Searching for middle ground

 

(Devon Nitz | The Oswegonian)
(Devon Nitz | The Oswegonian)

Students and advisers are not always in agreement on how advisement should work. This leads to discussion among both groups about how the role of advisement is changing due to evolving technology and the development of new requirements.

Oswego State senior Ian Cohn said he has been able to get the majority of the information he needs to graduate from online auditing systems.

“I can just sit on CAPP or Degree Works and find classes online,” Cohn said. “It makes registration easy.”

Cohn said he hasn’t had to rely much on his advisers, outside of emergency situations.

“It’s when issues come up that I’d like to be able to see my adviser and look things over and figure it out,” Cohn said.

The impact of Degree Works on the role of advisement

There is a common question among both students and faculty on campus: with CAPP and now Degree Works making graduation requirements more accessible and, thus, understandable, where should advisers fit into the process?

Rameen Mohammadi, Associate Provost at Oswego State, said that he sees the role of adviser as shifting, given that less time must be spent going over requirements.

“There’s a system that does that,” Mohammadi said. “So what we certainly want to see is a mentoring role: ‘Why are you taking these courses?’ ‘What is your ultimate objective?’ I think there’s a lot more room for those type of conversations beyond the actual registration or degree auditing process.”

There is a difference in ideas between students and professors on what exact role advisers should play in helping their advisees.

“Advisement at one time meant a lot more than just class selection,” John Kares Smith, a professor in the communication department who has been advising students for over 30 years, said. “And now that tends to be primarily what it is.”

With programs such as CAPP and Degreeworks, students are able to more independently monitor their progress and the courses they need. For some students this might mean less cause for a visit to their adviser.

Mohammadi said that 95 percent of the communication he has with students is online.

“That’s the way they like to do the business,” Mohammadi said. “They don’t come in as much as when I first began. [Back then] they had to come in all the time, I had to sign things for them, they had no choice but to come.”

Junior zoology major Amy Killie said she utilizes Internet resources to prepare for registration, but she uses this as a starting point for her advisement meeting.

“I rely more on CAPP report, or I guess Degreeworks now, and the requirements on the website,” Killie said. “When I go to the meeting I usually have a pretty good idea of what classes I want to take.”

Kares Smith said he is concerned that the use of Degreeworks and CAPP have made the focus of advising more singularly focused on course selection.

“I think if you’re looking at a college as a place to get a degree, not necessarily a place to get an education, then [Degreeworks] probably works pretty well,” Kares Smith said.

David Vampola, an adviser in the computer science department and a former advisement coordinator, said that he thinks Degreeworks will improve the advisement process as a whole.

“Ideally a tool with as many features built into it as Degreeworks can make advisement sessions more fruitful,” Vampola said.

Advisement beyond class selection

Kares Smith said he believes the interaction between professor and student is an important aspect of advising that can at times be overlooked.

“I like seeing students for more than just courses,” Kares Smith said. “For figuring out ‘Why are you here? Why are you majoring in this? and ‘What do you plan to do with this?’ So it makes students a lot more empowered in terms of their own education.”

Cohn said discussions about plans beyond college haven’t often occurred between him and his adviser.

“[Preparing for graduation] is all we really talk about,” Cohn said. “But that could be because I haven’t really asked. It’s hard, because we spend so much time going over what I need to graduate, I don’t have time to get into deeper discussions.”

Michelle Bandla, Coordinator of First Year Programs, said that Degreeworks could actually be used to promote mentor-type discussion between advisers and advisees.

“As far as what courses they need to take, it’s all right in front of them in Degreeworks,” Bandla said. “So it’s not prescriptive, they have some options they can take. So what the advisers need to be doing is talk to them about their goals and what courses support those goals and career options.”

Mohammadi said that it’s important students utilize both online information sources, such as Degreeworks, and in-person interaction, where students can discuss the meaning behind their education.

“It goes into a conversation of ‘What are your intentions?’ and it’s hard to do that through email,” Mohammadi said. “So on one hand the ability to expedite a question or problem a student can handle easily, but on the other hand you’d like to see them, because that is the only way you build that relationship.”

Some students, like junior adolescent education major Alyssa Estus, said that, while advising should be more than just a meeting to check classes for registration, it often becomes only about that.

“I feel like I go to my adviser only when I really have a problem or if I’m panicking about my classes and that’s it,” Estus said. “And I don’t really think that’s what your relationship with your adviser should be.”

The ‘dynamic relationship’ between students and advisers

Vampola said he thinks the effectiveness of an advisement relationship depends on the student’s involvement and attitude toward the process.

“An adviser is only as good as the students in a sense,” Vampola said. “Because if students don’t want to see me or they don’t follow through then I can’t offer any assistance.”

