posted on September 01, 2004 01:06
Kevin M. Anderson, Coconino Community College
The blue of Lake Powell dominated the horizon as we dropped off the last hill approaching Page, AZ, but it was the ribbon of green wrapped around the plateau on which the town sat that caught my attention. After 135 miles of reds, browns, yellows and grays of the landscape north of Flagstaff, the green of the new golf course really stood out. Off to the right, on the edge of the plateau just above the fifth hole, was the college. The buildings were new, modern architecture--all glass and brick and steel—and looked like a church.
Advising at this remote branch campus was exciting not only because of the natural beauty, but also because of the variety of cultures and duties. Page is surrounded by the Navajo Nation, but although the population of the town was 65% Native American, they made up only 26% of 400 in the student body. Compared to national norms, a larger percentage of students were female and non-traditional. The economy of the area relied on tourism and the power plant that supplied electricity to Phoenix. Each year Page’s 6000 residents hosted three million visitors from all over the world. One was as likely to hear French, Japanese or Navajo as English at the supermarket. As an advisor, it was also likely that a student would have a question for you in the canned goods aisle.
My job description included recruiting, community outreach, student activities, coordinating financial aid, disability resources, and career services as well as academic advising. Of course there were endless committees at the college’s main campus in Flagstaff that wanted a representative from Page. (Somehow, it was further from Flagstaff to Page than it was from Page to Flagstaff!). The reality was that I was always on duty representing the college. Whether making a presentation at the high school’s college night, promoting registration on the local radio talk show, running a booth at one of the numerous events in the city park, or helping to organize the college foundation’s fundraising golf tournament, it was fun to be so involved in the community.
Geography is important to understanding the advisor’s role in this situation. A small town and a small campus mean that you get to know the students (and they you) very well. It also meant limited resources, limited job opportunities, and limited programs. Problems like childcare, transportation, domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, poor academic preparation, unemployment, underemployment and seasonal employment presented hurdles for students and those who advise them. Some students demonstrated amazing creativity, flexibility and persistence in dealing with these issues; some were unable to overcome them and became part of the negative side of retention statistics. Their stories are beyond the scope of this column. At issue here is the role of an advisor in these circumstances.
Just as each student is unique, so every advisor brings a particular mix of experience, skills and education to the table. My style is to let the student set the agenda. As I listen to their concerns (after all they dropped in or made an appointment for some reason!), I ask the appropriate question(s) to help determine their interests and goals, try to help them explore whatever options exist, and encourage them to take the next step to pursue their chosen path. During this discussion, I also try to ensure that they are clear on degree requirements, course selection and other “nuts and bolts” issues. But the decisions are the students’ responsibility. It’s their education.
This routine could be the same at a large university. What makes advising at a rural, isolated community college different is that the advisor does it all. You are the guide, the coach and the cheerleader. You do the placement testing because there is no testing center; you interpret the Strong Interest Inventory and MBTI because there is no career services specialist; you do the orientation program because there is no separate department for that. The whole student services process from recruiting to graduation is in your hands. The job requires good listening and problem-solving skills, organization and communication, and the exercise of good judgment when faced with counseling situations that are beyond your training and expertise. Most importantly, it requires genuine care for students. The advisor is really on the front lines, but the rewards are great. When you see a student achieve his or her goal—which may or may not include graduation—the experience is priceless.
It was just starting to snow when we left Page. In fact, the first major winter storm of 2002 followed the exact route across the Midwest I had planned for our move Michigan. Even though my new position there would be at a larger college with a different mix of responsibilities, I knew what I had experienced in Page would help me continue to serve students in any small town environment.
Kevin M. Anderson
(Formerly of Coconino Community College, Page, AZ)
Bay De Noc Community College, Escanaba, MI
Cite this article using APA style as: Anderson, K. (2004, September). Advising at a small, remote campus. Academic Advising Today, 27(3). [insert url here]