Advising is a commitment to students throughout their entire relationship with the university.
For some students, advising begins before their admission to the university. Increasingly, prospective students seek guidance from academic advisors as they search for their ideal institution of higher learning. As a graduate of the program in which I advise, I am uniquely equipped to share information about the university, department, and faculty with prospective students and families. When I meet with these students and their families, I share the expectations for advising, learning, and service that they will experience as Virginia Tech Hokies, and give a large institution a welcoming face.
For most students, advising begins with their formal orientation to the university. When I lead our department orientation sessions, I connect with students on a personal level, learning more about who they are and what they want to do as students and young professionals. I establish myself as their first contact for questions and challenges, explaining that if I do not have the answer for their questions, I can put them in touch with the people who do. At orientation students begin to trust that the information I will give them is correct, current, and consistent.
For other students, advising begins with their participation in the department’s First Year Experience Course. When I teach that course, I help students develop the skills they need to communicate effectively with faculty, to successfully access university services, and to be curious, informed, and critical thinkers. Here I establish that advising is a reciprocal relationship. My job is not to tell students what to do but to help them make choices that will help them achieve their goals.
The advising relationship continues through years of office hours and extracurricular meetings where I consistently connect the mechanics of advising (course selection, graduation requirements, and career planning) with a lifelong commitment to curiosity, service, and social justice.
I work to make my office welcoming to students. I provide everything from tissues to hot chocolate to sewing kits, establishing my space as a home away from home for many students. They come, not only to ask about graduation requirements or for signatures on university forms, but to find mentors among the faculty, to find friends among fellow students, and to find support, respect, and empathy. As one of the most visible members of the faculty, I learn about students, their experiences and their ambitions, and help them choose classes and meet faculty who will guide them in learning, research, service, and professional development. As an advisor, I also connect students with other students so that they can learn from one another. Sometimes this happens organically when students who frequent office hours to discuss history, politics, and philosophy befriend one another, and sometimes it is more deliberate when I introduce students specifically because they have similar experiences, ambitions, interests, or needs.
For many students, advising ends with our department commencement exercises. But for others, advising continues as the advisor/advisee relationship transitions to a friendship between equals that connects alumni with future generations of students. These relationships can be essential in terms of future opportunities, including internships and mentoring, between students and alumni.
Advising is a commitment I make to students, to my department, and to the university that isn’t limited to office hours and academic planning. It is a constant willingness to connect with students, to provide a safe haven, to listen with compassion and without judgment, and to set high standards for engagement and critical thought beyond the walls of the classroom or the boundaries of the university. Sometimes my best advising takes place at 10 am in a crowded office and sometimes it takes place at 6 pm at a picnic on the Drillfield. Sometimes advising is telling an anxious student that she’s set to graduate on time, and sometimes it’s helping one secure his first internship. Sometimes it’s more about listening than talking, and sometimes it’s knowing the right thing to say. Sometimes it’s referring a student to anther faculty or office on campus, and sometimes it’s letting them know that they’re always welcome in my office. Sometimes it’s connecting with students before they enroll in the university, and sometimes it’s keeping in touch years after they’ve left.
As an advisor, whenever I meet with prospective students, lead orientation sessions, teach an FYE course, hold office hours, participate in commencement exercises, and continue friendships with alumni, I cultivate a continuous, evolving, and growing relationship with students that they may become confident, empowered, and successful members of the university community.