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Academic advising at IU Northwest gets fresh face, ideas

Veronica Williams to head newly formed Student Advising Center

Friday May 22, 2015

Academic advising at Indiana University Northwest is about to experience a new level of professionalism and quality, thanks to some recent additions in staffing and technology. Veronica Williams joined IU Northwest in April as the director of the newly established Student Advising Center, located on the third floor of Hawthorn Hall.

Cynthia O’Dell, Associate Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, said the new Center, and Williams’ appointment, will be particularly important for students undecided about their course of study. O’Dell said there are approximately 250 new “exploratory” students who enroll at IU Northwest each year, thus pointing to a great need for a Center whose attention is focused largely on helping those students navigate the college experience and determine a course of study. Once they do, the job of advising shifts to the respective academic departments.

This type of decentralized model for advising is common in higher education, O’Dell said, and will continue at IU Northwest, however, while serving to help undecided students, the Center will also play a large role in standardizing advising practices University-wide.

“This will enable more expert-level advising,” O’Dell said. “Advising will remain in the hands of the individual departments, but it will be more coordinated. The student experience will become more similar and consistent.”

O’Dell also pointed out that it’s not unusual for a student to change his or her major up to four or five times before graduating. This is another area in which the new center can help ensure a seamless transition for students.

A native of Buffalo, New York, Williams comes to IU Northwest from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where she served as the director of First-Year Advisement and chief academic advisor for Exploratory Student Advisement.

One of Williams’ strengths in her new role is perhaps her own experience. A first-generation college student, Williams said she had to learn how to navigate the process of attending college entirely on her own.

“I had no one helping me go to college,” Williams said. “I did not even know you could apply to a school out of state, move out of state and live on the campus.”

Williams chuckled at how funny this may sound.

“I don’t want to see students struggle like I did,” she said. “I want them to have all the information possible to succeed.”

Williams wants faculty members to know that if they have students who are struggling, or unsure about a major, they can refer them to center. In addition, Williams will support the individual units as they look to enhance their advising practices.

“I’m trying to centralize the policies and procedures. I am trying to reach the students and give them knowledge,” Williams said. “I am here to make their transition easier. That is what I think the Center can do well – easing students through the process of fulfilling their degree requirements and keeping them focused so they will stay the course and graduate.”

O’Dell said changes in the advising processes at IU Northwest have exploded in the last three years. During the summer of 2014, a task force came together to examine advising practices at IU Northwest and a team of faculty and staff members attended a conference of the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA).

This resulted in a recommendation to create Williams’ position and to begin standardizing some best practices, even in a decentralized advising model.

New technology has been implemented, including degree maps, which are an electronic record of courses needed for each degree; and a digital note-keeping system, which allows multiple advisors from multiple departments to communicate with each other and stay apprised of a student’s unique needs. Plans on the horizon include adding a professional development series for advisors, and the development of an advising award to recognize outstanding academic advisors.

“I think that having a director of academic advising and a student advising center, has the potential to be transformative for our students,” O’Dell said. “We want our students to have ever-increasing positive experiences and we are really hoping that this will be a huge part of that happening.”

The center is also staffed by two full-time advisors who will assist Williams – Cynthia Robles and Elizabeth LaDuke. Formerly known as Student Success Advisors, they will now provide advising services within the Center.

For more information, contact the Center at (219) 980-6890 or stop by the offices in Room 300 in Hawthorn Hall.

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