Academic Advising

 

As a student in the CSSA program, I have been able to continue to explore both my passion for accessible education and creating strong services for diverse students. The opportunities I pursued both as an undergraduate student and post-graduation attracted me because the values inherently required in those higher education positions naturally matched my own. Viewing a student as a whole person is critical to academic advising and helped me recognize that a students’ exploration of their intersecting identities shapes their world view, and it is the role of the institution to encourage this exploration while giving them the tools necessary to simultaneously sustain their success in the classroom. I believe higher education institutions have a common goal in mind which is the complete support and wellbeing of their students. In order for colleges to reach that goal, student affairs professionals must be in the positions to support students, which is where my area of specialization comes in.

Academic advising is more than just helping pick out classes and picking out majors and minors. It extends beyond making sure students meet graduation requirements; it is encouraging the development of a student, helping them succeed in a classroom and getting them ready for the future (Drake, 2013). As a society, I feel we have put so much focus on a student’s academic achievement as the main measure of their success, that unknowingly it has influenced students to forgo important self-care practices such as: sleep, physical exercise, nutrition, and/or relationships. The pressures of college cause students to put off wellbeing until a later date I believe, and students will put off taking care of themselves until after their education is complete (I definitely did this during the CSSA program). And this is reflected in the rising need for mental health support among college age students (Moeller, 2020). During these moments are opportunities to connect with students, encourage them and reiterate that I am there to support them, but taking care of themselves is important so they can complete their education. Academic advising may seem like a niche specialization, but students are from all walks of life and are in different stages and having the ability to connect with those students is essential.

Throughout this program, I have had multiple opportunities to learn more about connecting with students through student development models and theories. While student development models and theories can be tools in the toolbox I use when I work with students, they are not the only thing to think about when advising students. Several of the courses I have taken have informed my advising practice, while helping me build a foundation to stand on. It is important to note that these few courses and the co-curricular experiences during the CSSA program do not make me an expert. While I have synthesized my learning and experiences and weaved my thoughts around student advising in my reflection of the CSSA competencies, I would like to highlight the following courses and internships that have especially helped me obtain a better understanding of academic advising and serving students more holistically.

 

‘Academic Advising’ (CSSA 599) 

This course acted as an introduction to academic advising as a profession while focusing on quality higher education. During this course, we examined the history, theory, core values and practice that envelop this functional area and considered how advising would play out in other service areas. As a critical part of this class, we were asked to look at our professional self to see how we can improve and develop as practitioners. I used this continuous exercise to identify my own philosophy in advising, because as a future practitioner in advising I want to strive to serve the client (student) to the best of my ability. I want to serve the students with respect and dignity as I strive to help them through their development in a holistic approach. I hope that through a holistic approach that students needs will be met in a way that feels authentic to them. I aim to serve the students for as long as I am proving to be helpful to them and if their needs are beyond my capabilities, I will connect them to services that may suit them best. I want to improve the welfare of the students in any way I can.

During this course, we created a philosophy statement (Artifact G) where I learned that I resonate with a mix of strength-based advising as well as developmental advising; highlighting each of their strengths creates a well-rounded advising philosophy when working with students. Strength-based advising is built on capitalizing on a student’s greatest strengths instead of focusing on fixing areas of weakness as it likely leads to greater success (Folsom, 2015). It allows for an advisor to look past what a student excels at and instead focuses on what drives and energizes them as well. For example, there are multiple options available to help students find their strengths (like StrengthFinder 2.0 or Meyers Briggs) if they are unsure of what their strengths are; by completing something the Meyers Briggs test, it can help figure out potential majors or life goals for the student. Developmental advising is based on almost an opposite approach with the focus being personal reflection, problem solving, decision making and movement (Drake, 2013). This approach looks at more than just the student’s educational goals, but also their career coals and their personal goals, taking a well-rounded approach and concentrating on the student as a whole person. Using the student’s success/growth to move students along in a positive way, while the advisor and the student are contributing to the relationship and plans created for the student. For example, if a second year student comes to an advisor and says that they are having trouble in a few general education classes, but they do not know if they can pass the course and ask for suggestions on what to do –  as an advisor I would remind the student that general education classes are no less valuable than those in their major which also means they are no less demanding than any course and I would also remind them of other classes they have done well in.

