Topic from December 2004

What role, if any, should advisers play in helping students develop a meaningful philosophy of life? According to an article in The Chronicle, “Developing a meaningful philosophy of life has declined as a life goal of college students. Only 39.3 percent listed that as an essential or very important goal” in last year's survey of first-year students. Is that something that we, as academic advisers/educators, need to be concerned about? If so, what can we, as individuals or as a group, do about it? How do we weave that discussion into our advising contacts when schedule planning and vocational choice seem to be the top priorities for many of our advisees? What's your opinion?

Your Responses

I would be curious to find out how many advisers have developed a meaningful philosophy in life? I've done presentations at national conferences with advisers on “developing a mission statement” and find that most do not have their own philosophy in life. I teach a first-year seminar course and require each student (about 180 total) to develop their own mission statement; you get some very interesting statements! Instead of asking if advisers should play a role in helping students develop a meaningful philosophy in life, let's find out how many advisers have developed a meaningful philosophy of life—or a personal mission statement.

By the way, my mission statement:

To make a difference in the world by helping people follow their hearts and fulfill their dreams—one person at a time. To provide unwavering love and support to my family and closest friends. To maintain optimal physical and mental health in order to compete at a higher level.

-Bill “Shoes” Johnson, The College of New Jersey, December 8

I suppose one might think that an adviser's job is simply to help students fulfill their own goals, but we have good reasons for believing that we should help students set, reflect upon, critique, and revise their goals. General education is usually supposed to include critical thinking. What could be more important than to exercise critical thinking in regard to one's own sense of direction and purpose? We also know that student development theory supports the growth of intellectual and moral judgment among 18–23 year olds. Why shouldn't advisers help nurture such growth by prompting students to ask the big questions? Loyola University in Chicago has been doing some interesting work in this area with a Lilly grant. Drawing on their Jesuit tradition, they encourage students through retreats and mentoring groups to think creatively about the purpose of their lives. But one need not invoke a specific religious tradition. Forty-eight other schools are involved in this study; thus we may see some interesting reports emerging next year when they share results. A philosophy of life, a sense of calling, seems the way to gather and make sense of education, interests, career, personal life, all of it. Advisers see students at a critical moment in their lives and in a uniquely personal setting. They are missing something if they don't encourage students to articulate a philosophy of life.

-Marion Schwartz, Penn State, December 10

I just read an article today that stated the five functions of advising as (1) providing information, (2) short range planning, (3) long range planning, (4) conveying the purpose of the university, and (5) student referral. (NACADA monograph)

These five functions are critical, and with the extraordinary caseload I have in advising (800+), there is no way that I can assist students in creating their own philosophy. The best I can do is to help them “figure out” the university and work within the responsibilities listed above of the adviser.

Not that I agree—because I would much rather be helping students develop a meaningful philosophy of life. I just know in my position, it doesn't happen (very often anyway).

-Kara E. Lattimer, Virginia Tech, December 13

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