Katie L. Bixby, University of Louisville
According to Vincent Tinto, student engagement is “the single most significant predictor of persistence” (Tinto, as cited in Harper & Quaye, 2009, p.4). In addition, Tinto found that students who feel disconnected from their peers, faculty, and staff often do not persist at the institution (Harper & Quaye, 2009). In this article, I describe how the academic advisors at the University of Louisville have successfully planned and implemented an annual Academic Advising Fair in order to engage students in learning about advising outside of the traditional advising appointment. This initiative can be easily implemented at any institution of higher education.
Six years ago, a group of advisors at the University of Louisville created the first Academic Advising Fair in order to make students more aware about advising, and to encourage them to schedule their advising appointment earlier in the semester rather than waiting until priority registration. They also thought it would be a good way to engage with their students outside of the advising office, and thought that it might help build rapport between students and advisors. The majority of students at the University of Louisville are not required to be advised past their first year. Part of the role of the annual Advising Fair is to create student awareness about academic advising campus wide, and to remind students that it is still beneficial for them to meet with their academic advisor throughout their tenure at the institution. The event is held in September in order to create a culture of advising on campus from the beginning of each academic year.
Each May, an Advising Fair planning committee is formed and is composed of members from each undergraduate academic advising unit, the office of Undergraduate Advising Practice, the Student Government Association, and the Academic Center for Student Athletes. These partnerships not only assist in the financial aspects of the event but they also assist in marketing the event to the students they serve. It is important for the planning committee to have advisor representation from each academic unit in order to create ownership in the event. In addition, this helps deliver important unit specific information to students from all academic units of the university.
Marketing the event to students is crucial to the success of the event. Each year, a theme is created around the event. All aspects of the event are tied to the theme and help create consistency and continuity. In addition, a catchy slogan is created relating to the theme. The slogan appears on all of the advertising materials, again, for consistency and continuity.
After the theme and slogan have been created, the planning committee works on designing a flyer for the event. Flyers and posters are placed throughout campus (student activities center, academic buildings, residence halls, advising center, campus dining locations) and the planning committee emails the flyer to all academic advisors and other campus partners so that it can be sent directly to their students. The flyer is also placed in several campus student newsletters in addition to the school newspaper. Yard signs and banners were purchased one year, but are reused each year.
Perhaps the most important task in marketing the event is selecting the location and time of the event. Our event is held right outside of the student activities center during lunchtime. Students must pass the location in order to get to the majority of the dining options on campus.
One final aspect of our marketing is to offer something to students that will draw them to the event. We always find a student to volunteer as our DJ each year so that students can hear the excitement of our event from across campus. In addition, the various planning committee representatives are able to provide free lunch and several games each year. The purchase of food is the primary cost in holding the event. However, we have found that marketing the fact that the event will have free food attracts students in record numbers and is worth the cost.
The primary structure of the event is the same each year. Academic advisors and other campus partners volunteer to help in various roles during the event. They lead games, serve food, and staff informational booths. For example, an “Ask An Advisor” information booth is set up for students to ask questions. Giveaways such as campus maps and refrigerator magnet notepads listing advising center contact information are provided for free at the information booths. Advising Center contact information, website addresses, and “good questions to ask your academic advisor” are placed at the tables where students are seated for eating.
One of the most popular games at the event is the dunk tank. Prominent members of campus (Vice Provost, popular professors, advisors, the SGA President, and student orientation staff members) are asked to sit in the dunk tank during 15 minute time slots during the event. The “dunking schedule” is posted on the advising website and advertised to students. Students line up to try to dunk their favorite staff members.
Last year, the planning committee piloted a new idea of incorporating a unique “signature event” into each successive Advising Fair. Last year, advisors and students collaborated and created a dance routine for a Flash Mob that took place during the event. That signature event drew the largest number of students to the event to date. Going forward, each planning committee will design their own signature event with the purpose of drawing a large number of students to the event.
The budget for this event has grown due to the success of the event. Budget categories for the event include: food, beverages, facilities rental, giveaways, marketing, game rentals, and miscellaneous expenses.The food/beverages purchased serve approximately 800 students. In order to keep costs low, food is purchased wholesale in bulk at distribution warehouses. Often, the committee works with local business (college bookstores, local restaurants) to donate items to give away to students who attend the event. One year, the committee used the money saved from the giveaway budget to purchase reusable banners and yard signs. In order to justify the purchase of items to give away to students, the committee always places advising information on the giveaways. For example, “good questions to ask your advisor” were listed on the giveaway one year. The committee also uses the same game vendor each year, and now receives a discount due to customer loyalty. Another great way to keep costs low is to partner with other offices on campus to share in the cost. These other offices can assist in the planning of the event, and could be offered a table at the event to advertise their services to students that attend the event.
Each year the success of the event has grown as evidenced by the number of students in attendance. The number of students attending the event has increased each year since the inception of the event. In order to determine whether the goals of the event are being met, students are asked to complete a survey during the event.
Questions from the 2012 Academic Advising Fair survey included:
- Did this event raise your awareness about advising at the University of Louisville?
- Will you be visiting your academic advisor as a result of this Advising Fair?
Plans for Future Events
As the university strives to improve student persistence while encountering shrinking budgets, the Advising Fair Planning Committee decided that a stronger assessment of the event is needed to justify the cost of the event. Going forward, the committee has decided to assess the persistence of students who attend the event. This will be completed by using ID swipers at the check in station at the event. Data will be automatically captured about the students who attended the event, and the students will be tracked through graduation and compared with a control group of students who did not attend the Advising Fair.
Katie L. Bixby
Program Coordinator, Senior
Undergraduate Advising Practice
University of Louisville
Harper, S.R., & Quaye, S.J. (2009). Beyond sameness, with engagement and outcomes for all: An introduction. In Harper, S. & Quaye, J. (Eds.), Student engagement in higher education: Theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations (pp. 1-15). New York: Routledge.
Cite this article using APA style as: Bixby, K.L. (2013, September). Enhance the advising culture on campus: Implement an annual advising fair. Academic Advising Today, 36(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]