The CTA's Advising Academy offers a yearlong program designed to help faculty understand their roles, develop their skills, and acquire the knowledge necessary for their work as academic advisors. While academic advising is often seen as a largely administrative task, good advising is much more than that. In fact, it is very similar to teaching, with learning outcomes that are very similar to those we aspire to in our classes. The goal of the Advising Academy is to help faculty draw on the knowledge and skills they have as teachers, to build their confidence and abilities as academic advisors.
Specifically, the Advising Academy helps participants meet specific goals in three different areas:
- Content (What should advisors know?)
- Skills (What should advisors be able to do?)
- Dispositions (What attitudes and characteristics should advisors demonstrate?)
While the content aspect of advising—the details of graduation requirements, university and school policies and procedures, and so on—is often seen as the most daunting challenge, good advising is much more than simply dispensing information and checking that students are enrolled in the right classes. Indeed, determining what the "right" classes would be for any given student requires an understanding of that student's life goals, vocational goals, choice of major, academic strengths and weaknesses, and competing time demands, all of which are likely to change to some degree from one advising session to the next. Clearly, it is not the advisor's responsibility to decide these things. Rather, the advisor's role is to guide the student to his or her own understanding of them, which will grow and evolve over time.
That means that good academic advising is developmental, which means it is also relational and individualized. Good advisors recognize the intellectual and emotional growth that students experience in college, and they help facilitate that growth through the advising relationship. In Gonzaga's Jesuit heritage, this reflects the idea of cura personalis—a holistic care for each person as a unique individual. Thus, the primary goal of the Advising Academy is to help advisors understand and appreciate the larger context in which good academic advising occurs:
Academic advisors should:
- Understand the intellectual, social, and emotional development that students are likely to undergo while they are at Gonzaga, and appreciate the individualistic nature of this development.
- Value the role that the advisor plays in supporting the University's mission, and in helping students develop the skills and attributes the University desires its students to have.
- Appreciate the need for ongoing development of their skills in advising, to address the changing nature of their advisees and University programs, and to become more aware of the resources on campus that can help them facilitate student growth and development.
Advisors who possess these attitudes and values will act in ways that support student development, recognize the diverse nature of advising opportunities, and enhance the connections between academic and non-academic experiences. Thus, good advisors should have the following skills:
Academic advisors should:
- Guide students to a better understanding of their life and career goals, and to the development of a plan for curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular activities that will help them pursue those goals.
- Help mediate conflicts or resolve dissonance between expectations and experiences as students move through their college career.
- Refer students to appropriate campus resources to support their needs.
- Interact in a way that fosters advisees' intellectual and emotional growth, including the development of self-knowledge, self-acceptance, self-reliance, effective communication, curiosity, and confidence.
In order to meet these behavioral goals, advisors must be able to provide accurate information in a timely manner that facilitates student progress toward graduation. This requires mastering the following advising content:
Academic advisors should:
- Know the academic requirements for graduation from Gonzaga, including University and school or college requirements, as well as specific requirements in the programs being pursued by their advisees.
- Know how to use resources such as Zagweb and the degree audit system to help guide students in the development of an appropriate academic plan.
- Be aware of deadlines and school and University policies relevant for a student's progress toward degree completion (e.g., course registration, add/drop/withdrawal, declaration of major, maintenance of good academic standing, application for graduation, etc.)
- Know what services are available on campus to help meet student needs, including academic issues, mental and physical health, financial aid, housing, co-curricular activities, and career planning.
These goals may seem daunting at first, but most faculty members already possess many of the attitudes and skills necessary for good academic advising, because they overlap with the attitudes and skills that make for good teachers. And as with teaching, the development of good advising skills is an ongoing process. This academy is intended to be just the beginning. We hope that by its conclusion, participants will have a much better idea of what it means to be a good academic advisor, and will have the basic knowledge and skills to be effective in that role. We also hope they will see the value in continued development as an advisor, and will take advantage of the resources offered by the Center for Teaching and Advising and other organizations to further that development.