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Student-advising revamp gathers momentum

Launched last spring, the two-year initiative aims to align advising services and standards campuswide to better serve evolving student needs.

Student Adviser Erin Skelly

Teamwork, training and toolkits were prominent topics of discussion among the hundreds of UC Berkeley student-affairs professionals who came together recently at the Clark Kerr campus for the fourth annual Stay Day conference.

The daylong event, sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs, provides a forum for collective conversations about issues in student learning and development, the evolving needs of students, innovations and best practices in advising and professional development.

“Advisers are there to help students make the most of their college experience, whether that’s filling out a petition for the registrar’s office, checking to make sure they have taken all the classes they need to graduate, coordinating support with a disability counselor, discussing research or study abroad opportunities or just being someone to talk to if they’re having a bad day,” says Lauren Worrell, an undergraduate adviser in the College of Environmental Design.

“Being able to make a real difference in a student’s life, even the smallest difference, is incredibly rewarding,” she says. “That’s why we love what we do.”

Among the many Stay Day workshops attracting the interest of staffers like Worrell was a presentation outlining the progress and plans of the Advising Council, an Operational Excellence project to promote excellence in student advising and provide greater coordination, shared tools and training for the more than 700 student service professionals across academic and co-curricular programs campuswide.

Launched last spring, the Advising Council initiative emerged in response to concerns that advising services and policies differed markedly from one department to the next, with little formal coordination between them.

Despite the many excellent advisers and advising programs at Berkeley, students reported frustration with having to navigate a labyrinth of offices and policies, and advisers said they needed shared resources and tools to allow them to deliver a seamless experience to students.

The Advising Council was established to address these concerns and to serve as a single governing body responsible for aligning advising services and developing standards, policies and assessment tools for advisers.

Focused on improving the effectiveness of advising for students in environmental design and eager to advance her own professional development, Worrell has been active in the advising community since being hired two years ago and is excited by the recognition and resources that are coming together as part of the campus advising initiative.

“Creating a unified vision for student advising that’s based on the knowledge, experience and ideas of grassroots professionals and has the backing of executive sponsors at the highest level will help us raise the bar and become a model of best practice,” Worrell says.

During phase one of the two-year initiative, three area-focused working groups — collaborative cross-campus teams of advising staff and program directors — have made significant strides in developing tools, resources and standards for advising, while also emerging as a strong professional community that is drawing attention in higher education advising circles.

Coming together as part of the Council’s program-effectiveness working group, a cross-campus team from Berkeley won “Best of Region” for its case-study presentation on advising assessment at this year’s regional conference of the National Academic Advising Association. NACADA is the leading professional organization for academic advising and student development in higher education.

Team members Susan Hagstrom, Noam Manor, Yukiko Watanabe, Elizabeth Wilcox and Lauren Worrell were invited to deliver their presentation “Locally Grown, Locally Owned Advising Assessment” at NACADA’s upcoming national conference in Salt Lake City.

Over the last year, the advising-vision group engaged advisers, faculty and staff across campus to help create a basic framework outlining a shared definition, philosophy and set of guiding principles for the campus advising community.

A second working group, which focused on program effectiveness, drafted common program assessment standards for advising units across campus and launched an online storehouse of assessment guides, tools and other resources designed to help individual units use metrics to improve program operations to better serve evolving student needs.

The third working group concentrated its efforts on the areas of professional training and performance standards, coordinating orientation, continuing education and skills development programs for new and seasoned advisers.

In a survey of Berkeley’s advisers conducted this year, more than 70 percent of those who responded expressed interest in a professional certificate program offered through the campus.

“We recognize that advisers play a key role in students’ success at Berkeley,” says Catherine Koshland, vice provost for teaching, learning, academic planning and facilities. Koshland is lead executive sponsor of the Advising Council initiative.

“Developing shared policies, training and practices to better support advising excellence is a strategic priority for this campus, today more than ever,” she adds.

Koshland is joined on the Council’s steering committee by Gibor Basri, vice chancellor for equity and inclusion, Harry Le Grande, vice chancellor for student affairs, and Andrew Szeri, dean of the Graduate Division.

During phase two of the project, which runs through April 2014, the Advising Council will continue the effort to align campus advising while working to increase understanding of the initiative goals and progress among staff, faculty, students and parents.

In the coming year, the project team will roll out pilot programs for training and assessment components, define the long-term role of the Advising Council and develop plans for the implementation of a campuswide electronic records management system for advising services.

“Going forward this project is going to make a big difference in our advising services that will positively impact the experiences and success of students during their time at Berkeley and it’s exciting to see the energy, passion and ideas that advising staff are bringing to this effort,” says Rebecca Miller, the project’s implementation manager and former student affairs director in electrical engineering and computer sciences.

As the effort to establish Berkeley as a model for excellence in advising gathers momentum, the advising community is already looking ahead to 2014, when the campus will host NACADA’s regional conference.