Tucked away in an office on the first floor of the Academic Center, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences adviser Michael Gabriel says he is ready to help students find a major, fill out law school applications or any task his six appointments of the day may require.
But last Monday, four of the six students that made appointments with Gabriel did not show up – a pattern he said is common in the Columbian advising office.
“We have the capacity to see an amazing amount of students every year – much more than come in to see us,” Gabriel said.
While Columbian College students often complain that college’s advising resources are inadequate, the professional advisers charged with working with students say the office is underused.
And it is not just appointments that go unattended – Aliya Bhimani, an academic adviser, said that an event organized for transfer students held last Wednesday drew only eight attendees.
“It’s funny when you hear from students that ‘we don’t get this or we don’t get that,’ ‘why don’t you do something,’ and when we do something, they don’t show up or they don’t show that they are doing their part,” she said. “I think it’s a two-way street.”
As the office prepares to double its professional advising staff, CCAS Director of Advising Landon Wade said the nine new faculty members and $500,000 the University committed to Columbian College advising could help advisers reach those students who do not come into the office.
“These nine people will give us the opportunity to figure out what we want to do and when the Degree Audit System comes up, we will be able to do even more,” Wade said. “Maybe one of these people will be the marketing person. The more people you have, the more stuff you can do.”
Gabriel said the office makes an effort to reach out to students by sending e-mails before events and advertising its office hours.
“We can only do so much. We send out e-mails to [our e-mail list] of when things are coming up. We try and be really proactive, but students need to be proactive, too. They need to come in and see us,” he said.
But the e-mails CCAS sends may not be enough. One sophomore interviewed said her experience with advising has been confusing and she had no idea the college had professional advisers.
“I never knew that there were professional advisers, I just thought that was where you turn in paperwork,” Brenna Markle, a dramatic literature major, said. “I didn’t know that people actually talk to you there. That would have been helpful to me.”
In addition to each adviser’s open office hours and 25 appointments each week with students, they are also responsible for evaluations of all seniors, balance sheets for juniors and other paperwork, much of which is done by hand.
“We do more paperwork than we should,” Gabriel said. “I would say a quarter to a half of our time is spent just doing administrative paperwork.”
Other advisers agreed that paperwork keeps them from spending as much time as possible with students.
“Hopefully with new staff, these responsibilities will be more spread out so that we can do all of these things better, so that we can actually devote more time to them, so we are not splitting our energy 10 different ways,” adviser Jeremy Baker said.
Junior Alex Reustle, a physics major in CCAS, said he has heard many complaints about the undergraduate advising system, but believes students don’t understand the role of an adviser.
“I don’t know the extent to which complaints are actually an issue of incompetent advisers,” Reustle said. “I think that some people expect advisers to hold their hand too much, if students go in to an advising session with very little plans, the adviser doesn’t have any idea how to help them.”
Baker said advisers constantly struggle with students who come into a session with unrealistic expectations.
“We want to give you the tools to be successful, but we can’t do it for you,” Baker said. “I don’t feel like our role is to hold your hand. We’re supposed to help you find your answers – not give you the answer.”
Despite negative student perceptions of the advising system, Gabriel said he and his colleagues work hard to ensure students have the best possible experience.
“There are students who are literally alive because of this office; they came in crashing and burning and we pulled them out,” Gabriel said. “I think the more opportunities we have for one-on-one, face-to-face advising, the better it is for students.”