Student communities aim to simplify advising process

Jessica Thompson

Choosing a major is hard enough, and getting bounced around the University from adviser to adviser only adds to the confusion.
The College of Liberal Arts has changed its advising program this fall to reduce commotion in new students’ lives. New-student advising communities within CLA are intended to aid University students during the most hectic time of the school year.
The communities, which are organized around groups of related majors, mark a fundamental change in advising, says CLA Dean Steve Rosenstone. He said flaws in the college’s old system provoked an analysis that led to the change.
“The basic idea of the old system worked well enough, but we asked advisers if there was anything we could do to make it more powerful,” Rosenstone said.
Prior to this fall, the advising program was too centralized — each student was assigned to a single adviser — so a more community-based approach was ushered in, said Duane Smith, an academic adviser with the Languages and Math Community.
The College of Liberal Arts is presently divided into seven new student communities: Languages and Math; Arts; Communications and Media; Natural Sciences; Psychological Sciences; Social Sciences; and Society and Culture. Additionally, the CLA Honors and Martin Luther King, Jr. communities remain intact.
In the past, students were assigned to both a pre-major and a major adviser. Rosenstone said coordinators wanted to avoid unneeded transferring and displacement of students.
“With the old system, students would establish a relationship with their adviser, then would be bounced to a different adviser. We want to reduce the number of stops a student has to make,” he said.
With continuity being a main goal of the new communities, the system dropped all upper- and lower-division distinctions, said Ruben Bellorin, CLA director of advising.
“Students will stay with the same advisers from entrance to graduation,” he said.
Every student community consists of an advising team which includes academic, peer, major and career advisors, as well as other students sharing the same academic interest.
Incoming freshmen were assigned to communities based on interest questionnaires filled out prior to orientation. The placements are not permanent. Students can still change their major or community at any time, Smith said.
Thao Huynh, a University freshman who was assigned to the Martin Luther King, Jr. community, said she thinks the questionnaires were effective. “I felt that they really put me in the right place,” Huynh said.
“The counselors laid everything out pretty well for me, and they did a good job of welcoming me. I know what I’m doing now,” said Huynh, who is leaning toward becoming a lawyer.
Other students are not as enthusiastic about the changes.
“It’s a real pain when you go to your counseling office, and they tell you it’s moved,” said sociology senior Dan Genrich. “It’s not that big of a hassle, but it’s typical of University runaround.”
Bellorin and other advisers are trying to change the attitudes of students who agree with Genrich.
“One of the goals of the new communities is to be more proactive with helping students,” Bellorin said.
The proactive approach includes routing students toward the honors program and keeping in close contact with transfer students and those on academic probation to ensure graduation, Smith said.
In addition to altering the way advising is handled, the new communities provide increased connections between academic and career advising.
The primary goal of the new system is to provide a more welcoming environment for students.
“We want students to be part of a community. They will be joining a neighborhood and will be part of something that is a more personal experience,” Rosenstone said.
“The new system was designed to benefit students, and so far, we have had positive feedback,” Bellorin said. “We have not seen the commotion we thought we might.”

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