Examining the ongoing challenges of delivering high-quality, value-added ERP services in Higher Education.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Advising Freshmen

At my institution, freshmen students are advised, by and large, by volunteers from the university staff community. There are professional advising staff at various levels, as well, and upperclass students have more specialized advisors in their fields. I have never served as a freshman advisor until this year, and it has already proven an enlightening experience. 

My primary motivation, of course, is to engage talented undergraduates and provide whatever help I can as they navigate the waters of their first year. I believe that my personal experiences at the university provide a strong foundation for this service. Time will tell, and only my advisees will be able to judge my merits. But there was another motivation, a more practical one, the existence of which may undermine the altruism implied by the first. Namely, my job is to implement a brand-new advising system for the university and there is no better way to ensure that is done well than to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the current system (that last word not only referring to the IT systems in play, but to the ecosystem of information, reference documents, organizational architecture, etc.) I'll have more to say about this in future posts... But for now let's focus on what I've observed in the last few weeks...

First, these students are smart. Really smart. This should be no surprise. What I remember most vividly about my early weeks at Harvard was realizing that I was literally surrounded by incredibly smart people. It is humbling, even for someone who thinks highly of his/her own intellect. Oh, to be so young and so smart... I live vicariously. 

Second, there is a lot to think about. The blank canvas of four undergraduate years stands before you, and you've got a palette loaded with gorgeous oils and a bucket packed with fine brushes, but the first strokes can be the hardest, even though you know that you can always paint over an error and that you certainly cannot plan every stroke in advance. Less metaphorically, how to balance picking classes, meeting people, engaging in activities, getting a job (for now and then forever), etc. How do choices  today affect choices tomorrow? One can never be sure, but the question is always in the back of a planning-type's mind.

Third, the place is complicated. Not only is there a unique vocabulary to learn, but there are many sources to consult. It's just a big, complicated place, with lots of nooks and crannies. 

Fourth, not much has changed. Despite being almost old enough to be their father, I actually know many of their classes from the inside. Roughly 75% of the classes that I took in college are STILL OFFERED, and in most of those cases by the same professor. Not much has changed about the facilities, the food, the clubs, the physical signatures, etc. In search of change, I note that the basketball team is much better than it used to be, it is far easier to study abroad, and they have discontinued chickwiches at the grill (sniffle, sniffle).

Fifth, did I mention how smart these young people are? Damn.


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