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Voices of the Global Community

Tamra Ortgies Young and Cynthia A. Walker, Georgia Perimeter College 

Editor’s Note: This article was developed from a presentation Cynthia and Tamra gave at the NACADA Spring 2008 Region IV Conference in Mobile, Alabama.

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Georgia Perimeter College (GPC) is a two-year unit of the University System of Georgia. GPC serves 23,000 students through four traditional campuses, a site campus, and a new on-line campus in the metropolitan Atlanta area. While most GPC programs have been designed to transfer students seamlessly to the state’s four-year public institutions, GPC also has a number of top notch career programs in several fields including nursing and dental hygiene. The geographic spread between GPC campuses is as wide as 60 miles in the tough Atlanta transportation environment.

Direct intervention to increase the rates of graduation, retention and transfer within the University System of Georgia Institutions has been mandated by the system’s Board of Regents. In addition, advisor training programs have been required. How then should GPC offer uniform and effective advising services to all students in such varied locations?

The GPC institutional response to this dilemma was to design a Cohort Advising Program where all full-time faculty members are required to advise students in the first-time, full-time entering freshman cohort. The program included a user-friendly student information system interface called eSAMs and a Web-based database that can take data from ten different screens and place it in a single page, user-friendly, format for faculty use while interacting with advisees.

Why Faculty Advisors? GPC has been responding to data that shows that faculty interaction with students can have a positive impact on their graduation, retention, and transfer rates. Students bond with faculty during the 16-week semester. Efforts are made to assign advisees to a faculty member teaching one of their fall term classes.

In January 2007, the Master Faculty Advisor Program was implemented. Each campus, depending on size, was assigned one to three Master Faculty Advisors to develop training programs including a Web site. These Master Faculty Advisors provide campus and college-wide leadership on advising issues. The advantages of the Master Faculty Advisors Program include local campus access to training and troubleshooting, a more favorable response from faculty as they are trained and assisted by peers with similar class loads and responsibilities, and the opportunity for Master Advisors to lead and serve the college on a number of college-wide committees.

How has this new venture fared? With change always comes conflict as people with varying visions compete for leaders’ attention for their agendas. At times, particularly in the first phase, the Master Faculty Advisors spent an inordinate amount of time conducting eSAMS and other technology workshops. There were also times when it seemed the Master Advisors represented the administration in the eyes of faculty not comfortable with change. Slowly, because the Master Faculty Advisors have assisted their peers and moved the training vehicle forward, more faculty are embracing the idea that faculty advising is here to stay.

Challenges to program start-up were of the expected nature. Some faculty did not actively advise before the new program and did not accept advising as part of their job responsibilities. These faculty were still focused on a time when faculty advising was neither required nor rewarded. In addition, the mandate for faculty participation came before the training mechanisms were fully developed. Some faculty wanted to advise but felt that their skill levels were such that it might lead to mistakes that would cause harm to student outcomes. Other faculty members did not feel comfortable advising outside their own disciplines. These issues have been largely addressed with workshops, Web resources, and quick reference guides. A comprehensive training program was implemented in fall 2008 to help build the confidence and competency level of faculty engaged in advising activities critical to the college’s mission to promote student success.

Training modules have emphasized:

  • helping faculty learn how to connect with their advisees as mentors,
  • learning how to make effective referrals to internal student services,
  • teaching faculty institutional policies and procedures,
  • helping students successfully navigate institutional bureaucracy, and
  • teaching skills that will help students be successful in college, e.g., time management and effective study skills.

Overall, the message has been that advising and teaching go hand-in-hand. Since teaching is faculty’s primary focus, it is appropriate to approach this new responsibility in a language that speaks to faculty culture. Advising is Teaching!

Institutional support has been evident in program funding and the inclusion of Master Faculty Advisors in leadership decisions on advising issues and training program design. The Master Advisors have built traditional classroom workshops and Web-based training applications as well as quick reference desktop training resources to serve GPC ’s diverse workforce. This three-tiered advisor training vehicle was launched fall 2008 with great excitement about the varied modes of content delivery as well as the enhanced reinforcements in message and methodology for effective advising.

Most importantly, GPC ’s leadership has made a major commitment to student success on all campuses and in all classroom formats, no matter how geographic distances challenge this notion. Vincent Tinto, the nationally respected authority on student retention, argues that access without proper support is not opportunity. At GPC, we are determined to provide access AND opportunity with all the support we can muster! The Master Faculty Advisors at GPC will continue to be on the frontlines to deliver support to our hard-working faculty advisors in their efforts to build success for all our students and thereby better serve our community.

We look forward to your comments and inquiries.

Cynthia A. Walker
Assistant Professor, ESL & Foreign Language Department
Master Faculty Advisor
Georgia Perimeter College
Dunwoody Campus
cynthia.walker@gpc.edu

Tamra Ortgies Young
Instructor, Social Science Department
Master Faculty Advisor
Georgia Perimeter College
Dunwoody Campus
tamra.ortgies-young@gpc.edu

Cite this article using APA style as: Ortgies Young, T., & Walker, C.A. (2008, December). True adventures of a master faculty advisor. Academic Advising Today, 31(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]

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