by Dr. Fawn Robinson Academic Advisor, Duquesne University
Each year, faculty members receive a list of student advisees that they are supposed to work with for at least one academic year. However, many faculty members are not trained to be advisors and they rely heavy on academic advisors to maintain a vital student relationships. Some faculty members even think that advising can only take place in Student Affairs professional offices or between a doctoral student and a Dissertation Chair. This is simply not true. Receiving advising and mentoring from faculty can be one of the most important aspects of the college experience for all students (e.g., undergraduates, second degrees, graduates, and doctoral students) (McArthur, 2005; Wiseman & Messitt, 2010).
So, what is a faculty advisor?
A faculty advisor is a faculty member who is assigned to students by their department to establish a faculty-student advising relationship in effort to retain students and assist them transition within the career. This faculty–student relationship is a mentorship which consists of reaching out and meeting with students. The meetings can occur outside of the classroom or office to bring a unique style to the conversation. I can remember in college there was a professor who would meet his students at the local Wendy’s. As a young student, I found it very bizarre. Why would a faculty member want to meet with his students at a restaurant? Even though, I didn’t understand the meaning, I secretly wanted to join the meetings. I wanted to be a part of the group and listen to this amazing conversation that so many students flocked to at least twice a week.
When does the Student Affairs relationship end and the Faculty Advisor begin?
It is a continuous cycle. Academic Advisors connect with students and assist them in their matriculation through college. They review program plans, help with registration, and navigate the policies. Faculty, instructors, and teaching assistants are experts in their particular fields and sharing their knowledge is valuable for the development of students within their specific major(s). The academic advisor and faculty advisor relationships are the bridge to greater success and built on learning opportunities. These advising meetings should be used to guide students in their academic and professional career paths.
How can faculty members establish a stronger faculty-student advising relationship?
1) Keep in mind that faculty- student advising meetings are learning opportunities for students. Using meeting times to share your expertise can be influential for students and their career development.
2) Talk to your students – Students are just as scared of you as you are of communicating with them. Take a moment to teach them the appropriate communication skills by role modeling these skills.
3) Learn the program curriculum – Students like to know about their academic program plans and your class is not the only class in the program. Therefore, make sure you know the basics of your program curriculum so you can answer questions. You do not have to know the entire program plan but you should be knowledgeable on the general aspects of the curriculum.
4) Have a list of career paths ready! – This is your cheat sheet of graduate programs and employment opportunities when students ask you about the field and their possible next steps.
5) Think outside the box – Meeting in your office is great. However, think about having meetings with students at the local coffee shop or restaurant near campus. Students want to know that you are a real person.
6) Time is really not an issue – Taking five minutes to speak to or email a student can go a long way for the faculty-student relationship and a once a month/semester meeting can be powerful in the development of the students
With these few tips, educators can create a positive and effective advising environment for students and establish a great faculty- student advising relationship. Students are sponges and if you provide the knowledge, they will absorb it. That is the true purpose and benefit of the faculty-student advising relationship; to provide expertise, to educate students, to develop students personally and professionally, and to guide students as they transition within their field.
For further insight on the topic of faculty advising: refer to the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) website http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Faculty-advising-resource-links.aspx
McArthur, R. (2005). Faculty based advising: An important factor in community college retention. Community College Review, 32(4), 1.
Wiseman, C. S., & Messitt, H. (2010). Identifying Components of a Successful Faculty-Advisor Program. NACADA Journal, 30(2), 35-52.
Bio: Dr. Fawn T. Robinson is a Counselor Educator and Student Affairs Professional with 15 years of experience in higher education. Currently, Dr. Robinson is working as an Academic Advisor for Duquesne University.