Moving into Student Spaces: Utilizing Conversations Outside the Office to Enhance Advising Sessions

Emily Elmore, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis

As advisers, we strive to help our students excel in their studies, develop as the individuals they are, and move toward graduation to pursue their ventures. Our goal is to foster and facilitate student development. In order to be effective, we need to establish trust with our students so we can provide them with the appropriate guidance along the way. But what if advising in the office is putting a barrier between the adviser and the student, thus affecting our chances of getting the “full story?” As advisers, we need to think beyond the office. The purpose of this article is to explain why moving into student spaces and utilizing conversations outside the office can enhance advising sessions. I will first outline the importance of relationship between an adviser and advisee, and through the example of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis’ (IUPUI) first-year-seminar model, discuss why moving into student spaces creates a unique opportunity for advisers to effectively foster and facilitate student development. By moving into student spaces, advisers are able to make every conversation count.

Building the Foundation: Relationship

Relationship is the most critical component of an effective advising session, because it encourages the formation of openness and trust. It provides the framework for an effective advising session. For this reason, Crookston’s (1994) developmental advising approach is seen as a popular and respected way to advise; in his approach he says that above all, advisers should focus on the relationship. He stated, “Most critical of all is the nature and quality of the relationship existing between the adviser and the student” (Crookston, 1994, p. 8).

Once an adviser has the trust of a student, it allows for the breaking down of barriers. In addition, relationship allows for individualization and trust, because the student and adviser have the opportunity to learn from each other. This relationship contributes to many factors for a college student; and according to Schnell (1998) and to Winston and Sandor (1984) (as cited in Arms, Cabrera, & Brower, 2008), “The importance placed on the value of personal relationships is well-grounded in research, which shows a link between developing a personal relationship with an academic adviser and students’ satisfaction, success, and persistence” (p. 8).

Extending Advising beyond the Office: First-Year Seminars

Because relationship serves as the framework for effective advising, it is important for advisers to effectively utilize the time they have with students. Extending advising beyond the office and moving into student spaces, such as classrooms, is a great tactic to consider, because it helps to seamlessly break down barriers and build the relationship that is so important for effective advising. While it should not be assumed effective advising cannot happen in the office, institutions with programs that integrate advisers into student spaces provide advisers this unique opportunity to continue fostering their relationships, which then helps them reach that ultimate goal of fostering and facilitating student development. IUPUI’s first-year seminar model effectively demonstrates this idea.

IUPUI and Its First-Year Seminar Model

IUPUI’s first-year seminar model, more widely known on campus as the learning community model, is a seminar designed to help students (mostly first-year students) successfully transition from high school to college, as well as navigate the university so they are better prepared for related academic rigors (Williams, 2001). According to Upcraft, Gardner, and Barefoot (as cited in Pike, Hansen, & Lin, 2011), IUPUI is part of the nearly 75 percent of colleges and universities that offer programs tailored to first-year students. Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, Whitt, and Associates as well as Upcraft et al. (as cited in Pike et al., 2011) further explained that colleges use first-year seminars, because they are “associated with a variety of positive educational outcomes, including a successful transition to college, higher grade-point averages, and improved retention rates” (pp. 194–195).

The initiative to establish first-year seminars at IUPUI started in 1994 to primarily address unmet student needs and low retention figures and to help students make successful transitions to college (Williams, 2001; Orme & Voorhis, 2001). At first only faculty taught the seminars, but it was not long before advisers were recognized as an integral part of this new model (Orme & Voorhis, 2001). Eventually, a four-person instructional team was developed to help students achieve their academic pursuits and included a faculty member, adviser, student mentor, and librarian, and this group provided consistency and support in different ways through the semester class (Orme & Voorhis, 2001).

The Adviser’s Role within a First-Year Seminar

Advisers serve a variety of roles within the model of a first-year seminar at IUPUI. Advisers are deliverers of information, reminding students of the important deadlines affiliated with registration (Vermette, Ruch, & Seabrook, 2001). They also present on special topics related to academic success, such as time management, study skills, and the various support centers offered on campus. Most importantly, they serve as the primary adviser for each student in the class. This gives students consistent interaction with the adviser and assurance that at least once a week they receive the guidance they need (Vermette et al., 2001).

Benefits of This First-Year Seminar Approach

Moving into student spaces, as depicted in this first-year seminar approach, leads to many benefits, including:

Observation: In this model, advisers have weekly contact with students throughout the semester. They learn each student’s name and personality-type, as well as how each interacts with peers and the instructors (Vermette et al., 2001). By observing student behaviors, advisers are more equipped to recognize challenges and opportunities affecting the student’s academic performance.

Consistency and increased adviser/student satisfaction: While first-year seminars oftentimes created more work for advisers, advisers reported contentment in this role. One said, “Seeing students in the classroom shows how they think, unlike the office setting. It has built my interest in the bigger picture and finding ways to help the students improve” (Orme & Voorhis, 2001, p. 60). Interestingly, in a fall 2010 survey completed by IUPUI students taking a first-year seminar, almost 80 percent of the 426 students who responded reported they were either satisfied or very satisfied with their advisers (Hansen, 2010).

Forced interaction: Without even realizing it, students are “forced” to see their adviser on a weekly basis in a setting that has the potential to be more comfortable for them than in an office setting.  Students often ask advisers questions they might not have otherwise considered. The only reason they ask is because it is convenient for them (Vermette et al., 2001). One adviser mentioned, “Instead of waiting and hoping that students will come to us, we go to them” (Vermette et al., 2001, p. 98).

