James W. Vick, 1992 NACADA Pacesetter Award Recipient
I had just settled into my chair at 8:30 on Wednesday morning, my hands cupping a mug of hot coffee, when Mike appeared at the door. It was a surprise to see him, mainly because in his previous advising sessions his highest criterion in course selection seemed to be that no class should begin before 10:00 or 11:00 a.m. Mike quickly expressed the basis for his behavioral shift and his concern regarding the future: He had come to the realization that both his biology major and his pre-med designation needed to change.
Now immersed in genetics and organic chemistry, his performance and his interest were both at a low ebb. In contrast, the economics course he was taking to meet a social science requirement had captured his imagination. He actually found himself reading unrequired material and seeking conversations with faculty on critical national issues. He clearly wanted to talk about these changes and their implications and to seek reassurance as he turned away from a direction he has followed since early childhood.
Twenty minutes later, as Mike left, he greeted Selina, a student who had just transferred from a community college across the state. She had stayed close to home for the first three semesters, but from the beginning her goal had been a pharmacy degree on our campus. She had carefully monitored our equivalent of each course she had taken, and she had measured each against the requirements for admission to pharmacy school, but we needed to plan the next steps as well as review the path to a biochemistry degree in case her application was not successful. Her optimism was strong, even as she planned an alternative she hoped would never be necessary.
Soon after Selina departed, an old familiar student appeared. Caroline was planning her senior year as a math major. She had completed all of the required courses but needed four upper-division math classes over the next year to complete her B.S. Her grades were solid, in fact they were good enough to encourage her interest in graduate school. So the key question became: how should she select her last four courses to maximize her preparation for further study? The answers depended on her possible schools and her proposed field or fields of concentration.
These three visitors exemplify some of the critical roles an adviser plays in the lives of students. For those like Mike who are struggling with developmental issues, an adviser provides support and guidance, freedom to explore accompanied by a strong dose of reality, an encouraging and sympathetic ear when positive steps are taken, and a source for referrals to offices on campus that can help meet needs that arise.
Selina on the other hand knew exactly where she was going, but still needed insight into courses along her path and the alternatives should her primary goal be unrealized. By structuring her plan carefully, she could minimize the delay in reaching a secondary target if that path became necessary.
At the other end of the process, Caroline needed guidance that could only be provided by a specialist in her field, one or more faculty members who could explore her interests in advanced study, discuss possible graduate programs, and help her select the best courses for the next level. Sometimes it is difficult, especially with a student you know and like, to realize the time has come to pass her on to others who are better able to meet her needs.
For each of these three visitors the adviser plays a critical role. It is much more than course selection and graduation requirements. The relationship with Mike, Selina, and Caroline and many others like them can become a key ingredient in their undergraduate experience, and the success of the relationship depends on a full range of talents.
In truth, Mike, Selina, and Caroline are drawn from advising experiences I have had over the years. While they may be literally fictional, I have seen such students, and so have you. They are a daily reminder of the challenges and rewards of our profession.
University of Texas
Editor's Note:James W. Vick was NACADA's first Pacesetter Award winner. He is former Associate Dean in the College of Natural Sciences, a Math professor, and is currently Vice-President for Student Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin.
Cite this article using APA style as: Vick, J. (2005, June). Three visitors. Academic Advising Today, 28(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]