PACADA honors Outstanding Academic Advisor

February 9, 2012

Truda Strange (left), winner of PACADA's 2012 Outstanding Academic Advisor award, with the presenter and 2011 winner, Mary Beth Lencke. (Purdue University photo/ Mark Simons)

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A passion for sharing students' journeys -- and maybe some brownies or lasagna -- has provided constant motivation for Truda Strange, the 2012 Outstanding Academic Advisor as named last week by PACADA.

The award presentation was made during a meeting of the Purdue Academic Advising Association based on a nomination and committee selection. Strange is academic advisor in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering.

"Their walk is my walk," she says of her students. "I make it perfectly clear to my students that I am on their side and that their journey is my journey." That begins on the academic side with monitoring progress semester to semester and within courses and assisting with registration. For instance, the students in BME find can find the going tough because they are required to take engineering courses outside of their program without having all of the prerequisites.  

"I feel for them and it makes me a bit uneasy," she says, "but usually they end up doing just fine because they are extremely bright and have the ability to teach themselves."

"When students have issues with a particular course, we sit down and identify the problems and come up with some strategies for success. It is not uncommon for me to meet on a regular basis with students during the semester who are having academic challenges," Strange says, drawing in part on her teaching background.

But as with most outstanding performers, she takes a larger view, and that means personal understanding, guidance and encouragement, strengthening people for success. It means caring.

In making the award presentation, Mary Beth Lencke, last year's winner, told how Strange walks around Jischke Hall of Biomedical Engineering around lunchtime, being proactive in contact with students. One time, she found a student who was living at home in West Lafayette enjoying his mom's cooking for lunch and teasing a student from out of state about not having the same opportunity. The next day, the out-of-stater was enjoying some of Strange's lasagna for lunch.

Strange attributes much of her approach with students to her own background and support. She and her siblings are first-generation not just in going to college but in finishing high school. Yet their parents valued education and wanted a better way of  life for their children, and she graduated in elementary education at Ball State University and earned a master's at Purdue. After teaching for a few years and trying some other jobs, she ended up here and switched over to advising in 1995.

"I didn't realize how good it was going to be until I started," she says. "For a time I felt like nobody wanted me. Everything's worked out fine. This is where I should be."

That goodness has much to do with her own mentors, she says. Working from 1995 to 2002 in the School of Education (now College), she received wonderful direction and support from the late Margaret Sutter. Among her tasks, she worked with student ambassadors and sometimes made brownies for them or welcomed them to her home.

When it was time for a change, Strange went to the first-year engineering program, where John Gaunt, now professor emeritus of civil engineering, was a great help. That stint in an engineering area helped prepare her for her BME role, and she moved over in 2004 because "I missed not getting to know my students" due to the numbers and faster turnover in the first-year program.

She's very glad about where she landed, saying, "I feel so fortunate to be in a department that values academic advising and views it as a true profession. And that's thanks to Andrew Brightman [assistant head of BME].

"BME is like a family, and we really care about each other. We like each other and do things socially."

Strange says she appreciates PACADA's support and encouragement.

"I am so thankful to have a network of professionals I can interact with who have the same values -- to promote quality academic advising on Purdue’s campus," she says. 

She looks forward to many more years of service to the organization and for being an advocate of academic advising and academic advisors of Purdue.