Luke Faust, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Editor’s Note: The author wishes this article to serve as a “thank you” to his advisor, a long-time NACADA member who regularly reads this publication. Without her, he says, he would not have this story to share.
There are not many experiences in life that are linear in their occurrence. Becoming a professional advisor is no different. In 2003, after the most enjoyable nine months of my life, a letter arrived from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. After a year-and-a-half-long party, the experience was threatened with the word dismissed. It was official, I had failed out of college.
After the fallout at home, it was decided that I would write an appeal and beg for one last chance. I wanted to continue having fun more than studying, but I surely did not want to be a college dunce. Another problem was that I was chasing an engineering degree that I did not want. The dean of the college was not easy to talk to, but I had no other option. By happenstance, that same semester break, the institution worked on a very hands-on probation program called the SPURS program to kick students like me back into shape (figuratively of course). Going back to college was the goal, but I had no way of guessing where I would end up.
I worked at being a student, and perhaps more importantly for a first-generation college student, I learned to play the game of college. My advisor became my rock, my sounding board, my helping hand, my kick in the butt that I needed from time to time, but she was ready to fight for me. Grades started coming up and I started to understand what it took to be a college student. Once the possibility of getting a college degree started to look like a reality, it was time to decide what I was going to do with it.
“What do you want to do?” she would ask weekly. My response became a silent stare at the wall. Finally, fed up and sick of the questioning, I said, “I want to do what you do,” not even sure if I meant it. As I thought about it in the weeks to come, it started to make sense. Wait just a minute, I was far from sure enough in my abilities to think I could finish the first degree required and now I may have just asked for a second, maybe a third?
As the rest of my undergraduate experience continued, I started volunteering in that office to work with other students who were in a situation I was all too familiar with. I would report back to my advisor and work with her to help these students rebound. As the end of my undergraduate career came to a close, I became worried about the future with nothing but a degree in writing. I asked my advisor, “What’s next?” Her response was even more worrisome, “graduate school.”
“Where did you go?” I asked, hoping it was somewhere that would even accept me. “West Virginia University.” I did not know much about this school, but I did know it was a place I would likely get way too distracted. I figured it would be a good challenge and went for it. I chose the degree path of Secondary Education English so I could get some classroom time before hopefully one day becoming a college advisor and possibly professor.
Graduate school went by fast; I stayed out of trouble and remained focused. Throughout, I stayed in contact with my advisor from my undergraduate degree. At the end, I had to student teach. This was the most educational part of the experience. What I learned after student teaching in 7th and 11th grade classrooms was that this was something I did not want to do. At the age of 24, my master’s degree in hand, I now had two degrees and a load of debt for a job I did not want. That was acceptable because it was just a stepping stone to get me into higher education, or so I thought.
If student teaching was not enough, interviewing for three k-12 jobs proved this was not where I belonged or where I wanted to be. The first summer after graduate school was coming to a close and I was unemployed and pretty depressed. Then the phone rang. It was my advisor from Pitt. “It is a long shot, but you should interview.” I hung up the phone and began prepping for an interview at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I knew I did not have much of a shot, but this was the only thing I wanted to do, the reason I went to school for so long.
Right before the interview started, I had a thought. If I had to work with struggling students, I had already done a really good job working with one of the toughest students ever, myself. This thinking came out in my answers and before long it was a frank conversation about how many bad decisions I had made and what I learned from every one. The interview went well, but I was definitely under experienced. Two days later, the phone rang, and I was hired as a grant-funded, full-time, temporary (nine-month) advisor and faculty member.
My advisor from my undergraduate degree had moved jobs and was crucial in setting up the interview. Years after working together, she shared an email she had boldly sent to her boss requesting that they interview me. Turns out I was not the only one thinking I was a long shot, as the email highlighted my nontraditional path in academia, my lack of experience, and much more. By the time I saw this email, I had three years in my career as an advisor and realized more advisors have nontraditional paths than not. The traditional path might as well be nontraditional!
I worked on those yearly renewed contracts for years, in the very same department as my undergraduate advisor. My advisor and I were colleagues, and now she is my professional advisor. She never stopped working to advise me. After two years as a temp, she helped me decide that it was time to pursue a doctorate degree. Coaching me through that was probably more work for her than what was required of me. She never abandoned me. She put my success and growth in front of her own career. After six years, I was promoted to Assistant Professor within an FYE program with a strong advising component.
This past spring, I defended a dissertation and completed my Doctorate of Education. As I think back to some of the most important events in my educational career, the accolades of being a young academic, the degrees and such; none of them compare to the memory of the letter from the Dean telling me my academic career was ending. I have worked with and advised thousands of students in the past decade and while it is challenging, I still remember the most valuable part of my experience was that my advisor never gave up on me. Not only did that experience change my life, it also allowed me the opportunity to change the lives of others.
Department of Developmental Studies
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Cite this article using APA style as: Faust, L. (2018, June). I failed out of college: Let me help you. Academic Advising Today, 41(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]