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Committee Considers Revamping Advising

By Nathan Collins


If ideas still forming in the collective mind of two faculty committees become reality, an undergraduate could choose a set of advisers to work with throughout the four years of an MIT education.

“The details are not at all clear,” said Professor Kip V. Hodges, chair of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, but the CUP and the Committee on Student Life are drafting suggestions on how to improve upperclassman advising that Hodges said he hopes will be adopted in the next academic year.

One proposal would allow students to play a role in selecting advisers, possibly including teaching assistants and associate advisers, and keeping those advisers to help smooth the transition from freshman advising to departmental-based advising. “I’d like to see a more formal network” of such advisers developed, Hodges said. “Instead of losing that network [after freshman year] you add another person,” the departmental adviser.

Other possibilities include providing more academic information to departmental advisers and better career advice.

Hodges said that improving information access through an improved Web site has aided freshman advisers. It would be useful to “ramp that up” to upperclassmen, he said. Such information would help in catching academic problems early and in coordinating responses. “Something like the fifth week flag would have helped” with one of his past advisees, Hodges said.

Better career advising may also be in the works. As students come closer to graduating, career advice becomes more important, but “sometimes that transition is a little rough.”

Advising a ‘two-way street’

Dean for Undergraduate Education Robert P. Redwine said that there are faculty issues as well. “Faculty are in the position of having to make choices about their time,” he said. He said that spending time on research is important for junior faculty trying to get tenure, but spending time on students will become more important. “As an institution we’ve been moving in that direction,” he said.

Advising is a “two-way street,” Hodges said, and students and faculty have to work to make advising work.

Hodges said that some students may not need active advising, but “you’d like to create an environment [where] they feel well served.” The question, he said, “is what are the minimum set of things” students and advisers should expect of each other. He pointed to a 1995 Baker Foundation report, now part of the Academic Guide for Undergraduates, that lists such expectations but said that report lacks important implementation guidelines.

The CSL and the CUP started considering mentoring and advising changes last year after faculty became concerned that upperclassman advising “was perhaps not as effective across the Institute as it could be,” Hodges said. Both he and Redwine said that advising in some departments was good, but across departments some deficiencies were apparent.

“Some departments did a good job and some did not,” Redwine said. Large departments generally seemed to have more trouble, though department size was not the sole predictor, he said. “CUP has been concerned for a couple years.”

A study conducted by a subcommittee of the Undergraduate Association in March 2001 asked students to rate the quality of advising in their departments. Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Economics, Ocean Engineering, and Brain and Cognitive Sciences received lower than average ratings.

Anne M. Hunter, the administrator of EECS’s undergraduate program, said that she thought her department’s advising was good.

Hodges said he hopes to complete draft suggestions sometime this summer in order to inform next year’s decisions.

Students unsure about proposals

Students interviewed yesterday were generally tepid about whether the proposals would be useful. Marc D. Strauss ’05 said that ideally a student would keep a freshman adviser for all four years of study, but that choosing one’s advisers might end up excluding some professors from the process.

Mara S. David ’04 said that “maybe a situation where students ... are encouraged to see their advisers more than just on Add Date” would be helpful.

Several students did not think the transition between freshman and upperclass advising was a problem. “I didn’t think [the break] was a big deal,” said Ousi J. Fakhouri ’04. He said that the idea of a committee of advisers “doesn’t sound very feasible.”

Bruno A. Sugai ’05 said while he would probably not take advantage of the proposed changes, some people would.

“I think there should be more career advice,” said Monica F. Morrison ’04.