| 03.17.2018

Caution advised: UI students say advising is hit or miss


Fifth-year senior Nick Mitchell said he did not receive real advising until his fourth year.

“The teacher just basically made sure I was registered for classes,” he said. “They just checked it off. No regards to whether it was a hard science class.”

Mitchell chose to take a chemistry class to fulfill his General Education requirement. Rather than advise him to take something less time consuming, his adviser did nothing.

“If I had a lighter load (when) fulfilling General Education requirements then I would have been way better off,” he said.

Sophomore Adam Ream is a dual-degree student in percussion performance and mechanical engineering. He said his advising season is usually frustrating.

“You walk in with a plan and he tells you that plan is dumb,” he said. “Then he gives you a new plan. Music is a little bit better. They”re not very understanding of double-majors. They kind of just ignore it.”

Both of his advisers give him a full credit-load for each degree.

“So you have to compromise and then they both get mad,” he said.

Fifth-year senior Shayne Seubert is double-majoring in physics and mathematics.

“I could have used a little more guidance from my math major,” he said. “I didn”t know I had a math adviser until the end of my sophomore year when I got an email.”

Seubert”s said initially when he came to the university, he was studying music, and it was his music adviser who helped him plot out his path to graduation as a music and physics double-major.

“We spent hours together working through options that would potentially work,” he said. “She ended up being the best adviser for that one semester I was a music major. My math adviser cared about what I did in physics but he was just like, “Well your physics adviser can advise you on that. I”ll just take care of your math stuff.””

His physics adviser had a similar approach to his math degree. Seubert”s music adviser was the only one to sit down with him and work out a plan that included all of the possible options.

“That”s what an adviser should do,” Seubert said. “It”s not even a matter of knowing things. It seems like they just want to work within their department which is a little bit of a shame.”

The professional touch

University Advising Services Director Andrew Brewick said he believes UI has a nice balance between faculty and professional advisers.

“I think in terms of the model we”re using, we”re going in the right direction,” he said. “The way that most of the undergraduate college have been advising or will be advising students is through professional staff members for the first two years and then transitioning students to a faculty adviser.”

Brewick said this allows a consistent approach to a student”s schedule.

“We have students who have lots of different flavors of advising experience,” he said. “We”re trying to get that to be more homogenous in terms of the experience.”

At the same time, Brewick said he wants to preserve the mentoring relationship that comes from a faculty-student advising team.

“(They) know what it feels like to be in that field, to do research in that area,” he said. “One of the leading objections to moving to a professional staff advising model is from faculty members who don”t want to lose the connection.”

Brewick said he wants to make sure students have “expert generalists” to help answer questions and place students on the right track.

Of the 20 percent of students that responded to Brewick”s most recent survey, 76 percent rated their advising experience good or excellent.

“Now, were those responders motivated by a good experience to do the survey? It”s possible,” he said.

The Idaho State Legislature recently funded a UI proposal that would increase the number of staff advisers on campus. The funding from the Complete College Idaho initiative, part of the Go On Idaho program encouraging more Idaho students to receive a postsecondary degree, certificate or training. The money will go to staff advisers and Career Center liaisons for specific departments.
Brewick and his staff have been working to hire advisers who will work in each college.

“I think that we will now have more of a consistent advising curriculum for our students,” he said of the shift to professional advisers.

Mitchell said he believes professional advisers would benefit students in every department.

In addition to taking a more individualized approach, professional advisers have the time to help understand where a student is in their development and the best course of action to develop them.

“Every single student I have ever met struggles with time management in their first semester,” Brewick said. “It”s a rite of passage that you”re going to forget something and it”s going to kick you in the butt. We can intervene in that critical moment and say, “Alright. We need to talk about changing your habits so you can be successful.” It”s building the skills while the iron is hot.”

Brewick said many departments are transitioning to a model with two years with a professional adviser and two years with a faculty adviser.

“Once you get a student through four semesters of successful academic involvement, the remaining elements of the curriculum tend to be pretty well defined,” he said. “But in the upper division, there also tends to be a lot more elective options. If you have an adviser that doesn”t have that background in the discipline, they”re not the right person to help a student understand which electives they should be taking in their upper division experience based on where they want to go in their career.”

Brewick said he also believes staff advisers can help take the emphasis off class standing.

“We”re seeing huge numbers of students come in with a mountain of alternative credit,” he said. “And while all of that is very valuable, developmentally they are often still an 18 or 19 year-old moving away from a very rigorously organized environment to one they have to organize themselves.”

Regardless of class standing, Brewick said these students need to be informed of the resources available. He said maturation is a naturally-occurring process during college.

“With a consistent advising approach with specific individuals with caseloads of students, we are able to keep closer tabs on them,” he said. In the College of Engineering, Director of Student Services Maria Pregitzer acknowledges that there are challenges to faculty advising.

“They come from all walks of life and levels of academic competency,” she said. “Not every adviser is equipped to deal with those freshmen issues. I can advise for any of the majors and keep them on the right path. Until they”ve proven that they”re a student in good standing, I don”t want to bog down faculty advisers. “

Pregitzer works with undeclared engineering majors and students on academic probation – many of them freshmen – and admits that not every adviser is created equal.

“They”re not as equipped with knowing all the resources for (students on probation) to get help,” she said.

Pregitzer said a professional adviser is being added to the staff of Student Services. They will work with Pregitzer to advise students with special cases.

She said faculty members insist again and again that they would like to keep their advisees.

“Our advisers on the whole take that very seriously,” she said. “They want to have that connection with the students. They”re all in it for the students or else they wouldn”t be here.”

Despite the issues he”s had, Ream said he prefers faculty advisers because they know what students have taken in the past and how to navigate issues students have faced.

Debbie Moos is an undergraduate adviser in the College of Business and Economics. At the end of every semester, a bulk of her time goes into advising meetings with students. She and the other professional advisers help during UIdaho Bound and other recruitment events.

“Either one of us will meet with any student that walks in,” she said.

Professional advisers work well in CBE. The first two years of a CBE degree is rooted heavily in prerequisites and general education classes.

“We train them how to use Degree Audit, to understand the curriculum so that by the time they meet with a faculty adviser they feel confident,” Moos said. “The faculty are great mentors for (the) field and internships. We don”t have that expertise in each field.”

Moos said the feedback they have received from faculty has been positive.

“They like that our students have an understanding of Degree Audit and VandalWeb,” she said.

Moos said that students have responded well to the professional advising model.

“When I”m meeting with a student, they might have a major and I might suggest, “Did you know that if you add this others major it”s only two extra classes?” Opens a whole new world,” she said. “I just happen to know that because I know a little bit about (all of the degrees).”
Moos said she believes this extra major or minor can give a student a competitive edge in the job market.

“Not to say that a faculty member might not know those things,” she said. “But I think we end up knowing it more because we”re not focused on one major, we”re focused on all of them in the beginning as well as the general education.”

She also helps students pick appropriate general education classes that will fill the requirement without taking too much time away from their degree coursework. This can also include encouraging students to take non-academic elective credits, like a workout class.

“Sometimes it”s in their best interest to work out, well, take a credit,” Moos said.

Some departments prefer to keep the faculty-student relationship open with advising.

While he believes there is merit to having professional advisers, Garrison prefers the current method.

“The dedicated advisers that are staff members, they”re not inside the professional community of any particular area,” he said. “I”ve been a performing musician all my life so I know that career, I know the world. So I”m able to share that with advisees.”

Tess Fox can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @tesstakesphotos

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