Understanding the adviser’s role: Students can better understand the role of the adviser as a centralized resource for the variety of programs across campus. Vermette et al. supported this by stating, “A goal of the learning communities is that students will come to value advisers as one of their greatest resources at the university” (2001, p. 97).

Seek Opportunities to Make Every Conversation Count

Realizing that not all institutions adopt the first-year seminar model in their curriculum, advisers can and should continually seek opportunities and utilize other student spaces to deepen relationships and maximize effectiveness during advising sessions—they just might have to get a little creative. The overall goal is to make every conversation count. Here are a few ways to do this:

  • After the first advising meeting, ask the student to pick the location for the next meeting. He might choose your office or another space, but leaving the decision to the student allows him to take more responsibility and ownership for the advising session. In addition, the student may see his or her adviser as more of a “real” person and someone to connect with (Clark & Kalionzes, 2008).
  • Work with the residence life office to incorporate advising in the residence halls. Miami University provides a great model by integrating the two services (Kuh, 2008). In this context, the traditional residence hall director additionally serves as a live-in academic adviser (Kuh, 2008). By providing advising services where students live, advisers have the opportunity to observe interactions and be readily available to students in their living areas. Along the same lines, both Indiana University-Bloomington and IUPUI have offices for advisers to do their work directly in the residence halls (C. Buyarski, personal communication, November 12, 2011). Placing offices in strategic, high-traffic areas throughout campus, such as in residence halls, increases the opportunities for advisers to see students in the hallways, which can then lead to quick “check-in” conversations (C. Buyarski, personal communication, November 12, 2011).
  • Establish group advising appointments with students within the same major to discuss academic and career plans. A group setting lends a more relaxed, social setting in which students can comfortably exchange ideas. Advisers can observe and note things to address individually with each student.
  • Keep abreast of issues and trends related to students and their majors and send them emails with pertinent news. This shows students that advisers are interested in keeping the conversation going. In an ongoing conversation, students are more likely to use advisers as resources. For example, when I hear of new computer technology companies moving to Indianapolis, I will send the news along to my students who are computer technology majors in case they are interested in applying for positions.
  • During strategic times of the year, in particular during registration periods, position advisers at tables in high-traffic areas, such as the student union or near food vendors, to make them accessible. For example, IUPUI markets “Café Conversations” near Starbucks to catch students in between classes. According to Aiken-Wisniewski and Allen, “activities that reach out to the campus community build rapport, increase understanding of academic advising, and deliver students to your center” (2005, p. 1).

Benefits of Moving into Student Spaces

As demonstrated in the first-year seminar model, extending advising beyond the office and moving into student spaces creates a unique opportunity for advisers to effectively foster and facilitate students’ personal and academic development. In addition, moving into student spaces brings about three unique benefits: enhanced relationships, the opportunity to address discoveries, and the opportunity to advise the whole student.

Enhanced relationships: Advisers who move into student spaces, such as the classroom, can interact with and learn more about their students. This helps to strengthen their relationship, which then leads to opportunities beyond the surface level of advising. Advisers can help students get to the root of their academic or developmental problems and better walk alongside these students to ensure they reach their goals.

Opportunity to address discoveries: “Some of the advisers’ most important work is done in conversations with individual students before and after class” (Vermette et al., 2001, p. 98). Showing up ten minutes early and staying ten minutes late in the first-year seminar can help advisers “discover” actions they might not have otherwise have the opportunity to see. These “discoveries” can be unnoticeable during an advising session but may be easily observed when meeting with a student in a casual setting or by observing and interacting with him or her in the classroom. For example, as I was leaving class one day, I happened to walk out with one of my students, Megan. I asked how her classes were going and she said she felt behind each week because she did not do her homework on the weekends. For the rest of the semester I asked her if she was utilizing her time on the weekends, and she remarked that my prompting helped, because it meant someone was holding her accountable. By listening and observing in this way, advisers can easily and effectively address these “discoveries” with their students.

Opportunity to advise the whole student: Advisers who strengthen relationships by moving into student spaces can “bring together two facets of college life—social and academic—together” (Hunter, Henscheid, & Mouton, 2001, p. 104). Advisers can make conclusions based on their observations and provide support in a more holistic sense. For example, advisers can provide resources for those they see are in need of counseling, math support, or a lesson on time management. Because the adviser knows more about each student, the recommendations can be tailored for each student to aid in their development.

Bringing it Back to the Office

After trying some of these strategies, it is important to note that advisers should assess and reflect upon what worked well and what did not during the time spent in student spaces to see if they truly are getting more of the “full story.”  This reflection will help advisers plan more effectively for the next in-office advising appointment and can help advisers alter their strategies to align with the issues/observations they noticed. As part of the reflection, advisers may find that some student spaces are more effective than others and plan accordingly for the coming year. For example, advisers may find that students respond better to an advising session when they have the opportunity to get a snack (at the student union) as opposed to meeting in the library where food might not be allowed.


Moving into student spaces and utilizing conversations outside the office can enhance advising sessions, because the adviser is able to enhance the relationship, address “discoveries,” and advise the whole student. Being creative and utilizing conversations outside the office, such as in classrooms via the first-year seminar model, helps advisers more effectively break down barriers and get the “full story.” While one should not assume that effective advising cannot happen in the office, colleges with programs that integrate advisers into student spaces provide advisers this unique opportunity to continue fostering relationships, which then helps them reach the ultimate goal of fostering and facilitating student development. Advisers, then, should continue seeking ways to foster and facilitate students’ personal and academic development and make every conversation count.


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About the Author(s)

Emily Elmore, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis

Emily Elmore is a graduate student in the higher education and student affairs program at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis in Indianapolis, IN. She is also a graduate assistant for IUPUI’s University College. She can be reached at

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