Topic from February 2004

This month, the Advising Forum presents the fourteenth in a series of advising case studies.

Case study #14: Sally, a twenty-year-old engineering student who has completed seventy-five credits with a 4.0 average, schedules an appointment with you to discuss changing her major. A successful theatre performer in both her hometown and on campus, she would much rather major in theatre and become an actress. You learn from Sally that her father is the sole financial provider for her education and that he has threatened to stop paying for college if she changes her major. How would you advise Sally? How would you approach the situation with her father if given permission by the student to talk with him? How would you conduct a meeting with Sally and her father?

Your Responses

I am an adviser with 15 years of professional theatre in my background, so I would welcome this question. The adviser, in this situation, has an opportunity to encourage a student who wants to follow her “bliss,” but the adviser can also inspire the student to find creative ways to manage the practical aspects of her life—including finding common ground with a parent who has her welfare and security foremost in his mind. The first advising task is to listen, and empathically respond to Sally's passion for acting as well as her conflicting emotions. Once she trusts that you understand her dilemma, you can ask her what she believes are her father's hopes/concerns/fears. She will articulate issues such as “my financial security,” etc. It is likely that she also is concerned about some of the same issues she believes are her father's focus. That is the common ground. It is helpful at that point for the adviser to restate that common ground and ask Sally to confirm that it may be a point of agreement. If she does agree that there is any piece of common ground, there is some hope for Sally and her father to work out a compromise. It may not be necessary for the adviser to meet with the father if that understanding can be reached in the advising session with the student, because the student then has the insight to negotiate a compromise. The path to success as an artist is, by definition, a blend of creativity and practicality. I would encourage her to come up with a proposal that addresses her father's concerns and shows a practical approach to her artistic goals. That approach might involve completing her degree while she pursues her acting on the side, then pursuing theatre professionally after college for an agreed-upon time period. But that's just one strategy out of limitless possibilities that creative people always use to make their passion a reality. My objective as an adviser in this situation would be to empower Sally to find that balance of passion and practicality.

-Norrine Sims, Penn State University, February 3

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