At Macalester College faculty members have the primary responsibility for advising students and their performance in that role is considered in tenure decisions. The Faculty Handbook outlines multiple categories of advising, but in short we expect faculty to provide meaningful academic guidance and mentoring to their official advisees and to other students with whom they have significant interactions beyond the classroom. Below you will find links to campus resources and advising scenarios to assist you in becoming an excellent advisor.
know where resources are and with whom to be in contact
Collaborating with colleagues across campus facilitates the "advising team" approach that Macalester embraces. It is important to keep FERPA restrictions in mind, but sharing information with staff and faculty who have a "need to know" is appropriate.
build and sustain relationships that are conducive to excellent advising and mentoring
Consider preparatory or reflective activities prior to appointments to help you get to know your advisees better. Karl Wirth has developed an extensive set of pre-advising questions to help students reflect on their learning and set goals; you might consider using some or all of them. An overview of the four-year reflective process is available here.
Engage preceptors, lab assistants, tutors, and other peer educators as a way to provide your advisees with additional mentoring.
Provide life mentorship in both good times and bad by serving as a sounding board and source of assistance. Being a trusted advisor requires listening and referrals; it doesn’t require fixing or solving all issues presented.
engage in professional development around advising
Attend campus discussions and/or workshops about advising (e.g., Talking About Teaching, J-PAW, SPAW, etc) to learn about best practices and to discuss advising with colleagues.
Reflect on your own advising and think about how to improve, just as you do with your teaching.
Solicit constructive feedback on advising and consider how to improve advising strategies. Adrienne Christiansen asks her advisees these questions each semester, Advising Evaluation
Curious about majors? The Advising Handbook (PDF) suggests appropriate course sequences and tips for students exploring majors, minors and concentrations. Academic department websites and the College Catalog are also excellent resources. Consider referring a student interested in several majors to faculty and upper-class students in those departments. The CDC also offers Major Destinations handouts featuring career paths for each major, minor and concentration.
guide career exploration and planning by helping to establish contacts and identify opportunities
The Career Development Center (CDC) is the central office on campus that can help students think about their interests, jobs, and how to prepare for employment after Mac. Consider the following ways the CDC can help: have CDC facilitate in-class activities; refer a student to a career counselor; refer an employer to recruit Mac students; consult on job search, career and employment related student issues; collaborate on class and department-specific career events
The Internship Program works with students to find internships and to receive academic credit for unpaid experiences.
The Alumni Office can help students make contact with alumni in many different fields.
mentor student projects that range from collaborative research to honors projects, performances, and Senior capstones.
Students can participate in collaborative research with Macalester Faculty
Through the Honors Program students have the ability to development an independent senior project; each department sets its own expectations although college-wide guidelines do apply.
The Career Development Center also promotes many external fellowships. Students are encouraged to schedule a CDC appointment to confer on their fellowship application, improve materials, and conduct mock interviews.
The following scenarios describe situations advisors encounter with their advisees and possible resolutions. They are intended to get you thinking about options and should not be considered the only approach that can be used.
Jill wants to be a Spanish major, but is concerned she will not complete the study abroad component of the major because she is struggling with depression and a learning disability. Given her particular constellation of challenges, her counselor told her it would be inadvisable for her to attempt to live abroad for three months. Her academic advisor discussed the situation with Jill, and then, after consulting with the chair of the department and the director of the Internships Office, encouraged Jill to find a local internship that would approximate the experience of cultural and linguistic immersion she would otherwise have had abroad. The study abroad requirement for the major was waived and Jill took an internship working with children with disabilities in a local public Spanish immersion elementary school.
Jordan is a promising double major in Economics and German. One day her advisor in the German department receives a mass email advertising a summer course for undergraduates on economic challenges facing Germany. He forwards it to Jordan with a note telling her he thinks she’d be a good candidate for the course and encouraging her to apply. Jordan responds enthusiastically and asks the advisor to write a letter of recommendation. He agrees and asks to see Jordan’s application materials. In addition to writing the letter he gives Jordan feedback on her materials. Jordan is accepted into the program and spends the summer in Germany deepening her knowledge of both of her majors.
