The University Record, October 2, 1995

Job comes with ready-made set of challenges, opportunities

In his new post as LS&A assistant dean for academic advising, Esrold Nurse doesn’t have to look for opportunities or challenges to tackle. A list was ready and waiting for him on his arrival in late August, a series of recommendations on academic advising contained in the Report on the First-Year Experience that was compiled by three working groups over the past year.

Recommendations related to academic advising were based on the groups’ findings that “students believe that many academic counselors are not qualified to help them make intelligent course selections. Students report having much more trust in information from and opinions of other students,” the report states.

Here’s a look at those recommendations and Nurse’s plan of action:

Degree audit system

Implementation of an on-line degree review audit system (DRAS) is a “priority” for Nurse, one that he feels is “critical” to making academic advising into a truly useful tool for students.

Nurse had experience with such a system at Wisconsin and hopes “to have a timetable for implementation very soon.” However, he does not see DRAS as a panacea that will solve all academic advising problems.

It’s a complex system, and it will take time to make it accurate and reliable, he notes. “It won’t solve all our problems, but when it’s up and running it will give advisers and students accurate information.”

Students will be able to access it and can monitor their own progress, and they can create “what if” scenarios if they are considering several concentration options.

This means that when students meet with advisers, they have a starting point for discussion. “It won’t be just a ‘What do you need to do’ to fulfill requirements discussion,” Nurse says, “but rather one in which the focus can be on how we can frame the very best educational experience for the student.”

Peer advisers

The report recommends that units improve the effectiveness of their advising function by using peer advisers if necessary.

While he feels peer advisers are not used “as much as I’d like,” it’s not a simple program to undertake. The students need intensive training, and staff must be available to monitor and guide them.

Noting that peer advisers were used during the summer at Wisconsin, Nurse says they “serve a good function. There are things they can get across based on their personal experiences more effectively than staff and faculty. Students will believe their peers before their advisers, and peer advisers are more able to share experiences and perspectives. But we have to have reasonable expectations of our peer advisers. They’re students also and they have other responsibilities.”

Technology

Nurse plans to take a great deal of time over the next year studying the possible ways in which using technology can enhance the academic advising function and experience.

He sees e-mail as a strong resource for keeping in touch with students. Some of the LS&A advisers in this past summer’s orientation told students they’d be contacting them via e-mail and are doing this now. They’ll do so several more times during fall term. “That just the tip of the iceberg.”

He also hopes to strengthen his unit’s e-mail account so students can use it to get answers to simple questions. “Students are not intimidated by technology, and we need to find ways to reach them through those media.”

He also notes, however, that the use of technology “will not take the place of personal, face-to-face contact.” He sees it being used for “quick, cursory questions.”

Training, up-to-date information

Nurse is “very big on training and sharing information with academic units” and plans to pay a lot of attention to this area in the coming year.

“We operate separately in a lot of areas that are related,” he notes. “We need to make horizontal connections, to share what we know, the resources and networks we have.”

He wants to work to create an academic advising network in which everyone will know who does what, so students can be referred to the right resource the first time and are not forced to give up in frustration or rely on a roommate.

For him, training takes two forms:

—Up-to-date information “is critical. It helps us to do a better job of helping students.”

—Making advisers better advisers. “They need to be aware of the needs of students, understand the changing demographics of incoming students, the issues that are important to them. We have to know our customers, what’s important to them. This is an ongoing process. It’s where we can delight our students, relate to them, meet them where they are.”

Nurse also wants to see the creation of a survey of a significant number of randomly selected students on an annual basis to get their input on their experiences with academic advising.

“We need to know the extent to which students are satisfied or not satisfied with what we do. We’d use the same questions each year so we can spot trends.”

Nurse plans to solicit faculty involvement on development of the survey.

Nurse also is addressing advising recommendations contained in the Report of the LS&A Joint Faculty-Student Committee that will be discussed in today’s LS&A Faculty Meeting. (See article on page 3).

One of those recommendations calls for assigning an adviser to every student, a mammoth task at an institution the size of the U-M, one that Nurse feels has pros and cons.

“There are some pluses,” he says. “Students will have the name of someone, but that person may not be able to help them in all areas.”

What may be much better, Nurse feels, is a well-established academic network that functions smoothly across units.

“The academic network would help with referrals, probably resulting in less demand for individual advisers,” he says.

He also says that better use of technology might help in this area.

“Students ‘want someone’ when they have a question. They may not necessarily need an assigned person. And, if it’s a simple question, the answer may lie in information on a server.”

Nurse says he will be talking to his staff and is still doing a lot of information-gathering about this concept.

“I want to give this concept a great deal of thought over the next few months, including lots of discussions with faculty, department chairs and other advisers.”