When most people think of innovation, they imagine the scientific and technological advancements made by engineers and scientists. But the advising team in the student services office at the College of Engineering and Computing (CEC) has been innovating in a less traditional sense by working behind the scenes to streamline the advising process for undergraduate students. The work put in by CEC advisors has not only had a huge impact on students’ lives but has also been recognized by the University Advising Center with a series of recent awards.
In April, the CEC earned an impressive five awards that honored three outstanding advisors, as well as the innovative processes of the office. Lisa Pierce won the University Advising Center Commitment to Advising Excellence Award, while Director of Advising Sarah Jusiewicz received the Unsung Hero Award. Jusiewicz and Electrical Engineering Professor Grigory Simin were awarded the Ada B. Thomas Outstanding Advisor Award. The college was also recognized with the Outstanding Advising Initiative Award for electronic processes in advising. These awards follow a series of dramatic improvements that have been made to the advising process in recent years and serve as an acknowledgment of their effectiveness.
“I kind of think of advisors like bridge builders. We don’t have all the answers, but we can help you build the bridge to where you need to go.”
- Sarah Jusiewicz, CEC Director of Advising
Prior to 2016, all CEC undergraduate students were advised by faculty members during their time at the university. These advisors were excellent at having professional development conversations with students. However, their skill sets were often not conducive to advising activities like course selection, progression planning, and connecting to university resources.
First-year staff advising began as a university-wide initiative in the summer of 2016 to address these issues. By the fall of 2018, all CEC freshmen and sophomores were advised by undergraduate academic advisors (UAAs). These changes moved the advising office in the right direction, but there was still more work to be done.
Jusiewicz joined the CEC advising team in 2017 and has led the transformation of the advising process. She draws from her past experiences as a chemistry major when advising students and implementing changes in the advising office. After failing her organic chemistry class, she felt that there was nobody to help her navigate the situation. This paved the way for her to improve the CEC advising process.
Jusiewicz was awarded the Innovative Program Award for developing the online advising worksheet for CEC students. Before every advising appointment, students are required to fill out a questionnaire, which includes several questions such as reporting their comfort with their major. This allows advisors to make the most of their meetings by reaching out to students prior to the appointment with helpful resources.
“I kind of think of advisors like bridge builders,” says Jusiewicz. “We don’t have all the answers, but we can help you build the bridge to where you need to go.”
Another way how CEC advising has changed under Jusiewicz's guidance is the shift to four-year staff advising. In comparison to many faculty advisors, UAAs are better equipped to discuss major change options with students and are more informed about university resources like mental health care and study abroad opportunities. They are also required to go through robust standardized training and participate in monthly meetings from the University Advising Center. This upcoming academic year will be the first that all CEC students will have UAAs for all four years.
Ruth Patterson, assistant dean of advising, believes the shift to staff advising is the cause of rising student retention rates in the CEC.
“One of our best retention strategies is getting students to the right major. Then they’re not just staying here for two years and failing out,” she says. “They’re able to express that they’re not happy in the first year and then they can get onto a better track before it’s too late.”
Although the transition to staff advising has had many benefits, the CEC advising team recognized that the support CEC students receive from their professors is invaluable. To ensure that students are guaranteed continued access to support from faculty, the CEC is pioneering a faculty advising fellows program that will allow students to meet with certain CEC professors to discuss topics like research, career plans or elective choices.
Moving forward, the CEC advising office plans to streamline its processes to better suit the seniors that are being newly advised by UAAs. This may include measures like additional check-ins before the add/drop deadline, facilitating connections with professors about research opportunities and sending out reminders of important deadlines.
While the changes to the advising process have already had far-reaching benefits, the CEC advising team will always be fine-tuning its process to better suit students’ needs. Jusiewicz attributes the success of CEC’s advisors to their commitment to continual improvement.
“If we make a mistake, we’re gonna make it as right as we can,” she says. “We all learn from it, we all share it, and we move forward."