I think that there is so much potential in the [advising] relationship to accomplish some key things. One is obviously to help students make solid academic decisions and…develop a logic of the curriculum…Another is that sense of belonging. I think that advisors, especially predeclaration advisors and anyone advising first-year students, have an unbelievable opportunity to help students feel like they belong and hear it from an adult.
-Mike Olin, Interim Dean of Advising and Co-curricular Programs
At Lafayette College we highly value effective advising as evidenced in multiple ways including its inclusion within the Criteria for Distinguished Teaching for promotion and tenure review. Today’s article focuses on the critical importance of advising in a Lafayette student’s college experience. Mike Olin, Interim Dean of Advising and Co-curricular Programs, discusses why the advising relationship is so critical for our students:
I think that there is so much potential in the [advising] relationship to accomplish some key things. One is obviously to help students make solid academic decisions and…develop a logic of the curriculum…Another is that sense of belonging. I think that advisors, especially predeclaration advisors and anyone advising first-year students, have an unbelievable opportunity to help students feel like they belong and hear it from an adult. Obviously we want all students to help make their fellow students feel like they belong, but I think there are important messages that can come directly from faculty and staff as well: that we did not make a mistake [in admitting you], that you do belong here. And, I think there is an opportunity for role-modeling as well. Students see faculty usually operating in the classroom environment and that’s one way they get to observe faculty, but then there are office hours and one-on-one conversations. I think there is an opportunity for role-modeling there and talking about one’s own educational journey, talking about any readings or research that might be standing out for them, etc. There is research in the [higher ed] field showing that when a student has more adults they can point to on campus and say “that is someone that I can turn to for advice”, there is a correlation with greater academic success and retention.
Mike acknowledges how in many ways advising is like teaching, as highlighted in the scholarship of Marc Lowenstein who was recently a guest speaker at Lafayette and led the workshop, “The Untapped Teaching Potential of Advising”.
Excellent advising really is aligned with excellent teaching that you would see in a course — the way that an excellent teacher can create a logic of all the components of a course, and help a student to synthesize [the components] in a meaningful way. An excellent teacher can help [students] connect the dots and walk away feeling that every component of this course really came together, and they were able to master this material in the end. I think that the advisor can do something similar, but on a higher level, helping the student to synthesize and create a logic between all of the different components of the curriculum — in the major, outside of the major, in the Common Course of Study. That helps the student develop higher order thinking, which is a very useful lifelong skill, a very marketable skill and can help a student just feel engaged throughout their entire career at the college. It helps them realize they are not just checking off boxes, but every course they are taking is related in some way, shape or form to all of the other courses that they will be taking.
At Lafayette there are a number of faculty who serve as wonderful advisors to our students.
We definitely have some excellent advisors on campus. In the cases where I have seen excellent advising, it goes beyond the prescriptive advising or the transactional advising where you are just trying to make sure they know which boxes they need to check in order to obtain the degree. There is the level of asking additional questions, for example, “Let’s look at these Values courses; are there some that are jumping out for you, and how could these courses be related to some of your other interests? Or, you’re in mechanical engineering, so how can we connect these [non-Engineering] courses together in a way that would inform your overall educational experience, career path and interests?”
I think just asking even one or two additional questions — why this course, or how could these courses be related to your major — just gets the student thinking on a higher level and helps them to create that logic over time. Excellent advisors are asking those additional questions, which can be a little bit more time-consuming, but I don’t think it needs to be extraordinarily more time-consuming. But I think it is true that in order to be an excellent advisor, it can sometimes take a little more time than one would expect.
Both Cliff Reiter, Professor of Mathematics, and Kira Lawrence, John H. Markle Professor of Geology, both advocate the importance of effective advising. Professor Reiter’s approach to advising is embodied in the philosophy, “explore your interests, pursue your passion.” He uses this framework in his mentorship of Posse Scholars and other advisees. Professor Kira Lawrence believes that, “Advising affords us the unique opportunity to change a student’s life for the better. Investing in advising is a powerful means to help students truly make the most of their educational experiences.”
Advising is a precious opportunity to empower students to make choices from the many possibilities available to them. Not only can effective advising maximize students’ learning experiences, it can also help them to feel a part of the Lafayette community.
Upcoming Advising Sessions