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Jill Putman and Sara Rathburn, Colorado State University

Putman and Rathurn.jpgWith the rising costs of higher education, students and families are increasingly concerned about the value of a college degree.  Institutions of higher learning are responding by prioritizing access to high-impact practices that promote student success, and advising professionals are uniquely positioned to connect students to these experiences.  However, it is faculty members that frequently facilitate the high-impact experiences within students’ academic disciplines.  As a result, it is essential for advising professionals to utilize their expertise in education and student development to design clear pathways for entry into high-impact opportunities while simultaneously partnering with faculty members who can offer expertise in a student’s chosen major and career field.

High-impact practices promote deep learning, facilitate student engagement, and are correlated with retention of students across backgrounds (Kuh, 2008). Examples of high-impact practices identified by AAC&U (2007) include first-year seminars, writing-intensive courses, learning communities, service-learning, and senior/capstone experiences. Undergraduate research has been characterized as a high-impact practice because it relies on faculty interaction outside the classroom, requires a significant time investment from students, and has been shown to have positive impacts on students’ overall personal and academic development, in turn leading to increased academic performance and retention (AAC&U, 2007; Kuh, 2008).  Undergraduate research projects, particularly in field-based disciplines such as geosciences, enable students to evaluate their learning outside of the classroom and to apply their learning in an unfamiliar environment.  The experience of testing knowledge in different settings and preparing students to enter the workforce is distinctive to a high-impact learning experience and facilitates deep learning (Kuh, 2008). 

Undergraduate research also provides opportunities for students to enter into mentoring relationships with faculty members and graduate students, which have been shown to have positive outcomes for all participants involved.  A multidisciplinary meta-analysis examining research on the effects of mentoring conducted from 1985 to 2006 found that “mentoring is significantly related to favorable behavior, attitudinal, health-related, interpersonal, motivational, and career outcomes” (Eby, Allen, Evans, Ng, & DuBois, 2008, p. 260).  Moreover, mentoring has been shown to have positive effects on students long after they complete their undergraduate experience.  A Gallup-Purdue (2014) index report found that graduates who reported having a professor who cared about them and made them excited about learning were twice as likely to be engaged in their work compared to their peers who did not report these relationships.  Additionally, graduates with mentor connections who felt supported during college were nearly three times as likely to be thriving in areas of well-being compared to those who felt unsupported and six times more likely to have a positive emotional connection to their alma mater (Gallup-Purdue, 2014).  These long-term, positive effects of the mentoring relationship have significant implications for the engagement, satisfaction, and success of students and their post-graduate relationship with their institution.

Faculty members are skilled at finding research opportunities and developing discipline-specific learning experiences for students but may not have the time or resources to recruit and select undergraduate research assistants.  Academic advisors are generally well-connected to students and aware of their interests but may lack knowledge of research sites and the scope of projects.  In January 2015, our Geoscience advising professional at Colorado State University developed a free, online application through Google Forms where students could indicate interest in co-curricular experiences, including undergraduate research, within the Geosciences Department.  The online application was promoted to students through email, social media channels, individual meetings, and classroom announcements.  The database provided a clear pathway for students to indicate interest in participating in discipline-related opportunities and was designed to encourage students from underrepresented populations (first-generation, racial/ethnic minorities) who may lack knowledge of and comfort with university systems to connect directly with high-impact practices.  This system also provided a learning opportunity for students to go through an application process and practice professional skills. 

Once the database of applicants was established, faculty members were given access so they could easily search for students interested in research opportunities.  As a result of the database implementation, a local research project led by a faculty member saw a ten-fold increase in undergraduate student involvement over two years compared to the previous 12 years at the site.  In addition, there was a 30% increase in the participation of first-generation and racial/ethnic minority students in the project during that time (Rathburn & Putman, in press ).

Encouraging student involvement in high-impact practices through strategic partnerships between advisors and faculty benefits all parties involved.  Currently, 78% of the students who have applied for a position in our department have been matched with a co-curricular experience.  Although the initial goal of the database was to connect more students to opportunities, ultimately a more collaborative relationship between the faculty members and academic advisor was cultivated.  As a result of having a greater pool of students accessible, faculty members developed new research projects and consulted with the advisor on a frequent basis regarding student progress.  The culture of our department reflects an equitable partnership and mutual respect between faculty and the advisor, which has led to opportunities for more proactive interventions for students struggling in classes or experiencing personal challenges, innovative curriculum developments, and new department student success-oriented events.

Advisors who are interested in advising for high-impact practices and developing deeper faculty partnerships should consider the following:

  1. How do you actively advise students to engage in high-impact practices?  Do you have a plan to integrate high-impact practice advising into your interactions with students?  If not, consider ways that you can intentionally discuss these opportunities with students during advising meetings. 
  2. How do students access high-impact practices?  Is there a clear process by which students can become engaged in high-impact practices on your campus or in your department?  If the answer is no, consider ways that you can design systems that will be transparent and accessible for all students to participate in these experiences or advocate for policy changes within your department or on your campus.
  3. How do you communicate the availability of high-impact practices to your students?  Do you have a communication plan in place that informs students of the opportunities available?   Evaluate the effectiveness of your current communication channels and the characteristics of students who are responding to your outreach efforts.    
  4. How do you continually educate yourself on the opportunities that are available to students?  Advisors can learn more about undergraduate research projects by observing class sessions, shadowing faculty members on research experiences, meeting with faculty members regularly for research updates, or attending research presentations to become more aware of available opportunities. 

In an era of accountability for students and higher education institutions, it is critical for advisors to consider creative strategies to cultivate meaningful partnerships with faculty colleagues while maintaining a focus on student success, engagement, retention, and graduation.  Advisors have a responsibility to provide students with academic guidance but to also collaborate with faculty to promote engagement in high-impact practices that provide the holistic and deep learning opportunities that characterize transformational education. 

Jill Putman
Academic Success Coordinator
Department of Geosciences
Colorado State University
jill.putman@colostate.edu

Sara Rathburn
Associate Professor
Department of Geosciences
Colorado State University
sara.rathburn@colostate.edu

References 

Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). (2007). College learning for the new global century: A report from the National Leadership Council for Liberal Education & America's Promise. Retrieved from https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/LEAP/GlobalCentury_final.pdf

Eby, L. T., Allen, T. D., Evans, S. C., Ng, T., & DuBois, D. (2008). Does mentoring matter? A multidisciplinary meta-analysis comparing mentored and non-mentored individuals. Journal of Vocational Behavior72(2), 254–267. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvb.2007.04.005

Gallup-Purdue. (2014). Great jobs great lives. Retrieved from https://www.luminafoundation.org/files/resources/galluppurdueindex-report-2014.pdf  

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 and Universities. 

Rathburn, S., & Putman, J. (In press). Local research hub catalyzes student learning opportunities. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Cite this article using APA style as: Putman, J., & Rathburn, S. (2018, June). Advising a clear pathway to high-impact practices with faculty partners. Academic Advising Today, 41(2). Retrieved from [insert url here] 

Posted in: 2018 June 41:2

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