By: Dana Ardiano and Irma Negrete
When CSUN’s campus was closed last March, Mike Curb advisors were suddenly tasked with transitioning their traditional face-to-face student interactions entirely to online environments. Navigating academic progress is high-stakes business during the best of times, and with the uncertainty of a worldwide pandemic weighing on students and advisors alike, emotions can run especially high. During those early weeks of the shutdown, Associate Dean Kandace Harris reconvened the Advisement Collaborative, a monthly meeting where advisors across the Mike Curb College gather on Zoom to discuss how they can best support students and each other virtually.
The Advisement Collaborative has helped advisors overcome social distance by fostering feelings of unity and connection. Meetings provide arenas for discussion and brainstorming, and occasional guest speakers help advisors to fine-tune interpersonal communication and identify self-care techniques that can boost personal satisfaction and relieve stress.
Advisors are empowered during meetings to share opinions freely and resolve matters collaboratively. Abraham Zapata, academic advisor for the Art department, states, “I like that the associate dean is there, so we are kept on top of new information and she is able to relay our grievances or things we enjoyed back to the dean’s office.”
The meetings also provide opportunities to share advisement strategies among departments. CTVA academic advisor Rachel Mahgerefteh says, “It helps to see what goes on in the other departments,” allowing advisors to take what works best back to their own departments and meetings. The collaborative gives advisors a team forum to solve complex issues, a capacity that has become more important than ever with new difficulties arising amid pandemic tensions and remote connections.
The collaborative’s initial focus has been to establish more accessible resources for students. Even simple everyday advisement protocols like individual appointment scheduling required a new system, but the workaround yielded some benefit. After researching scheduling programs, advisors tested and selected Schedule Once, which allows students to make and reschedule appointments easily. David Del Mundo, academic advisor for the Communication Studies and Theatre departments, says, “Students are able to make their own appointments even late into the night, when normally they couldn’t as our offices were closed.”
The new system also helps keep students on schedule by automatically generating email reminders on the day of their appointment. Zapata notes that students are missing fewer appointments with the system in place. “Usually, during winter especially, I end up with a lot of no-shows,” Zapata says, “and for the most part students have been checking into their Zooms on time.”
Another advantage in the current climate: Online appointments allow advisors and students to share screens to go over critical records like Degree Progress Reports and Registration Planners. The focused interaction gives students a more engaged experience in the advisement process. In a time of a pandemic crisis, the Advisement Collaborative has proven the silver-lining approach that allows advisors to have a reliable place to communicate, support one another, and focus as a team on student success.