My name is Jessica Keefer and I am currently an Academic Advising Coordinator in the Center for Academic Services and Advising (CASA) at the Colorado School of Mines. CSM is a public 4 year STEM institution nestled snugly in the Rocky Mountain foothills. Our closest mountain, Mt. Zion, bears a giant white “M” on the top for Mines- and has for over 100 years. Another fun fact: CASA itself is a little ranch house that actually used to be our student Wellness Center, and our individual offices used to be the examination rooms!
CASA is a bit unique as far as an academic support office goes because it straddles the line between Student Life and Academic Affairs so well. There are certain aspects of our office that are very much Student Affairs. We participate in Student Life traditions, we volunteer for student centered events, and we very much care for the holistic nature of our students. At the same time, we are very academic, holding study skills workshops, sitting in on Undergraduate Council, and housing some faculty office hours in our building. We get to work with colleagues from every area of campus on a regular basis- staff and faculty alike. I have gotten to form deep and meaningful partnerships and friendships outside of my office because of the openness across departments.
My job itself is also a bit unique. I advise a caseload of approximately 450 undeclared first and second year students, and I provide academic coaching services to any student that needs it. Advising includes course planning, major selection, and determining/ discussing satisfactory academic progress. Coaching, on the other hand, includes helping a student improve skills such as note taking, test taking, study methods, and time management. In addition to that, I coordinate our first year success seminar (CSM101). This means scheduling all 45 sections, hiring and training all 45 staff and faculty Mentors that teach the course, and writing the curriculum. This also entails the co-supervision of 92 incredible undergraduate Peer Mentors. I think they may be my favorite part of my job.
This year was a bit challenging. I rolled out a complete redesign of the CSM101 curriculum. The new course involves an element of “choose your own adventure” that students and faculty alike seem to enjoy. Since there are 45 sections (each taught by a different faculty or staff Mentor), this change allows classes to tailor their lessons to the needs of the group and the strengths of the presenter. In addition to that change, I began developing our first ever transfer success seminar. This has involved many constituents across campus, and some amazing research and brainstorming by the whole group. We are now in the curriculum development and scheduling phase of that course.
So, what does a typical day look like? It depends on the day, the week, and definitely the semester. We have ebbs and flows in our office, dependent on campus dates and deadlines, as well as when planning for our secondary roles gears up. I am busiest toward the end of summer, due to final curriculum preparations and Peer Mentor training; mid fall, due to pre-registration advising; and then mid-spring, due to Peer Mentor recruitment and pre-registration advising. But here is an average day in September:
8:00am arrive to work. Catch up with colleagues. Respond to emails over coffee.
9:30am academic coaching appointment to discuss time management & test anxiety
10:30am meeting with CSM101 student to discuss goal assignment
11:30am meeting with student to discuss possible double major & study abroad
1:00pm meeting with student to discuss dropping course
2:00pm meeting with CSM101 student to discuss goal assignment
4:00pm teach CSM101
5:00pm leave for the day
In between these “scheduled” items, I’d be answering phone calls and emails, speaking to students who walked in, planning for the upcoming pre-registration advising season, putting weekly details together for the Mentors and Peer Mentors that teach CSM101, and completing any other tasks or projects that came up. My day would look MUCH different in late October (I’d be busier; think advising upwards of 15 students a day) and MUCH different in early June (things would be quieter; this is when lots of development and planning happens!).
One unusual thing that has happened as part of my job is that I’ve gotten both Mental Health First Aid certified and MBTI certified this year. My supervisor truly values and supports professional development, in many different forms, which I know is rare. I’m incredibly lucky. Both certifications will allow me to continue to help my students in new, innovative, and meaningful ways. They have also satisfied my yearning and need for continuing education- at least for the time being.
But, here is what you really need to know: advising students is FUN. There is a pervasive thought among Student Affairs professionals that academic advising is dry, boring, and repetitive. Don’t get me wrong- it CAN be. But more often than not, it puts me in a unique spot with my students where I can help them grow and develop as a student and as a person while providing academic support. I am a liaison for them between their life as an individual, and their life as a high achieving STEM student. I am implicitly trusted. Because of this, my students share their goals and their failures. They want to hear my advice. They let me take a small step into their lives where they make me laugh, and a few have made me tear up while sharing their struggles. As busy as I get, I never forget that my primary function is to serve them and help them find success.
This post is part of our #dayinSA series on highlighting the diversity of functional areas in the field of student affairs. We will hear from #SApros of all kinds – academic advisors, office mangagers, res hall directors, vice provosts of SA, and many many more. Each will share exactly what their typical day looks like, what exactly they work on, and what makes them want to come to work each day. We hope to squash stereotypes within the field and celebrate all the different kinds of great work that #SApros do. For more information, check out the intro post by Sara Ackerson. Be sure to read the other posts in this series too!