Academic advisors help students thrive in college — and beyond
By Amy Loeffler
The college student of the 21st century needs to do more than just check off boxes on a sheet of paper to fulfill the class requirements for graduation. There are internships, study-abroad opportunities, and countless experiences beyond the classroom to consider.
Today’s millennial students crave a well-rounded education that is not only challenging but also prepares them to be outstanding job candidates who on to rewarding careers. And that is where the college’s system of academic advisors comes into play.
Each CALS academic department has a go-to advisor who guides students through the labyrinth of university policies and offers advice and guidance when students are applying for internships or undergraduate research opportunities. The college and departmental advisors help students fulfill their degree requirements while providing moral support throughout their academic careers.
“We have a well-established network that supports our students in not only the nuts and bolts of adhering to policies, but that also encourages students to pursue interests that will enrich their academic careers and build relationships with faculty members to prepare them to compete in the job market,” said Susan Sumner, associate dean of academic programs in the college.
Analit Chambi-Rojas, a sophomore from Annandale, Virginia, majoring in crop and soil environmental sciences, has used the services of her department’s advisor, Jennifer Stewart, to apply for internships. She recently applied for one with the Urban Water Undergraduate Research program in Fairfax, Virginia.
“If I hadn’t had that guidance, I wouldn’t have had a good idea of where to start,” said Chambi-Rojas.
Department of Horticulture professor and student advisor Alex Niemiera said knowing the students and their career goals is a big part of being a good advisor. It’s also important that advisors know what career paths are out there.
“Right now there are five horticulture jobs for every student,” said Niemiera, a recipient of the Award for Excellence in Career Advising and assistant dean of student programs. “You have to know how to align a student’s strengths with where they want to go professionally and academically.”
That formula has helped one of Niemiera’s former students go on to become the lead horticulturist for all of the federal buildings in Washington, D.C.
Niemiera recalls that his own undergraduate advisor was less than helpful, and while he eventually landed in a fulfilling career, it was a long journey to figure out how to get from obtaining his undergraduate degree in biology to his current position.
Frenda Haynie, who received the 2015 Provost’s Award for Excellence in Advising, sees her role as an academic advisor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics as establishing a rapport with students to uncover each one’s academic path.
“Building relationships with the students is the most rewarding part of my job as an academic advisor. They know I am here for them,” said Haynie. “The college and the department allow me to be very student-focused.”