Guiding Colonials

Enhancements to Columbian College’s advising system will provide students with more support for 2010-11 academic year.

August 09, 2010

When incoming students begin their academic journey in GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, they have more than 40 departments and programs to choose from. But where do they begin?

That’s just one of the jobs of Columbian College’s advisers, who are available to help new Colonials navigate their years at GW.

“Since there are so many majors and minors in Columbian College, students, particularly incoming students are sometimes overwhelmed,” says Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies Paul Duff. “An adviser can help a student think about his or her interests and academic strengths.”

Recent enhancements to Columbian College’s advising system include a doubling of the number of undergraduate professional advisers to 18, and the addition of advisers specifically for post-baccalaureate education, including internships and nonprofit programs, allied health—which includes the fields of dentistry, veterinary medicine, physical therapy and nursing—and a graduate school adviser for disciplines outside of health and law.

All incoming freshman and transfer students will be assigned a professional adviser. At the end of their sophomore year, students will be assigned to a faculty adviser in their major but will retain the same professional adviser until they graduate.

Advisers will be located in Columbian College’s Undergraduate Advising Office in Phillips Hall and will be available five days a week during business hours and by appointment. There will also be extended advising hours and “express advising” for students who want to stop by for quick questions.

Dr. Duff says the increase in advising staff and hours will ensure students receive “timely and accurate information.” The post-baccalaureate education advisers were hired to build upon the past success of Columbian College’s pre-med and pre-law advisers.

“We thought it would be helpful to have an adviser with expertise in these areas to help students explore their options,” says Dr. Duff.

Landon Wade, director of Columbian College’s academic advising program, says staff is constantly evaluating the college’s advising system and making improvements annually. One of the biggest changes— providing both a professional and faculty adviser to students— is a model that has found success at other universities, and Mr. Wade feels it will help students take advantage of the university’s resources.

“An adviser is a case manager, someone who understands the entire system and helps make sure the student graduates, but also can refer them to the right place,” says Mr. Wade. “Part of change from faculty to professional is that faculty also has other responsibilities such as teaching and research. A full-time adviser with a dedicated case load means the attention is focused solely on students.”

“We think it’s very important for students to have a relationship with faculty, and we hope to continue involving them. The fact that we are switching to an all-adviser model is not a reflection on the faculty; it’s a model that’s worked very effectively at other places,” says Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Studies Katherine Keller. “It’s a change in the model that we hope is better suited to the kind of advising our students need.”

All academic advisers go through a rigorous training process and meet with various divisions and programs around campus to learn about the university’s resources.

“Katherine Keller and I have been very impressed with the quality of the new advisers,” says Dr. Duff. “They are experienced, accomplished and also very interesting. As a group, they bring a great range of new expertise to the advising office.”

Sarah Adler is one of the newest advisers to join GW. A former adviser at Lasell College in Newton, Mass., Ms. Adler will meet with undergraduates as well as advise and organize events for transfer students.

“Advising is crucial at GW because the curriculum is complex and there are exceptions that most students are probably unaware of,” says Ms. Adler. “Checking in with one’s adviser ensures that the student is on the right track and hasn’t missed any essential requirements along the way. Advisers can also provide an important connection between students and the administration, making students feel more involved and invested in the academic community at GW.”

Academic adviser Matthew Skirven, who joined GW from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, says academic advising is a way to connect with students as they make their way through the university.

“Having the opportunity to meet with students one on one, and talk them through various issues—whether an intricate policy or a basic major question—is a passion of mine,” he says. “If, at the end of the advising session, a student feels like they have more clarity on what they’re doing, then I feel satisfied and fulfilled.”

The enhancements to Columbian College advising were made possible with funds provided by the university’s Innovation Task Force.

“This initiative is designed to ‘enhance student academic experience,’ which is one of the four major areas of GW's academic programs and activities in which the Innovation Task Force funds will be invested,” says task force chair Jeff Lenn, associate vice president for academic operations. “All Innovation Task Force investments will be focused on transforming the university into a world-class higher education institution.”

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