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Helping Effectively Advise Students on Academics, Life

BU Advising Network a resource for faculty, staff

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With its numerous schools and their many opportunities, BU can be overwhelming for a student, says Anne Kim (CAS’19, SAR’19). But each of the 16,000 undergraduates on the Charles River Campus is paired with an academic advisor, and Kim credits Taryn Craig (SED’11), her Kilachand Honors College advisor, with helping her chart her academic course.

“She has helped me schedule classes for the upcoming semester, figure out my summer plans, and smoothly transition into college during the beginning of freshman year,” she says. “She has always been the best listener and one of the first people I go to whenever I have concerns. Her optimism and her guidance have helped me find my footing in this large university. She is very easy to talk to, and that is one of many qualities that makes her the best at what she does.”

Those who think good advice means Dear Abby have never matriculated. A deep dive like Craig’s into students’ needs—not just those during their college years, but those affecting career and life choices—won her and Christophor Cavalieri (COM’81), a College of Communication assistant professor of television, this year’s Boston University Undergraduate Academic Advising Awards.

The awards are given by the 43-member Advising Network, launched by the Office of the Provost in fall 2013. With advisors and advising leaders from every BU school, along with staff from other student support services, the network fosters communication about academic advising among the Charles River Campus schools and colleges. Previously, schools were siloed, with little sharing of information and best practices, says network cochair Elizabeth Loizeaux, associate provost for undergraduate affairs and a College of Arts & Sciences professor of English.

Last spring, BU’s University Council signed off on an academic advising mission statement and learning outcomes for students, explicitly valuing the kind of approaches Craig and Cavalieri bring to advising.

“Academic advising is integral to the teaching mission of the University,” reads the mission statement, “and engages students in a collaborative process to explore academic and cocurricular opportunities as part of a plan to realize academic, career, and life goals.” The learning outcomes include the ability to articulate education and program requirements, crafting a “coherent education plan,” understanding the progression to the student’s degree, and—moving beyond student years—knowing campus resources that “help reach educational, career, and life goals.”

“We’re working with the schools and colleges on figuring out how they are going to advance advising so that it can meet these pretty lofty goals,” says Loizeaux. The hope, she says, is for advisor-advisee conversations that explore questions like, “What do you want out of your education? Why do you think you want to take this course? What do you think you might want to do in five years?”

She notes that “students are evolving during this time, and they’re changing their ideas of what they want to do, who they are, what they’re interested in.”

Academic advisors can be either a faculty member or one of the University’s professional advising staff. Advising Network cochair Sean Elliott, a CAS professor of chemistry and an advisor, says network events such as monthly brown-bag lunches and an annual symposium (this year’s drew a crowd of 150) show advisors how their peers at other universities and in other BU schools interact with their advisees.

Knowing what advising resources are available at BU colleges besides an advisor’s is especially crucial at a university where Terriers often transfer between colleges, Loizeaux says.

Craig advises 150 Kilachand students, and she says that most of her “conversations with students are about finding balance among their many commitments, making thoughtful choices—not only about what’s realistically manageable, but what’s truly meaningful to them, both in the present and with an eye toward their career path. I hope their time with me provides a safe pause from their routine, where they can nurture reflection.”

Advisors offer guidance in selecting a major, registering for classes, becoming acquainted with academic policies and opportunities, like Study Abroad, undergraduate research (the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program funds faculty-mentored research by undergrads), community service (such as the Community Service Center), taking on a second major, and staying on track to graduate, among other questions.

If students are engaged in identifying what really interests them, Cavalieri says, advising “often morphs into a mentoring role, and often longitudinal relationships.” Former students sometimes “assist as advisors, mentors, and in some cases, hiring managers to current students and recent graduates. Because they benefited, they are more than willing to pay it forward.”

Loizeaux says that students should do their homework to make the most of their time with their advisor.

“Students shouldn’t think of the advisor as kind of the talking bulletin. We’ve already got a bulletin; we spend a lot of time putting it out there. So that’s a waste of time if a student just comes in and says, ‘What should I take?’ The student should come in knowing already what the requirements are and being ready for a conversation about, ‘Am I selecting the right courses to satisfy this requirement?’ ‘Should I be doing a minor?’”

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Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

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