By Jeff McCallister
The e-mail, as far as any of the e-mail Susan Noble gets that can be labeled that way, was typical.
“One of my students who is expecting to graduate at the end of this semester, e-mailed to tell me he’s having problems in a class that he thinks he’ll likely fail,” said Noble, who heads up the three-person advising team in Electrical and Computer Engineering. “So we had to try to come up with some strategies that will allow him to still graduate on time.”
Not that it’s typical for a student to be failing a course, but that’s the kind of circumstance it takes for some students to contact their advisors. In her position, Noble is responsible for dealing with issues of newly admitted majors and transfer students through graduation in such areas as petitions, probation/dismissal/reinstatement, distinction projects, senior petitions, BSMS program, applications for degree, and degree certification.
“There’s a myth or misconception among students that the only reason to go see your adviser is to do your schedule for next term,” said Jennifer Belisle, advising resource coordinator in the Office of Enrollment Services and Undergraduate Education. “But the reality is that advisors are there for a student from recruitment to graduation; they are an invaluable source for navigating the university and their entire college experience.”
There is no central academic advising office for students to seek advice; instead, undergraduate academic advising is provided by the colleges and/or the departments that offer the programs — the degrees, the majors, the minors — a student is pursuing.
Where a student should go, therefore, to seek academic advice will vary by student and by academic program. Even within a single program, a student may have multiple advisors, and a student with multiple programs could have even as many as four or more advisors. And each individual advisor might have anywhere from a handful to more than 700 students assigned to them, depending on the college.
It can get even more confusing, Belisle said, because students will often use the term “advisor” loosely — referring to anyone at the university who is helping them to solve a problem or navigate an issue. But every student is assigned to at least one official academic advisor who has the training to know the right way to go about getting things done.
Although it may seem inefficient, Belisle said, this distribution of responsibilities ensures that a student receives advice from someone who knows a program well, rather than generically, who knows the ins and outs of the requirements and particularities of courses.
UE provides both in-person and online training that complements college/department training programs for new academic advisors; professional development experiences for advisors who wish to facilitate, present and/or train; increased collaboration and exchange of information between advisors, students (and staff) and offices across campus; and connections to other campus training and professional development opportunities.
“Advising is a large and varied process,” said John Wanzer, assistant provost in UE. “Our job in Undergraduate Education is to do what we can to encourage collaborative efforts among advisors, to get them thinking about the best possible ways to do things and to provide as many resources as we can so they can do the best job possible.”
So Noble, using her years of experience and the resources available to her through her college and through Belisle and her office, put together a backup plan for the student who had e-mailed her — fortunately, this one was easy; the class is being offered again in the spring semester’s second term and the student could re-take the course if needed. But first things first, Noble said.
“I told him to make sure to go and talk to the professor, face to face,” she said. “Sometimes getting in there and letting the professor know you are really interested in solving the problem is all it takes. Hopefully, he won’t have to use that backup plan.
“I truly enjoy doing what I do,” she said. “I learn something new every day and I get to help a lot of people who are so appreciative. It’s a really rewarding job.”