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A college education can be like an all-you-can-eat buffet. With so many options, what is a diner to do?
Likewise, for students at Arizona State University, the hundreds of classes pose a similar dilemma — so that's where ASU’s academic advisers come in.
Academic advisers support students by guiding them through class selection, helping them discover their passions and offering encouragement. Advising is a crucial part of the ASU experience, said Paul LePore, associate dean for student and academic programs.
“Advisers are the lynchpin of student success at ASU,” LePore said. “They are called upon to be experts, navigators, coaches and counselors to make sure that students’ Sun Devil experience is as profitable, successful and engaging as possible.”
Last week, academic advising in the Department of Psychology was recognized at the international level during the annual meeting of the Global Community for Academic Advising, known as NACADA, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Amy Sannes, associate director of academic services in the psychology department, was elected president of NACADA, and Katie Reese, academic success coordinator in the psychology department, won the 2017 NACADA Outstanding Institutional Advising Program Certificate of Merit for her role in overseeing the Psychology Advising Leaders (PALs) program.
“The award is given to programs designed to assist student success,” Reese said. “The PALs program is near and dear to my heart, and it is nice to see it recognized on a large scale.”
Reese has been in charge of the PALs program for the past three years. It is a four-semester student leadership program, typically beginning in the second semester of freshman year. Students first take a class with Reese that covers leadership, customer service and the requirements for the psychology major. Next, students work as teaching assistants for the first-year seminar course. The third semester is spent learning skills such as classroom management, lesson planning, how to make a syllabus, and how to advise incoming students during orientation. In the fourth semester, PALs participants teach their own first-year seminar.
“PALs is an intentionally designed program to promote student success and retention,” Sannes said. “It is great for Katie Reese to be recognized for the hard work she has done with the program and to bring recognition on an international level to the work that is being done at ASU on student success and retention.”
Reese has received much positive feedback from program alumni and students currently in the program, like psychology major Joseph Aubele. Aubele is in the fourth semester of the program and is currently teaching his own first-year seminar.
“When I was working at orientation, I realized that I was literally helping shape the students’ lives,” Aubele said. “A lot of people in my family have taught, and the PALs program has solidified for me what I thought I wanted to do, which is teach.”
Undergraduate students do not typically have an opportunity to teach a class, Reese said, and freshman students benefit from the perspective provided by PALs instructors.
“It is wonderful to see the relationships that form between PALs instructors and freshman students,” Reese said. “The PALs instructors guide and mentor the students through the freshman year.”
The relationships with students are what Reese finds most rewarding about the PALs program and her job in general, she said.
“I love seeing students grow and transition into being productive adults,” Reese said. “My job can help them figure out their passion and how to get there.”
Like Reese, Sannes said she enjoys helping students find success. Sannes joined ASU almost two years ago and said she prioritizes working with her staff and helping them develop as professional advisors.
“I enjoy supervising the advising staff and finding new ways to be student-centered and student-focused,” Sannes said.
Sannes said organizations like NACADA provide opportunities for improvement by bringing advisors together. The organization includes over 13,000 members from 37 countries; in addition to the annual meeting, there are regional meetings and webinar presentations. ASU advisors have presented at annual and regional conferences, participated in webinars, written for NACADA publications and have invited NACADA members to speak on campus, Sannes said. Organization members are supportive of each other, Sannes added, and are excited about sharing ideas and the details of programs that have worked at their universities.
“It has been rewarding to be able to get my staff involved in professional organizations and have them, and ASU, be recognized at the global level,” Sannes said.
Over the past decade, the psychology department has remained focused on finding the best ways to support students, said Clark Presson, professor of psychology and director of undergraduate studies. Sannes has helped raise the level of professional commitment of advisors and the visibility of the psychology advising office through her leadership in NACADA. In addition to the PALs program, the advising office has also expanded opportunities to experience how psychology can be applied to a wide range of careers and built a rich internship program for undergraduate students, Presson said.
“I am not surprised by the awards and recognition of the advisors,” LePore said. “I have known about the amazing work they are doing and am pleased that more people are recognizing the level of professionalism, expertise and creativity we have in the advising ranks at ASU.”