During my 26 years of higher education teaching, I have come to embrace the various dimensions of academic advising. Unfortunately, students entering college often assume it is an experience limited to a review of curriculum requirements and semester schedules. These topics are important and fair game for discussion, but advising can be so much more. At Drury, faculty mentoring is one of the key ways we deliver on our promise to provide students with a personalized educational experience.
I look at advising as a partnership. For my part, I must know departmental and general education curriculum requirements, academic policies, and the resources that are available to promote student success, both in and outside the classroom. It’s also imperative that I listen and learn about the professional goals and aspirations of my advisees. When faculty members discover where their advisees are trying to go, it becomes a personal mission to help them get there. We recommend internship opportunities, leadership roles, service learning and study abroad experiences, as well as courses or special research projects that allow students to experiment with their aspirations. We pick up the phone, send an email, post a tweet, walk across the hallway, or take whatever action necessary to connect a student with a relevant resource. And when it comes time for our advisees to enter the workplace, we share professional and alumni contacts so they can step confidently into career networking. We do all of this to honor our commitment to student learning and success.
As for the students, their role in the partnership is to understand that higher education isn’t just something that happens to them; they must actively choose their educational destination and take responsibility for their decisions. College is a wonderful blend of trial and error, thoughtful planning and serendipitous discovery. Obtaining a university degree is not easy, but students who build relationships with their faculty advisors gain valuable support in weathering the highs and the lows of the academic journey. The immediate benefits of faculty mentoring are obvious, but new research reveals there are long-term benefits of studying at a college or university that fosters faculty-student interaction.
The 2014 Gallup-Purdue Index Report presents the results of a study involving 30,000 U.S. graduates (associate or a bachelor’s degree) that was designed to determine whether experiences in college promote a well-lived life. The findings are striking:
“If an employed graduate had a professor who cared about them as a person, one who made them excited about learning, and had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their dreams, the graduate’s odds of being engaged at work more than doubled.”
“Higher well-being is related to graduates’ experiences. Graduates who felt supported during their college career (that professors cared, professors made them excited about learning and had a mentor) are nearly three times as likely to be thriving than those who didn’t feel supported.”
The report concludes that positive outcomes in life and career are not dictated by where students attend college; it is more about “what students are doing in college and how they are experiencing it.” This study affirms the student-centered learning environment we’ve established at Drury, underscores the importance of our faculty-based advising system and illuminates the significance of our work as advisors to students and student organizations. Most important, it validates the care we put into helping students articulate their goals and the encouragement we offer to follow dreams.
A number of Drury University professors have been recognized by the National Academic Advising Association for their contributions as academic advisors. Dr. Jeannie Allen (associate professor of psychology), Dr. Kelley Still (associate professor of accounting) and I were honored to receive such recognition, but outstanding advising is not limited to students who are studying psychology, accounting and communication. The support of faculty mentors and an outstanding professional advising staff is available to each and every student from the moment they walk onto campus. Faculty across all academic disciplines and programs bring energy, excitement and passion to their advising role. My colleagues often leave me speechless with the depth of care and compassion they exhibit as teachers and mentors. It is this commitment to students that puts our graduates on track to thrive and succeed after earning their Drury degree.
Graduation day is bittersweet for all Drury faculty as we say goodbye to students and advisees who are moving on to the next chapter of their lives, but the beauty of the academic year is that we get to meet a new group of aspiring students in a few short months. I love being a sounding board for academic plans and professional goals. I enjoy seeing the latest entry to an evolving resume and relish being an advocate for advisees who are competing for internships, scholarships or jobs. I have driven more than my fair share of big white passenger vans to student competitions and career exploration events, and I have been known to visit a computer lab at midnight to help a student team wrangle with a creative concept. As I said earlier, there are multiple dimensions to faculty advising. It is meaningful and challenging work that generates life changing outcomes…for the students and advisors.