Advisers keep students on the right track

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By Jess Knight

Academic advisers in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences make sure students take the courses they need to graduate. Advisers also mentor, encourage and lend a sympathetic ear in keeping students on the right track

Academic adviser Luiza Dreasher, right, with students Cc Valencia, left, and Cassidy Williams.

Few people at a university have a bigger impact on students than advisers do.

In a sea of more than 31,000 students, a labyrinthine curriculum and seemingly endless paperwork, it can be difficult for students to determine if they are on the right track. Will they graduate when they want to? Do they really have to take Statistics 101? What if they’re double majoring in two different colleges?

Fortunately, the wealth of advisers at Iowa State University and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences keeps students from getting lost at sea. They do more than ensure students are on the right track academically, they act as mentors, lending a sympathetic ear when school gets rough. They encourage involvement, showing them the clubs and student organizations that may match their interests. They keep an eye out for leadership, scholarship and work opportunities.

Most importantly, advisers look for places a student may get disconnected, and get them reconnected.

Luiza Dreasher, multicultural liaison officer and academic adviser for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, works hard to ensure the students she advises – mostly students of color – feel like they belong at Iowa State.

“I want them to feel like Iowa State University is home, that they aren’t just a visitor,” she said. “Visiting with students on a regular basis helps me monitor their academic success and connect them with key resources on campus, which ultimately impacts retention.”

Dreasher, along with other advisers in the college, spend as much time as possible with individual students, making sure they know about the Academic Success Center, Writing and Media Center, and other campus resources.

Connie Ringlee, a lecturer in speech communication and adviser for the speech communication and the communication studies programs, has been working with students since 1997. She currently advises about 200 students.

Connie Ringlee, lecturer in speech communication and adviser for the speech communication and the communication studies programs.

“Every relationship is different,” she said of her advisees. “Some come in and spend time with me, others just get the signatures they need and go on their way. The students who are more diligent about coming in are usually more successful.”

In addition to helping students plan their academic paths, Ringlee plays a role in their academic success. When an advisee’s GPA drops below a 2.0, she asks to see them every two to three weeks. Through her guidance, she has helped students go from being on “academic warning” to the Dean’s List.

“Being a good adviser means having a heart for these kids,” she said. “I’ll do whatever I need to do to help them get to where they want to go.”

“Students all have the same goal: To succeed,” Mark Hagley, advising coordinator for the Department of Sociology, said. “They have a wide range of abilities, desires, motivation and preparedness, but they all want to be respected and have someone to go to for questions, complaints and concerns. That’s where the advising staff comes in.”

Hagley began advising in 2000 in the College of Engineering before moving to sociology in 2001. He said the way students communicate – now through social media and email – plays a role in his advising style.

“Higher education has changed quite a bit during the past 13 years I’ve been here,” he said. “The rules change and the duties change, but what hasn’t changed is communication. That is still key.”

Mark Hagley, advising coordinator for the Department of Sociology.

The need for effective communication is what keeps advisers at the forefront of a student’s ultimate success. Their job is to communicate what courses to take (and when), what resources a student can utilize, what to do if a student is struggling, and what fun can be had through clubs and student organizations.

In a research project by Dreasher that measured the success rates of students of color attending predominately white universities, she found that an overwhelming majority credited their success to their adviser.

“Students said their advisers took a personal interest in their success,” Dreasher said. “They made course recommendations, showed them opportunities around campus and introduced them to faculty members in their departments. That personal relationship can start as early as a campus visit.”


Be open to suggestions. “Don’t think you already know it all,” Connie Ringlee said. “We’re here to help and make sure you’re on the right track, so consider our suggestions before dismissing them.”

Be aware of what’s happening on campus. There are bulletin boards, posters, social media updates and news stories with information on study abroad programs, internship and work opportunities, class openings and more. “Be aware, then talk to your adviser about it. There is so much out there that is ready for the taking,” Ringlee said.

Go to class. “Success is going to class, not missing it,” Ringlee said. Knowing what’s going on in the classroom can help you in your adviser’s office, too. Getting good grades will help you graduate on time.

Be confident in your adviser. They know what they’re doing, and want to make it easy for both you and them. “Be sure you voice your concerns, but have confidence in their recommendations,” Mark Hagley said.

Visit often. “Let us know how things are going,” Luiza Dreasher said. “The better we know you, the better we can make scholarship and internship suggestions, and write a great letter of recommendation for you.”