Academic advisors are a lot like wise counselors who help heroes overcome obstacles and grow along their journey.
It’s what they do. They work behind the scenes, sharing crucial information about classes and resources. They guide students on how to combine diverse interests and translate them into career paths. And they help students find the confidence to reach for their dreams.
This week, FIU celebrated Panther advisors during Global Advising Week, observed annually by NACADA—the leading association of professional advisors, counselors, faculty, administrators and students working to enhance the educational development of students.
Academic advisors have always been key to student success, says Valerie Johnsen, associate provost for Academic and Career Success. But, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, routine advising questions became even more pressing, especially for freshmen starting at FIU without knowing anyone on campus or understanding college life.
Johnsen says students were craving connection and support. They were looking for guidance on how to navigate a world of remote classes and social distancing, and how to manage their college education during a tenuous time.
Advisors stepped up to the plate. They met with students virtually, kept connected with them and provided information on remote course options and modalities. The dedication of advisors, combined with all the university’s student success efforts, allowed students to persevere in their education – pandemic and all.
FIU freshmen who entered the university in the fall of 2020 achieved a whopping 91 percent retention rate when returning to the university for their second year. This is the highest retention rate of any freshman class.
“With everything going on in the world, you would think we would have lost students from coming back, but we didn’t,” Johnsen says. “Advisors deserve a big thank you. The work they’ve done in the past year, along with faculty and those who work on student success, has helped students stay motivated.”
Advisors have also played a key role in helping students graduate on time.
Four-year graduation rates for students who began college at FIU for the first time increased by more than 6 percent last year.
“In big part that is because the advisors are really working with the students,” Johnsen says, “helping to understand what barriers they are encountering, and working back with the administration to make sure we are resolving those barriers. Advisors are a critical resource to students and to the rest of the university.”
“My advisor is Maria Monje in the biomedical engineering department, and she has truly helped me develop myself at FIU. Be it by giving me advice on several classes or academic coaching, she has always sought for my success and wellbeing as a student. I cannot stress how important she has been to my academic success here at FIU, so on this special day, I would like to thank her for all her hard work!!!””
- Fernando Melara Barahona, biomedical engineering and Honors College student
The power of support
On hearing about advisor appreciation week, students sent thank-you notes and expressed their gratitude. Biomedical engineering major and Honors College student Fernando Melara Barahona is one of them.
He says his advisor has made all the difference in his FIU journey – since day one. When Melara Barahona, an international student, attended his freshman orientation in 2019, he felt as if he’d entered another planet. He saw students talking about AP classes and college credit already earned.
Unfamiliar with the education system in the United States, he wondered what it all meant for him – and whether he was behind before even starting. His academic advisor put his worries to rest. She assured him he was on the right track; told him about his major and its curriculum; walked him through registration.
During the pandemic, she was also crucial. “I was constantly asking questions and sending her emails,” he says. “And she always responded really quickly. Things like that mean so much.”
Today, Melara Barahona is thriving at FIU and is even helping other students as a peer advisor during orientations. “My advisor has been one of the key parts to my academic success,” he says. “I appreciate her support. It helps me strive to do better. I feel like that’s why I’ve had the success I’ve had. There’s so much value in having someone in your academic life that can help you and be there for you.”
His advisor’s support, he adds, showed him how FIU walks the talk – how the university truly embraces its values and philosophy to help students. This is exactly the kind of service advisors provide for students, says Johnsen.
Teaching to succeed
"Advising at its very heart is teaching,” Johnsen says. "Advisors teach students how to clarify their goals and develop their plans to meet their goals. They teach them to think critically, seek out resources, explore their options, make decisions. Advisors help students make it to graduation. But they also help them understand how their major and extracurricular activities can set them up for success beyond graduation.”
Even though the formal appreciation week has ended, the gratitude is still strong. “We just want to thank academic advisors for all the hard work they put in every single day to make our students successful.”
“The counsel and encouragement that I received from advisors was instrumental in helping me discover the right path for me.”-Cas Carter, interdisciplinary studies major