David Ellis: Tailor freshman advising to interests

Everyone knows about the $275 million Science and Engineering Hall project. The massive hole at 22 and H streets is nearly impossible to miss.

But there’s a less obvious perk that engineering students already enjoy: functional academic advising.

The School of Engineering and Applied Science assigns academic advisers to students based on their declared or anticipated majors. The University should provide students in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences from day one with an adviser who is knowledgeable of the student’s specific area of interest and also aware of the departments’ academic requirements.

Academic advising is a perennial issue at GW, one administrators have repeatedly attempted to tackle by throwing money and resources at the problem. In the past few years, GW has established an online audit system to help students track their graduation requirements. And now, the University is considering cross-training academic advisers so that faculty can know more about departments and schools outside their expertise.

Yet CCAS – which houses a diverse group of majors and the largest percentage of the University’s students – assigns freshmen advisers according to last names.

While this may be the simplest way to pair students and advisers, it is not the most effective. Students would benefit from a system where each freshman is matched with an adviser who specializes in an area the student finds interesting, as is the case with engineering students.

Columbian College advisers are frequently criticized for being unaware of the major and minor requirements within different programs. Under the current system, a freshman’s adviser is often someone from a field completely unrelated to his or her academic interests.

It’s easy for anyone to get lost freshman year. But the problem is compounded by the fact that many freshmen often feel as though they don’t have an adviser who can give substantive suggestions tailored to their academic interests.

Since students would not arrive at GW enrolled in a specific school under a new admissions model described in the University’s 10-year strategic plan, it would be necessary for each student to have someone who could tailor academic advice to their interests.

This isn’t a problem in all of GW’s colleges. The GW School of Business, for example, has a limited number of majors, so the advisers can provide accurate and functional advice.

Without an adviser who is knowledgeable about students’ academic interests, it is impossible to guide freshmen effectively.

David Ellis is a sophomore majoring in finance.

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