Carmela McIntire, Florida International University
When I began as faculty advisor at Florida International University (FIU) in 1999, I knew little about advising. In those days before the advent of our now two-year-old Graduation Success Initiative, with its complement of professional advisors, I received no training. My predecessor simply explained that I would be helping students find the courses needed to complete the B.A. in English. For help with matters beyond department purview, I could call on Fred, the indispensable assistant dean of advising in our college. Regulations abounded, unknown to me previously as a faculty member; I consulted Fred a lot! I had much to learn, informally and on the fly.
In addition to mastering policies and procedures, I came to realize, as I had not before, that advising is a form of teaching, that I could draw on my decades in the classroom. In all teaching, we need to find out where learning should begin; now I was learning about the students in a different context. Listening actively, I discovered that students want and need to talk about themselves: where they were going, where they would fit–in the university, in careers, in the world.
Our first-generation-in-college students (I was one myself) often don’t know specifically what to ask, but they know they need guidance. How could we help them figure out the questions, to know themselves and their abilities as they grow into the larger community even as they remain deeply rooted in family and home culture? I listened a lot. I brought my teaching experience to bear as I reviewed their grades and academic progress: where were the high grades? When and how did individual students learn best? Which classes might best remedy their weaknesses and maximize their strengths? One-on-one conversations focused on their coursework, certainly, but also on what they could learn about themselves as learners, and how that might inform their knowledge about their strengths and challenges, their career aspirations, and their definitions of academic and post-graduation goals.
FIU, growing steadily toward its current enrollment of 50,000 students, often seems overwhelming, impersonal; the road to degree completion is not always clearly marked. Surely that prompted a student to tell me years ago that FIU stands for “Finishing Is Unlikely.” Meeting with students, then, meant helping them to navigate the university, referring them to the appropriate campus resources–Counseling and Psychological Services, the Disability Resource Center, our various learning centers–as well as negotiating bureaucratic tangles. I learned also to work with the growing staff of advisors in our college and in undergraduate education to stay current regardingt all the tools and services available both to advisors and to students.
Careful listening led me to see that I could not passively await students coming into the office. I worked to foster a departmental culture of advising, raising faculty as well as student awareness of its importance, reaching out as much as possible: asking faculty to announce in classes the necessity of advising during enrollment periods each semester; sending out important reminders of dates and deadlines via our undergraduate listserv and, more recently, Facebook pages; contacting our majors through the students of Sigma Tau Delta, the English Honor Society. I also developed “Advising Events,” which were offered two or three times each semester.
Begun almost five years ago, Advising Events feature guests from the English Department, the university, and from various professions as a way to inform students, informally, about academic and career possibilities. The recurring question, “If I don’t want to teach, what can I do with my degree?” has prompted the invitation of speakers from Career Services, the Center for Leadership and Service, the College of Law, and department alumni from law, teaching, public relations and advertising, business, and publishing. Panels of assistant professors have spoken candidly about the realities of earning doctorates in English and finding employment. Advising Events have also addressed the specific needs of transfer students as they make the transition to FIU, usually from local two-year institutions. I wrote materials now distributed to those students on their own campuses, advising on how best to prepare for the English major, emphasizing, as always, the need for regular meetings with advisors.
In a project initiated last spring, our department Digital Writing Studio (student interns working with a faculty director) has begun creating a series of video presentations designed to address advising issues. The first video features interviews with now-successful students who transferred to FIU, sharing with their successors on how best to make the transition. We know that student voices are powerful adjuncts to advisors’ counsel. Currently in progress: advice on how to succeed in courses offered online, from both faculty and students.
In spring 2012, just as FIU was beginning its Graduation Success Initiative, preparing to hire full-time professional advisors, the university offered me the opportunity to attend the 2012 NACADA Region IV Conference on the FIU campus. It was exhilarating to enter a vibrant, intellectually engaged community whose commitment to students was the heart, soul, and brain of the enterprise. And while I have met–and now work with and learn from–professional advisors whose deep expertise is essential as we help our students toward graduation, I am grateful to see that my own work and experience as a long-time faculty member, one who teaches and advises, is highly valued by the NACADA community.
Department of English
Florida International University.
Cite this article using APA style as: McIntire, C. (2014, September). A faculty advisor’s journey. Academic Advising Today, 37(3). Retrieved from [insert url here].