Dr. Tamara Buck has made it her mantra to be the best faculty advisor she can be for students at Southeast Missouri State University.
Her passion comes from an advising experience she recalls as a transfer student in college in which she felt she could have received better direction.
“I’ve made it my mission to be a good advisor,” said the associate professor of mass media. “If we’re not informed, how can our students be informed?” she said.
Buck says she plans to use the information and advice learned during the day-long Master Advisor Program Workshop she attended in December to help her students make the best informed decisions they can as they progress toward their degree.
She was one of about 35 faculty members who took part in the first all-day Master Advisor Program Workshop Dec. 20 at Southeast. The workshop, which was repeated Jan. 10, offered faculty and professional staff academic advisors a new set of tools to better advise students on their academic path.
About 70 participated in the first two workshops to boost their knowledge and introduce them to valuable resources to share with their student advisees. Those completing the intensive workshop now hold “Master Advisor” designation and are better equipped to help students plot their course and navigate Southeast’s academic degree programs.
“Academic advisors play a key role in supporting students to ensure they have a successful college experience,” according to Amanda Eller, coordinator of the Center for Academic Advising–North. “Training and professional development prepare advisors to provide the highest level of expertise, and is the primary reason that the Master Advisor Program was developed.”
Carol Heisserer, assistant director of Academic Advising, said “We know many of our faculty advisors have great advising skills, but they may have never received formal training on conceptual, relational and informational competencies at Southeast.”
Heisserer said the strong response from faculty after the first two workshops “just shows our faculty are committed to student success across all colleges and departments.”
Amanda Eller helps lead the Master Advisor Program Workshops.
Dr. Gloria Green, chair of Southeast’s Department of Nursing, who attended the December workshop and helped in the creation of the training, said “It’s really valuable. The more faculty who do this, the better our advising will be.”
Dr. Jim Champine, chair of the Department of Biology, agreed.
“There’s information for a very beginning faculty member through a long-term chair,” he said of the training.
Another participant, Dr. Kenn Stilson, chair of The Conservatory of Theatre and Dance, said, “It’s vital for faculty members to really understand the University’s policies and procedures with regard to advising.”
But the training even extends beyond that, he said, into various styles of advising, ethics, financial aid, and other areas not typically explored in Degree Works and other advising training.
“It’s geared more toward curriculum or academic advising versus career or professional advising,” he said. “I found the discussion regarding FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) to be extremely interesting and beneficial in understanding students’ rights with regard to confidentiality,” he said. “I have no doubt the overall retention rate of Southeast students will rise proportionally with the number of faculty members who go through this training.”
Dr. Debbie Lee-DiStefano, professor of foreign languages, emphasized the workshop is a good opportunity for any faculty member who may have been a recent doctoral student or who previously may have focused on research at another institution where advising was not part of their responsibilities.
“For some faculty, this is a new step,” she said.
Kevin Sexton, and Dr. Laura Hatcher, both of the Department of Political Science, Philosophy and Religion, attended the January Master Advisor Program Workshop.
The workshops explored basic and advanced advising strategies and techniques; ethical issues related to advising; technologies and resources used in advising; academic policies and procedures; and changes to curriculum that impact advisors. All participants left with an advising handbook to serve as a resource to them during future advising sessions.
The seed for the program took hold last summer after initially being proposed by the Office of the Provost. A faculty advisory board of 25 faculty members made recommendations for the program’s creation, with the initial workshops developed by the Centers for Academic Advising. Eller says the Master Advisor Program is a model employed by other university campuses where academic advising is emphasized, including at Missouri State University.
The program is a step towards the University’s goal to retain at least 80 percent of all first-time, full-time students to the second year and graduate at least 60 percent of this group in six years. The workshops also follow a visit to the Southeast campus in October by Dr. Vincent Tinto, distinguished professor emeritus at Syracuse University and the former chair of the Higher Education Program. During an all-campus event, Tinto explored the range of issues influencing student success and helped identify actionable strategies to help Southeast meet established retention and graduation rate goals.
“Effective retention programs have come to understand that academic advising is at the very core of successful institutional efforts to educate and retain students,” according to Tinto.
Master advisors will continue to increase their knowledge and skills by attending at least two hours of additional training on a variety of academic advising-related topics over the next two years. Eventually, those trained as Master Advisors will be involved in the delivery of future workshops and will be eligible for future rewards and recognition, including being named professional counselor of the year.
Those still interested in attending a Master Advisor Program Workshop will have the chance to participate later this spring. Additional sessions are planned for Monday, March 13, during Spring Break, and on Tuesday, May 16, the first day of summer classes. To register, visit http://semo.edu/advising/masteradvisor.