Helping Advisors Help You

By Alexa Bakalarski / News Editor

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Students need to meet with an adviser to register for courses next semester, but is that enough?

The Pitt News talked to four advisers — Elizabeth Adams, director of advising for Pitt’s Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration; Mary Koller, undergraduate student adviser for Pitt’s School of Information Sciences; Ed Giles, assistant director of the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences Advising Center; and Nancy Allen, director of the Arts and Sciences Advising Center. They shared their tips and department methods for how to maximize the advising experience for old and new students alike.

Kickstarting A Career

In Pitt’s Business School, academic and career advising are integrated to help students prepare for their career as soon as possible.

Each student has an “individual development plan” that starts in their first year and gets revised every semester.

“It is required that students meet with us once per term, but in the meeting, it’s not just scheduling. It’s about the individual development plans,” Adams said. “We’re really looking at your academic development, your career development and your outside-the-classroom skills development, so we’re talking to students about learning how to use LinkedIn, how to build a network, developing a business vocabulary and of course resumé development and job search strategies.”

Keep In Touch and Ask

Don’t be a stranger to your adviser — keep them updated.

“I think that touching base with the adviser is a good idea … a little problem becomes a big problem,” Koller said. “I think it’s a good idea for the adviser and the student to keep one another in the loop, in case a major problem arises. To me, it’s important that the student and the adviser work together, that there’s always a communication line, that they can always make phone calls and emails.”

Even if you don’t touch base, ask a question or two — maybe even three — when you go in for the upcoming semester’s scheduling.

“As far as my advice to students, I would encourage new students in particular to always have at least one question you want to discuss with your adviser beyond next semester’s schedule, whether it’s about a possible career you want to explore or to seek some advice about how to best approach your coursework,” Giles said. “Taking ownership of the process will do wonders for helping you understand what you need to be successful, both at Pitt and beyond.”

Explore Your Interests

It’s OK to not have your life mapped out when you meet your adviser. Actually, it might be better not to.

“A lot of times during the first year, a student who comes in and is sure about a major starts to get interested in other majors,” Allen said. “What students have in common is using the first year to explore what they’re interested in.”

There isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” way to enjoy Pitt, Giles said.

“We believe that college is not a time for ‘either/or,’ but rather a time for students to explore their potential, interests and intellect,” Giles said. “Advisers work with students to identify opportunities for students to challenge themselves and to find what inspires them and pursue it. Advisers encourage students to engage with a broad range of experiences, both inside and outside of the classroom, in order to discover different perspectives on the world and encourage the student to explore new and different opportunities.”

Plus, exploring interests — and talking to your adviser — can help students come up with a Plan B in case being pre-med or other initial goals don’t pan out.

“There’s always a Plan B. People always want to look at Plan A, but you can always have a Plan B,” Koller said. “Plan B is like your contingency plan, and sometimes the adviser can see this plan before the student does.”

Not Just Classes

Don’t just talk to your adviser about what classes to take to complete your general education requirements — discuss how you’re transitioning into college life or what you do to manage your midterms.

“The way it works now, here and at other universities, is to support the student, not just talking about courses, but university life and transitioning,” Allen said. “The biggest difference [between now and when I went to college] is that we care about the whole student now.”

By talking about more than just what course to take with students, advisers can be more informed on what the best resource for a student might be.

“Personalizing that advising process requires an ongoing dialogue with the student, in which we take a holistic view of how the student engages with the University community,” Giles said. “We have conversations on a wide range of topics, including and beyond the student’s academic and career interests, such as how a student manages [their] time, how life in a residence hall is going and more. Getting to know the student holistically enables advisers to make informed and personalized referrals to campus resources, whether that is to our colleagues in academic departments or in other offices throughout the University.”

Tomasz Swierzewski contributed reporting.

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