A year and a half after a reaccreditation team identified academic advising one of Bowdoin's weak spots, the College will report its plans to improve pre-major academic advising to the Board of Trustees next weekend.

The report will mark the culmination of an initiative that began last September and has involved a number of meetings with students and faculty as well as an advising survey of current first years.

"We haven't overhauled anything," said Dean of First-Year Students Mary Pat McMahon, who co-led the project with Associate Dean for Curriculum Steven Cornish. "We did some tweaking and some communication-building," she said.

The deans' report focuses on four specific reforms: the creation of an advising handbook for faculty, a peer-advising pilot program, closer contact between advisers and advisees prior to fall course registration, and the revival of the "Your Guide to Your Bowdoin Education" booklet, which would be sent to incoming students over the summer.

"There are certain things that could be done to enhance the advising system, and that's what we're trying to do, sort of put in these extra supports," said Cornish.

The deans said the primary goal of these reforms is to help students understand the pre-major advising system before they arrive on campus so that they can begin to use it effectively right away, rather than figuring it out by trial and error.

"There are a lot of faculty who care deeply about this conversation and who want first years to come in and get good information... [And] there are a lot of students who want similar things," said McMahon. "Helping people define those expectations coming into the year is probably the most helpful thing we can do."

While the Pre-Major Faculty Advising Handbook?which Cornish said should serve as a reference guide for faculty advisers?is nearly complete, the peer-advising system has yet to take a definite shape.

"Having a peer adviser who's there and who can help you [work] out what are you supposed to be asking, and in some ways expand what students think they're supposed to be asking" should be very helpful, said McMahon.

While McMahon and Cornish said they are leaning toward delegating peer advising duties to proctors and resident assistants (RAs), Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) President Dustin Brooks '08 and BSG Vice President for Academic Affairs Sam Dinning '09 said they are "a little disappointed" that the deans seem locked into using Residential Life staff?which they think is overburdened?to the exclusion of other students who might be interested in academic advising.

"Nevertheless, it's exciting to add a parallel peer advising program," Brooks said, adding "this is a temporary, one-year solution, so regardless, there will plenty of room for change next year."

"It's very much a pilot program," agreed Cornish. "We'd just like to see if this is a viable way of doing it without creating a separate group."

At recent faculty forums, McMahon said some professors expressed concern that a peer advising system would just add another layer of bureaucracy and make managing communications with advisees more difficult. But the deans said peer advisers could make faculty advisers' lives easier by dealing with the "nuts and bolts" of advising, such as teaching first years how to access and fill out various forms.

"We'd like to move the conversation [between students and their faculty advisers] to the next level: 'What are you thinking about in terms of your four years here,' 'what are the alternatives that you might construct for yourself,'" said Cornish. "So it's getting that conversation going that is one of our concerns."

McMahon said training mechanisms and a working draft of a handbook for peer advisers should be in place by the fall. By the July mailing to incoming students, the deans hope to have "dusted off" and updated the "Your Guide to Your Bowdoin Education" booklet, which has not been issued for three years.

This booklet, the peer advising handbook, and the nearly-finalized faculty advising handbook will work to prepare all three points of the new advising triangle?faculty adviser, peer adviser, and advisee?to begin engaging with the academic support system constructively when they all come together in the fall, the deans said.