Sky Singer: New CCAS advising system is too impersonal

Stepping onto campus for the first time last fall, I was a nervous, scared-out-of-my-mind freshman. I knew where I lived, who my roommates were and for which classes I was registered. But beyond that, I was a fish out of water.

I stumbled through my first few weeks of college just trying to learn the ropes and get into a routine. More broadly, I knew that college was a completely different ball game compared to high school. The more I interacted with the people around me and the more I learned about GW, the more I felt overwhelmed by the idea of the next few years.

My sister urged me repeatedly over the phone that I should go speak to my academic adviser. She joked that her academic adviser had been her best friend throughout her time in college. So I went to my adviser, and I kept going back.

When I arrived back on campus for my second year, I was shocked and disappointed to learn about the new Columbian College of Arts and Sciences advising system. Instead of being assigned to an adviser, students are placed within one of three Places of Discovery, or PODs, depending on the students’ last names. Each POD is comprised of five advisers, and you are set up with an adviser depending on what the theme of your meeting is – from switching to a different school or setting up the next semester’s classes.

During my freshman year, my adviser was my saving grace. But this year’s incoming freshmen, along with anyone else who uses the CCAS advising system, won’t have the same continuity that I enjoyed last year. And that’s a shame. In such a large academic community, new students need to get to know and develop a relationship with one adviser, which the new CCAS advising system does not allow.

My freshman year, I saw the same adviser frequently, emailing her when I had questions and setting up appointments when I wanted to talk more in depth. We planned out my second semester classes and we spoke about my plans for the remainder of my time at GW. When I spoke of wanting to study abroad, she answered some questions and told me about how I should structure my semesters to allow me to do so. When I needed help deciding between two majors, she helped me sort through my apprehensions and suggested minoring in one.

Michelle Steiner, the director of undergraduate advising, said in an email that POD advisers work closely together so that they can all keep up with each student’s needs. Advisers in each POD take notes during meetings with students, meet as a group weekly and share a POD email account, Steiner said.

Despite all the work POD advisers do to keep in touch, the advising process still feels less personal. When I set up an appointment at the beginning of this academic year to talk about switching majors, I met with a new adviser. When I set up my appointment, I was not told who this adviser would be. I simply showed up and was brought into her office.

Right before I left, she opened an online document and jotted down some notes. She explained to me that this way, the next adviser I met with could open up this document and know more about me and why I had previously come into the office. This document does not replace the feeling of stability and support I felt I received from my one adviser last year.

Now, along with every other CCAS student, I sit in the office waiting to see who I will be assigned to and introducing myself to that new person.

“We will have evaluation and assessment measures in place such that we can better understand how our model is working for students overall, and whether students are learning what we want them to learn from interacting with our office in a new way,” Steiner said, adding that any change in an office needs to be assessed semester to semester and year to year.

It’s encouraging that this model isn’t necessarily set in stone, and that students have the chance to give feedback. I also recognize that the CCAS advising office has our best interests at heart: It is a bit easier to find advisers to meet with because of communal office hours. Some students might find group advising and workshops helpful as well. But for students hoping to establish a reliable relationship with one adviser for their time at GW, the POD system simply does not work.

On the way out of my appointment last week, I passed by my old adviser’s door. Immediately, I missed the familiarity and comfort of knowing exactly who my adviser was and that she knew who I was.

As a student trying to navigate the volatile and stressful world of college, consistent sources of support are always greatly appreciated. While CCAS restructured to make the advising system more efficient and specialized, I think the emotional support an adviser provides is equally important.

Sky Singer, a sophomore, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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