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Sarah Kyllo, Oregon State University

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don't much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn't much matter which way you go.
Alice: . . . So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you're sure to do that, if only you walk long enough (Carroll, 1865/2006, p. 75). 

Sarah Kyllo.jpgAs Lewis Carroll wrote in his famous book, Alice in Wonderland, it is possible to arrive somewhere even if a person isn’t quite sure where they want to go, even if it might not be the easiest or best route.  As an advisor for first-year students, a big part of my job is to help students figure out where they want their journey to take them, not only during their first year of college but throughout their lives.  A map is usually a great thing to reference before heading out on a path or trip.  Developing a roadmap for the first year of college is a tool many universities have created as a visual representation of the important transitions, milestones, experiences, knowledge, and skills that students are expected to gain during year one.  The hope is that this roadmap will guide students throughout their college careers so they are prepared when they move on to the next transition.  As I worked last summer on redesigning my college’s roadmap for the first-year students, I began to think of all the milestones that cannot always be plotted out for students on a simple sheet of paper. 

As universities outline the essential learning outcomes for students and begin to place an increasing importance on high-impact experiences, advisors can help incorporate these bigger picture ideas into achievable and realistic goals for a student’s first year of college.  Employers are increasingly looking for employees who are innovative, creative, capable of solving problems (individually and on a team), and strong communicators (Hart Research Associates, 2013).  Many of these skills are learned in a classroom but are also being learned in experiences such as study abroad, internships, service learning, living learning communities, and undergraduate research (Kuh, 2008).  Advisors have the unique challenge of trying to guide students to seek out these opportunities as well as help students understand why these experiences are meaningful to their lives, both now and in the future. 

When I set off to go hiking, I often get to the trailhead and start my trek by first consulting the trail map, first searching for that star that says, “You are here.”  I then look to see how hard it will be to get to the place I want to go: how many miles it is, how high the elevation is, and how many switchbacks and obstacles I will discover.  As an academic advisor, I can see many comparisons for students.  They have to first identify what it really means to be “here,” in college, in a classroom, in a community, and in a larger context of a global world.  They are challenged to begin to understand and question, maybe for the first time, epistemology, what it means to know and how to justify their beliefs and determine their values.  For some, the challenges to get to the end goal prove to be too difficult or maybe just not enjoyable, and they may take a path they didn’t even know existed when they started. 

Motivational interviewing, reflective conversations, and goal setting are skills advisors can use in order to help students’ persist in their pursuit of meaning or purpose even if the student has to find a new trail or path.  The roadmap can then become a tool for during advising appointments to visually show what it might look like to find a fork in the road, reach a roadblock, or have to turn around and re-do a class.  Roadblocks may look like failure to students who have never truly failed before.  Advisors can lead discussions about what it means to have the non-cognitive trait of “grit,” how to learn from mistakes and push beyond them.  According to Angela Duckworth (2015), “Gritty individuals are especially motivated to seek happiness through focused engagement (e.g., the state of flow) and a sense of meaning or purpose, but less motivated than others to pursue happiness through pleasure” (para. 11).  Feelings of mattering and engagement are not identifiable on a map, but are invaluable pieces of the transformative education colleges are hoping to provide students with.  Advisors can prompt reflection through intrusive advising, by asking students to talk about how they have changed, how they see themselves changing, and how they view their education, their community, and the world. 

It is easy in our technology driven world to no longer even read a map and instead rely on cell phones or GPS to guide us.  Students often have a similar experience; they have often been guided by parents or by what they think society expects them to do and have never had to really be the person to guide their own experience.  They often come to advising appointments expecting that same experience, for advisors to lay out the map and tell them exactly how to get to the goal of graduation.  Instead, the role of the advisor is to provide the student with the correct tools to complete their degree and challenge them to explore opportunities.  The goal is to help the student learn how to navigate and be the leader of their own lives and future. 

When students are only focused on the end goal of a graduation or a specific career, it can be difficult to ‘sell’ students on the idea of exploring learning and self-development outside of class and what is required.  Since each student is different, what is meaningful to one student may not be meaningful to another and advisors might need to take different approaches.  For example, in conversations with students, advisors can share stories of other students who may have had unique experiences that led to internships or jobs (such as a study abroad experience).  Social media, such as Twitter or Instagram, could be used to inspire students to challenge themselves to do research or service learning.  The advisor can be a guide to a student’s path and goals, but the student, in the end, has to decide their own geography.  All of the experiences that are offered mean nothing if the student decides not to engage in them. 

Engaging in the experience, however, is only part of the map.  Experiences without reflection are often only an accumulation of events and memories.  They are only highly meaningful or life-changing if students reflect, change, or alter their behavior or world view.  For example, if a student comes back from their first summer internship or a study abroad program and simply goes back into their everyday life, the experience may not truly be a “high-impact” experience.  Advisors can guide students to look back on their experience and help students develop a new roadmap based on their new worldview.  The student who studied abroad may want to add a minor or volunteer; the student who had an internship may want to teach the skills they learned to other students in a campus organization. 

The path students choose to take will have highlights and difficulties, and each student will have a different journey.  Some may get to the goal only to realize there are bigger more challenging mountains to climb.  Advisors can encourage students to enjoy all of the twists, challenges, and to take time to look back, reflect, and continue to move toward the next summit. 

Sarah Kyllo
Academic Advisor
College of Engineering
Office of Student Services
Oregon State University
[email protected]


Carroll, L. (2006). Alice’s adventures in Wonderland & through the looking-glass. New York, NY: Bantam Dell. (Original work published 1865).

Duckworth, A. (2015).  Research statement.  Retrieved from https://sites.sas.upenn.edu/duckworth/pages/research-statement 

Hart Research Associates. (2013). It takes more than a major: Employer priorities for college learning and student success. Retrieved from http://www.aacu.org/leap/public-opinion-research

Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter.  Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges & Universities.

Cite this article using APA style as: Kyllo, S. (2016, June). A trail map for the first year and beyond. Academic Advising Today, 39(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2016 June 39:2


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