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Romain College’s Advising Center was established in 2015 under the leadership of its first director, Kristina Walker '08 M’14. The Advising Center, located in Romain College’s main office in the Business and Engineering Center, is tasked with academic advising for all incoming freshman majoring in a business discipline for their first year. All colleges at the University have an advising center. More universities are moving toward an advising center model, whether geared toward all students or specifically to freshmen. It places more emphasis on advisors helping and guiding the students through the academic process, and faculty working with and mentoring the career development process.

Walker, right, with USI student Anjali Patel '19
Walker, right, with USI student Anjali Patel '19

Visit Romain’s Advising Center on a typical school day and you’ll see it is a very lively atmosphere! It is staffed full time with peer advisors who are laser focused on helping their peers navigate the college experience. These students typically have experience on campus, such as being AMIGOs or Welcome Week Leaders, or are involved in student organizations. “We like to have fun; the more fun we can make it, the more comfortable students are coming to the Center,” Walker said. “Many students are more comfortable talking to fellow students. It’s less intimidating.”

The Advising Center has been evolving to better meet the needs of business students. There is more emphasis on helping the sophomores and juniors, in addition to freshmen. She believes the peer advisor program is one of the most robust because much of their role involves meeting with any business student to help them rework their academic plans; maybe they’ve changed majors or gotten off track. In addition to more open hours and drop-in times, the center has hired another academic advisor, Chloe Byars ‘16 M’18, and is adding a graduate assistant in the fall. One of the unique things about Romain’s Advising Center is that graduation checks are handled there. Christy Nolan ‘07 M’18, academic advisor, works with seniors to ensure they are knowledgeable about being on track to fulfill graduation requirements. Walker said she is excited about record-high graduation rates. “Seeing more students graduate in four years shows how our advisors have been preparing them as freshmen all the way through graduation check.”

Walker talked about the similarities and differences of incoming freshmen classes she’s observed since the Advising Center opened. She has noticed that what stays consistent is that they are very excited about college, but very nervous. For many, it’s their first time living away from home, and they are learning how to manage their independence. The shift she is seeing, though, is how they are looking at life after graduation. “This is a generation of students who saw their parents impacted by the economic recession. More students now have a clearer career plan and want to see it through.”  

Walker encourages students to not be afraid to ask for help. While dedication to academics is very important, resourcefulness is often a key factor. “With dedication they can achieve their goals; however, it’s important they learn to be resourceful because sometimes they don’t have at hand what they need to reach their goals.” Faculty and staff are part of student success, and sometimes it’s as simple as listening. Students need to be able to express their concerns and share their goals in an open dialogue. “We need to give them an opportunity to talk about their goals and concerns rather than just talking at them,” Walker said. “We need to listen more and empower them to be advocates for themselves.”

Alumni play an important role. Walker believes these networking relationships are important for all students, but especially for freshmen. Students are motivated by someone who was once in their shoes and what they’ve accomplished. It’s a way to find out what careers match up with their majors and interests. It also helps them choose electives that might be more beneficial for certain careers or industries. “Engaging with alumni means students can make more educated and informed decisions about choosing their majors and careers.” Alumni mentors may be especially important in helping first generation college students navigate tricky situations in school and in their professions.

Asked to describe an ideal day in the Advising Center, Walker laughed that it is “when all technology is working properly!” Additionally she is pleased to see numerous students coming to the Center to get the advising assistance they need. Her favorite part of being a director is working with students and the peer advisors, and like most people, her least favorite tasks involve paperwork and reporting requirements.

Having started at USI as an academic advisor for the College of Nursing and Health Professions and moved into the director’s role of Romain College’s Advising Center, Walker sees herself eventually overseeing some type of campus-wide advising program as a natural progression in her career. Her mentor is Renee Rowland, director of the USI College of Liberal Arts Advising Center, who was invaluable in helping her establish processes and procedures when she was new to the director role. “If you haven’t met Renee, you have to spend time with her. She is amazing!”

As the Advising Center enters its fifth year, Walker reflects on its success, which she attributes to her team of academic advisors, Christy Nolan and Chloe Byars. “You can’t find better advisors than these two. Both truly care about helping students and their success. The advising center is a success because of their hard work. I’d also say it’s because of the peer advisors, they rock too! I am lucky to work in a center where everybody is here for the students.”

*Photo: USI Photography and Multimedia

Published July 30, 2019