and the consequences of dropping, become less awkward. The terrain can allow for gaps in the conversation. When I ask a question at the bottom of “chicken hill,” a quarter mile steep hill on campus, the physical struggle to reach the top allows the student time to also struggle with her thoughts on that difficult question.

Christina walking with students Ed Coe and Cameron Sumpter on the Virginia Tech campus,jpg
Christina walking with students Ed Coe and Cameron Sumpter on the Virginia Tech campus

In considering advising as teaching, Lowenstein (2005) challenges academic advisors to make advising an interactive process in which the student plays an active role. The field of neuroscience supports the theory that exercise increases the production of neurochemicals associated with self-control and cognitive function. The mechanisms and specific type of learning affected is up for debate. Ironically most research studies on the effect of exercise on the brain involve walking or running trials (Chodzko-Zajko W., 2009).  Walking or running with another requires an awareness of the other person. Is the pace too fast or too slow? Pace dictates the rhythm or tempo of the conversation. Culture can influence pace – a colleague from Nigeria prefers the pace of a slow stroll. When walking with Biko, I find a calmness I don’t normally have. These peripatetic walks often lead to follow-up meetings or emails: an exchange of more information, an application to a scholarship or program, a campus resource that would be helpful, an article that seemed appropriate to the student and our conversation.

Academia often touts the virtues of life-long learning; but what about life-long living? Emulating a simple but healthy lifestyle behavior such as walking can complement the goal of life-long learning. We can easily isolate ourselves in our little sector of campus. Striking out on a journey across campus or into the surrounding neighborhood helps students discover areas and community that may otherwise remain unknown to them. The National Collegiate Honors Council offers a program called City as Text™ that encourages applications of this approach to active learning in various settings. “Small teams investigate contested areas and issues in urban environments, or competing forces in natural ones, these exercises foster critical inquiry and integrative learning across disciplines” (“National Collegiate Honors Council: Honors Seminars and Faculty Institutes,” 2011, 4) Therefore, City as Text™ refers to structured explorations of places – campuses, towns, cities, communities, etc. (Strikwerda, 2007).  Most campuses and their surrounding communities make great locations for this activity. The questions are limitless. Why is the campus located where it is? How has the community been affected by the growth of the college? In discussing these questions we learn more about ourselves and each other.

It is my hope that students’ memory of me is not as an advisor sitting behind a desk, poring over Banner reports and paper files. I hope the image in their mind’s eye is of me walking, or running, somewhere on campus. I hope they remember me conversing with others and having an open door, because there is no door. I hope my example challenges them as professionals to be as accessible to their clients, patients, or students as I have tried to be for them.

Advising is about relationships. Relationships are important. Relationships take time.

Christina M. McIntyre
Associate Director
University Honors
Virginia Tech
cmcintyre@vt.edu

Chodzko-Zajko W., Kramer, A.F., Poon L.W. (Ed.). (2009). Enhancing Cognitive Functioning and Brain Plasticity (Vol. 3). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Lowenstein, Marc. (2005). If advising is teaching, what do advisors teach? NACADA Journal, 25(2), 65-73.

Machonis, Peter. (2010). City as text™, jungle as text:  Iquitos and the Amazon.  Retrieved from www.nchchonors.org/honors-semesters-2010-Jungle-as-Text.htm

National Collegiate Honors Council: Honors Seminars and Faculty Institutes. (2011).Retrieved from www.nchchonors.org/faculty_institutes.shtml

Selecting and effectively using a pedometer. (2005). In American College of Sports Medicine(Ed.).

Sheehan, G. (Ed.). (1978). Running and Being. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Sheehan, G. (Ed.). (1989). Personal Best. Emmaus: Rodale Press.Strikwerda, R. (2007). Experiential learning and city as text: Reflections on Kolb and Kolb. Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council – Online Archive, Spring/Summer, 99- 105.

Troop, D. (2010, August 29). Eureka! Running jogs the academic mind. Chronicle of Higher Education.  Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Eureka-Running-Jogs-the/124164/

Tudor-Locke, C., & Bassett, D. R., Jr. (2004). How many steps/day are enough? Preliminary pedometer indices for public health. Sports Medicine, 34(1), 1-8.

Nota Bene

The American College of Sports Medicine(“Selecting and Effectively Using A Pedometer,” 2005) endorses the following guidelines (Tudor-Locke & Bassett, 2004) regarding number of steps per day for health and physical activity.

<5,000 Sedentary
5,000-7,499 Low Active
7,500-9,999 Somewhat Active
10,000-12,500 Active
>12,500 Highly Active

Rich Robbins, Academic Advising Faculty Member, Receives NACADA Service Award

Richard L. Robbins, Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Bucknell University and a Kansas State University academic advising program faculty member, is the 2011 recipient of the Service to NACADA Award. This award recognizes a NACADA member for outstanding service to the association.

Dr. Robbins involvement in NACADA has extended far beyond mere membership. In his various leadership roles, Dr. Robbins has demonstrated not only his expertise in all areas of student affairs and higher education but also his exemplary instructional and curriculum development skills. He received the NACADA/ACT Outstanding Institutional Advising Award in 1998 while at Washburn University and the NACADA Research Grant Award in 1999. He has served as Chair of the Kansas Academic Advising Network, Chair of the NACADA Research Committee, Chair of the NACADA Summer Institute Advisory Board, Chair of the NACADA Assessment Institute Advisory Board, and has been a member of numerous NACADA task forces, advisory boards, and committees including the NACADA Council and NACADA Board of Directors.

