As part of an ongoing process to boost academic advising on campus, the Bowdoin Advising Program to Support Academic Excellence (BASE) was initiated this semester to strengthen the quality of first year advising relationships.

A two-year pilot program, BASE is the brainchild of Dean of First Year Students Janet Lohmann and Associate Professor of Psychology Suzanne Lovett.

The program is part of a broader response to a 2005 accreditation report, which gave Bowdoin low marks in advising.

"Academic advising was not in the same sphere as academics. In particular, pre-major advising was defined as needing some attention," said Lohmann.

Since the report, there have been various initiatives to strengthen the advising system.

"There was a working group composed of faculty and staff [called] the Working Group on Academic Preparedness," said Lovett. "They were looking at how students come to Bowdoin and at what happens to them when they come to Bowdoin. [From 2009 to 2010, a new] working group in particular focused on pre-major advising, faculty and staff."

Last year, Lohmann and Lovett also met periodically with a Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) student representative who voiced student concerns about academic advising.

"Some students wanted a more connected relationship with an adviser, a more intensive experience," Lovett said.

BASE, now about three weeks old, focuses on the connection between pre-major advisers and their first year students.

"[BASE] is really about the advisers, their intentionality, and the way they are engaging students," said Lohmann. "It's about looking beyond the classroom so that first year students have successful experiences and transitions into college."

"[As an adviser] you need to look at the whole student: social, personal, academic," said Lovett. "These advisers are focusing more on the student as a whole."

Eleven "long term" faculty members and 33 arbitrarily chosen students from the Class of 2014 are involved in the pilot program.

"Generally, students are satisfied with advising," said Lohmann. "No way is this initiative saying that we need to blow up the existing system. It's asking, can we blow it up in the sense of taking it to the next level?'"

In particular, BASE focuses on conversation and connection.

"We're asking advisors to meet more often to keep track of what's going on with the student," Lovett said. "This is proactive, [and will allow advisers to] deal with issues before they happen."

"For those students [who find themselves] without problems," Lovett continued, "[we want advisers to] figure out a way to challenge them even more, and ask, 'How can we work in a way to get them hooked into fellowships?'"

The faculty is also engaging in the conversation.

"We try to meet with advisers on a more regular basis to talk about advising," said Lohmann.

The program will run a series of workshops over the semester where faculty and students come together. BASE's first workshop was an introduction to student resources, including proctors, coaches, counseling staff, the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs and the Center for Learning and Teaching.

"The most successful students use resources," said Lohmann. "There's a lot out there. Bringing students to these places pushes them a little bit more to check out those places and to conceptualize if a resource is good for them."

"What's innovative [about these workshops]," Lohmann said, "is that students and faculty are both getting the same message and can talk together about what that message might mean. [The workshops make both parties] aware of resources and the [advising] connections more concrete."

Lohmann and Lovett intend to run three or four workshops over the course of the semester.

"The next ones are on editing, library research and relaxation," Lohmann said.

The program is still in its infancy, and reflection and revision are encouraged.

"We're learning a lot," Lovett said. "Next year we'll do this part differently. We're keeping track of what we could change."

"We also intend to be more concrete about assessments to students," Lohmann said.

While BASE is projected to run for two years and will include only first year participants, Lohmann and Lovett are enthused by its implications.

"We're boosting advisers who advise upperclass students as well as first year students," Lovett said.

Lovett noticed the effect that the program has had on her own advising.

"This year felt different. I spent more time getting to know students before I met them. I tried to anticipate what their strengths were, what their challenges might be, what courses might be good fits. I felt like we had a connection more quickly that allowed them to talk to me about things maybe they wouldn't have [talked about] in the past," she said.

The program's full effects are still being determined.

"Advising is a developmental process," Lohmann said. "I'm fascinated [to see] how relationships with advising will change over the next few years."