Advising is not something that I have always valued. I’ll admit it. I always considered it “just” being an advisor. However, supervision? Now that’s where it was at in my mind. Supervision seemed to hold a more serious tone in my life and appeared to be more credible. As I have moved on in my career, I realized that I had supervision and advising in a false dichotomy. I think Student Affairs as a field creates this false dichotomy between supervising and advising through our interview questions, division of responsibilities, and prioritization. Luckily, I have come to love advising and have seen the power it has in the role of the educational process.
Over my past two years at Valparaiso University I have had the privilege to serve in a variety of advising roles. My position in residence life affords me the opportunity to advise groups within my hall, but for this series, I want to focus on other opportunities: fraternity advising and the National Residence Hall Honorary.
This past year I have worked on the Mentor Board for the Indiana Zeta chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon at Valparaiso University. I am unaffiliated with any fraternity and so when I was approached and agreed to do this I had no idea what I was getting in to. Since accepting however, I have gained knowledge about learning a culture, offering insight, and fueling an idea. I was brought in specifically to help the Vice President of Programming with the group’s big annual SigEp Christmas philanthropy.
The student and I were one of the first mentor pairs to start meeting on a regular basis, it was awesome. Other pairs started meeting, mentors reaching out to mentees, mentees reaching out to mentors, and the program being successfully used. I would be remiss if I did not say there was not a learning curve for me – as a non-member, I had a lot to learn about this chapter. My priority was to learn how the student I was working with saw their culture, where he thought he fit in, and how could he help make it better. We spent a lot of time talking about goals; I learned that the ideas I offered were taken very seriously and acted on often.
Another advising role I have taken on is within our National Residence Hall Honorary (NRHH) chapter. This group is based in and funded by the department I work for. This group has undergone some major changes in the past five years. It has wavered between being a club for overly involved RAs to reaching out to our residential population. On a campus that has a three-year live-on requirement, I see the value this group brings, but at times they have struggled to see that themselves.
As their advisor, I have had to work a lot with the executive board of the group (which at times has been the really, really, really overly involved students) to figure out ways to motivate their chapter, have themselves place some level of priority into the organization, and figure out what they want this organization to be known for. Sometimes I have had to let them fail and then discuss with them the reasons it failed. I needed them to learn that having an executive board that wasn’t committed to the group was not a sustainable option. On the other side of that, there have been times where I have had to truly guide them because we were planning an event my supervisor, the Dean of Students, and the Vice President of Student Affairs were all going to be at. With this group I have had to learn to be okay with where the group is at and celebrate every small step they take towards living out their vision.
Each of these groups needed something different from me and I had something different to learn from each of these groups. There have been moments where I know I have struggled as an advisor. I have missed learning moments I could have had with an executive board, I probably came to a meeting with too much emotion on my sleeve, and there are times I could have been more prepared. I chose to believe through all of that, the students and I have learned how to be better community members. We have learned how to help each other out, how to work relentlessly to our goals, and how to move forward. I have seen the benefits of advising.
This year, when I was deciding if my schedule would allow me to remain the advisor of NRHH and the executive board heard of the possibility that I would not be the advisor, they all reached out to me asking me to stay. I recently was asked to stay on the mentor board for Sigma Phi Epsilon. I also know that I am a stronger professional, supervisor, and leader because of these experiences. We can choose to be just an advisor, but we have to remember that advising is so much more than that. It has the power to change not only our students’ lives, but our own.
This post is part of our month-long series #OrgAdvising, an in-depth look at the different aspects of the student organization advisor role. This series hopes to bring front-and-center a role otherwise overlooked or forgotten in the discussion of “advisor.” For more information, see the intro post by Cindy Kane! Check out the other posts in this series too!