 

‘Fundamentals of Counseling’ (CSSA 530)

This course provided an opportunity to explore basic support skills and processes that would be appropriate in a variety of settings within higher education. The counseling skills covered in this class were shown through videotapes and roleplays, which I found to be extremely beneficial and useful since I am a tactile and visual learner (this course was also a great example of alternative modes of teaching/learning to help students who have different learning styles). Topics we explored included, but were not limited to – standards of conduct, multicultural considerations and competencies while engaging in discussion of counseling issues. As someone who has been in counseling on and off for most of my adolescent and adult life, I was aware of how much vulnerability is required in counseling interactions on the client side, but during this class I realized how much responsibility comes with that vulnerability on the counselor/advisor side of things and it is now something I do not take for granted.  While students may sometimes discuss similar issues with a counselor and advisor, advisors and counselors serve different purposes for students and the institution they are working for. Grites mentions “the distinction is characterized by counselor assistance with personal problems that interfere with a student’s life satisfaction and advisors help with issues that impeded on a student’s success in college” (2016). As an advisor I will work make sure not to overstep into counseling and be comfortable referring a student to counseling services (or other campus services) if I believe it is needed.

Students are unique and each one is going to need their own plan for support. It is important to me to let students be the guide of their situation, let them teach me what I need to know about them as well as their background to determine the best approach to support them. During this course, we completed multiple mock counseling sessions with other classmates or family/friends, it solidified for me, the thought that ‘one size fits all’ does not apply when working with students even if they come to you with similar issues/situations. Each week, we had the chance to practice the counseling microskills we were taught during the week such as: invitational skills, paraphrasing, reflecting feeling, summarizing and crisis management. These skills each have their place when working with students and the roleplay assignments allowed for us to practice which skills could be used to figure out the best plan for that individual. Students are an incredible group to get to work with and I am confident that each time I work with them, I will be learning so much more and will only improve as time goes on.

 

‘Internship’ (CSSA 510) (Academics for Student Athletes Mentor)

Throughout the CSSA program, it is required that each student does nine credits of internship, I did mine in increments of three credits at a time. During Spring 2020, I did my second internship within the Academics for Student Athletes (ASA) mentor program. This mentorship program provides academic and personal support to student athletes at Oregon State through consistent engagement and navigation of their academic responsibilities. As a mentor, I worked to assist students to become independent learners who progress through ASA learning services and helped them feel empowered to meet future educational goals and challenges. During this internship, I worked with student athletes that were either first year students or students that were the most academically at risk, helping them to set daily and academic goals that pertained to their assigned coursework, enhanced time management skills, and taught them critical communication skills for personal and professional development depending on the individual academic needs and goals.

This internship gave me the opportunity to explore a service area of higher education that I was wanting to be a part of and gave me a window into how different it is to work with student athletes compared to ‘traditional’ students. It also allowed me to test drive all of skills I had learned throughout the CSSA program so far, such as: detail orientation, clear communication, project management, advising, relationship building and taught me even more about where my areas of improvement lie, such as leading others and conflict resolution. I had the joy of getting to pick the brains of academic advisors for these athletes and was educated on all the struggles student athletes can experience while in school. I will let you in on a secret, they mirror many of those most students experience – homesickness, mental health, financial difficulties, accepting responsibility and potential consequences with late or unfinished schoolwork, time management, and learning when to ask for help.

 

Conclusion

Academic advising is the perfect storm of communication, balance, and bravery for not only the student, but the advisor as well. The relationship between advisor and student is a delicate one that requires similar needs of all relationships: mutual effort, communication, understanding, growth, and patience. I believe advisors are there to encourage and benefit students, but students need to do their part as well by being self-aware, honest, and understanding of their goals/dreams during and after college. Collaboration is a huge part of being a higher education professional and knowing that we cannot do it all ourselves; just as we cannot be experts in everything, I will feel comfortable reaching out to others when I know another unit/department could serve a student better. Working together with students and other campus partners, I trust will not only improve growth on the student’s side, but mine as an advisor as well as; as we work together to get the student to the finish line.

 


 

Resources:

Drake, J. K. (2013). Academic advising approaches: strategies that teach students to make the most of college. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Folsom, P., Yoder, F., & Joslin, J. E. (Eds.). (2015). The new advisor guidebook: Mastering the art of academic advising. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Grites, T. J., Miller, M. A., & Givans, V. J. (Eds.). (2016). Beyond foundations: Developing as a master academic advisor. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Moeller R.W., Seehuus M., & Peisch V. (2020) Emotional Intelligence, Belongingness, and Mental Health in College Students. Front. Psychol. 11:93. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00093

 

Artifacts: