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Garance Blanchot-Aboubi, Normandale Community College

Garance Blanchot-Aboubi.jpgThrough an array of responsibilities such as course planning, career counseling, and referral resources, professional advisors are commonly recognized as important to student progress and success (Petress, 1996).  However, they are occasionally sidelined when it comes to contributing to lifelong learning, a role traditionally associated with faculty members or academic content.

As more and more colleges and universities offer a first-year experience class taught by academic advisors to their new students (National Resource Center, 2006), the advisor/advisee relationship has shifted from infrequent and impersonal to frequent, rewarding, challenging, and inspiring.  In fact, the core commitments of the National Resource Center for the First Year Experience and Students in Transition (2015) include lifelong learning and closely match its definition, which per Wikipedia (2015) is the “ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons.  Therefore, it not only enhances social inclusion, active citizenship, and personal development, but also self-sustainability, rather than competitiveness and employability.”

First-year seminars aim first and foremost at fostering student success and at easing the transition process to a new college or university by using a holistic or multi-strategy approach.  Through flexible content and varied instructional strategies, advisors not only teach and inform students about degree requirements, campus policies and procedures, or career options, they also expect students to adapt and apply those strategies to fit their personal/academic goals.  A key element needed for students to establish or expand their own goals includes improving student motivation, which contributes to higher retention rates, improves student engagement, and positively affects the behavior of students.

According to the Gestalt theory, motivation is essentially intrinsic and is strongly influenced by the learners’ purposes (Bigge, 1971).  Based on the Gestaltist view, the role of the advisor in the classroom is to become a provider of extrinsic motivation, such as praise, encouragement, and points to entice students to get sufficiently involved in their learning process so that they develop their own intrinsic motivation (Bigge, 1971).  Thanks to a flexible curriculum and customized pedagogy, advisors in first-year seminars have the opportunity to help students shape their academic goals and map out the necessary steps and skills to achieve them.  By evaluating various possibilities and explaining their academic/career choices, students are lead to take an active role and to have a voice and control in planning for their future, thus increasing their intrinsic motivation.  While faculty teaching other academic content face large class sizes, a fast-paced academic calendar, and the pressure of standardized assessment, first-year seminars have room for customization to figure out the best ways to motivate and engage their students.

Another equally relevant contributor to student success is emotional intelligence and the teaching of emotion skills.  Research by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio (1999) shows that integrating emotional information with rational decision-making is essential for people to manage their daily lives and that individuals lacking emotional intelligence make decisions that may put them at risk.  The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and Social and Emotional Learning Research Group (SEL) (2010) reveal that emotionally skilled students are better able to identify the cause of their anxiety and are more likely to engage in proactive behavior to manage the distress.  Such proactive behaviors include participating in study groups with peers, communicating with their instructor, or utilizing available campus resources.  On the other hand, students with lower emotional intelligence tend to engage in risky or violent behaviors that put their well-being and health at risk and negatively impacts their academic progress.  CASEL/SEL highlight that the teaching of emotional intelligence contributes to social competence and enhances academic achievement as students develop coping mechanisms and build healthier attachments to their school, the latter aided by one of the many of the advisor’s duties as the resources referral (SEL Research Group, 2010).

As they refer resources and instruct first-year seminar, advisors not only seek to connect their students to the campus community or to link them with appropriate services and relevant opportunities, they also strive to establish a long-lasting, positive relationship with students and become a friendly face on campus, someone students feel comfortable talking to on a regular basis over the course of their studies.  Advisors make every effort to create a safe and challenging classroom environment by using both collaborative and cooperative learning, which has many benefits including positive interdependence, individual accountability, equal participation, and simultaneous interaction (Kagan, 1990).  Because student performance is inextricably tied to other non-academic matters such as financial security, employment, physical health, emotional health, and mental health (Petress, 1996), it is important that students trust their campus community and feel it is contributing to their welfare and best interest.  In a typical university model where advising is external to academic content, students in academic difficulty are left on their own to seek assistance, lose the opportunity to make a meaningful connection with their peers or campus community, and commonly feel a lack of support from their institution, thus leading to underachievement and retention issues.

Finally, first-year seminars’ reach spread out past the walls of the classroom as they promote social inclusion and active citizenship by encouraging service learning or internships.  Students get to combine meaningful community involvement with classroom theory, learning objectives, and deliberate reflection.  Dewey’s theory of service learning points out that “the interaction of knowledge and skills with experience is key to learning” (1938).  Service learning in its nature is mutually beneficial for the community and students as it provides a mechanism for active learning and an opportunity to gain new and varied learning experiences in an authentic setting, as opposed to a hypothetical one in a traditional classroom setting.  Throughout this partnership between academic, personal, and professional development, students are asked to reflect on how their background and experience shape their values and decisions as well as to recognize and appreciate diverse perspectives.  Thanks to their newly gained experiences, students also have the opportunity to improve their soft skills such as verbal communication, analytical thinking, teamwork, and work ethic, which are highly valued qualities in today’s job market.

In conclusion, based on the goals and learning outcomes covered in first-year seminars as well as varied instructional methods, it is clear that professional advisors have the opportunity to make a lasting impact on students and to contribute to their lifelong learning. With a curriculum focused on innovation, creativity, adaptability, accountability, and self-reliance—all characteristics valued by lifelong learners (Gopee, 2000)—and assignments based on self-reflection and self-assessment, a safe environment, a culture of learning, and a drive for self-improvement and development is fostered.

Garance Blanchot-Aboubi
Academic Advisor
Normandale Community College
garance.blanchot-aboubi@normandale.edu

References

Bigge, M. L. (1971). Learning theories for teachers. New York: Harper and Row.

Core Commitments. (2015). National Resource Center for the First Year Experience and Students in Transition. Retrieved from http://www.sc.edu/fye/center/index.html   

Damasio, A. (1999). The feeling of what happens: Body and emotion in the making of consciousness. New York: Harcourt Brace.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Gopee, N. (2000). Self-assessment and the concept of the lifelong learning nurse. British Journal of Nursing. 9, 724.

Kagan, S. (1990). The structural approach to cooperative learning. Educational Leadership. 47(4), 12.

Lifelong Learning. (2015, March). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lifelong_learning

National Resource Center for the First Year Experience and Students in Transition. (2006). 2006 Summary of National Survey on First Year Seminars. Retrieved from  http://www.sc.edu/fye/research/surveyfindings/surveys/survey06.html  

Petress, K. C. (1996). The multiple roles of an undergraduate's academic advisor. Education 117(1), 91.

SEL Research Group. (2010). The benefits of school-based social and emotional learning programs: Highlights from a forthcoming CASEL Report. Chicago: University of Illinois at Chicago SEL Research Group & The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning.

Cite this article using APA style as: Blanchot-Aboubi, G. (2015, June). First-year seminars and advising: How advisors make a lifelong impact. Academic Advising Today, 38(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]  

Posted in: 2015 June 38:2

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