Utah State Today regularly highlights work created by the talented student journalists at Utah State University. The following story was published in The Utah Statesman prior to its inclusion in Utah State Today.
College can be confusing, but students at Utah State University will always have at least one person to guide them through the confusion: their academic adviser.
Each major at USU has an academic adviser who meets with students to provide information about educational requirements, create personalized academic plans and connect them with campus resources.
Tonya Jewell, the academic adviser for communicative disorders and deaf education, said an adviser is like a personal academic GPS for students.
“We want to get them on the right road with the right classes, heading towards their destination in the best way possible, the best route possible,” Jewell said.
Laura Parrish, an academic adviser for special education, described academic advising as the “one stop shop” for students.
“If a student ever needs anything whatsoever, their first or their initial point of contact should be us,” Parrish said. “It doesn’t mean that we have all the answers, but it means that we’re there to help them and help them identify what resources are around the university that can provide that assistance to them.”
Advisers recommend incoming students meet with their adviser before their first semester begins. Dawnetta Mahnken, the adviser for the nutrition, dietetics and food science programs, said even if students are already registered for classes, they can still meet with an adviser to make sure they will be on the right track.
“We can still help them review their classes,” Mahnken said. “Did they sign up for the right classes? Would we make any adjustments or recommendations? It’s always great to have that second pair of eyes on it.”
It’s never too late to meet with an adviser. Just make sure to schedule an appointment before the rush in the weeks leading up to registration, as appointments fill up quickly and advisers become swamped with emails.
“If we could make students understand that we are a resource that’s available all throughout the year, it would save a lot of anxiety — that anxiety that happens right before registration,” Jewell said. “We could lessen that if they would come in a month before, so when registration comes around, they’re not scrambling.”
To find out the academic adviser for your major, or to meet with an exploratory adviser, head to usu.edu/advisors. From there, you can schedule an appointment. Depending on the adviser, your appointment can be held in person, over the phone or via Zoom.
Students should come to advising appointments with questions, and be prepared to discuss their interests and goals.
“It’s really helpful when students come in knowing, you know, what are their next steps?” Mahnken said. “What are their questions for the next semester? Do they have an idea of the classes that they want to take or their major they’re working towards?”
Though it might be intimidating, or even embarrassing, for a student to discuss classes and grades with an adult they don’t know very well, it’s important to be honest with advisers.
“I just tell students, ‘Just lay it out on the table for me and we will figure it out together,’” Parrish said. “I like to take a positive approach when I work with students. I like to make sure I have a welcoming space, that I make a good first impression when they come in, and I like to focus on my students’ strengths.”
Though an academic adviser’s main goal is to make sure students graduate, they also want to know what is going on in their lives outside of academics. Advisers can direct students to resources to help with all kinds of college problems, such as mental health issues and food insecurity.
“A student could have had a family tragedy and they don’t know how to deal with it and are struggling,” Mahnken said. “Sometimes connecting with that adviser can be a good first step.”
Advisers are advocates for students. Getting to know students by meeting regularly can help them better understand students’ academic and career goals.
“I want to get to know them,” Jewell said. “I want to be invested, so if they will come in and tell me about themselves and get to know me and I get to know them, I can be that one person that is a safe place through their whole time at Utah State.”
Though figuring out classes and graduation plans can be confusing, advisers are there to make the road ahead a little clearer.
“Advisers have a job because college is confusing,” Mahnken said. “It is a complicated process, and we’re really here to advocate for students and help to simplify that process for them and to help them make the most of that experience.”
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