As an alumni of Northern Kentucky University (1993 & 2000), I have been influenced by the faculty with whom I interacted, modeling in part their teaching, but more extensively their roles as advisor and mentor. What impressed me most about NKU, as a student, was the access to faculty outside of the classroom environment. In a teaching institution, if students do not come first, then I ask, what does? Building loosely on our Core Values, I offer the following outline as a personal philosophy regarding the teaching/advising commitment I have to my students.
Many theorists posit that institutions of higher education today are taking an entrepreneurial turn toward focusing on the marketability of research and stature of its professoriate. I resist this trend and hold to NKU’s first Core Value, in that we should be student-centered first. Higher education should be just that, education – not business; the bottom line should not come before the students. My role as a faculty member is to ensure that the emphasis is placed on the student, to the best of my ability. Whenever changes are to take place (i.e. curriculum, administration, etc.) my first question is and always should be: How this will affect the students?
Continuing with the idea of being student-centered, part of my role as an advisor (academic or otherwise) is that of student advocate. While it would be ideal for our students to progress though their higher education experience without conflict, the fact is we live in an imperfect world and students sometimes need someone to turn to and champion their cause.
Part of helping students is keeping up-to-date on advising concerns. In an effort to ensure the least number of misinterpretations or mistakes, my students and I review the work they have completed in relation to the degree they are seeking, thereby encouraging ownership of their plan of study. Without compromising academic integrity, my goal is to help my students to achieve their goal as quickly as possible, hence the need to ensure that knowledge of general studies and program courses are taken into consideration and to help schedule courses to avoid delays due to courses scheduling.
Access is the cornerstone of my advising philosophy. This was instrumental to my success at NKU as an undergraduate as my advisor took time to discuss issues and guide me through the red tape and hoops of the higher education bureaucracy. I keep an open door policy for students, both metaphorically and physically; however, there are times when students need a “closed door” conversation. I hope (and tend to believe) my students know they have a nonjudgmental ear to talk to, and if need be, a faculty advocate to which they can turn.
As a teacher first and foremost, I believe that it is my responsibility to ensure that my students learn in the classroom – both the information I present them and more importantly the ability to critically examine that information and all information they are presented with. As a faculty member, simply providing a list of courses does little to help students; instead trying to help students understand themselves better and help direct their academic path enhances their experience, understanding, and feeling of being connected to the university community.
Many of our Construction Management students transfer from other colleges and universities, and many times have a tremendous amount of work experience. Often these students work full-time and schedule their courses at night. Therefore, I tend to offer advising times both during the day and in the evening. On several occasions, I have met with my students at their jobsite, local libraries, coffee houses, and even my own home for advising meetings. Advising is not something simply done in a university office, advising occurs at any time and all times.
Reflected in my membership with the Campus Climate committee, I believe that a pluralistic body of faculty and students are vital to the health of any university. Without diverse individuals and perspective, the best we can hope for is the stagnant reproduction of the status quo, or as Walter Lippmann stated, “Where all men [sic] think alike, no one thinks very much.” I believe my students recognize that they can confide in me and that my office is a “safe space” at NKU.
If left to their own devices, student will amaze us with their ability to devise new ways of communication (I conduct approximately 50% of my advising via email), plans of study, and directions for life. My role as teacher, advisor, and mentor is not to act as a tour guide or give definitive direction, but rather to help students discover their own interest and direction for life.
I am a co-learner with my students. I consider my students as fellow humans rather than the derogatory term of “product.” I believe that when students are treated with respect, a mutual respect is created. With a mutual respect and understanding, I have found students are less likely to “slip between the cracks.” When students are have problems they have come to me looking for help and guidance. While I’m not one concerned with “numbers” in terms of retention, I am deeply concerned with those students that loose confidence in the institution of higher education – or worse, themselves – and leave our university without achieving their personal goal.
While advising is not the primary role of faculty per se, it is integral to the success of our students and for the vitality of our program of study. Since it is not always possible to connect with students during class, I feel that one-on-one advising offers the opportunity to better understand our students, and for them to get to know us. Advising is not something that should be viewed as a burden, but rather the opportunity to get to know our students and an opportunity to gain different perspectives which can help enlighten our own thought. I have found that active participation as a student organization advisor, traveling with my students across the country; my students and I have grown closer and have learned a great deal from each other.