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Vantage Point banner.jpgDionne Gordon-Starks, Drexel University

Editor’s Note:  To learn more about the advising needs of first generation students, join us in the NACADA Webinar venue on September 16th, when “NACADA Leaders Share their Experiences.”

Dionne Gordon-Starks.jpgAcademic advising is relationship building!  Just as a meticulous gardener knows the value of watering and caring for the seedlings within a garden, those of us within the advising profession must also fully embrace the level of responsibility we have in nurturing our students.  We must be mindful that in the hustle and bustle of course recommendations, change of major forms, and registration requests, lays the incredible journey of a young college student and their academic goals.  As an academic advisor, I believe those faculty and staff members within the profession have the incredible responsibility of being able to impact the trajectory of a young person’s life by coaching and mentoring them along their journey.  Our position of power should not be viewed lightly because we have the ability to wield great influence among our students.

As trends in higher education shift from the recruitment of students towards retention, colleges and universities across the country are becoming more intentional about services and programming that will not only aid in their ability to keep students on campuses, but will assist with the student’s ability to accomplish their goals.  It is here that the role of academic advising and the value of relationships become elevated.  Advisors are important to a student’s ability to navigate university policies, procedures, resources, etc.  According to Bloom, Hutson & He (2008), “Contrary to the aggregated reports that colleges generate, students are not numbers: They are people, and advisors know this better than anyone else” (p. 4).

Each year students arrive to campus with many mixed emotions, with diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences.  They come in anticipating the very best from their experiences with their instructors, advisors, peers, etc.  Some may arrive confident given the accolades they achieved in high school.  Some may be transferring in from another institution and know exactly the major they want.  Others may be overwhelmed and have no idea what it is they wish to accomplish, but the common thread is that they all usually require a little guidance along the way. 

Looking over my own life, I have to say that as a first generation college graduate, I was very fortunate to have had the influence of dynamic parents, teachers, and advisors who actively fostered my potential.  I remember arriving as a college freshman in the early 90’s and encountering the first stumbling block.  I was a cultural minority at a small Catholic, predominately white college.  I came from a working class home in North Philadelphia and commuted to campus.  I majored in English with my eyes set on becoming an award-winning journalist, and went to one of my first of many classes.  It was there that I encountered a professor who made me question not only my choice of major, but also my ability to be successful at that college.  It shook me to my core—shredding away at my self-confidence—and sent me tearfully into an emotional retreat on a hallway floor. 

I was on the verge of heading to the bus stop to make my way back home, when a woman stopped and took notice of me in the hallway.  She was Black, like me, and explained that she was the Director of Multicultural Affairs on campus.   She sat with me and cared for me.  She coached me and took me under wing.   She told me that I had a right to be here and that I should not allow what was said to me deter me from my goals.  She continued to mentor me and made me work-study in her office.  She said that she needed to keep an eye on me and wanted to be sure that I was maximizing my college experience. 

As our relationship grew, there was not much I would not share with her.  She knew about my grades, internships, and service learning experiences.  She knew I took two buses to campus every day and knew the neighborhood I commuted from.  She even knew my favorite color.  She made that difference for me.  She helped to retain a student on the edge of deciding to withdraw from college.  I am proud to say that she watched me graduate on time!  She even introduced me to my husband, her son.  Having had someone put out the effort to develop a relationship with me as a student, I am a living testament of the feeling that advising is relationship building.  Students are under tremendous pressure to be successful and they are more apt to engage in a partnership with someone on campus who exemplifies genuine care and concern.  As the value of academic advising increases, the need for quality interactions with students has become more important than ever. 

I was very fortunate to have had the influence of dynamic individuals in my life that saw me as a person, not just an enrollment number, and actively engaged in fostering my success.  I am honored to be a part of a profession that helps others!  To be an active part of a young person’s future is a privilege that should not be taken lightly, and to be in the position to give back in some small way the kindness and grace that was bestowed to me when I needed it most is how I approach each day.  Advising is very much about relationship building, and it deserves the same care as a prize-winning lily!

Dionne Gordon-Starks, M.S.
Undergraduate Advising
College of Engineering
Drexel University
[email protected]

Dionne is Senior Academic Advisor with Drexel University’s College of Engineering and advises transfers, freshmen, and sophomore students.  She has been a professional advisor for 16 years. 


Bloom, J., Hutson, B. & He, Y. (2008).  The appreciative advising revolution. Champaign, IL: Stipes Publishing L.L.C.

Cite this article using APA style as: Gordon-Starks, D. (2015, September). Academic advising is relationship building. Academic Advising Today, 38(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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