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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Adventures in advising

On a rainy day in the midst of the University of Wisconsin’s busy course-registration period, Mindy Mickelson sits down across from an adviser in a small room in Ingraham Hall. Although this is the first time the UW freshman has visited an adviser since Student Orientation, Advising and Registration program, she bluntly explains her dilemma.

“I have no idea what I should take next year. That’s pretty much it. Oh, and I register tomorrow,” Mickelson tells Cross College Advising Service adviser Brian Bischel.

Bischel, who sees approximately nine to 10 students a day on average and has been meeting with even more students during the current registration rush, approaches the situation with ease. As Mickelson tells him she has absolutely no idea what she wants to do, he poses a question.

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“Are you talking about what you want to do in college or when you grow up?” Bischel asks.

Mickelson smiles as she shrugs and says “Both.”

And from there, the advising session takes off. As Bischel helps Mickelson explore her likes and dislikes, she admits she was not very focused first semester and did not really enjoy her math and science classes. But she says she is doing better this semester and has discovered she really likes her Norwegian and psychology classes.

Bischel tells Mickelson many freshmen struggle to find what they want to do their first semester as they experience being away from home for the first time. But, he adds, she is on the right track by finding subject areas and classes that interest her.

“You want to find the things you’re interested in and good in and then do as much of that as possible,” Bischel says.

But as Bischel carefully explains Mickelson’s DARS report to her, she expresses some frustration at simply taking classes to find what she likes.

“I feel like I’m just taking whatever kinds of classes I want and am not getting toward anything specific,” Mickelson said.

But Bischel assures Mickelson the best way to find what she wants to do will be to explore her options and figure out what she is good at.

By the end of the advising session, Bischel and Mickelson have agreed Mickelson should switch from a Bachelor of Science degree to a Bachelor of Arts degree, which requires fewer math courses. In addition, Bischel has provided Mickelson with a sheet of paper outlining who she can talk to in order to learn more about a psychology, sociology or education major.

“I think it went pretty well,” Mickelson said. “I went in not really knowing what I wanted to hear.”

Frustrations about advising at UW

While Mickelson felt her advising experience gave her a nudge in the right direction, other students have not been as fortunate.

The first Spanish adviser UW senior Anissa Marien went to provided her with little information or guidance. She found the experience such a waste of her time that she went to him once, received no helpful information and never went back.

“It was horrible. They were just assigned certain students, and they didn’t even know what kind of path I was looking to do,” Marien said.

Marien then began going to an L&S dean that she said she found much more helpful and knowledgeable than her Spanish adviser.

UW sophomore Emily Palmer has also had a less-than-satisfactory experience with her advising sessions. She said she went to an adviser who often could not answer her questions and would repeatedly tell Palmer how hard her goals would be to achieve.

“Every time I would go to this adviser I would tell her about a program I was interested in and she would say, ‘Well, that’s really hard to get into.’ I called her the dream-killer,” Palmer said.

And when students do have a bad advising experience, many are unsure where to go next. Even advisers admit the structure of the advising system on campus can be confusing for students.

Cross College Advising Service director Tim Walsh said approximately 80 percent of UW students are in the College of Letters and Science, which is also where approximately 60 percent of undergraduate majors can be found. He said within the College of L&S, there are three main advising services that students are assigned to.

Students who know what they want to major in or have a reasonably good idea of where their interests lie will be placed in the Letters and Science Advising Center (LSAC), which is a service that pairs students with a faculty adviser who teaches in that student’s area of interest. LSAC, which has approximately 32-34 faculty members on its staff, is also the campus headquarters for pre-health and pre-law advising.

Students who are unsure as to what they want to major in will be placed in the Cross College Advising Service (CCAS), which is a comprehensive advising center housed within the College of L&S. CCAS transcends the boundaries of the UW’s nine different colleges, and its advisers work to help students explore different options on campus. The number of students assigned to an adviser in CCAS varies anywhere from 400-500 students per adviser.

Students who enter UW as a member of the honors program are placed in a special advising program specifically for honors students.

Additionally, if students enter UW knowing they want to major in a field of study not within the College of L&S, they are generally assigned to an adviser within their college (e.g., the College of Engineering, School of Education, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, etc.). However, Walsh said things get complex, because L&S is often the default college that students remain in until they are accepted into their major. For example, students intending to apply to the School of Business will remain in L&S with a pre-business classification until they are officially accepted into the school.

Sound confusing?

Walsh says that’s because it is.

“It’s a complicated situation,” Walsh said.

LSAC coordinator and political science professor Neil Richardson agrees, noting a university the size of UW has complicated subdivisions of the colleges and schools with offices all over campus. He said this can lead to confusion on the part of students as to where exactly they should go to find an adviser fit for them.

“There is no one-stop shopping on a campus like this, because one stop would have to do too many things for too many people to be logistically possible. And so we subdivide and specialize, which means that then the onus is partly on the students to figure out where they ought to be,” Richardson said. “And students, like the rest of us, come to be frustrated if they go to one place and are told ‘Oh, you should really go to another,’ which may be three blocks away and up the hill. And then they get there if they have a certain tenacity and they’re told ‘No, actually you should be in a third place.'”

Advising culture causes problems

But Walsh said students must accept that with 150 majors and nine different schools and colleges at UW, there will inevitably be a certain level of complexity in the advising system. He said one of the biggest challenges for advisers is dealing with what he calls a problematic advising culture at UW.

Walsh said despite the repeated efforts of advisers, UW students continue to function in a “panic advising mode,” where they wait until they receive their registration e-mail and then quickly schedule an appointment with an adviser. This leads to a period each spring and fall where advisers see thousands of students in a matter of weeks.

“There’s probably a lot of little things that can be done to improve advising, and we can perhaps debate if the advising system is adequate to meet the needs of all of our students, but one thing I’m sure of is that our advising system with 25,000 undergrads is not able to cope with trying to see all of the students within five weeks twice a year,” Walsh said.

Walsh also said this type of crunch advising can be “trying” on advisers and may leave students at a disadvantage.

“That probably isn’t the best recipe for getting the best advising when an adviser is talking to you and they know that they have six more people waiting. That’s not really the best situation,” Walsh said.

Richardson said students must take responsibility when it comes to advising and realize that some headaches are self-inflicted.

“Some frustrations are brought on by students. They don’t seek out the information that’s there, and then they get annoyed when they’ve been troubled,” Richardson said.

Richardson also said while there may be a perception on campus that undergraduate advising is terrible, the advising center consistently receives feedback in which 95-96 percent of students rate the advising as good or excellent.

And Bischel said sometimes advisers simply cannot meet all of the demands of students. He said sometimes students expect advisers to tell them exactly what classes to take or what they should major in. However, he emphasized that is not the role advisers should play.

“We don’t dictate what they should take. We pull from them what they’re interested in,” Bischel said. “Sometimes students expect more than advisers can give.”

Regardless of the expectations on either side, Victor Macaruso, advising coordinator for the College of L&S, said the wisest thing students can do is simply make an effort to visit an adviser.

“It always amazes me that students pay for advisers — it’s part of tuition — and some students choose not to see an adviser,” Macaruso said. “It’s absolutely appalling that they blunder on, and some students spend five years here because they haven’t made informed choices.”

Walsh also emphasized that if students know nothing else about advising, they should at least know that advisers are always available.

“It’s important for students to know that the only reason advisers are here is to help students,” Walsh said.

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