Academic advisers guide first-years


Photo credit: Nadia Crawford

photo by Nadia Crawford

The 2020 academic year has brought forth an onslaught of change, and the academic advising system is no exception. This year’s incoming first-years are the first class to have been provided with professional academic advisers, with whom they discuss class schedules and explore fields of study virtually.

Historically, incoming first-years have been advised by faculty advisers who specialized in the students’ academic field of interest.

According to Soliel Gaffner, academic adviser and class of ’19 alum, advisers help students by providing guidance as students schedule classes and explore majors.

“Professional academic advisers are here to guide students in their academic journey. Everything from helping them have the right track for any particular major they might be curious about. We don’t want them to declare a major right off the bat by any means; Trinity has definitely not wanted students to jump in without flexibility. We really do value helping students intentionally explore using Pathways. So what we are here to do is to help students ensure that their classes are going where they need to go, and if they have any questions about transfer credits, summer classes, we will be here to provide all the answers for that. Just helping students along their academic journey, being one more resource for them, so they don’t need to question who they need to go to,” said Gaffner.

The change in the advising model occurred in response to recommendations made by the Graduation and Retention Task Force assembled by Danny Anderson, university president, early last year.

“In January of 2019, a consultant from Ruffalo Noel Levitz was brought onto campus by Dr. Anderson to assess Trinity. In reviewing data from the last 10 years, the consultant provided a comprehensive review and report about what Trinity was doing well on and what we could modify so as to best meet the needs of our students. As a result of this report, a Retention and Graduation Task Force was created, and the result of this task force were several initiatives which manifested, including a shift from a Faculty Advising Model to a Total Intake Advising Model (where academic advisers work with first-year students through to major declaration and then subsequently assigned to a faculty adviser in their area). Our goal is to provide students with comprehensive holistic and developmental advising. The new advisers work with first-year students (starting this fall 2020) and future first-year student cohorts,” wrote Lapétra Bowman, advising coordinator, in an email interview.

Juan Contreras, first-year and intended business analytics and technology major, explained that first-years registered for their classes virtually over the summer.

“It was really easy because we had our admissions adviser, and she walked us through everything. We had a really long meeting with her, and she walked us through the whole process on Zoom. She gave us all the resources to know which classes to take, so it was really easy to register because we knew everything. It was more of just waking up and going through the process of what we already went through,” said Contreras.

Through meetings with his adviser, Contreras was able to choose classes and further explore the path towards a business analytics and technology major.

“My academic adviser is Jennifer Reese, and so far, it has been amazing to have her as my adviser. We have had two Zoom calls so far, and in the first call, she was like, ‘What do you plan on majoring in? What are you interested in?’ and once I told her she gave me an Excel sheet [and said] ‘Here’s a list for you to put classes you think you are going to do based on the requirements you need,'” said Contreras. “After I told her what I was interested in as a career, she said ‘I think you should do the Business Analytics and Technology major,’ and she had a whole Excel sheet that told me what classes I need to take for the major, the latest and earliest years I could take them [and] what grades I needed to get in them, so it was very easy to know what classes I should take.”

Advisers are assigned to roughly one-third of the first-year class and are trained in all fields and majors.

“Each adviser has a caseload of 205-220 students, which in the advising world is a highly desirable and sought after caseload. Each adviser is a generalist and knows about all majors, but they also specialize in specific majors. All advisers have also been trained as Health Professions advisers to assist all students, irrespective of major, focused or interested in Health Professions,” wrote Bowman.

Jennifer Reese, academic adviser, explained that although COVID-19 affected academic advising in some respects, most advisers were already working remotely, so changes have not been drastic.

“From what I gather, it actually hasn’t changed it much because we were going to meet with students via Zoom anyway over the summer. That’s how we were going to do it before COVID-19 even came into play, so we have just continued with that model,” said Reese.

Contreras agreed, stating that as a remote student, he has had no trouble reaching out to his adviser with questions or concerns.

“My adviser is also remote, so it’s not like I’m missing out on being able to go to office hours or seeing her in person. I think even if we were on campus, I would try to have a Zoom meeting if I had a question just to be safer. So I don’t think there has been a big difference between me being off and on-campus just because if I have a question, I could just email her,” explained Contreras.

Sinclair Ceasar III, academic adviser, explained that the advising team works hard to ensure that students feel heard and welcome, especially given the circumstances of this semester.

“I think [COVID-19] has taught all of us, in general, to be patient, and to seek first to understand because we don’t know where students are coming from. There are so many assumptions we can make, as simple as a student having their camera off. We don’t know where they are calling in from. By doing that, we always want to create an environment where students feel like they can show up as their truest self,” said Ceasar.