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Michelle Coleman, Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY)

Michelle Coleman.jpg“Advising as teaching” (Lowenstein, 2005) can manifest differently depending on one’s university size and, in turn, an advisor’s caseload size. With caseloads varying from smaller programs to the entire student body, it is challenging for all advisors to put advising as teaching methods into practice the same exact way. For advisors with larger caseloads such as myself, we may often rely on our students to reach out to us to notify us of their needs. However, as we all know from experience, this often happens too late, when courses are filled or a specific deadline has already passed. Maintaining a relationship with individual students in an advising as teaching capacity can sound overwhelming to advisors with already-full plates. Nevertheless, advisors can use technology and other resources readily available in order to begin implementing an advising as teaching practice with small steps. By utilizing proactive advising, advisors can make the first move in teaching students to assess their own needs through modeling, kickstarting the advising as teaching process in a way that meets students halfway.

Proactive advising has transformed over the years, originally deemed as a passive advising strategy and now growing into a culturally responsive advising approach. Longitudinal research in proactive advising (Schwebel et al., 2012) revealed that outreach regarding making an advising appointment was not enough to push our students towards academic success; instead, it was only enough to push them into making more appointments. Proactive advising then shifted into favor further, viewed not as pestering a student but instead making a connection with them (Kalinowski Ohrt, 2016). Wilcox’s (2016) “Learning-Centered Advising Toolbox” confirmed that proactive advising has a role in advising as teaching, though Wilcox posited that it only does so as a supplement to more active advising models. Recently, Museus (2021) suggested that proactive advising can contribute so much more to the advisor-student connection; proactive advising assists in individualizing advising according to a student’s needs, connecting a student to their community and to academic support, helping them feel cared for by their university, and supporting equity through advisor and student advocacy.

What Can Proactive Advising Look Like in a Teaching Context?

Working with first generation students, international students, and students untrusting of advisors, I have learned that outreach can have an important part in the teaching process. Often, students will have very different levels of understanding and experience when it comes to advising. Waiting for students to reach out to advising on their own is assuming that all students have an understanding of basic advising concepts, such as determining a need for advising, reaching out to the correct office, and feeling comfortable with asking for help. As the full-time advisor for a major with over 1,500 students, I have explored the ways in which proactive advising can become part of one’s advising as teaching practice in a large university setting. Varying from virtual to in-person, and from quick additions to one’s schedule to events that involve more intensive planning, I have developed several successful forms of proactive advising.

  1. Creating student lists for outreach.

If you have access to a student search engine, creating several advanced searches with specific criteria can help you check in with students in certain groups, including seniors ready for graduation, students not yet enrolled, students enrolled in a specific challenging course, or students on academic probation. A simple email reaching out to these students can include your contact information, next steps, campus support services contacts, or a graduation checklist. If you do not have access to a search engine, you can comprise these lists on your own. For example, I have done this by taking note of students who express interest in graduating in an upcoming semester and creating a list to reach out to at a later time. My students have appreciated outreach emails in our large college where they can sometimes fall under the radar. These emails remind them that they are supported, connect them with proper offices and next steps, and often will start a conversation regarding a student’s other academic concerns.

  1. Hosting appointment campaigns.

Similar to email outreach, creating an appointment campaign invites students to make an advising appointment, rather than waiting for a student to do so on their own. Some campus software platforms will allow you to create a campaign in minutes; otherwise, you can do this on your own by emailing students with your appointment scheduling link or upcoming drop-in hours. This information can be sent to all students, but invitations sent to specific student groups can include a brief reason why they are receiving the invitation—whether they are reaching their fourth year or are new to a major, reaching out to students can make the difference in establishing a personal connection. Inviting students to make an appointment helps them discern in the future when they may need to make an appointment on their own, without prompting. Students will also become familiar with the advising scheduling website and available hours.

  1. Creating an advising outreach calendar.

As a relatively new advisor with a large population for my first-ever caseload, I have created a personal yearly cycle with all of my outreach reminders listed per semester. To get ahead in the summer, I will reach out to our potential graduates to see if they need any support. Near midterms, I will reach out to students who are registered for intense science courses and connect them to the campus tutoring center. Making that first connection reminds students of the correct office to reach out to with concerns, and usually will allow for most conflicts to be resolved early rather than after set deadlines. Keeping my advising calendar in my office reminds me to set aside time for my upcoming outreach efforts.

  1. Hosting discussion-based drop-in events.

To continue outreach efforts during online learning due to the pandemic, our program decided to host an online drop-in event that was intended to make advising more accessible. This event quickly transformed into one that unexpectedly fostered community between our students. Our event, called the “Lunch Hour FAQ,” was a weekly one-hour virtual event that students could attend without an appointment. Students usually attended the event to ask myself or our program director questions pertaining to advising, but the event quickly evolved into one in which students could attend and ask one another questions about course recommendations, internships, and research. Students began to attend the event to speak with one another, rather than advisors, creating this unique peer advising community. Similarly, we have hosted one-time events on specific topics, such as graduation readiness, to bring our students together, reduce the demand for individual appointments, and make advising accessible to all. Although all students are invited to these events, reaching out to specific students or student groups that the event would especially help would be ideal.

Actively reaching out to students can educate them to reach out themselves in the future and can help them feel supported in a large university setting. Although this can be interpreted as a passive advising method (since the advisor is the one to initiate the interaction), this can also be seen as demonstrating what a student should do on their own in the future: assess their interests or concerns, determine the proper contact, and then reach out. Similar to teaching a lesson in any other subject, modeling proper procedure shows students what their independent work should eventually look like when they reach proficiency. Advising as teaching can and should include assessing and understanding our students’ familiarity with the content that we aim to teach. If students seem to struggle with the foundations of this content, it is up to us to make the first move and be the friendly smile that invites them to begin their learning journey, regardless of their starting point.

Michelle Coleman
Program Advisor, Human Biology Program
Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY)
[email protected]


Kalinowski Ohrt, E. (2016). Proactive advising with first-generation students: Suggestions for practice. The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal, 18(2016). https://doi.org/10.26209/mj1861250

Lowenstein, M. (2005). If advising is teaching, what do advisors teach? NACADA Journal, 25(2), 65–73. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-25.2.65

Museus, S. (2021). Revisiting the role of academic advising in equitably serving diverse college students. NACADA Journal, 41(1), 26–32. https://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-21-06

Schwebel, D., Walburn, N., Klyce, K., & Jerrolds, K. (2012). Efficacy of advising outreach on student retention, academic progress and achievement, and frequency of advising contacts: A longitudinal randomized trial. NACADA Journal, 32(2), 36–43. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-32.2.36

Wilcox, E. (2016). An end to checklist thinking: Learning-centered advising in practice. NACADA Clearinghouse. http://nacada.ksu.edu/tabid/3318/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/6101/article.aspx

Cite this article using APA style as: Coleman, M. (2021, December). Making connections: Proactive advising as teaching in a large university setting. Academic Advising Today, 44(4). [insert url here] 


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