One nominator wrote, “There is no question that Rich Robbins is especially deserving of this award. He continually advocates for NACADA and all that it represents. Not only does he promote the association, but he is always an active participant in its functions. He is a quality representative of NACADA, its leadership, and this award.”

Congratulations to Dr. Robbins!

Helping Students Help Themselves: Advising as Empowerment

Charlie Nutt visits Maastricht University in the Netherlands

This article is from Academic Advising Today, Volume 34, Number 3, September 2011. It is an adapted version of an article which first appeared in De Observant (May 19th, 2011), Maastricht University’s weekly newsletter.

One of the most important tasks of an academic advisor, according to Charlie Nutt, Executive Director of NACADA: the Global Community for Academic Advising, is to teach students appropriate strategies with regard to learning. “We need to focus more on student learning as opposed to helping students,” he says. Charlie is a charming, energetic, and seemingly tireless American with a true passion for academic advising and improving students’ college experience, and he recently spent four days in Maastricht on the invitation of Nicolai Manie and Oscar van den Wijngaard (both members of NACADA and academic advisors at University College Maastricht – see Oscar’s recent AAT contribution). Charlie gave several inspiring workshops, sharing his insights and strategies on increasing study success and improving student retention with the academic advisors and administrators of Maastricht University. In addition, he reserved time for individual meetings with the deans of the various departments.

Academic advising is gradually gaining a stronger foothold at Maastricht University, reflecting a growing awareness of its importance for student success, and aided by a recent Dutch policy that can result in significant cost to both university and students when the allotted time to complete a study program is exceeded.

At University College Maastricht (UCM), students can choose from more than 130 courses, with the guidance of academic advisors, and Charlie’s visit to Maastricht couldn’t have come at a better time, says Nicolai Manie, coordinator of UCM’s Academic Advising Office. “At the moment,” Nicolai explains, “UCM is re-evaluating its advising system, planning to make some significant changes to it.” Other faculties are also implementing new advising strategies this year: the psychology faculty introduced a new mentoring program, and the Department of Knowledge Engineering is piloting a faculty-based academic advising system for first year students, which most likely will be adopted by other departments of the university as well.

With the development of new program structures, many important questions arise within Maastricht University’s academic advising community, such as what is the role of an academic advisor and in what way is it different from a study advisor? Charlie Nutt cautions that it is very important that each faculty defines these roles for themselves, making clear distinctions between the tasks of study and academic advisors. One word that is crucial to academic advising was heard repeatedly in Charlie’s workshops: connection. Making sure that the students can identify with their studies, that they can relate to the philosophy of the faculty and the university, is key for a pleasant and successful college experience.

What is the most important factor for students during their studies, and what distinguishes students with a successful career from those who are less successful? The quality of teaching? Having a rich social life? Richard Light, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, conducted a survey with 1800 Harvard graduates and found the answer: the relationship with the academic advisor is the key to success. Or as Light put it (2001): Good advising may be the single most underestimated characteristic of a successful college experience (p.81).

“Think about your own time as a student,” Charlie Nutt urges. “Perchance you met a professor who was truly inspiring and gave you guidance. But such an encounter should not be left to chance. We need to build a relationship between the students and the advisor before the students realize they need someone to help them out. Because once they realize they are in trouble, they’re already in so much trouble that they have difficulties getting out by themselves.” However, Charlie says, it is not the task of the academic staff to hold the students’ hands and solve all their problems for them. Rather, advisors should help students learn from their mistakes and “provide them with strategies and techniques to take success into their own hands, which is the student’s responsibility.” Advisors should help the students feel empowered.

What do we need to teach students? According to Charlie Nutt, without a doubt, we need to “teach them how to make choices because they don’t know how to do that. Up until they enter university, decisions have been made for them. We need to teach students the important difference between choosing a certain study program and choosing a career. When asked: why do you want to study a particular subject? And how did you arrive to this conclusion? students’ most cited answers are: ‘I thought this subject was interesting in high school,’ ‘my friends study the same,’ ‘my parents wanted me to,’ and ‘I didn’t like anything else better.’ It’s not about helping, it’s about teaching: teaching to think, teaching to make the right choices.” Some students have no idea what courses to choose in their first year. It takes time to get used to being a university student. Charlie adds, “Don’t forget that these young people are standing on their own feet for the first time; it’s often the first time they leave their parent’s place. They need time to get used to this.”

To many freshmen the university is a different world. Many have a hard time adjusting to it; some of the students who had high grades in high school are now barely passing their classes, panicking that they might fail. “It is important that they realize that it is normal, that they can relax” Charlie says. “I share my own story with them,” says someone in the audience. “I too had good grades in high school, but was not doing so well in my first year of college. It helps sharing these stories with students; they instantly open up to you, they can relate.”

At the end of one of his workshops, Charlie provides a list of helpful tips for future advisors: “Know your students! Who are they, what are they telling you? Are they ready to study at university? Have high expectations. If they are too low, students will only make very slow progress. Set up a team of professionals and staff members with different skills; jointly take up the responsibility of ensuring study success. Motivate students to reflect. Give valuable information. Integrate academic advising in the first year and focus on university culture sooner than later. If we don’t, students will assume that we are not interested in them and their stories, which is just the opposite of what a good academic advisor should be.”

Nicolai Manie
Coordinator Academic Advising
Faculty of Humanities & Sciences
University College Maastricht
Maastricht University

Vera Bossel
Educational Researcher
University College Maastricht
Maastricht University

Oscar van den Wijngaard
Coordinator Academic Advising
University College Maastricht
Maastricht University

Reference
Light, Richard. (2001). Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.