Academic Advising Challenges Before And After COVID-19
By: Dina Saad, Gulsen Ozdemir, Merisa Marquez, and Sydney Kowalski

Academic advising has always played a very large role in the success of undergraduate and graduate students who attend universities around the world. However, due to the global pandemic, in-person classes and advising had to take a pause, and move to a virtual setting. Zoom became the main source of contact for students and their professors/advisors. Before online advising, advisors would see hundreds of students each semester, helping guide them to a successful semester and down a prosperous road to graduation. During the pandemic, advisors were forced to set up virtual advising sessions but were more limited on time slots, which limited the number of students who received advising during the pandemic. Now, with in-person classes reinstated, advising has followed suit, and many advisors have opened up to the in-person sessions, while still keeping those virtual sessions open for students who are not in person.

To explain more in-depth the problems that arose with advising and the overall benefits, before and after the pandemic, an interview with professor Andi Stein was conducted. She was asked multiple questions about her role as the graduate student advisor at California State University Fullerton. After being the advisor for over Twelve years, Professor Stein is retiring at the end of the year and is being replaced by Professor Cynthia King.

Interview with Professor Stein, Gulsen Ozdemir, and Dina Saad

“Thank you so much for having us today. We hope this interview will be as pleasant for you as we do. The aim of this interview is to find more about academic advising challenges before and after covid-19. And the reason as we explained before at our virtual meeting before, the reason for asking you for this interview is because you have a lengthy experience and competence in academic advising which will greatly assist us in our research for the 410 class. The communication quality in advising is a critical point—listening, interviewing, rapport building, self-disclosure—in which the emotional intelligence of the advisor becomes a factor. It is essential to make a positive impression on the student, build rapport, and create a safe, welcoming space. What happens in the context of an advising session has broader implications and use of Safe Conversations relational skills can aid advisors in strengthening this process (i.e., relational competencies).”

When you applied for the job, what were your expectations and your image of the working type? 

  • Professor Stein mentioned that she had expected the job to be detail-oriented when working with graduate students. 
  • She thought that this job would also enable more graduate classes. Cal State Fullerton’s Graduate program is smaller compared to other universities because it is mainly a commuter campus. Because the program is so small Professor Stein had expected it would be easier to get to know most of the graduate students on a personal level. 

Can you explain to me what your role is and your responsibilities? 

  • Professor Stein has many roles while working as an advisor for the graduate program. Some of these are working with recurring students, planning courses offered, finding interested faculty, helping students map out schedules and concentrations, and matching up students’ thesis advisors.

What are the key strategies to an effective advising communication plan? 

  • Many advisors stick to a specific plan for all students in general. We appreciated that Professor Stein said she has no plan for key strategies because every student and situation is different. This was admirable to hear from a graduate advisor because many advisors don’t seem to put as much effort into each student they work with as Professor Stein does. 

What difficulties did you have in communicating with the students? 

  • Prior to the pandemic, it was easier to get in contact with one another because everything was in person, but once the pandemic hit everything, unfortunately, became virtual. Professor Stein stated that her primary source of communication with students is email. So once everything went online it was even harder to stay in contact with students via emails. 

Regarding the current situation, do you think that communicating with students is much better virtual or in-person? And why? 

  • Professor Stein said she prefers to be in person than online because when she is in person she is able to read body language and facial expressions.

What methods of distance advising (e.g., email, phone, video, social media, etc.) were utilized, and what methods were the most/least effective? 

  • Professor Stein said that phone calls and zoom were the most utilized methods during the pandemic.
Source: Zoom Features

Are there advantages to online instruction?  

  • Unfortunately, there were many downfalls to the pandemic. On the bright side though Professor Stein said that there were many more online seminars which meant it was easier for students to join. The online seminars and online schooling helped more students to “attend” classes even if it wasn’t in person. By taking part in online classes it helped keep the university running during the pandemic. 

Are there disadvantages?  

  • Professor Stein said that some of the disadvantages of being fully online were that she couldn’t see students because people would keep their cameras turned off. Many people were in different time zones and environments. 
  • Professor Stein also stated that she didn’t have much preparation time to learn zoom and she isn’t tech-savvy so it made it harder for her to adjust. 

Regarding the enrollment. Do you think it has decreased?

  • According to Professor Stein, the number of students enrolled was unaffected and remained around the same.

What are the greatest challenges you experience with accommodating the needs of today’s college students as you work to create an effective advising environment? 

  • Professor Stein said that they live in a different world in terms of media compared to how she grew up. 
  • She also talked about how the decline of physical newspapers decreases, but at the same time, many students learn more about the world by having newspapers in the palm of their hands. 

How do you know whether your advising system is working? Do you solicit student feedback (and how), or do you rely on institutional completion rate data? 

  • The main way professors and advisors look to see if their system is working is institutional completion. The graduation rate of a university can show how successful students are with the help of resources provided to them. With academic advising being one of the most important resources.

Overall, Professor Stein really enjoyed being the graduate student advisor here at CSUF. She found it to be such a rewarding experience and found her time with students to be very memorable.

It is important for students to remember that advisors are there for them specifically. Their main goal is to help direct students down a successful path during and after college. However, for students to get the best possible advice and help, attending regular academic sessions is important for the best possible outcome.

If you would like to hear exactly what Professor Stein had to say, please have a look at the embedded video and listen intently, she offered some amazing insight for all students!

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