Academic advising during a pandemic
by Stephanie Hart, director of academic programs
The college’s Advising Center provides advising, recruitment, and support services to prospective and current students, as well as faculty, staff, and others in the community. With the onset of the pandemic, we had to rethink how we could support these groups in a virtual world. Although we have encountered some challenges, it has encouraged us to think creatively about how we can continue to accomplish our mission.
At the start of the pandemic, our academic advisors quickly shifted all advising meetings to Zoom, Google Meets, or phone. While there was an initial learning curve, we all now feel both comfortable and confident meeting with students virtually. Another issue was that we needed to quickly find a new way to manage the flow and submission of forms. Thanks to the DocuSign online platform, we implemented a secure and effective solution. With additional workflow technologies that are being developed, I predict that paper forms will likely remain a thing of the past.
While the spring 2020 semester was winding down, we were also gearing up for new student orientation. We spent a significant amount of time revising the orientation process from an in-person to a virtual experience, and decided to hold individual meetings with each of our incoming students via Zoom. With approximately 260 new students, it was a significant undertaking, but it helped us connect with our students during a time when we all felt distanced. With each student receiving a 45-minute advising appointment, these meetings accounted for approximately 200 staff hours.
Our work on recruitment has shifted drastically during the pandemic as well. Prior to March 2020, much of our recruiter’s time was spent traveling to events and meeting with prospective students in person. Like our advising appointments, we quickly shifted our prospective student meetings to Zoom. Some of the large-scale events, such as Open House, were also moved to a virtual platform.
One unanticipated benefit of these virtual events and meetings is that it increased access for our students. By removing barriers such as travel costs, distance, and time off work or school, we can reach students who may not have been able to join us in person. However, we also understand that for those who prefer an in-person event, a virtual platform may not provide them with the experience they desire. When we move back to in-person operations, we now know how to effectively offer experiences both in-person and virtually.
As I reflect on the past year, I appreciate how the new challenges have helped us grow. I am also extremely thankful to work alongside a resilient team that is committed to the success of our students. We miss our students, faculty, and staff, and we can’t wait for the Advising Center to once again be buzzing with activity!