Olivia Elliot, Texas A&M University
Practitioners of academic and student affairs are often the first professionals students approach to help them understand and navigate their academic, social, and personal concerns (Reynolds, 2009). Each generation of college students is different (Renn & Reason, 2021), and with this being the most diverse generation yet (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2018), higher education professionals must adapt to new ways of meeting their differing needs. Potentially the most impactful way practitioners can meet the needs of Gen Zers is by changing their approach to the student-advisor relationship because, as Gordon-Starks (2015) puts it, “academic advising is relationship building” (para. 1). With continuously growing caseloads and advisor burnout being more prevalent than ever (Mallar & McGill, 2021), the interactions between students and advisors seem to be more transactional and less personable.
As one of the NACADA Core Competency areas, the Relational component provides academic advisors skills to effectively conduct sessions with students (NACADA, 2017). Most are not trained as professional counselors, but advisors need to have well-developed interpersonal skills (Reynolds, 2009). The importance of the student-advisor relationship cannot be underestimated. Not only do these relationships contribute positively to college students’ retention and academic success, but they also have the potential to improve students’ overall college-going experience (Austin, 1977; Tinto, 1987; as cited in Reynolds, 2009).
The Relating-Understanding-Changing (RUC) Helping Model, designed by Nelson-Jones (2016), provides a framework emphasizing the importance of the relationship between the student and advisor. By breaking this model into three stages, advisors can ensure they nourish their relationship with the student while helping them achieve their goals. One should note that stages can overlap, and it may be necessary to move between stages (Nelson-Jones, 2016). Examining the values of Gen Z students and reviewing some of the critical counseling skills advisors can utilize during their student interactions will make this three-step model most effective.
Understanding Gen Z and the Importance of the Student-Advisor Relationship
The Pew Research Center concluded anybody born in 1997 and onward would be considered part of the post-Millennial generation (Dimock, 2019), also known as Gen Z. Gen Z and Millennials share a number of values (Renn & Reason, 2021), but Loveland (n.d.) expanded on the values of Gen Zers. For example, Gen Z appreciates real life experiences, highly values peers’ input, and is career-minded (Loveland, n.d). This generation is full of independent individuals accustomed to having things personalized for them (Fisher, 2016 as cited in Robbins, 2020). In addition, while still considered digital natives, Gen Zers desire traditional one-on-one communication (Loveland, n.d.).
Consider the number of advising interactions a student may have throughout their academic journey and where this all begins. The first interaction with an academic advisor is likely to set the stage for future interactions. In addition, the first time a student interacts with their academic advisor is likely to be at their orientation program. During this time, they learn about university and degree requirements and resources available to help them succeed. Typically, they will meet with their advisor to discuss course planning and build that initial connection.
Higgins (2017) suggested that developing effective advising relationships is the gateway to the student learning experience. Consider the first interaction you had with an advisor. What was your first impression? How would you describe your overall advising experience through your academic journey? Consider the ways your experiences shape your work and approach with students.
Relating-Understanding-Changing Helping Model
“We’ve all heard myriad rumors about advisors thwarting their students’ career progress or, at least, sitting passively on the sidelines without any support” as Eberle (2019) stated (para. 2). Using the RUC Helping Model, advisors can be seen as individuals who alleviate stress, promote academic achievement, and support students. The following breaks down each stage of the RUC Helping Model and discusses skills advisors may utilize.
Establishing Common Connections. First impressions count! Gibbons (2018) mentioned the first seven seconds are crucial as individuals form their impression of you and determine how trustworthy you seem. Seven seconds is not a lot of time to show somebody who you are. However, several simple skills will make you appear more approachable and establish you are trustworthy in seconds.
Your purpose in the Relating stage of the RUC Helping model is to establish a collaborative relationship (Reynolds, 2009). Primarily, you will be listening attentively and using appropriate non-verbal communication. Active listening and non-verbal communication go hand in hand. The way you react tells much more than words ever could. Pay attention to your posture: sit up straight, lean forward slightly, and make eye contact with the student. Use effective head nodding or facial expressions where appropriate. Paraphrasing or summarizing can also help you fully understand what the student is saying.
Feel free to self-disclose. Self-disclosure, when used effectively, can positively impact the student-advisor relationship. Disclosing information about yourself in relation to what the student is experiencing can provide a new perspective, normalize difficulties, eliminate the power dynamic, and even offer reassurance (Nelson-Jones, 2016). In addition, while not a skill, try making your office a space where students feel comfortable, safe, and can get to know a little about you. You can showcase your interests by hanging pictures, having knick-knacks from your favorite sports teams, or displaying items that describe your personality and values. Many of these skills will carry forward into the second and third stages of the RUC Helping Model, but they are potentially the most impactful in the first few minutes of meeting a student.
Deepening Your Understanding of the Meeting. Students approach advisors for various reasons, from course registration and academic difficulties to mental health concerns and more. Remember, every student has a different opportunity or challenge that requires an individualized approach to solve. Gen Zers are used to having things personalized for them, and the advising interaction should be no different.
Do not attempt to tackle the situation without additional information because “misunderstandings occur when assumptions are made” (Eberle, 2019 para. 7). To avoid misunderstanding and making assumptions, apply your active listening skills and take the time to fully understand what the student needs from you. The Understanding stage is also a great time to ask questions. Consider clarifying questions that help you gain a better understanding. You may also choose to ask questions that extract relevant information about the students' thought process, perception, and understanding of the rules (Nelson-Jones, 2016).
Asking questions seems simple. However, some techniques make this skill more effective. Keep the questions as open-ended as possible because students will provide longer, detailed responses with information you may need. Eliminate the use of why questions (Reynolds, 2009). Instead, utilize words like how or what.
Creating an Action Plan and Following Up. Not every student you meet with is going to have an issue that needs resolving but ending the meeting with a plan of action puts the responsibility back on the student to follow through, whether it be they came to you for advice, discussed courses for the upcoming semester, or shared a job they are interested in applying for. The Changing stage does not have to be as complex as it seems. Think of it as creating goals and taking action.
Reynolds (2009) emphasized collaboration with the student and the importance of not solving the problem for the student. Identifying goals the student has will help the two of you develop an effective action plan. For example, the student may have a goal of graduating in three and a half years. Knowing Gen Zers are career-minded, it may be wise to ask future-oriented questions as they “help students conceptualize goals and directions” (Parsons, 2004 as cited in Reynolds, 2009 p. 156). You may also advise the student to think about this choice, or since Gen Z values input from their peers, suggest the student consults them. Further, together you may brainstorm to create an exhaustive list of viable possibilities.
The Changing stage is another stage where the student-advisor relationship can be strengthened or broken. Emphasis is put on this stage because the meeting typically concludes and the follow through on the student side or the advisor side can fall through the cracks. In the past, it may have been enough to meet with a student and move on but following-up with a student is one way to carry the relationship forward. Follow-up can be in the form of another meeting, an email, or a quick phone call. It all depends on the situation and the action plan.
The RUC Helping Model is one of many frameworks focused on building the student-advisor relationship. As Gen Z continues enrolling, the RUC Helping Model proves useful for advisors new and old. “In every nook and cranny of college student life and experiences are opportunities for practitioners to assist students with decision making, problem solving, and self-exploration” (Reynolds, 2009, p. 244). Recall your experiences with advisors when you were a student and remember your reasoning for joining the profession. It is your turn to make sure students feel heard, appreciated, and helped.
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Cite this article using APA style as: Elliot, O. (2022, June). Advising gen z: Using RUC helping model to enhance the student-advisor relationship. Academic Advising Today, 45(2). [insert url here]