Leena Chakrabarti, Kansas State University
Over the years, the Advising Program in the English Language Program (ELP) has developed in response to the needs of the international students who come to study at Kansas State University, but do not have the English proficiency needed to enter academic classes. In the early 1990s, one of our instructors (now associate director) advised students in addition to all her teaching responsibilities because the standard advising services that were available to all undergraduates often did not help our students. Over time, the ELP has introduced faculty release time for advising, and with the growth in the number of students, the Advising Program has grown and taken on expanded responsibilities.
Currently, we follow a self-contained organizational model with a centralized advising office. As the assistant director of the ELP and the head of student services (also our Advising Program), I am responsible for all the advising functions for students. Three faculty members on partial release time advise students; they also teach one or two intensive English classes each semester. Having faculty advisors is an advantage because these advisors are very aware of classroom dynamics and the academic side of our program. In addition, a student services coordinator assists in meeting the needs of our international students.
We use a combination of delivery modes to reach out to as many students as possible: one-on-one advising for new-student interviews and individual issues, group advising sessions to communicate program policies, and technology-assisted advising for our orientation class. We have found group advising sessions/classes to be complementary to individual sessions, and very useful in giving programmatic information about policies and procedures. They also help students establish connections with peer groups (King, 2008). We have equipped all meeting rooms with computers, and advisors are trained to use the technology that K-State offers. We also offer a blended orientation class featuring face-to-face lectures by campus experts as well as an extensive online component. Our students from all over the world are “digital natives” and we, the digital immigrants, need to provide the students with the most comfortable learning environment (Leonard, 2008). As our exit-level students transition into the university, our advisors work with the advisors in the relevant colleges to make sure the students have the best educational experience.
Theoretical and Ideological Foundations
With an established Advising Program in place, it is only natural for us to reflect on the theoretical and ideological foundations of our practice. Clifton, Daller, Creamer and Creamer (1997) noted that “Research suggests that there is a relatively high consistency between an advisor’s stated philosophy of advising and the behaviors he or she actually utilizes.” The theoretical framework that primarily guides our academic advising practice in the ELP is the psychosocial theory of strengths-based advising (Schreiner, 2005). The foundations for the strengths-based approach to advising are interdisciplinary, taken from social work, business, and psychology. Strengths-based advising uses students’ talents as the basis for educational planning (Anderson & McGuire, 1997). This theory (Clifton & Harter, 2003) states that a person who focuses on his/her weaknesses and works to correct them only achieves average performance, but a person who focuses on his/her strengths achieves “levels of excellence.” Strengths-based advising focuses on “areas of talent and engagement” and not on weaknesses. The advisors in the ELP focus on student strengths to help them adapt to U.S. university life and academics.
Since we advise a special group of students, we agree with Kodama, McEwen, Liang, and Lee (as cited by Hagen & Jordan, 2008) that it is not appropriate to use traditional theories of academic advising "to explain the development of diverse groups." Cross in developing a model for black identity formation, and Cass in developing a model for homosexual identity formation had the same idea (Hagen & Jordan, 2008). Our advising program is based on the idea of cultural differences and uniqueness as strengths, relating back to the strengths-based theory. As the ELP grew and evolved, we realized the Office of Student Life and the Counseling Center on campus were not ideally suited to advise international students with inadequate English skills. So, we gradually developed an advising program that focuses on cultural differences as a source of strength rather than as a deviance.
We also believe that “advising is teaching” (Appleby, 2008). In our program we are firm believers in advising which leads to teaching our international students to navigate the academic world of U.S. universities. At first they take our blended orientation class and meet individually with an advisor, who often becomes the safe place they return to when they feel lost or homesick. While the student learns to navigate this new academic and social world with the help of the advisor, the advisor also learns from the strengths of the culture and the individuality of each student, helping us to customize the way in which we help each student.
The ethical principles of advising are one of the most important lenses through which we view our work. We try to make sure that a student’s well-being and learning is the focus of our advising sessions and to treat all advisees equitably. This is sometimes hard, especially if the student is angry. As we teach international students to be independent thinkers, we also advocate for them when necessary, while at the same time abiding by the principles and policies of Kansas State University. As the leader of the advising group, I believe it is my responsibility to preserve the credibility of the Advising Program in the ELP. As advisors we are also very conscious that students often share information about colleagues to which others in the program are not privy. We always try to be non-judgmental and give our colleagues the professional courtesy and respect they deserve (Lowenstein, 2008).
The final ideological foundation of academic advising that shapes our Advising Program is that continuous professional development is essential to student success. As Brown (2008) states, “comprehensive advisor development should be an intentional, ongoing process that supports advisors in the acquisition of the perspectives and tools needed to expand their understanding, knowledge, and skills to enhance student learning, engagement, and success.” Continuous training and improvement is a basic ingredient in the ELP advisory group. The first semester for an advisor is spent in intense informal training with me and with other advisors. I meet with the advisor-in-training every week and discuss ways to establish relationships with each of the students they advise. I also discuss with them the unique role they play in the program, and in being an advisor and a teacher. We stress the importance of FERPA and how they need to be aware of the boundaries they have as an advisor, and about what they can and cannot share with other instructors. I also make them aware of all the student resources on campus and how we can help them access those resources. In addition, we use webinars, workshops, and seminars as professional development opportunities. ELP advisors are also encouraged to be SafeZone Allies. We work closely with advisors and deans in the various colleges and ask them to periodically share information about their programs. We also visit their units as a group and share information about our program. The continuous training is not limited to campus resources, but extends to local, regional, national, and international conferences.
With U.S. universities heavily recruiting all over the world, there is an urgency to meet the advising needs of international students on U.S. campuses. To sustain such a robust and holistic advising program, advisors have to go beyond selection of courses and graduation requirements. With this goal in mind, the Advising Program in the English Language program at Kansas State University continues to grow and improve through self- analysis and continuous training.
English Language Program
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Kansas State University
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Cite this article using APA style as: Chakrabarti, L. (2013, December). Reflecting on academic advising in the english language program at Kansas State Universtiy. Academic Advising Today, 36(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]