Christopher LaLonde, Director of the General Education program, who also directs the literary studies and American studies programs, had similar thoughts on the process. He described the relationship between advisers and advisees as “dynamic.”

“It just depends,” LaLonde said. “Some students take the opportunity advising affords them to really get their hands around their undergraduate education. Other students tend to go it alone, it seems, given that not every student who is my advisee comes to me.”

LaLonde added that he wishes more of his advisees met with him.

“It provides an opportunity to have those [personal] types of conversations,” LaLonde said.

Killie said that she tries to meet with her adviser at least once a semester.

“I don’t think it’s required but I just like going because I like knowing I’m going in the right direction with my classes,” Killie said. “It’s nice to check in once a semester.”

Estus said the challenge of tracking down an adviser for meetings can inhibit the discussion of more serious issues that students may be encountering.

“I can barely get a hold of them just for my classes, how do I go about talking to them about that?” Estus said.

Making time for advisement

The difficulty in finding time for advising sessions is a common problem for students and professors alike.

“We definitely need more advisers,” Estus said. “They work too hard and have too many students and the [Adolescent Education] major is too complicated and needs to be so precise that I feel like they need a little edge off their work.”

Kares Smith said that he has about 50 advisees, which he said is common for a professor in communications. In order to be able to have more time to meet with both students and advisees, Kares Smith said he holds extra office hours in the Lake Effect Café in the Penfield Library.

Kares Smith added that the hours in the library’s cafe allow for the more personal form of interaction he prefers while advising.

“You’re not sitting behind your desk with your degrees on the wall,” Kares Smith said. “It’s a much more leveling experience and a much more casual experience.”

Killie said that she has not had a problem with finding time to meet with her adviser, but has noticed other situations where other students haven’t been as fortunate.

“I’ve heard other people who have had experiences where their advisers couldn’t make a time or they couldn’t respond to emails or they just wouldn’t show up,” Killie said. “Some advisers are good, but I’ve heard things that they just don’t make the time. I’m sure they’re really busy, especially because there are a lot of people in the biology department, so that’s probably why.”

Vampola said that it can be challenging to make time for advisees during registration times, especially for advisers with a large number of advisees.

“What I simply do is brace myself and realize I have to open up blocks of time for people,” Vampola said.  “And you have to be very flexible in terms of letting students see you outside of regular office hours.”

Mohammadi said that some professors end up with more advisees because they are requested by students.

The reality is, some of our faculty are very much sought after,” Mohammadi said. “We don’t put those type of ceilings on people’s responsibility.”

Mohammadi said he sometimes preferred taking on more students.

“I certainly didn’t want anyone else advising my students,” Mohammadi said. “So whether I had 40 or 50 or 25, that wasn’t gonna be an issue. I needed to make sure all of our students were served.”

The role of peer advisers

In order to help keep all students served, the university also takes advantage of a peer adviser program for first-year students.

Bandla said that first year advisers are usually given around 25 advisees, but the amount varies by the size of the student’s major or minor. In order to help freshman students receive more direct advising, each is given a peer advisor, an upperclassman who the freshmen can meet with to discuss registration and other issues within their major.

“Sometimes the students will listen to a peer before they’ll listen to an adviser,” Bandla said.

Art major Samantha Fuller is currently a peer advisor for freshmen art students, and said that while the adviser she works with is helpful to students, freshmen students seem more comfortable with a peer.

“I think naturally students will think that peers are someone they can be more open with,” Fuller said.

Fuller said that between advisers and peer advisers, students should be able to find a way to schedule advisement meetings of some sort. Fuller added that it’s up to the student to keep track of emails and set and keep meeting times.

“It’s really up to them to pay attention and heed those warnings,” Fuller said.

The first year program requires students to meet with their advisers in the fall semester to receive a PIN to allow registration, something that ensures at least one meeting and, for most advisers, two meetings before it.

The next time a student is required to use a PIN to register is in their junior year, so this leaves multiple semesters where students are not required to seek advisement before registering.

How different schools handle advisement

Each school at Oswego State handles advisement differently. In some cases, certain departments, such as art, also differ widely from similar disciplines in the way theiradvisement works.

The art department, within the School of Communication, Media and the Arts, holds an advisement day for majors every semester to help keep students on track. Art classes that are held during the advisement time take the art majors in the class to an advisement center, where they can meet to ensure as many students as possible attend.

At advisement day, art majors have the chance to hear about new courses being offered, ask questions to advisers and plan for the rest of their college career.

“You make a four-year graduation plan every semester and they’ll tell you if you’re on track or not,” Fuller said. “It kind of forces those who wouldn’t really stay on track, because you have to go if your class is taking you.”

In the School of Business there is a student advisement center, called BASAC (Business Administration Student Advisement Center) where students can set up an appointment to meet with full time advisers if they have questions.

