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Advisors Who Inspire: Georgetown

By October 20, 2017

Advisors Who Inspire GeorgetownGreat advisors are copilots on the student journey. They guide, support, direct, and most importantly, inspire their students.

As our team works with dozens of colleges and universities to develop Salesforce Advisor Link, we’ve been inspired by the stories of advisors doing things a little differently, and making a big impact.

In this “Advisors Who Inspire” series, you’ll meet trailblazing advisors who combine the art and science of advising, using technology and data to drive student success in a whole new way.

Doug LittleDoug Little is Senior Assistant Dean and Director of Academic Affairs at Georgetown’s School of Nursing and Health Studies. He has a lot on his plate: he manages “advising deans” (Georgetown’s term for advisors), but also works on advising strategy and processes, in addition to doing some frontline student advising himself.

Georgetown’s advising programs combine passionate advisors, innovative use of technology, and a multi-tiered advising structure to create what Doug calls a “safety net.” There are many layers in place, so that students have a variety of options to create their own personal network of support and growth.

Here’s what Doug shared with us.

How does advising work at Georgetown? What is the advisor-student relationship like?
Doug: We have a three-tiered advising structure. Each student is assigned a peer advisor, which is a fellow upper-class student who’s been successful academically and socially. Students also have a faculty advisor for internships and research career opportunities. But their primary advising relationship is with their academic dean — that’s who they go to first if they have questions about anything from academics to personal and social life. These advisors are all assigned to the student before their first day, and they follow the student throughout their time here.

Describe a typical “day in the life” of an advisor.
Doug: There’s really no typical “day in the life” for an advisor at Georgetown. We interact with a wide spectrum of students: some who are succeeding and want to achieve more, and some who are struggling and need guidance. We try to do a lot of face-to-face advising, especially for undergrads, but of course we also have many online programs. For online students, we make an effort to provide the same individualized and personalized interactions that we do in our in-person advising. Advising deans can interact with several dozen students a day during peak periods, so it’s essential to use communication systems to create connections.

What are the biggest challenges you face on a day-to-day basis?
Doug: The biggest challenge for advisors is always time. Georgetown students are high achievers and they want to cram as much into every day as possible — they keep us on our toes! We center our advising around the Jesuit value of cura personalis, which means caring for the whole person across their developmental journey, meeting them where they are, and working with them to create a bridge to where they want to go. It’s exciting and rewarding work.

But it’s difficult to get to know each advisee personally. So as an institution, we’ve embarked on this journey, with the Georgetown 360 project, to use technology to empower our staff and everyone in our community with the information we need to engage more effectively. Technology doesn’t replace what advisors do, but it increases our capacity to engage on a more individualized level.

How do you think advising has changed over time?
Doug: When I was a student, there was a separation between faculty and advisors and students. It wasn’t easy to connect with them on a personal level or ask them about something outside of their purview. Students now have interconnected lives. They share more information than I ever did or any generation of students before ever has. If they’re sharing it, they expect us to know it! If a student poured their heart and soul into their admissions essay, then when they show up for their first appointment with their advising dean, they should have read that essay and already know as much as they can about the student’s background.

Too often, institutional silos get in the way of our ability to know student’s interconnected story. We have to rethink where we store our data and how it’s accessed. If I only have a few minutes with a student, I want to be prepared to be fully engaged, so they feel like they’re understood and cared for by the person across the desk.

What do you think are the most important traits of a great advisor?
Doug: I think the role of the advisor is like an old-time telephone operator. We help plug students into the right resources and the right opportunities to advance their passions.

Why is advising so critical for student success and retention today?
Doug: We’re a need-blind institution, so we have students that are talented and motivated, but might be the first in their family to go to college. Those families who have sacrificed so much to send their students to a high-caliber school — it’s their big break! These students often were the smartest in the room in high school, and now they’re here with students who are just as smart. They’re in an environment they’ve never been in before. This is causing psychological issues like imposter syndrome.

But a great advisor can turn that all around. We can help them understand that they’re here for a reason, and even if they’re struggling now, we’re here to help you be successful. This is the place for you. Without that support, there’s going to be serious risks in terms of performance and retention.

How does technology play a role in advising?
Doug: Technology doesn’t replace the caring and dedicated people who make our campus and community special, but it can help them do their job even better. One of the goals of the Georgetown 360 Salesforce initiative is that our staff will be able to spend 20% of their time getting the data they need, and 80% of their time making connections. Historically, that number was flipped! We have talented people spending more time with spreadsheets than with our community and Georgetown family.

We’ve talked about what makes a great advisor. What makes a great advising program?
Doug: We’re trying to create a multi-layered safety net. What that means is, it doesn’t matter who the student connects with — whether it’s their peer advisor, academic dean, a faculty member — what matters it that they make a connection with at least one of those people. Students are different, and we have to accept and embrace that. All we can do is provide many different ways to connect.

Therefore, advisor diversity is critical to having a great advising program. We make an active effort to maintain a group of advising deans with different backgrounds, life experiences, passions, and skills. I want to work with a diverse group of people, so that we can all learn from each other and grow together. Because that makes our advising program a stronger resource for our students.

You can also download a PDF version of Douglas’s story.

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