FoE implementation: Undergraduate advising

October 3, 2012  

A student's level of success can hinge on effective advising, so much so that the Foundations of Excellence (FoE) program on the West Lafayette campus includes, among its five directors, a position providing leadership in that area.

Sandra Monroe, bringing strong experience in student services, is now director of university undergraduate advising. The position was created to further strengthen academic advising at Purdue and provide a centralized resource to foster best practices in academic advising. This is the only new full-time position on the interdivisional implementation team of FoE directors.

"My focus is to support academic advisors in providing high-quality academic advising to all students regardless of their college, school or department and to recognize the significant value of good academic advising," says Monroe, who reports to Dale Whittaker, vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs. "We're looking at more clearly defining the roles of academic advisors and reviewing the current advisee-to-advisor ratio across. Providing high-quality advising also requires adequate professional development opportunities and time for assessment activities."

She is drawing upon FoE philosophy and a report written by Purdue staff and faculty involved with advising and titled "Academic Advising at Purdue University: Working Together for Student Success." To those resources, Monroe brings her knowledge from years as associate dean of students and an assistant vice president of student services. She served for a number of those years on the committee of head academic advisors. In fact, she started in the Office of the Dean of Students as an academic advisor for unclassified students and she taught a career planning course.

Early on, "I learned to involve the student in their career planning while also supporting them in negotiating the University systems," she says. "The reward is to watch them grow." Over the years, her advocacy on behalf of students provided many opportunities for her to work with advisors, other staff and faculty members.

The academic advising report affirms the importance of advising for a successful first year of college, noting extensive research on advising theory and practice that includes emphasis on time: "If advisors had adequate time, they could move away from a focus on course registration and implement models of advising that build on establishing advising relationships with students that allow advisors to challenge and support their students and in so doing help the students connect their college experiences with academic and life goals."

Monroe says, "Since academic advising is a key part of student success, it is important to review our current practices and consider how we might best serve our students in the future. The current ratio of advisee to advisor is varied across campus." The goal for the advisee-to-advisor ratio is 225-to-1.

Many academic advisors, Monroe says, do a tremendous job and are committed to establishing strong advising relationships with their students. Advisors are a key component in student success "because this person is often the face of the University to the student and at the outset initiates a one–on-one interaction with the student." This typically begins during the Summer Transition, Advising and Registration (STAR) program.

"Within the context of this and future interaction," she continues, "students can make significant decisions about their future, by identifying fields of study that are consistent with their interests and abilities and life goals. We will develop an advising model that reduces transactional tasks in favor of student-centered activities that build stronger advisor student connections. The result is that the student feels a stronger connection to the institution and assumes more ownership in pursuit of their degree. The more invested a student is in a specific major or career path, the greater the likelihood the student will persist and graduate."

Often the advising relationship in the first year helps with transition and adjustment, she says. The issues range from being away from home and having a roommate to learning about student organizations and special programs such as study abroad or co-ops and internships.

In this light, cross training of advisors also needs strengthening, Monroe says, and she expects to collaborate with PACADA and others on professional training initiatives.

Advisors also are beginning to receive training in the myPurduePlan, the campus' version of DegreeWorks software, which helps a student and advisor to do detailed tracking and planning of academic progress. That can include checking "what if" the student changes to another major, among other features.

"We are also requesting that advisors and students use the Student Educational Planner (SEP) to plan out a minimum of three future semesters," Monroe says. The student, with a more comprehensive view of their academic career, gains more power to plan efficiently, and the student and advisor can see the information more quickly, thus gaining time for a more meaningful discussion about subjects such as their career development, life goals and other topics such as research opportunities or involvement in leadership activities.

Monroe says advisors can take a training session 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday in the Engineering Administration Building (ENAD), Room 135, without an appointment. The myPurduePlan will take effect in February for West Lafayette and Statewide Technology.

Training also may help establish a thorough, universal understanding of the incoming core curriculum. Research in past 10 years shows, Monroe says, that student retention and persistence rises significantly when high-quality academic advising is attached to core curriculum in first two years.

Lesa Beals, senior associate registrar for records, registration and graduation, and a Foundations of Excellence task force member, says having access to advisors who have trained in the myPurduePlan will promote students' personal development.

"Through access to advisors who have trained in the myPurduePlan, students will become more aware of and engaged in their degree plans," Beals says. "This will allow the advising experience to focus on obtaining advice for enhancing the student's educational experience rather than simply telling students which courses they should take."

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