Kalamazoo College's Student Newspaper
By Jen Wendel
Fall 2009 marked Kalamazoo College’s change to a new curricular structure, altering the way students pick classes. Under the new curriculum, general-education requirements were eliminated to allow students the authority to design their liberal arts education as they saw fit. This newfound responsibility has been met with an increased importance in the role of advising.
Last year, advisors were given two to three workshops to prepare for their roles. Zaide Pixley, Dean of First-Years and Advising, said advisors were “asked to talk about their own experiences with students, ask what students want to do to enhance and learn extra skills and help students find courses and areas that may not jump out at them.”
Since the change, Charles Stull, Professor of Economics and Business, has seen a shift in conversations with his advisees. Before, most advising focused solely on the multitude of requirements needed for graduation, but now students can focus on “what skills [they] want to have, what [they’ll] need for work” once outside K. Pixley has also seen more “in-depth conversations” since the start of the new curriculum.
To really make the advising effective, students need to “claim the relationship and be prepared” said Pixley. “Advisors don’t necessarily seek out students,” she said, so when they come in for a session, students should have already put effort into preparing. Stull noted that Pixley sends out a multitude of e-mails to students that, with careful reading and revision, can help students better prepare for advising sessions. Generally though, both Stull and Joshua Naranjo, a mathematics professor, say students come prepared to sessions.
Some students were unsatisfied with their advising experiences, but wished to remain unidentified. They complained that their advisors did not know enough about the curriculum to give guidance outside their majors, or just did not know how to help them. To some degree, advisors are getting feedback as both Pikley and Naranjo spoke of a recent faculty survey on student perceptions of advisors, and a student survey last spring on advising. Naranjo also noted that during his college experience at a state university, he was little more than a name on a file to his advisor.
For more information or for a different advising perspective, Pixley suggested contacting one of the departmental student advisors whose names are posted to departmental bulletin boards. She also suggested that if your advisor cannot provide everything you need, or if “you don’t click with your advisor, talk about changing.” Students can either submit a request to their department for an advisor assignment, or specifically request someone.
There is “no general trick” to advising, as Stull noted, and finding someone who is easy to talk to is the best way to avoid advising problems. When asked if students had stepped up to the responsibility of the new advising system, he said “it’s mixed” and that he has not seen too many students take advantage of the curriculum freedom since it takes “a higher level of interest” to pursue new areas without a requirement looming.