Advising system re-evaluated

Recently, students and College Council have raised questions of the effectiveness of First year advising.

Robert Rivas ‘01 said he is very lucky to have as his advisor Dean of the College Peter Murphy. He says that because of his meetings with Murphy, he is able to stay grounded while at college.

“If I begin to feel that things are getting a little out of hand, I’m able to step back and place the issue in perspective of ’the big picture’,” Rivas said. “It’s through these discussions that I can focus on what needs to be done, and that I have come to realize that my focus in life is far larger than Williams College.”

The freshman advising process is completed in two parts, which take place before the student enters their first year of college. During the spring of their high school senior years, incoming freshmen receive a questionnaire to fill out from David Edwards, Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Dean of First-Year Studies. This is used by Dean Edwards to gather information about the student, for an appropriate match them up with an academic advisor.

According to Edwards, matches are generally made with faculty in regards to similarity of disciplinary interests that the two hold. Edwards does take into account other data that might make for a “productive” match.

First years must meet with their Academic Advisors before registering for future courses, and throughout the year meet on a continual basis so that the student can benefit from the faculty members counsel.

“I think the first-year advising system is better than it was in the past, but I don’t believe it’s perfect,” Edwards said. “I also think that advising—particularly first year advising—is inherently fraught with problems.”

Edwards associates problems in the system with the students’ preconceived unwillingness to have an advisor and to take such advice. He also attributes it to the students’ nervousness during First Days, and the fact that not all advisors take the responsibility as seriously as they probably should.

After a student’s first year, there is no questionnaire, no chosen advisor and no more mandatory meetings before registration.

Victoria Martinez ‘00 says the advising should not stop simply because the student progresses into a higher class.

“The student needs someone to help them decide whether or not they are following the right academic path,” Martinez said. “Many times advisors are chosen because they fit the students’ intended major, but what about the fact that students need to feel comfortable with whom they are speaking?”

For some, like Martinez, this poses no problem since they found their advisors during freshman year, but for others it can be quite the opposite.

“I know people who don’t have anyone to talk with about their career at Williams because they were not comfortable with their assigned advisor. What happens to those students under the current system?” she questioned

Martinez suggests altering the system so that a handful of prospective advisors are chosen by the Dean’s office. Then before First Days, those faculty members can opt to choose the students they think would benefit most from their direction. That way at least one of the two involved in the First year advising system can have a say in the matter.

Currently, in order to address such issues, College Council is seeking to change the system. However, nothing concrete has been done to alleviate these problems with advising.

Ami Parekh, CC first year representative, thinks that the advising system is in “desperate” need of change.

“Recently I sent out an e-mail to my dorm asking my constituents what they thought of the First year advising system and whether they had any ideas on how it could be improved. Although a few of those that replied said that they had great faculty advisors, the majority definitely felt that the system wasn’t helping,” Parekh said.

One of the main concerns that was brought to Parekh’s attention was in regards to the advisors’ ability to withhold students from enrolling. Many students felt that their advisors were harming, rather than helping, by keeping them from entering the classes they wanted. This concern is more alarming as some of the students had never even met their advisors before this was done.

Parekh also noticed many of the students she spoke with felt more comfortable with the idea of other students serving as advisors . The reason it was started is somewhat similar to the reasons Ami found students expressing, and that is that the faculty advising system has gaps that need to be fixed.

Dean Edwards felt that it was a great idea at the time the program was implemented but that it will not last unless energetic students show interest in keeping it afloat.

For those students interested in further improving the advisory systems, Edwards suggests talking to the faculty and/or deans.

“In my experience, most changes are initiated by a few responsible and energetic students who make their feelings on some subject known,” Edwards said. “The president and deans of the College are also very open to new ideas, and their interest and support for a proposal always helps to expedite consideration and implementation of new innovations.”