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August 24, 2001
Volume 39, No. 1


Academic advising: Students' first mentors
Faculty Senate president discusses plans, concerns for coming year
Doing lunch: President Coleman hits the road and talks with Iowans
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Ph.D. Thesis Defenses
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Academic advising: Students' first mentors

Illustration by Claudia McGehee.

They arrive with appointments, they wander in unannounced, they phone, they send e-mail. They come looking for drop and add slips, for information on course prerequisites, and for help with study habits.

“They” are the students who seek the services of the staff of the Academic Advising Center. And after the brief respite following summer orientation sessions, the center’s staff is gearing up for the 18,000 to 20,000 student visits they receive in a typical fall semester.

But instead of steeling themselves against the onslaught, they’re looking forward to it.

Getting off on the right foot

“The first six weeks are critical for students,” says Pat Folsom, director of the center. “In the literature on retaining students, that’s the time period that makes the biggest difference. We want to have contact.”

And contact they get. The Academic Advising Center is responsible for meeting with almost all first-year students entering the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. That means that the 30 advisers, aided by four directors and four support staff members, oversee the academic progress of approximately 8,000 students a year.

New students—first-year and transfer students—first meet with their adviser during summer orientation sessions. Within the first three weeks of classes, they are invited to a small group session with their adviser, and then meet with the adviser one-on-one between late September and early November.

“That’s when the meat of the advising and academic planning is done,” Folsom says. “We talk with them about how they’re doing academically, socially, how they’re getting along with their roommates. And we help them look ahead to see how to fit in course work they may need or want to take.”

Midterm grades are sent to advisers, who contact students who are struggling academically. (They also send notes of congratulations to students who are succeeding.) And finally, all students must visit with their advisers in order to register for classes for second semester.

“That’s one of the things that sets Iowa apart,” says Folsom, who has been at the Academic Advising Center since 1981. “We have mandatory advising.”

Making the adjustment

That advising, and the one-on-one contact it provides, make the student experience at Iowa a more personal one, Folsom says. Parents appreciate it too.

“Parents like knowing that their student is assigned to someone who cares,” says Brian Corkery, who is in his sixth year of advising for the center. “They appreciate knowing that their student has the name and number of someone they can call for help.”


That help often encompasses more than providing academic counsel. The transition to life at a major research university means different things to different students.

“For the first-year student who’s coming from a small town, the number of students in his psychology lecture can be more than in his entire hometown,” Corkery says. “For others, say from Chicago, Iowa City can seem like a very small place. And for students coming from abroad, the entire culture can feel strange.”

Living with a roommate is another transition, says Julie Claus, an academic adviser who’s been with the center for 12 years.

“Often it’s the best friends from high school who have the hardest time being roommates,” she says. “You can almost count on hearing about an argument along about October.”

When academic advisers are faced with more serious problems, it’s their job to refer students elsewhere.

“We have a great relationship with the University Counseling Service,” Claus says, “and we assure students of confidentiality and let them know the name of someone who will help them there.”

Partners for the long run

Most students continue to meet with their academic advisers until they’re transferred to their major department or college. But some students, including many of the pre-health majors—pre-dental, pre-medical, and pre-physical therapy, for example—continue to work with their academic advisers throughout their undergraduate career. Academic advisers know the ropes of applying to professional school, getting letters of recommendation, and preparing for entrance exams. When working with students for four years, it’s common that close relationships develop.

“You feel like you’re in the trenches together, working on a big goal,” Claus says. “I heard recently from a student who’d applied to a program twice and finally gotten in on the third try. She said, ‘You’re the second person I called, right after my mom.’ That’s very rewarding.”

While advising students is one of the most visible jobs of the Academic Advising Center, there is much that goes on behind the scenes.

Championing the student

“We advocate for students in ways that students are often not aware of,” Folsom says.

Academic advisers serve as liaisons throughout the University, meeting with departmental representatives to discuss changes in course offerings and requirements, and then share those changes with other academic advisers. They also advise departments on the ways that scheduling may affect a student’s ability to complete course work.

“For example,” Folsom says, “If courses required for pre-health sciences students are offered at conflicting times, it may not allow students to make timely progress. We would bring the course conflicts to the attention of the departments.”

Other academic advising activities include participation in Hawkeye Visit Days; IowaLink, a program for talented, but at-risk students; Courses in Common, in which about 1,1000 students enroll in groups of courses together, creating smaller, peer learning communities; the Introduction to Academics portion of summer orientation; and an academic probation intervention program. This fall the Academic Advising Center staff is offering a pilot program about transition to college life for about 140 students.

“We see ourselves as educators,” Folsom says. “We teach students to negotiate, to navigate the University system. We help them understand what the expectations are at the college level. We help them outline options and teach them about good decision-making processes. We’re a great resource for students who use us.”

Article by Linzee Kull McCray

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