By Anna Frate – [email protected] – Contributor
No standard procedure exists for advising at UNC Asheville, and the style among faculty varies, according to university officials.
“I really love seeing students figure out how to make the college experience work for them. It’s not always an easy job,” Karen Cole, interim director of advising and learning, said.
UNCA provides excellent training and support to faculty members, and Cole is willing to work one-on-one with staff, according to Lyndi Hewitt, assistant professor of sociology.
“Last year, I met with her maybe three times and just asked her questions. She went through one part with me and showed me how to read a DegPAR,” Hewitt said. “She has been very helpful with the non-technical items like the general orientation toward students and the level of help to offer.”
DegPAR (degree progress advising report) is an online tool that shows what courses students need to graduate, according to their major(s) and minor(s).
The success of college students depends on the quality of advising they receive, according to the research of Richard Light, a Harvard University professor.
“One approach that I’ve adopted, is once students come in, I immediately open an email message and take notes as we talk,” Hewitt said. “As soon as they leave, I send them the email so both of us have a record of what we talked about and they have a chance to review it.”
The ratio of enrolled student to faculty members is 11-to-1, according to university officials.
“Some faculty do way more advising than others, often because students have requested them, so that can create some inequality,” Hewitt said.
Students can get their general advising questions answered by peers through a new program on campus called Peer Advisors in the Halls, according to Cole.
“Students should keep an eye out for information about who these advisers are and when and where to find them,” she said.
According to Cole, struggling students often achieve good academic standing through the support of faculty, advisers, OneStop staff, student affairs staff and the many tutoring facilities on campus.
“The UNC Asheville experience is unique in the fact that you have that support system. At least 50 percent of the reason why I’m here is because of that close contact that you have with professors,” Colette Heiser, a political science student, said. “It’s completely changed my college experience in a way that has made challenges seem like something I can overcome.”
Advisers at UNCA use tools like DegPAR, graduation checklists and the university catalog to help guide students, according to Cole.
“I like DegPAR because I think it allows students to see clearly what their requirements are, but I think it’s a bit clunky and difficult to read,” Cole said.
DegPAR provides useful information when figuring out requirements for university majors, according to Heiser.
“Students who really pay attention and run the DegPAR, read the DegPAR, do just fine. The ones who seem to have difficulty, when I probe further, it seems that they haven’t actually made much of an effort,” Hewitt said.
Students set themselves up for success by intentionally keeping up with assignments and striving for favorable outcomes, according to Cole.
“I help them figure out what courses to take, work out scheduling conflicts, add and drop classes and so forth. I write letters of recommendation, serve as a job reference and discuss plans for graduate study with students,” Cole said. “The area that is of most interest to me right now, though, is helping students learn to self-regulate – that is, to avoid procrastination, to hold themselves accountable and to overcome the very human tendency to avoid things they don’t want to do or things that make them uncomfortable.”
Students seek advice from faculty, regardless of whether they have been assigned to them as an advisee, according to Hewitt.
“If I ever have any professional questions, I will go to my adviser, but I find that I frequently visit other professors’ offices that I’ve built relationships with during my time at UNCA. I feel like since they know me maybe a little more personally, their advice is always on-point,” Heiser said.
The level of support students need varies. A professor must discern the effects of specific obstacles in students’ lives, according to Hewitt.
“The line between providing excellent support and coddling is a very difficult one to figure out,” Hewitt said. “I really think we have to take it on a case-by-case basis, try and recognize in holistic fashion what that student needs.”
Students often ask faculty to allow them to make up exams or for an extension on assignments. According to Hewitt, whether or not they are granted depends on the circumstance.
“The obvious circumstances would be the death of close friend or family member, legitimate health problems or on occasion a student comes to me and just falls apart emotionally,” Hewitt said. “When I don’t hear from students and they don’t communicate with me, then I’m less likely to honor those kinds of requests.”
Duties of professors go beyond academic support, according to Hewitt.
“Each little decision a student makes, like whether or not to go to class, and whether to start a paper more than a few hours before it’s due, contributes to the overall picture of their academic success,” Cole said. “Students need to get really honest with themselves about what they want, and about what they are and aren’t doing to meet their goals.”