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Mary Ann Miller,
 
Indiana University

One of the hallmarks of a small, liberal arts college is its ability to provide students with a personal connection with the institution. The Department of Biology at Indiana University - Bloomington (IUB) has over 1,200 majors and, until recently, only two advisors. This large advisee load challenges advisors who seek to provide students with both excellent guidance and the kind of personal attention they would find in a smaller school.

The IUB Biology Advising Office is committed to making sure that our students know that we see them as more than numbers. Our strategy must work; despite over 60 departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, each Biology advisor was selected as Advisor of the Year two of the past three years. We would like to share how we provide our students with a 'small university atmosphere.'

Overview of Indiana University 's Biology Program. The Department of Biology has five undergraduate degrees and two minors. The more than 1,200 majors and over a hundred students pursuing minors require that we have excellent time management skills.

At Indiana University, students are admitted to the University Division for their first 26 credit hours; they can designate their chosen degree when they complete these credits and have a 2.0 GPA. As soon as this occurs, we establish a relationship with our students. This involves email follow-up after their registration; we send out a 'Welcome to Biology' e-mail when they certify into the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Biology. However, building on this initial welcome takes the support of the entire office.

Office Staff. First and most importantly, an office staff must work well together. We must be able to rely on each person to ensure that the office runs smoothly and student questions/concerns are answered in a timely manner. Luckily, we have an excellent student services coordinator and assistant who do everything from schedule appointments to coordinate paperwork during registration.

Informational Sessions. At the beginning of the semester, we meet with students in a series of sessions during which we teach them how to read degree progress reports and answer questions regarding degree requirements. We also offer informational sessions covering the importance of a minor, as well as sessions dealing with how to apply to graduate or professional schools. These sessions allow our majors to meet with us personally and learn how to use institutional resources effectively.

Important Materials. Besides sessions designed to put a human face on the advising process, we have found that it is equally important to assist students by providing information about courses recommended for their specific interests. We supply handouts on important courses for pre-medical students as well as courses suggested for those planning to attend dental and other professional schools. These materials are available to any student who drops by the office; this makes the Advising Office a natural stop for students seeking information about courses that help them meet their goals.

Master E-Mail List. In addition to the printed flyers, we utilize a mass e-mail list that allows us to reach out to our majors. Each semester, we send a welcome email that provides information about the official calendar, important dates and vital Web links. We let them know our advising office hours and how to schedule an appointment. This allows us to be in continual communication with our majors and emphasizes our commitment to helping them achieve their goals.

Scheduling Advising Appointments. To maximize efficiency and student contact during peak advising before registration, we have changed how we handle student appointments. Instead of allowing students to call or email the office to set up an appointment, we require that they come in person to sign up for an appointment. We provide separate schedule books for freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors in which students can schedule appointments. Since students are responsible for making their own appointments, this frees up staff time for seeing students. As a result, we are able to provide more of the personal guidance they desire.

We also schedule hours for walk-in appointments so that students can have brief questions answered. This allows us to see many more students and again increases the amount of personal time we have for each student. It is important to note that while we do not require our majors to meet with us for advising prior to registration, we do strongly encourage them to see us. There will always be those students who should have come for advising but chose not to see us, but the majority of students appreciate that they are encouraged rather than required to come for advisement.

Student Recognition - Positive and Negative. We strongly believe that recognizing student milestones is an excellent way to let students know that their academic success is important to both the department and to the university. We routinely send letters to students for achievements such as the Dean's List, Phi Beta Kappa nomination, and graduation. This kind of recognition takes time, but students tell us that our efforts are appreciated.

It is important to follow-up with students in academic difficulty. We contact these students by e-mail rather than a letter addressed to their home. We encourage them to come in and see us to make sure they can remain on track or to help them consider other options. This contact lets students know that the institution cares about them.

Graduation. It is equally important to let students know how proud the department and the university are to have them as one of our new alumni. We believe that this contact has a subtle effect upon recruitment and development. Parents who like the attention one child received are more likely to send other children to the university; likewise alumni who appreciate the attention they received as students are more likely to wish to give back to the university.

Two years ago, with the encouragement of our administration, the Biology Advising Office created a Biology Reception preceding the actual graduation ceremony. This is a formal affair at which graduating students are announced by the Chair. Faculty and staff attend to offer their support, and refreshments are served. Students are presented with both a certificate and a program listing the names of graduating students. This event has been very well received; students and their families are thankful for this individual recognition.

These efforts have helped the Biology Advising Office of Indiana University-Bloomington create an environment in which students feel that their academic success matters and that the institution has a vested interest in their progress. We believe that when an entire office works together, it is possible for a large program to provide the kind of atmosphere typically found in a small university. We hope that these examples will help advisors with large case loads develop their own programs to engage students on a more personal basis.

Mary Ann Miller
Indiana University
mamiller@indiana.edu

Cite this article using APA style as: Miller, M. (2006, December). Creating personalized advising: How to advise over 1,000 majors with only two advisors. Academic Advising Today, 29(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]

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