After staff departures, students pitch peer CCAS advising

Media Credit: Jordan McDonald | Hatchet Photographer

Freshman Sen. Josh Kirmsee, CCAS-U, is working to create a peer advising network for the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. He hopes the program can act as a supplement to the school’s advising department, and specifically will help students whose advisers leave mid-semester.

Media Credit: Jordan McDonald | Hatchet Photographer
Freshman Sen. Josh Kirmsee, CCAS-U, is working to create a peer advising network for the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. He hopes the program can act as a supplement to the school’s advising department, and specifically will help students whose advisers leave mid-semester.

When Rachel Basoco’s academic adviser left GW last semester, the sophomore said she thought she’d lost her biggest advocate on campus.

She’s made appointments with three different Columbian College of Arts and Sciences advisers to try to find someone who would be a good match moving forward. Her first appointment was cancelled last week because the adviser was sick.

“It’s actually very stressful for me because I do need to discuss things very soon with someone – and I have no one it feels like,” she said.

After hearing stories like Basoco’s and that three advisers left the college last semester, two Student Association members are looking to launch a peer advising network in CCAS by next fall.

The program, meant to supplement the school’s advising office, would help students who have been left without an adviser this semester. Freshman Sen. Josh Kirmsse, CCAS-U, and sophomore Miguel Mejia, the SA’s assistant director of new students, said they hope peer advising would give students more options to learn about scheduling and the ins-and-outs of their majors.

“Our professional advisers do their job well, but because many did not attend GW, there are many questions that they cannot answer,” Kirmsse said. “Students are excited by the idea of having a more reliable and responsible source than a Facebook group or RateMyProfessor.com to ask if specific classes will work well for them.”

The two said they will meet with Michelle Steiner, the Columbian College’s director of advising, this week to start talking about their plans, which they have modeled after a similar program in the Elliott School of International Affairs.

In the Elliott School, student advisers hold office hours four days a week for students to discuss topics like four-year plans and which courses could be most interesting to them.

At Columbian, students are assigned advisers based on their last names, and there are currently three groups of students without an assigned adviser. Those students have had to seek out advice about course loads and requirements from others in the office.

“The advisers that remain have a larger workload than ever, and a peer advising system can make sure that questions and concerns don’t fall through the cracks,” Kirmsse said.

Students whose advisers left were told they could schedule appointments with other advisers in the office, and that the office added six more general advising hours per week, University spokesman Kurtis Hiatt said.

“As is the case at any organization, employees may leave to pursue other opportunities for professional or personal reasons,” he said in an email. “Due to recent staffing changes at CCAS Academic Advising, the University has hired one new adviser who is now seeing students and at least two others will also begin this semester.”

The college scrapped its weekly express advising hours last year, hoping it would give advisers more time to build ties with students. During express advising hours, students were able to meet with an adviser to discuss smaller issues that didn’t require a half-hour appointment.

The school has introduced different types of advising services in recent years, but students have consistently lobbied for more options. Reforms have been common campaign platforms since the SA planned a similar peer advising program in 2007.

In 2012, the Columbian College doubled its number of advisers in the hopes of giving students the chance to better know their assigned staffers. Officials plan to spend between $9 million and $17 million over a decade to remodel undergraduate learning, including advising, as part of the University’s strategic plan that was approved two years ago.

After sophomore Lauren Shiplett transferred to the Columbian College from the Elliott School, she learned her adviser was going on maternity leave for a semester. Instead of coming back the next semester, the adviser left the office permanently.

“I would’ve liked to know that I would be in the position I am in sooner rather than they had originally let me know,” she said. “I don’t really feel like I have someone to come to if I have a question about registration or classes and that I’m constantly at the mercy of the ‘system.’”

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