Students feel a disconnect from academic advisers


Jesse Mullen – Contributor

The distance students feel from their advisers is a common problem on campus.  Maria Petruzzelli is a public health major who transferred to Southern from The University of Bridgeport. One problem she faced: she did not know who her academic adviser was.

“A lot of people don’t know [who their adviser is], so that’s one thing that I think Southern as a community struggle with,” said Petruzzelli, who is now a transfer assistant.

Finding her adviser was not her only departmental struggle, however.

“When I transferred here two and a half years ago, I didn’t know how to do degree evaluations. I ran into issues like ‘do these credits transfer?’ — a lot of my credits didn’t transfer,” said Petruzzelli.

However, Southern is exploring a new model of advising involving academic neighborhoods.

“Neighborhoods are essentially a collection of similar majors,” said Helen Marx, Faculty Director of Undergraduate Advising. “They are designed to help students who might need more help than a typical adviser would be able to provide.”

The system is designed to get away from what Marx calls the “transactional” aspects of advising, such as students walking into advising only to get a PIN number that allows them to sign up for classes and leaving.

“[In the past] the PIN was everything,” Marx said. “But what we want is for discussions with faculty to be real discussions. ‘I’m struggling in this part of my major and I need some support.’”

Director of Academic Advising, Harry Twyman agreed.

“The model is based on the belief that the “heart” of advising lies within the academic majors and their faculty,” Twyman said. “There has to be a focus on building mentoring relationships and deepening students’ sense of belonging to an academic home.”

Officials have said each neighborhood will have its own academic success center by 2021. There are currently six neighborhoods implemented and two still in progress, according to an academic advising executive summary.

“We currently have AACs in place for Arts and Humanities, Business, Interdisciplinary Studies, Social and Behavioral Sciences, STEM, and Exploratory [students],” said Twyman.

“We are scheduled to have Education and Health and Human Services ready to go for Fall 2020.”

According to Marx, the process has been five years in the making.

“[The new system] came out of a faculty committee where we did research on the numbers of students in different majors, and what the needs of those students were,” said Marx.

Frank LaDore, Director of Transfer Student Services, was also a member of that committee. He said the new model was designed to help “exploratory,” or undeclared, students.

“The reason for the model is that students would be ‘swirling’ — not knowing what they want to do,” said LaDore. “And now if we at least know if they are thinking about psych or sociology [as majors], they would go into the social science academic advising center, meet with a professional [adviser], and then meet with a faculty adviser.”

For students already in a major, however, not much will change.

“They will continue to be advised by faculty members [in those majors],” Marx said.

Students who transferred — and continue to transfer — during the ongoing transition between new and old feel the growing pains of the new system. Communication major Emily Zirkelbach, a junior, is one of many students who have had this issue.

“[Currently] I don’t know who my adviser is, although I do have an appointment,” Zirkelbach said.

Zirkelbach also had an issue with receiving permissions for a communication class she needed which could have hindered her ability to graduate on time.

“I was granted permission [for the course], but somehow I wasn’t added to the roster,” Zirkelbach said.

“Luckily, I was able to meet again, and they were able to fix it, but that could have set me back.”

There were also other issues with the online catalog. Such was the case for computer science major Olivia Liebler, a junior.

“For me it was really important to be able to look online how my credits would transfer before committing,” said Liebler. “And their online lookup system is very cumbersome.”

Not all students had problems, however. Communication major, Liana McCool, a sophomore, said she was satisfied overall with how her advising has been handled thus far.

“I like that they offer both [prescriptive and professional] advising,” said McCool.

Ultimately, Marx said she empathizes with the struggles of the student.

“There’s a sort of reflective part of being in college where you’re figuring out who you are and what you want to be,” Marx said. “And that’s hard work.” again, and they were able to fix it, but that could have set me back.”

There were also other issues with the online catalog. Such was the case for computer science major Olivia Liebler, a junior.

“For me it was really important to be able to look online how my credits would transfer before committing,” said Liebler. “And their online lookup system is very cumbersome.”

Not all students had problems, however.

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