One common link between every school is the presence and importance of departmental advisement coordinations, who play a crucial role in making sure advisement works for their department.

Advisement coordinators work directly with each adviser to make sure they are up to date with new information.

GE21/Degreeworks communication

In order to be able to keep advisers informed on changing requirements and systems, Oswego State utilizes a flow of information.

For example, information on the new GE21 General Education system is passed down from LaLonde in the General Education office to advisement coordinators, who then pass it down to each adviser in their department. The advisers can then use that information to assist students on the new process.

Mohammadi said that workshops are often held for advisers each winter and spring, where new information is passed down.

For the switch to GE21, Mohammadi said the school hosted about 16 different workshops.

Similarly, Jerret LeMay, Registrar at Oswego State, was relied on to train advisers and advisement coordinators for the switch to Degreeworks this spring.

LeMay said that most professors were able to understand Degreework because of the role they played in beta-testing the system.

“We haven’t had a lot of questions and I think that’s because there was such a long period of time that professors were working with it,” LeMay said.

When it goes wrong

Despite the numerous systems put into place, natural errors can still occur in the advisement and registration/graduation processes.

Cohn, set to graduate this spring, had to learn this the hard way.

As the final step in the graduation process, Cohn met with his adviser in the fall to go over his senior checklist.

“Everything seemed OK, and when it was sent over to Culkin my adviser said everything was good and it all looked good to me,” Cohn said.

It was not until this April that Cohn received word that he was three credits short and will now have to take an upper-division course over the summer to graduate.

“It’s not the end of the world, but it’s inconvenient,” Cohn said. “It seems like it could have been avoided if I could talk to more people knowledgeable about the whole process and what’s going on.”

Cohn said he at times found finding information difficult.

“Say I have a question, and my adviser doesn’t know, he tells me to look elsewhere and then I go there and they won’t know, so then they tell me to go somewhere else,” Cohn said. “I just keep getting sent around and it feels like a scavenger hunt to get information I need to graduate.”

If a student feels that they are not getting the information they need, Mohammadi said that students can speak with their advisement coordinators to request a switch to another adviser.

Mohammadi said that advisement coordinators are usually open to requests from students.

“We don’t have any department that I’m aware that would question you if you said, ‘I’d prefer so-and-so as my adviser,’” Mohammadi said. “We really don’t have anyone who would ask you to go into details of why it’s not working out with the professor.”

More registration PINs?

The registration PIN is a big draw for students to visit their advisers since they cannot register without the code.

One way to possibly increase students’ visits to advisers would be to make PINs required to register more frequently, perhaps even every semester. But some students and advisers are skeptical that another PIN would improve advisement.

“I guess having more PINs would be useful for people who don’t go, but I find the PINs annoying,” Killie said.“I think the PINs do help, because they make you go, but they only work if you actually meet with your adviser. Otherwise they will just hold you back from registering.”

“People always say ‘Oh, I want them to have a spring PIN,’ but you know, at some point it needs to be the student’s responsibility to come in and see their adviser,” Bandla said.

Others think adding PINs could have its benefits since it would require more meetings.

“I think more mandatory meetings would be helpful,” Cohn said. “Other than the two PINs, you don’t have to see your adviser, but if more frequent meeting were required, it would be easier to keep things from slipping.”

Bandla said having required meetings is essential for first year students, but she is not sure if adding PINs for every semester would help students.

“I’m torn,” Bandla said. “On one hand I’d like to make them come in. But on the other hand, you’re college students. I think the first year is important to set the expectation and the path that your adviser is important and you can seek them out.”

Improving

Mohammadi said that the university is constantly discussing how to better accommodate students through advisement programs as the Internet changes the way students and professors interact.

“There lies the quandary: How do you not make them come in, when what they need can be done electronically, via messaging, email, or some approval process of that sort, yet also make sure that they take advantage of the opportunity to talk to someone with some expertise that can help them later on?” Mohammadi said.

Estus said that, overall, she is pleased with the advising she has received.

“All things considered, it is quite good,” Estus said, “The amount that they do, I cannot even imagine. But I definitely think it could be better.”

As far as improvement, Mohammadi said the school is always open to suggestions.

“Any ideas or suggestion or ways we can try, I’m open to,” Mohammadi said. “But what I don’t want to do is create a structure where people have to come in just because we designed systems that forces them to come in. You’d rather have a system where you feel comfortable coming in and you do because the advice is helpful to you.”

Throughout all the discussion on how to improve advising, what is never lost is its importance in a student’s college experience.

“Advisement is an integral part of the student experience here at Oswego,” Vampola said. “And it is just as important as the teaching and research functions. This is an opportunity to interact with a student and help that student build a narrative.”

(Devon Nitz | The Oswegonian)
(Devon Nitz | The Oswegonian)