Even those of us who are many years removed from our undergraduate days remember the trepidation we felt when facing the multitude of choices presented by college life. Within a relatively short time span, students must make decisions about which classes to take, which major (or majors) to select, which research projects to choose, how to manage their time outside of the classroom, and, eventually, which career to pursue, among other daily choices. Personal, academic and professional decisions come at them rapid-fire.
We know that academic advising is critical as students make the transition from high school, where curricular choices were limited, to a university where the broad curricula offer much greater breadth of study, with hundreds of courses available. Students have many more choices to make, so they need more guidance. Our association deans, faculty, and others who serve in advisory roles are already helping students with these choices, but we want our faculty to play an even greater role in the academic advising process.
One way we plan to strengthen these interactions is by adding more of the first-year advising seminars called COLAs (“COLA” stands for College Advising). These are one-credit classes that students take in the first semester of their first year. The course content is 80 percent academic and 20 percent advising. Students hear from in-class advisors about how to get help on research papers, how to arrange study abroad, how to use library resources, and other topics.
Some of us refer to the COLA as “home room for college.” It gives students a chance to get oriented, get help, and learn about options. The COLA teachers serve as faculty advisors until students select their majors and get major advisors—although the COLA advisors often stay connected to their students throughout their time at UVA.
Like many American universities, UVA is facing a generational turning point, as we will be replacing half of our entire faculty over the next seven years. This next generation of faculty will define the University for its next century. These new hires will be excellent scholars and researchers, but they will also be deeply engaged in teaching, mentoring, and advising, because intensive student-teacher interaction is now, and will remain, a signature of the UVA experience.
Planning is also underway to strengthen our career advising services across Grounds, and to connect career advising to academic and personal advising. The changes will include earlier engagement of students, during their first and second years, to begin their career-development process; increased focus on mapping students’ choices of major to their career options; and more emphasis on internships and experiential learning to help students develop competencies that align with employer needs.
University Career Services and the individual schools already offer many effective programs, but we want to strengthen and grow the offerings. We have formed a Career Services Council to help us develop the next generation of career services at UVA. Composed of faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents and employers, the Council has formed seven work teams to focus on topics such as corporate relations, internship resources, and the development of social media and technologies, such an “anywhere-anytime” phone app, to enhance career counseling.
Personal advising is the third facet of total advising. First-year students need to master time management and other basic life skills, such as getting regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and eating right. To help students with life-skill development and with other personal choices, we plan to improve personal advising through expansion of our peer-advisor programs, by involving RAs in advising to a greater extent, and possibly by offering online chats with advisors.
To create a central space that would serve as home for total advising, we are exploring the possibility of transforming the second floor of Clemons Library into a student resource center. This would give students a centrally located resource for information about undergraduate research, internships, tutoring in all disciplines (not just in math and writing, as we do now), and other issues such as time management. We are in the process of determining costs for this potential project.
Many of these initiatives are still in the nascent stage, as the total-advising concept takes shape in the University’s draft strategic plan. As part of our planning, we learned that every college is struggling with advising, and none of them have found the solution to make it work perfectly. So we see an opportunity for UVA to assume a national leadership role in this area, while offering our students a much-improved experience in advising—a total experience.