College plans new advising system

| 11/29/10 11:00pm

In response to student feedback and administrators' observations, the College plans to implement a new student advising structure in Fall term 2011 that will centralize undergraduate advising services in one location, according to College officials. The offices may be located in Baker-Berry Library once the area currently housing the computer store is restructured, College President Jim Yong Kim said in an interview with The Dartmouth Editorial Board.

Administrators will identify an advising model and suitable physical space for the program during Winter term 2011. They plan to develop an implementation method in the Spring term and fully institute the new system in the Fall, when the Class of 2015 arrives, Kim said in the interview.

"The goal is holistic advising, where students know they can come to help them not only get information but help them get information about decisions they need to make at Dartmouth," Inge-Lise Ameer, associate dean for Student Support Services, said. "I don't want a segmented advising system anymore."

Ameer will continue to work with department staff and student focus groups during the Winter term to develop a model of "what a more integrated advising situation would look like," acting Dean of the College Sylvia Spears said.

Ameer has consulted 12 student focus groups in order to gauge student opinion about the current system, she said.

"I see it as a student-friendly space, where students feel comfortable coming no matter what is on their mind," Ameer said of the new advising office. "I'd also love it to be a space where students would come not just with questions, but also as a cool place for students to hang out."

The long-term plan represents a shift from a "department-centric to a student-centric" focus in the structure of the College's student advising system, Kim said.

"Rather than putting the onus on the student to go to all these different offices and make all the appointments, we're saying that students should come to the central location," he said. "And then we'll do everything we can to schedule the appointments that that student needs, as quickly as possible, in one place."

College officials also plan to begin "cross-training" or educating advisors about issues outside their expertise during Winter term, so that each advisor can help students with a wide range of issues, according to Kim. The new approach will educate counselors, administrators and student life support personnel in each others' disciplines, he said.

"We're going to try to do enough cross-training so that even if the service you get is not exactly from the person who is a specialist on those services, we'll be able to provide you with at least some level of service," Kim said.

Kim compared the change to improvements in efficiency in the health care industry.

"You go to one place," Kim said. "Your history is taken once, and it goes into your medical record, and all the services happen around you. So you feel like it's centered on your problem, as opposed to having to take your problem to all the different departments."

Offices involved in the organizational transition could potentially include the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, the Academic Skills Center, Student Accessibility Services and Career Services, Spears said in an interview with The Dartmouth.

"The leadership of these offices will be working in the next two months or so to actually refine what their thinking might be and how they might reorganize," Spears said.

Spears said she proposed the advising structure changes to Kim last Winter based on her observations about student experiences with the College.

"[I have] been watching kids bounced from office to office," Spears said. "Although I think everybody has the students' best interests at heart, I think there's a way we can make student experience more effective by bringing comprehensive programming and departments together under one association."

Spears said she saw a need for streamlined student access to advising information, centralized services and consistency across offices within the developing advising structure.

The College will update online information to create an accessible "hub" of academic resources and support for undergraduates, Spears said.

"One of my concerns is that a student might have to make two or three stops to make a particular transaction or to receive guidance about a problem, issue or concern," Spears said. "I would prefer that students be able to access these services in one single location so that these services would be much more readily available to them."

Along with student focus groups, staff researchers have gathered information concerning student perceptions of advising from the Senior Survey, a questionnaire offered every other year to graduating Dartmouth students, Spears said.

"It's a thoughtful and creative process that will be useful for students," Spears said. "We look for feedback from students before we implement [new policies], and we've found in the past that students can be very insightful in telling us what would work, or what they would tweak and change."

Administrators will also consider models from other institutions as they develop the new advising system, she said.