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Foundation Will Look at Advising

By Ifung Lu
Associate News Editor

The Baker Foundation will review the upperclass advising system and set up an infrastructure to improve it this academic year, according to Arley Kim '95, foundation chair.

The foundation is currently looking at whether undergraduates are being well advised by their academic advisors. To this end, they will conduct a survey at the beginning of next term to compile data which may shed some light on how students feel, Kim said.

"We want to get student opinion. They should feel that they can speak up and make a difference. We're trying to get a feeling for the depth of the problem," Kim said.

Kim hopes that the foundation will open communication so that students, advisers, and departments can learn from each other.

The foundation will also make a list of contacts and resources available to students and advisors. Kim hopes to increase student awareness of what different departments offer to their students.

The Baker Foundation is a think tank composed of an undergraduate committee advised by three faculty members, Kim said. In addition to their yearly teaching award honoring outstanding professors, the foundation has played a role in creating the associate advising system.

"There is a lot of concern whether students are well-advised," Kim said. "The system is not working because there is a lot of miscommunication between students and advisers," she said. The support system can be improved, she added.

According to Kim, some students are unsure of the role of their adviser. Some think that advisers are there just to sign registration forms, she said.

"The advisers can be useful in other ways - to help you focus on a career track, show options in a field, direct you to colleges, and advise you on post-MIT life," Kim said.

In order to make advising more beneficial to students, the foundation hopes to establish a framework for improving communication between students and advisers, Kim said. It is necessary to let students know that their advisers are important, she said. Greater publicity and informational handouts may help to some extent.

In addition, some departmental advising systems need to be improved, Kim said. Some departments have already initiated improvements, but Kim hopes to bring up advising in all departments to a certain level.

"Our tentative plan is to focus on a few departments and provide a game plan" for improvement, Kim said.

Programs such as the training program for advisers in the physics department and the innovative sophomore seminars in chemical engineering are laudable efforts to improve academic advising, Kim said.

Expectations differ

Margaret S. Enders, associate dean of undergraduate education and student affairs, agrees that there is room for improvement in academic advising. "I personally think the system could be better," Enders said.

More programs addressing such topics as post-MIT life and low-level training for advisers would be beneficial, Enders said. However, she also believes that the expectations of advisers may not completely agree with what some students expect from them.

"I don't think that MIT can expect every faculty adviser to be everything a student wants," Enders said. "Some students don't want someone to do anything other than sign the form. Other students need a lot more guidance."

Mark D. Rentz '96 sees his adviser about two to three times a term. He considers his adviser as his resource for what is going on in the department.

Ernest G. Mireles II '96 had mixed feelings about how he wanted to be advised. "Sometimes, with forms, you just want them to sign it without saying much; but sometimes, if they have advice, they should give it to you," Mireles said.

Enders suggested some of the onus could be on the student to seek out other resources in addition to their advisers, such as the undergraduate office in their department or the Undergraduate Academic Affairs Office. Many questions can be answered better by administrative faculty directly involved with the question than by the academic adviser, she said.

Kim agrees that there is a debate of whether students should be led by the hand or should be more independent. Student opinion will be revealed in the survey, she said.

"I like the fact that the Baker Foundation is doing something about it. I think out of it, probably, you'll see people paying attention," Enders said.