How is academic advising different from teaching, personal counseling, and career counseling?
Christopher W. Gregory, Framingham (MA) State College
Editor's Note: This article was selected as the winning entry in the Mentor's first Academic Advising Writing Competition. Christopher W. Gregory, the author of the entry, will receive a $500 cash award.|
Christopher W. Gregory earned the bachelor's degree in English from Salve Regina University and the master's and doctoral degrees in American Studies from Bowling Green State University and Saint Louis University, respectively. He began his career at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, where his live-in professorship could be described as half-time teaching, half-time advising, and half-time academic programming. He moved on to become Assistant Dean of Student Advising at the State University of New York at New Paltz, and he currently serves as Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Education and the Director of the Advising Center at Framingham (Massachusetts) State College.
Academic advising is teaching, personal counseling and career
counseling. Jennifer, a sophomore geography and elementary education major
with a good gpa, meets with her adviser one day. She affirms her love for
geography, but a series of classroom visits has left her cold. The fifth
graders are polite enough, but they don't share her enthusiasm for the Ural
Mountains. Half my time was spent disciplining and redirecting their
attention, says Jennifer, somberly. She's not dismissing teaching; her
mother and father are educators, and she knows how demanding yet rewarding
the profession can be. I'm not saying I don't want to do education
anymore, she tells the adviser, somewhat unconvincingly, but I want to
keep my options open.
Among the various scenarios advisers face each day, Jennifer's is not
atypical. An advisee's not sure about her major. How many sophomores are,
really? She's also not sure about her career path. Hey, neither are some
professional advisers, even at midlife! Finally, after years of planning to
teach and emulating Mom and Dad Jennifer wonders if the classroom is for
her. What will her parents think? Advisers will sense an opportunity to turn
the student's anxiety and doubt into an assessment of major, career, and
personal direction. We do this every day, several times each day, and the
approach could seem textbook, even routine. But if we pause once in a while
to remember with whom we deal human beings at their own crossroads, both
academic and personal it's not difficult to see that academic advising
is teaching, personal counseling, and career counseling.
Jennifer first needs to be made comfortable with the tension and
conflicts. Advisers know it's part of a process of growth, while Jennifer's
first impulse may be, Tell me what to do! Good advisers don't
dictate this isn't academic dictating, after all so they must develop
effective methods of teaching her to acknowledge the stress of the
uncertainty. I prefer the Socratic method. What do you enjoy about
teaching? I ask Jennifer. What sort of relationship do you have with the
school officials mentoring you? Do you think you might be better suited
teaching early or later grades? I continue, prompting her to weigh pros and
cons, and the rationale for choices made thus far. As Jennifer speaks, I
interject from time to time to help clarify and understand her points. Like
many students, Jennifer wants to help people. Who doesn't? I ask her,
reminding her that there are many ways to do so, and not exclusively through
the classroom. If teaching is a process of sharing, analyzing, and critiquing
important subject matter, how can advising not be teaching?
Many, if not most, academic advisers do not have the training and
education to practice professional counseling. We must acknowledge our
limitations in this area and rely on the expertise of our counseling
colleagues on and off campus to address advisee needs as necessary. However,
advising is personal counseling insomuch as we take a holistic
approach that considers student challenges beyond academics. Jennifer's
grades are fine, her curiosity and study habits leading her to excel in all
her classes. Yet she is nervous about this recent epiphany: teaching is all
she's ever wanted to do, and now she's not so sure. Maybe it's just this
grade, this school, her inexperience. After all, her parents have overcome
obstacles to be successful, and they've helped thousands of kids between
them. I'll be letting down my parents, she muses when you question the
ramifications of her trying a different path. They have high expectations
for me. Jennifer needs an adviser with exceptional listening skills, one
who redirects the discussion from major and job and more towards Jennifer's
personal needs. What do you want for yourself? I ask, and What do your
parents really want for you? Can you identify several ways to achieve
personal happiness? Advisers sometimes do not have the luxury of time to
draw out this information, so we must convey quickly a caring, empathetic
viewpoint, or a student will hear nothing, gain nothing, from us. Academic
advising, then, must be personal counseling.
Having led Jennifer to the willingness to explore new
possibilities without yet having to abandon or set aside long-held plans
and assumptions the adviser must now offer options, new scenarios. Jennifer
loves geography, but she doesn't know what else she would do with it besides
teach. The adviser springs on the teachable moment! We must rely on the
expertise of our colleagues in the campus career center, but the moment is
lost if we give them the center's location and send them on their way.
Having collected materials from several career centers, I am armed with
lists of entry-level and mid-level positions for the geography major. I pop
up the Web address of the American Geographical Association and open doors
with every enthusiastic breath I can muster. I can teach Jennifer where and
how to search for information, and I can propose ways in which she might
help people children included in ways she never envisioned.
Academic advising is rewarding for me because I teach and counsel.
Jennifer benefits not at all if I don't make time to consider her as a
person, not merely a client in search of a major and a job. I give license
to let students do what they really want to do, to see things differently.
Jennifer may join the Defense Mapping Agency or a local urban planning
commission, perhaps coming back to teaching when it's good for her and the
students. Jennifer possesses a wealth of talent and drive, and she'll do
well whatever she chooses. What's important is that I, the adviser, planted
the seeds of possibilities through instruction and guidance, which is what
advising is all about.
Christopher W. Gregory is assistant dean of undergraduate education and director of the advising center at Framingham (MA) State College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-626-4510.
Published in The Mentor on February 1, 2002, by Penn State's Division of Undergraduate Studies
Available online at dus.psu.edu/mentor
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