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Baseline advising

April 14, 2017

This piece represents the opinion of the Bowdoin Orient Editorial Board.

During the whirlwind of first-year orientation, students sit down with their pre-major advisor, which for many sets the tone for their relationships with faculty and academic experience and can significantly shape their academic experience. While some advisors provide necessary support and helpful academic guidance, other advisor-advisee relationships fall flat.

Sometimes students feel their advisors do not touch base often enough or put in effort to get to know them. Students might also feel that their advisors provide poor guidance or are unequipped to provide nuanced advice about disciplines outside of their own. Others feel that their advisors only serve to sign off on class registration requests. In an ideal system, these relationships would be much more robust.

Bowdoin offers a more intensive advising program, the Bowdoin Advising Program in Support of Academic Excellence (BASE), which reaches out to first years by invitation who may experience difficulties adjusting to Bowdoin academically. In the 2015-2016 year, the program served 30 students; this year, 57 students applied and 45 were accepted. This disparity speaks to a demand for more advising resources.  

In first-year surveys, BASE advisees regularly report a higher degree of satisfaction than non-BASE students. One of the key components of this program is the higher degree of engagement between advisor and advisee. BASE advisors are required to undergo a two-day training about active advising. They are encouraged to reach out to advisees and address topics outside of academics, such as the transition to Bowdoin, extra curricular activities, housing options and other aspects of social life on campus.

BASE is not the perfect model for all students, but there are aspects of the program that should be applied to the pre-major advising system at-large. Pre-major advisors should serve as more than just academic resources. They need to help students acclimate socially as well.

Additionally, Academic Affairs should ensure that faculty who commit to serve as advisors know the ins and outs of all departments on campus. This might involve spending a few hours browsing course reviews, as many students do, or getting to know faculty in other disciplines. Advisees’ interests and concerns often shift dramatically over their first two years, and advisors must be flexible and capable of supporting students as their interests change.

Like BASE advisors, pre-major advisors should actively reach out to students and get to know them in non-office settings. While most professors would gladly accept an invitation to coffee, many first and second year students never feel comfortable enough to initiate these types of interactions.

Regular check-in emails asking advisees how their classes are going and how they’re doing would keep advisors connected and encourage advisees to reflect on their experience. These simple gestures build trust and remind students that they have someone there to help with any problems or answer questions. Strong advisor-advisee relationships take time and resources, but they are crucial and can be among the most meaningful relationships formed at Bowdoin.

This editorial represents the majority view of The Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Julian Andrews, Harry DiPrinzio, Dakota Griffin, Jenny Ibsen and Meg Robbins.

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