What is a Good Adviser?

Strictly speaking, an academic adviser gives students academic advice - and guides them as they make decisions about their academic direction. Faculty advisers assist first year students in making course selections and negotiating distribution requirements. After the first year, advising attaches to requirements and policies in the major - and may include significant collaboration near the end of a student's undergraduate experience on a thesis or other major project.

Advising often goes beyond a casual contact into a genuine relationship. To be sure, some students are tired of adult intervention in their lives and are keen to be autonomous, but others respond to the kind of experience and knowledge faculty members have. They regret the absence of adult relationships in their lives - and value for years the conversations they have with you.

Sometimes your advisees are in trouble, academic and otherwise. You are not expected to be trained in counseling and psychology. There are those here at Middlebury whose life's work involves seeing students in trouble of one kind or another. However, even those professionals realize that what they do is an art and not a science - and extends from natural human capacities we all have as members of families and communities. They often can use your help as faculty advisers in dealing with problems in students' lives and will call on you.

There is no personality profile of faculty adviser. Everyone can be good at it: some of the best advisers are shy and scholarly, gifted and eccentric. Most advising relationships with students emerge from a common interest in their work and your academic expertise. On occasion, the adviser/advisee relationship blossoms into a life-long association.

What is the Advising System at Middlebury?

First-Year Seminars: All first year students are advised by the instructor in their first-year seminar, which they select the summer before their enrollment. The professors of those classes, which have a maximum of fifteen students, are both junior and senior members of the faculty (in recent years, the majority have been senior, or tenured, faculty members). No faculty members in their first-year at Middlebury teach in the first year seminar program. This advising concept, in effect since 1988, ensures frequency of contact between adviser and advisee and has served Middlebury students well, a vast improvement over any previous plan. Each first-year student and faculty adviser receive an "Advising Guide," which goes into curricular and advising issues in detail.

Declaring a Major: When students declare their major, they also select an adviser from the faculty in that major, or majors (over half of all Middlebury students have combined majors of some kind). For some students in their second or third semesters at Middlebury, selecting an adviser is more difficult than selecting a major, so they are encouraged to work with the department or program chair, until they have further experience in that major and find a faculty member suited to their interests and needs.

Students may select their major at any time after the first semester; they are required to declare their major no later than the end of their third semester. After the first semester of a student's experience at Middlebury, when the seminar ends, the relationship between adviser and advisee subsides in frequency of contact. The challenge, then, for adviser and advisee, is to maintain the momentum of the first semester. Those students who are "undeclared" and whose first-year adviser is on leave (or otherwise unavailable to advise) are assigned to their Commons Dean, who provides their transitional advising.

Official Advising/Informal Advising: Advising tends to be most productive early and late: beginning students receive special attention; seniors are often doing intensely collaborative work with faculty in their majors. The faculty sabbatical program and junior year abroad play havoc with advising. The goal of the academic advising program at Middlebury is to make sure that effective academic advising is available and is taken advantage of by students. This effective advising can be the result of a close relationship between students and their official advisers - or by a combination of official advising and informal advising from a variety of mentors who share their expertise out of concern for students and their success at Middlebury. We hope both the formal and informal advising systems work on behalf of our students and add up to a supportive environment - that is to say, good advising.


What are the Key Components of a Good Adviser?

1. A Good Adviser is One Who is Available - and "Active"

The adviser/advisee relationship is reciprocal, a two-way street. Our students are young adults. They need guidance. They make their own decisions, but we help them. A faculty member cannot be a good adviser without the willing participation of the advisee. A good adviser is not passive, or absent, but is also not expected to baby-sit, or intrude. A good adviser is active, available, and knowledgeable.

Post your office hours and maintain them. If you're not there when you say you will be, students will not return to see you, except for the most practical of matters, your signature on a form, and even then, they will slide the form under your door.

Don't hesitate to be "active." You may want to take the initiative on occasion, especially when there is cause for concern, and leave a phone message or an e-mail, asking the student to come in - or reiterating your interest in them and the nature of your concern, and your availability to help, to advise. You will receive course warnings for your advisees experiencing difficulty in a course: a warning might occasion an invitation to come in and talk.

You are expected to meet with your advisees before each course registration period. For these meetings to be other than perfunctory, it may make sense for you to take control of this process and schedule appointments with your advisees, rather than to wait for them to come in. Many students wait until the last minute to contact their adviser and such a meeting is often unsatisfying.

2. A Good Adviser Knows the Curriculum

It's important not only to know the requirements in the major you represent, but also the curricular requirements in general. Your most basic job is to help students with their course schedules. Most students have a clear sense of the course requirements of their major and their status with distribution requirements. Often your job is only to ratify their selections. The more you know about the curriculum, however, the more help you can be to students, not only by giving them appropriate guidance regarding requirements, but also by providing creative ideas about selecting a stimulating overall program of study.