Zeke has been doing very well in their FYC. One Friday afternoon Zeke appears unexpectedly in the advisor’s office looking anxious. Zeke apologetically tells the advisor they must miss class on Monday because of a medical appointment. Zeke has been experiencing terrible recurrent migraines that have hampered their ability to study effectively not only in the FYC but in all their classes. The advisor has not noticed any slackening in Zeke’s performance in class, but listens attentively as Zeke tells their story. Zeke suffered from migraines in childhood, but because they seemed to abate as Zeke grew older they did not initially contact the disability office when they enrolled at Macalester. Now, however, the problem seems to be worsening. Two days ago Zeke called the disability office after hours and left a message that has not yet been returned. Zeke is not sure what else to do. The advisor praises Zeke for seeking both medical attention and academic support. The advisor asks how Zeke is feeling right now and dims the lights in the office when Zeke says they are feeling “mostly ok.” While Zeke is still in the office the advisor calls disability services and puts Zeke on the phone with a staff member who makes an appointment for Monday. Before class on Wednesday, the advisor inquires how things are going. It seems Zeke has received the support they need. Throughout the rest of the semester, the advisor periodically asks Zeke how things are going.
Cassidy is a sophomore who has declared a major in English. She schedules a meeting with her advisor to discuss internship and/or job opportunities for the upcoming summer. At the meeting, the advisor asks Cassidy about her interests. Cassidy says that she’s passionate about teaching. In high school, she volunteered at an adult literacy program. It was hard work but she enjoyed it. She hopes to do something similar, but because of her financial situation, she needs to find a paid position—or at the very least, a position that offers free housing for the summer and a modest stipend. The advisor tells Cassidy he knows a senior (Jing) in the department who spent a summer volunteering for a Boston non-profit that helped middle school students improve their reading and writing skills. Cassidy wants to learn more about this internship. The advisor tells Cassidy he will introduce her to Jing via email. He also provides Cassidy with a copy of the Internship Program Office’s handout that lists all the positions Macalester students have undertaken in the last year. Finally, the advisor asks Cassidy to schedule an appointment with the Career Development Center. The next time they meet, the advisor asks Cassidy how her summer internship/job search is going. Cassidy says Jing told her all about her paid summer working in Boston. Furthermore, Cassidy tells the advisor she has an upcoming meeting with a staff member of the CDC to talk about additional summer employment opportunities.
Malik is a junior English major with a concentration in Creative Writing. Stephen is his advisor. Ever since Malik was a freshman, he has wanted to write a novel. He has taken many of his required courses for the major, including a number of advanced level courses in fiction writing. Malik has signed up for a Capstone class for his senior year, but he has recently come to his advisor to investigate the possibility of an Honors Project. Stephen first asks Malik why he might want to do an Honors project instead of the traditional capstone. Malik replies that his project is an ambitious one and could benefit from an entire year’s work instead of simply one semester. Stephen checks to make sure that Malik satisfies the basic GPA requirement of the school and within his major. Finally Malik and Stephen discuss why Stephan might be an ideal advisor as opposed to someone else in the department. Since Malik has worked with Stephen throughout his time at Macalester, and since Stephen has seen his growth from his early writing to his late work, Stephen decides to work with Malik on the project. He shows him where to find the department’s guidelines and agrees to read drafts of his proposal.
Maggie is a Geography major interested in pursuing graduate study but she is not sure whether to apply. She comes to her adviser John. John sits down with Maggie and asks why she wants to go to graduate school. Maggie reveals that it is both because of her family’s expectations and because she is genuinely eager to pursue an advanced degree. In order to help Maggie gain more understanding about graduate school programs, John contacts the Career Development Center to get a list of recent Geography alumni who went to graduate school after graduation. John connects Maggie with the alumni currently in grad school and through this channel she learns about different programs in both Geography and related fields. Maggie also talks with her parents about these programs to figure out whether her family could support her future endeavor. After ascertaining the level of support she could expect from her parents, Maggie comes back to John again. John goes over with Maggie the application requirements for each of the programs she identifies as a good fit academically and financially. This time Maggie is able to know where her passion resides and to narrow down a short list of graduate programs to apply for as well as faculty members to ask for recommendation letters. Maggie is now working on preparing GRE and application materials.