Undergraduate advising is a new part of my job. I was chatting with the other new hire, and among the schools we attended for undergrad and grad (me: Arizona State, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, University of Washington; him: Rutgers, USC), we never had faculty advisers. The advisor was someone you saw once or twice in your time as a student, mostly if you had a problem or right before you graduated. This isn’t the case of all large schools; I guess it is the norm to have faculty advisers at Cornell, for example.
The School of Communication at Quinnipiac is currently hiring and feeling a bit of a pinch for regular faculty. As a result, some faculty have 50 undergraduate advisees or more. They were nice to me, and gave me 30 freshmen, since, as someone noted, it is difficult to misadvise freshmen. On the plus side, I get to meet a bunch of new students, and since I’m only teaching grad courses this semester, that’s a great experience. As with the grad students, I’ve been very impressed with the incoming freshmen. Many of them have a very clear idea of what they want to do with their lives. For a lot of them, that’s become a sports broadcaster, but that’s true in many communication programs. At least at Quinnipiac, they have a bit of a better chance of that dream coming true.
But when it comes to the actual advising, so far I think the big schools have it right. Especially when the advising is complex–and because the freshmen are on a new system, it’s reasonably clear, but the curriculum has gone through changes that mean that there are several systems at play at the same time–I really appreciate the job of the professional advisor. I wish there were a way to do both, but the fact is that it isn’t particularly effective to try to spread this knowledge around to an entire faculty. I felt a little bad asking my neighbors for help until I realized that they often did the same. In that process, it’s not clear that the students come out on top.
How to fix it? Well, first, it’s not going to be “fixed”–I’m the strange one out here, not the system. Second, in other departments, each faculty member only has ten or fifteen advisees, and I bet that makes it a lot more personal and productive. I still think a professional advising staff would be a more effective way of getting students through the program, but with a smaller number of advisees, I think that this could be a really nice way to have a positive impact on a student’s undergraduate career. If I had had a similar advisor, I think I would have gotten a bit more out of my undergrad years. If my advisees were all in the same major or concentration as I am teaching in (media production), or shared my interests in new media, interactive communication, or new forms of journalism, I think that would also make the mentoring relationship more effective.