Experienced by: Mandy Chalk
College is a big change for students; they are leaving home, family, friends, and routine. At the MWACE 2016 conference, I attended a few sessions aimed at change and how one can handle change that were facilitated by Charmaine Hammond. In Exploratory Studies, I am used to change. Students come in and out of our program, students change their mind on what major to pursue, and colleges change their CODO requirements or plans of study. However, students are typically not used to change. They are accustomed to their daily routines, block scheduling, and family traditions. Thus, we must learn and implement ways in which to help them embrace change in a new environment.
In the keynote speech, Hammond told a story of how she and her husband survived a sailing accident and what she learned from the experience. She discussed how as “knowledge goes up, fear goes down.” This can certainly be applied to our students. As we educate them on their major options, their fear of the unknown and their fear of choosing a major will hopefully decrease. We must be constantly learning about majors, careers, opportunities for research, leadership, scholarships, and anything else that might be helpful to our students. Even if you are an advisor for one specific major or department, it helps to learn more about other programs and majors. One can do this by attending PACADA meetings, networking with others, and paying attention to those emails we get from the Advisor listserve. Yes, it takes time, but it can prove helpful to our students. When referring students to other advisors, it helps when I personally know the person I’m referring a student to. It helps when I can say, “I know so and so because we’re on a bowling league together,” or “See my friend so and so during his/her walk in times.” Students’ fears will go down when you can personally refer them to your advising friends. We are all in this together, and I hope to see more networking with others across campus in my future. This also serves as a marketing plug for the PACADA Mentoring Program, which has matched me with two amazing professionals at Purdue! I highly recommend this program, as it has helped me understand better the inner workings of the university and get to know two people on a more personal level. Again, by putting into action what we tell our students to do (networking), we show them that their fears can go down whenever they have more knowledge. We even assign our students in our Academic and Career Planning class to interview an upperclassman and a professional in a career that interests them. This networking goes a long way in order to help students get more information about majors and careers that interest them.
Another important point is to learn how to disseminate that information through emails. In Exploratory Studies, we have an Access database of the students we advise. I can filter the results to only show the students that meet the criteria I select. I can then send out emails to only those students who could benefit from the information. Tailored messaging and knowing your students is key. Plus, it helps educate them so they are less fearful of change. When they get that information, you can ease their fears and let them know you are a resource of valuable information.
Another piece of advice that Hammond imparted during the conference was, “Your mindset creates your field of vision. Choose your thoughts wisely.” She emphasized the importance of having a positive attitude. “What you focus on expands.” If you’re constantly thinking negative thoughts, then those thoughts will manifest and ruin your day. Start each day by framing your day in a positive light and encourage your students to do the same. When something bad happens to your students, try to ask, “What went well?” And then transition to asking, “What didn’t go well? What would you do differently?” This can help your students see the positive, but also learn from the situation. Because sometimes, “the problem is how you view the problem.”
The same can be applied to us as advisors. How do YOU view change? For example, how do you view this new EAB software system? Hammond says that most people struggle with the transition, not with the actual change. Yes, the new software system will take some time getting used to it, but we must embrace change, just as our students must embrace change with changing plans of study, changes with majors, changes in CODO requirements, etc. We should be setting a good example for them, because let’s face it, life is full of changes!
Hammond gave an example of a pot of boiling water. If you put in a potato, it becomes soft and mushy and falls apart. If you put an egg into boiling water, it becomes hard. If you put a coffee bean in, it changes its form and creates coffee. So which one are you when it comes to change? Do you fall apart like a potato? Do you become hard like an egg? Or do you adapt to the situation like the coffee bean? Let’s agree to become coffee bean advisors!
Finally, Hammond stated, “We can’t control our lives, but we can have influence.” This really resonated with me, and I hope it resonates with you as well. Even though you are not in control of your life, you are in control of your actions and thoughts. I hope they are positive and helpful for not only your life, but for the lives of our students!