Course information is available both on the web and in hard copy (the catalog is published and distributed in the summer). The information on the web is up-to-date and most reliable.

The person in control of the most information is not necessarily the winner. If you're new, or relatively new to Middlebury systems, faculty, and course offerings, fear not: there is much expert help. First and foremost is the Registrar's Office (x5770). The staff there can answer any curricular question, no matter how technical. Don't hesitate to undertake a First-Year Seminar: the support provided by Kathy Skubikowski (Assistant Dean for Instruction; Director of the Writing Program) and Janis Audet is extraordinary.

3.  A Good Adviser Knows the Support Systems and Makes Referrals

If you encounter a student whose difficulties exceed your expertise, or about whom you just have concern, by all means involve those in student affairs who work with troubled students. You never need to feel overmatched. The first call should normally go to the Commons Dean of that student. The Commons Dean will call in a student about whom you are concerned. Commons affiliations are listed beneath student names in the Directory. Keep in mind also the Faculty Heads of Commons and call them, if you prefer. The Deans/Faculty Heads are as follows:

Atwater Commons (x3310): Scott Barnicle/Peter and Michelle Nelson

Brainerd Commons (3320): Natasha Chang/Robert  Schine

Cook Commons (3330): Ian SutherlandPat Zupan

Ross Commons (3340): Janine Clookey/Pavlos Sfyroeras/Maria Hatjigeorgiou

Wonnacott Commons (3350): Matt Longman/Will Nash and Deb Evans

The Center of Counseling and Human Relations (5141): Gary Margolis '67 and his staff are specifically trained to understand the developmental needs of college students and to work with those in distress. They will not call in a student about whom you have concerns, but they will consult with you about effective approaches in dealing with that student in your role as faculty adviser. It will make sense for you at times to recommend to your advisees that they see a psychotherapist in our counseling center.

A note on class absences: don't ignore them. Experience has demonstrated that students who miss class are usually delinquent for a reason; something's wrong. Class absence is perhaps the best indicator we have of a student in serious trouble (substance abuse or addiction, depression, grief). If we can get students appropriate support, especially early in the semester, we are likely to be able to help. Consult with Commons Deans.

Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research (3131): Located in the Davis Family Library, Kathy Skubikowski, Yonna McShane, Mary Ellen Bertolini, Catharine Wright, Shawna Shapiro, Hector Vila, and JoAnn Brewer offer an array of helpful services to support all students in their ambition for success at Middlebury. They are especially effective with students experiencing academic difficulty. Learning Resources coordinates the tutoring program at Middlebury (student tutors are trained and paid) and offers workshops throughout the year as well as study coaching (individual consultations)

Note: The CTLR produces a number of useful handouts for students that may be helpful to you as well in your advising: in particular, "Distribution Requirement Worksheet" and "Your Four Years." They are easily downloaded from the CTLR web page.

Tutoring in Writing and Writing Classes:
Faculty in the Writing Program are available by appointment to work individually with students at all levels on their writing. Some of the program's writing classes, such as Writing Workshop I and II, are designed to supplement the first year seminar and/or meet the needs of international students. Writing Program upper level classes, which vary in content focus, may be taken by students who demonstrate an ongoing interest in writing.

Career Services (5100): In making decisions about academic direction, many students are torn between "real world" concerns and their intellectual passions. Counselors in the CSO can often be very helpful in sorting out the important issues in this fundamental dilemma. They can answer the question, "what can I do with ____ major?" by providing examples of Middlebury students who have gone on to successful careers in various fields. Jaye Roseborough is the Director of the CSO.

There are others in Student Affairs whom you may want to contact with concerns about advisees, beginning with the staff in the Dean of the College Office (x3300, x5382). Gus Jordan and his Associates handle the adjudication of student conduct matters and other crucial student concerns. Laurie Jordan (Chaplain), Mark Peluso M.D. (Parton Health Center), Tiffany Sargent (Community Service and Service Learning), Arlinda Wickland (Health Professions Adviser), Erin Quinn (Athletic Director), and Jodi Litchfield (ADA Coordinator) also provide important support to students and may be helpful to you in your advising. Don't hesitate to call on them.

4. A Good Adviser Asks the "Next Question"

The next question is the one after the obvious opening exchange. It usually produces a series of other "next questions." By penetrating the transparent issue you often get to the real issues that bring students to your office. Many students feel a natural reserve around their teachers (there are others, of course, who are all too familiar); penetrating that reserve places you in a position to help.

The "next question" demonstrates a concern for students' general well-being and the willingness to be a mentor. It isn't necessarily a question of a personal nature; it can be a question that probes the actual performance in a particular class - for example, asking the specific grade on a test, or why the performance wasn't better on that assignment; asking if students understand the material, go to every class, (if not, why not?); asking if they get enough sleep, have a problem with "time management"; asking if it would it make sense to go to CTLR or the Counseling Center. These are all simple "next questions" that can result in an effective mentoring conversation.