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Mark Nelson.jpgOn my first day at work, I could feel the little kid inside me. I pictured him standing on the corner waiting for the school bus, shivering in his new penny loafer shoes, lunch box in hand, his new outfit ironed and pressed ready for the first day of school, not knowing what to expect. I imagined Mama hiding in the bushes making sure her baby was going to be okay. 

This time around, I was a grown man coming to a new institution in a new state, getting into my car for the first day at work. Nice shirt with slick necktie, briefcase in hand, without a clue of what to expect having crossed “enemy lines” (Kansas into Nebraska). Thoughts ran through my mind: “Did I make the right decision?  What if this…what if that…Can I adjust to the new system? What will really be expected of me?” My fears were confirmed as the very first hour of my very first day, I sat in my first staff meeting taking it all in.  Wide-eyed and lost, I sat in silence thinking to myself, “Okay, I can do this.” The first hours quickly turned into days, then into months. Six months in, I still may not know what the next day will bring, but I always enjoy thinking about what is around the corner. Every day is a new endeavor to be explored.  This is a bond new advisors share with the students we serve. 

I have been fortunate to serve in my current position as academic advisor in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for these six months. The transition from being a graduate student at another institution in another state was an overall success, but I must say I was able to make the transition with the love and support of my family, mentors, and colleagues old and new, as well as friends. As I reflect on my first semester, I share some advice that may benefit new and aspiring professionals coming into the profession of academic advising.

New advisors should possess the willingness to learn. My mentor once told me, “You will never know everything.  Pick your passion, focus on it, and become an expert.” Becoming an expert requires patience, awareness, trust, respect and admiration, which takes possessing the willingness to learn. Take time to learn about new colleagues, students, the campus, and the community. 

New advisors should work to improve. Accepting a new position always presents new challenges. Keep these small rules in mind:

  • Change is constant. Work to adjust and be as flexible as possible. Developing new relationships requires patience. Becoming better acclimated to the new role is not only a change for the new advisor; new colleagues and students are also going through the same process. 
  • Become thorough. Document everything as clearly as possible. Explain things when necessary and do not be afraid to pose questions to colleagues to gain familiarity with the institution’s policies.
  • Set new, attainable goals every semester. One of the ways we become better professionals is by setting manageable goals for ourselves so we may see our growth. Define and discover personal goals as they fit individual needs. 
  • Assess performance by accepting constructive criticism from those with good intentions. We all make mistakes, and we all have to adjust to a new system, especially when transitioning into a new system on a new campus. Be open to feedback, take what works and move forward.
  • Strive to develop professionally, do the best you can and do not stress. It goes without saying our profession may not be the easiest because we do not always see immediate results or receive instant recognition. The best reward we can receive is staying up to date on training from our institution, maintaining a positive rapport with those we serve, and continuing to make a difference where we can.

New advisors should maintain a positive attitude. The Great Muhammad Ali said, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘don’t quit!’  Suffer now, and live the rest of your life a champion!” Every day on the job will be an opportunity to learn something new or become a little bit better. Walking into the office, I ask myself these questions every day:

  • How can I better serve students and colleagues today?
  • What am I going to learn today?
  • Who can I make smile?
  • Where did I do best/where can I improve?
  • Why did I become an academic advisor?

New advisors should “set the scene” to boost motivation.  Have a sentimental or motivational piece readily visible, whether it is a picture on a computer desktop, a family picture, a poster with a motivational phrase, etc. I have a picture from a scene in the movie “300;” it is something to which most students can relate. For me, it serves as the purpose of remaining focused on the task despite being challenged by adversity.  When I have those long days of walk-in appointments, I look at the picture and remember, “I am here to serve the students – I need to stay focused!” When working with a student who is going through a tough stretch in the semester, I make a comment about working through the challenging period of time and relate it to the movie. 

As academic advisors, we impact the lives of our students as well as influence the reputation of our Institutions, and we invest in the future of our society.  Though it may seem overwhelming to new advisors, we can accept the demands of the new position as part of making a difference in the lives of those we serve: students, colleagues, and the community. The road of life sometimes has its gatekeeper; we as advisors serve as navigators! Stay focused, stay fresh, and have a great semester!

Mark S. Nelson
Academic Adviser
College of Arts and Sciences
University of Nebraska, Lincoln
marksnelson@unl.edu

Cite this article using APA style as: Nelson, M. (2013, June). First semester experience as an academic advisor. Academic Advising Today, 36(2). Retrieved from [insert url here] 

Posted in: 2013 June 36:2

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