Fairfield University provides academic advising to all students, as stated in the “Resources and Services” section found within the Undergraduate Academic Catalog.
Under this section it states that students are paired with a faculty advisor within the academic discipline of their major. Undeclared majors are also paired with a faculty advisor, which will change once a major has been declared.
Fairfield further states that “advisors are available to meet regularly with students, monitor progress, advise students at registration time and discuss programs and courses of study, co-curricular involvement, and high-impact learning opportunities such as study abroad, capstones, and internships.”
Questions have been raised among students, however, about the process of choosing academic advisors and training.
Andrea Martinez, M.A., NCC, senior assistant dean for the College of Arts and Sciences , provides answers to some of these students’ questions, as well as her take on the role of an academic advisor.
Speaking solely on behalf of CAS, and not for the Dolan School of Business, Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies or School of Engineering where protocols may differ, Martinez shares that all full-time faculty must serve as academic advisors.
CAS is one of the largest schools with roughly 1,500 undergraduate students, according to Martinez. Each of these students is assigned an academic advisor for the four years spent as undergraduates.
“It’s built into our expectations that every full time faculty member is assigned to students [as an academic advisor],” she says.
There are a few different ways that CAS pairs a student with an advisor.
According to Martinez, students who have both declared a major and have filled out their academic questionnaire are divided up equally and distributed to faculty within the given department. In other words, the department chairs look at advising loads for current faculty and then divide the students out equally amongst them.
How many students a faculty member is assigned to advise, therefore, depends upon how many students are enrolled in the department.
She goes on to provide an example – since the communications department is very large, advisors within that department have greater caseloads of students, whereas faculty within a smaller department often do not.
In regards to students who are undeclared, CAS tries to ensure that each student’s personal interests are accounted for and read each student’s academic questionnaire. Then, in alignment with a student’s interest, a faculty member is chosen.
“If we have a student who says, math is really not my strong point, or I don’t like it, or it’s not a subject matter I’m interested in,” says Martinez, “I don’t assign them to Dr. Irene Mulvey in the math department because that’s not really going to work.”
Similarly, if a student who has a declared major switches to undeclared, as part of the student’s paperwork CAS requires the student to answer open-ended questions pertaining to their interests, according to Martinez.
Overall when asked how students are assigned to a particular academic advisor, Martinez says, “Sometimes it has to do with loads and how many students are assigned to that faculty member and can they take on more?”
“Sometimes it’s based on interests, and sometimes it’s based on declared majors,” she added.
Every student is entitled to ask to switch their advisor as well, shares Martinez, however this is very rare within CAS. In the case of a student wanting to switch, a meeting is often set up with a department chair to hear the student’s concerns and figure out how to best accommodate the student.
When asked what the role of an academic advisor is, Martinez says that the role is more than just granting a student a pin for course registration, “It’s mentorship” she says.
According to Martinez, helping a student choose their classes is the easy part. The harder but equally important part is building a strong mentoring relationship with the student, and guiding them outside of the classroom as well.
“If we do it, right,” she says, “the students have a co-pilot, but they themselves are the drivers.”
As reported by The Mirror, student experiences often differ when it comes to their academic advising and many want to know why?
Catherine Zarrella, a sophomore student pursuing a psychology major, shows gratitude for faculty advisors within the psychology department.
“The faculty makes it clear to students how important meeting with your advisor is and they host two group advising sessions in tandem with personal advising,” Zarrella says.
Carina Kortick, an undeclared sophomore student in the DSB, also shares her experience.
“I understand the idea behind advising, “ Kortick says, “ but I personally have found it of little help, and without the pin incentive I’m not sure if I would go.”
Looking beyond the process of pairing students with an advisor, Vincent Rotondo ‘23, Fairfield University Student Association senator and director of academics, shares another possibility of lack of proper training for faculty advisors.
Rotondo sits on the undergraduate curriculum committee at Fairfield, where he periodically hears of faculty concerns pertaining to a lack of proper training in the academic advisor position.
He notes that as a student, he is unfamiliar with the process of hiring academic advisors, as well as any potential training or lack thereof. Rotundo has, however, witnessed professors at undergraduate curriculum committee meetings complain about not feeling prepared enough for their role as an advisor.
“In terms of advising, I don’t know exactly how the process works,” says Rotondo, “But I do know that there are advisors who have come forth and they’ve said we don’t know what we’re doing, so how do you expect us to advise kids?”
“They physically have admitted that they don’t know how to advise because some of them themselves do not understand the core [curriculum], which I personally believe is a problem,” he says.
Rotondo takes a step back, however, to recognize Fairfield University on their overall hiring process of professors at large.
“The system in terms of how they get professors in the first place is strong,” he says, “Fairfield does their best and this [is something] I will commend the University for.”
Reasons behind Rotondo’s high regards for Fairfield in this aspect consist of students being offered the opportunity to get dinner with prospective professors, as well as requiring them to teach a mock class at the University.
Overall, Rotondo agrees with Martinez that the role of an academic advisor is to help the student gauge course selection and interests, serving as an overall mentor.
He mentions that there is a current divide between professors who are on top of their role as advisors, and those who are not.
“They’re [the faculty] not provided with the proper resources they need in order to advise so therefore, they can’t advise us properly,” Rotondo says. “Which is sad because we’re paying for the services that we’re not getting.”
Martinez reinforced the idea that advisors are more than just the way to get your course registration pin number.
Martinez says, “advisors are guides, mentors, trusted people on our campus, and we hope that they help shepherd the student along in their academic journey and provide them with opportunities.”
The question still remains as to whether or not faculty are trained for their role as academic advisors and what the root of this current divide experienced by students is.