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Dear Readers, 

I asked Tara Affolter, visiting assistant professor of education studies, and Hector Vila, assistant professor of writing, to share with us their philosophy about advising students. In this week’s post, Tara and Hector discuss their role as advisers—of the whole student. They provide an enlightening viewpoint. Please chime in with your comments and observations.
—Shirley M. Collado 

Def. Advising. To advise. To counsel, to suggest and give guidance, personal and professional.

“I’m useless.  I don’t know,” said the student.  “I’m feeling lost. Can we talk?”

“Do I have to take a science course, I’m terrible in science?”

“I don’t know what to major in—and everyone I know is either a joint major or a double major.  I’m scared.”

“I can’t seem to fit in. I’m so depressed.”

“If I ask for help, I will have failed.”

The classic notion of the liberal arts requires that we examine the proximity of the teacher to the student. The liberal arts suggest a kind of intimacy existing between the student, the teacher and the exchange of knowledge. Worried that a student may be too reliant on the wisdom contained in books, Seneca in his Letters, says that, “It is one thing to remember, another to know. To remember is to safeguard something entrusted to memory. But to know is to make each thing one’s own, not to depend on the text and always look back to the teacher.”

Seneca provides several challenges to us: we must examine our relations and proximities to our students; that we then likewise describe the context in which the liberal arts are expressed; and that we try to learn about our students’ implicit scholarship in pop music, sports, fashion, and media so as to better understand how to create a dialog between us that is creative, positive, and safe.

When a student first presents herself to us during the extraordinarily short initial advising meeting, at the first FYSE face-to-face, we have but 25 minutes to decide whether we will see the entire student or whether we will be concerned with the students solely from the shoulders up—her academic life solely.  Working to see the entire student is the only possible method by which to ascertain what the student has made her own, as Seneca suggests.  It’s the first requirement of a liberal arts education.

Students are perplexed by many things—the nature of our tightly compressed world, its complexities and future; the nature of the idiosyncratic academy requiring that students enter into and comply with academic literacies that, in their minds, may or may not have anything to do with the world as they experience it; and their evolving identities as they come into close contact with challenging social moments.

Advisers help students navigate these murky waters and invite students to explore. This takes time—and patience.  It requires that we ask difficult questions—why do you feel lost?  Why is it important what other kids are doing?  When did you start feeling like this about science?

This line of questioning brings us closer to our students. It is an essential component of the liberal arts. It enables the student and the teacher to learn together.




6 Responses to “To Advise: Much More than Giving Out a PIN Number”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Tara is an amazing person. As my advisor, I can personally say that she’s the real deal. She’s given me advice on everything I need, whenever I need it. And, her class (Race, Class, and Educational Inequality) is life-changingly good.

  2. adela habib says:

    Well, though Professor Hector is not my advisor, he is an amazing teacher and advisor specially for students that are aliens( like me international but not a UWC product), and have never been through liberal art college process. I think all the advisors do great jobs by advising, but the ultimate decision and doing well in class depends on the student.

  3. anonymous says:

    even in a class of 40 students, prof. affolter strives (and to a stunning degree, manages) to SEE each person, not just the student and his/her grades. i have felt this and have felt my liberal arts experience very much enriched by this. through this, she helped me to own my learning and make it mine — to truly know — rather than just remember, as seneca says. thanks, middlebury, and thanks prof affolter.

  4. Tim says:

    I like a lot of what is said here. I think in Adirondack House, EIA staff see ourselves as advisors too, and even educators, but in a different way perhaps than faculty in the classroom.

    Helping students navigate that next step and discover the options available to use their education is the main mission we are all about. We work very hard to overcome the myth of “I have to know what I want to do in order to walk in our door.” It’s okay not to know, and to come see us even if you don’t know where to start.

    Advisors can come in many forms, from the residence life staff, to student peers to of course official faculty advisors. Just throwing out the idea to think as broadly as possible about the wide spectrum of advising that occurs on campus.

  5. nikomiya says:

    have a history of failur sn’t is what you learn from sex viet you handle the experience and w that point forward. And let’s not belittle the fact that

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