Professors, though we often see them solely as teachers and homework-givers, have much broader roles in students’ lives. As academic advisors, professors can help make or break a student’s schedule based on how much a student chooses to use them.
In order to register for classes, everyone must meet with their advisor and get their approval. This creates an opportunity to personally get to know a professor in a student’s major and for them to get to know the students in their department.
“The beneficial part of seeing students is the connection that I can create with them,” said Donna Van Peursem, a social work professor.
In the fall, late October to early November is the busiest time of the semester for academic advisors. In the spring, late February to early March are when meeting times fill up.
Fall meetings tend to be a bit denser. They are not only planning for the next spring classes but also summer internships or Summer of Service opportunities.
Yet, academic advisors are not just for the fall and spring. Students are still able to talk with and ask advice from their academic advisor during the summer months or over winter break. The meeting just may look a bit different, likely taking place over email or Zoom.
However, this year there is more opportunity for advisors. Mathematics professor Kim Jongerius has used an Excel OneDrive file for all her advisees to let them know her schedule and for them to find a time that works best in their schedule. Students also have the opportunity to hold their meeting via Zoom.
To practice social distancing, one professor came up with a creative way to meet in person and still collaborate.
Sociology professor Scott Monsma meets with his advisees in person but maintains a safe distance using Zoom’s share-screen function. That way, he’s able to best serve his students.
“A good advisor learns the various policies and rules so that students don’t run into any complications on the road to graduation,” Monsma said.
Advisors often work with a lot of students and try to make each meeting feel personal.
During the busy fall and spring busy seasons, Van Peursem talks with four students a day for 30 minutes each. Associate professor of theatre Drew Schmidt is currently advising 20 students.
“I get through on planning, coffee, reducing sleep to a minimum and pretending I have no family,” Monsma said. “At least one of these things is true.”
In order to make their lives a little bit easier to handle, the advisors do ask a bit from the students when they come to their meetings.
“You should look at your degree audit and at the registrar’s class listings and have a tentative schedule ready to go. Also, note any specific questions you have for us,” Jongerius said.
Once a student schedules a meeting with their academic advisor, it’s quite simple. Most advisors will look at their advisee’s degree audit ahead of time to see what classes they still need for their NW Core and for their major(s) or minor(s).
Some professors may already have a four-year plan laid out for their students. This varies by professor and department.
When they meet with the student, the advisor will relate what classes they would encourage a student to take or point out gaps in their current academic plan.
This would also be the time for a student to bring up if they plan to participate in any summers abroad or internships during or outside of the academic year.
Advisors know how the department may change or courses that may no longer be offered so students can maximize their learning opportunities.
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Schmidt said. “We understand the value of courses you might not see value in. We can help fill in the gaps of your growth. We can set you up for success.”