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When LSA sophomore Izzy Nakisher entered the University of Michigan, she didn’t know her major. She visited her adviser, who was assigned to her at orientation, once every few weeks her freshman year, trying to figure out a direction. Four major changes later, Nakisher is now ready to declare. Her adviser, she said, was key in making this happen.
An academic adviser is assigned to students at the University during their orientation before starting school in the fall. According to the Newnan LSA Academic Advising Center’s website, general advising is meant to help students plan out their college as well as future careers.
Newnan Director Tim Dodd wrote, in an email interview, many students seek help from advisers for issues regarding course selection, advice on their major or minor, or even personal issues.
“We often say that our job is to help students construct their own unique, authentic and powerful narratives that inform their decisions and create alignment, confidence and coherence in their lives,” Dodd wrote.
Nashiker said her adviser’s interest in getting to know her was one of the reasons she had a positive experience with advising.
“He’s made an effort to talk to me about my hobbies and my life,” Nashiker said. “So he’s said that this major may suit your hobbies or might suit the classes you’ve been taking and have been liking. I think if you have the time to get to talk to a student then you’re better off when suggesting classes or majors or minors.”
Newnan adviser Tim Webb said he looks at his students holistically, not just in terms of their academic goals.
“I like to talk to students how that will work with their professional goals, clubs and social life: how to be a successful student, but also maximize their time on Michigan’s campus,” Webb said. “I’m also an advocate for health on campus, making sure you have the time and space to take care of yourself.”
Part of Webb’s job is helping students navigate the resources on campus, which include the Opportunity Hub and departmental advising, among others.
For LSA senior Jenny Luo, specific departmental advising was more useful to her than general Honors advising.
“I always felt like when I talked to (my general adviser) it was always about what he wanted rather than my own direction and ideas for my education,” Luo said. “There was something that he wanted to push.”
Luo went to see her general adviser the end of her freshman year before selecting classes and has not returned to general advising since.
“There was one instance where I went to see him before I chose my classes second semester of my freshman year and he was very condescending towards me regarding the Honors core classes,” Luo said.
Apart from general advising, Luo has also gone to see departmental advisers in chemistry and computer science for more major-oriented information. Luo said the departmental advisers have been helpful before selecting classes and in providing more information about potential post-graduation plans.
“Most of the departmental advisers that I’ve worked with have always been more about what do you want accomplished and how we can help you with that,” Luo said.
With there being many advisers on campus, Dodd wrote students should find advisers that work well for them.
“I want students to find that advisor who makes them feel comfortable and confident in their exploration and decision making,” Dodd wrote. “No advisor gets upset if a student meets with a different advisor.
A coordinator for the undergraduate program in the Sociology department, Tammy Kennedy is also an adviser for students pursuing a major or minor in Sociology. Kennedy works with current as well as prospective students to help them get a feel for the department.
Kennedy said students majoring or minoring in sociology are required to come to her for two reasons: to declare their major and get a release for graduation. Other than that, students mostly go if they have any questions about the department, classes and future career paths after sociology.
“I want to make the University as small as possible for them,” Kennedy said. “It’s a really big university that’s often siloed and we sit in our own departments. I want to connect students as easily as possible to other departments and resources that I know of and would be helpful to them.”
If a student is unsure about committing to the major, Kennedy usually arranges for the student to meet with a faculty member, speak to another student or attend social events within the department to give them a better idea.
“I think students are pressured earlier and earlier in their academic career to pick a major and make a decision,” Kennedy said. “My line is that I don’t get paid any more if you major in sociology. I’m not trying to convince you for my own personal gain.”
Before applying to the School of Kinesiology and the School of Public Health, Nakisher said her general adviser also helped her create a back-up plan in case it didn’t work out.
“I talked to a lot of students who applied to these programs and didn’t have a backup for when they didn’t get in,” Nakisher said. “I was ready to go right after I got notice that I didn’t get in.”
Webb is also co-president of the Advising Council at the University, which connects advisers from the various schools across campus. Compared to other schools, Webb said LSA offers more freedom in their majors in terms of electives.
“There is so much more space and time to figure out their major,” Webb said. “My colleagues at Newnan really have a great understanding of the curriculum and the courses that LSA offers and help students navigate their major.”
In reference to issues Newnan advising faces, Dodd wrote adviser turnover is an issue both the center and students are forced to navigate.
“I sympathize with the student who really likes his or her advisor only to learn a year or two later that the advisor has left to take a bigger job or moved away from Ann Arbor for family reasons,” Dodd wrote.
For LSA sophomore Lorraine Furtado, her original adviser assigned to her at orientation left in the fall.
“(My original adviser) sent me a lovely email that she was no longer advising,” Furtado said. “She said I would be assigned to a new adviser, but she didn’t say who that adviser was.”
Furtado found out who her new adviser was just a few days ago, months after orientation, when she had scheduled an appointment with a different adviser, who then checked and told her.
As a first-generation student, Furtado said navigating the course selection process and selecting a major was difficult at first.
“The advice I received was along the lines of follow your heart’s desire, which is hard to hear knowing that what I do in my undergrad has to potentially be a career option,” Furtado said. “I ended up taking her advice, which I’m really grateful for now.”