Kimberly D.R. DuVall, Ashley Rininger, Alec T. Sliman, James Madison University
Peer advising programs are becoming more common as an effective method for advising students on academic concepts such as university policies, class scheduling, graduate school, and career options (Koring, 2005; Latino & Unite, 2012; Nelson & Fonzi, 1995; Winston, Miller, Ender, & Grites, 1984). There is a myriad of models for peer advising program structure, though common practices include advisor/advisee partnerships within a major (Latino & Unite, 2012). Literature suggests that with adequate training, students can be valuable supplements to faculty academic advising (Koring, 2005; Latino & Unite, 2012).
Psychology Peer Advising (PPA) began at James Madison University in 1991 in response to the growing integrity of peer advising programs in practice and in the literature (Halgin & Halgin, 1982; Koring, 2005; Lunneborg, 1989; Nelson & Fonzi, 1995; Winston et al, 1984). Since its founding, the peer advising program has transitioned from a student organization to a paraprofessional practicum experience. Currently, the psychology peer advisors serve as a resource for approximately 970 psychology students and advise through platforms such as office visits, transfer advising, peer advising symposia, and open houses.
The PPA practicum is a two-year, course-based sequence; students enroll in a two-credit class each semester. In addition, advisors are expected to host two office hours per week. The cohort typically consists of about 15 seniors and 15 juniors.
Recruitment and Selection
PPA recruits sophomore psychology majors each spring. Applications include general demographic information, written essay questions, anticipated responsibilities/involvements for the upcoming two years, a resume/curriculum vitae, an unofficial transcript, two references (at least one being an academic reference), and a recent photograph. The faculty director uses photographs to obtain feedback about each student from departmental faculty.
Written applications are reviewed by the Support Team, comprised of the director, the coordinator, and the training liaison/transition specialist (see support positions). The Support Team blindly reviews applications using a standardized rating system and invites qualifying applicants to group interviews. The Support Team then reviews all materials and makes final decisions.
The Psychology Peer Advising office is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Advisors also have a communal email account available to students with questions outside of office hours. During office hours, peer advisors advise on topics related to university and departmental policies, class scheduling, graduate school, and careers. Under the current structure, Psychology Peer Advising is comprised of a four-semester sequence as follows.
Fall of Junior Year. Incoming junior advisors enroll in a bi-weekly training course taught by the senior training liaison and the director. The class structure is similar to a traditional lecture-style course, including a short oral presentation on a topic of advisors’ choosing. During class, junior advisors learn about relevant academic advising topics. Outside of class, juniors hold two weekly office hours beginning in their first semester. Juniors and seniors are paired during office hours, and juniors receive mentoring on topics such as frequently asked questions and university resources. In addition, seniors review case studies with juniors to further learning and help prepare juniors for difficult advising sessions.
During fall office hours, advisors use a “scaffolding” approach (Vygotsky, 1987); seniors initially lead advising sessions and explain practices to juniors. Gradually, seniors begin encouraging juniors to take responsibility (while maintaining scaffolding), allowing juniors to fully transition by the end of the semester.
Spring of Junior Year. Juniors begin the spring semester fully trained on academic advising, and juniors and seniors share a combined bi-weekly class. Additionally, juniors become responsible for completing products and services (see Products and Services). The scaffolding principle is still applied as seniors assist juniors in developing products and services. Mentorship continues during the spring semester as juniors acclimate to additional responsibilities and the unique class format (remaining three semesters run similarly to a business meeting rather than a traditional class). Juniors offered support positions also begin shadowing seniors to maximize competence and confidence. In the spring, any combination of juniors and seniors may staff the office.
Fall of Senior Year. As previously discussed, senior advisors are responsible for mentoring incoming juniors during the fall semester. During bi-weekly classes, seniors discuss practicum progress, mentoring, and case studies focused on advising situations. In addition, seniors complete an oral presentation on an advising-related topic. Seniors are also responsible for completing products and services.
Spring of Senior Year. The spring semester of the practicum is identical for seniors and juniors with the exception of mentoring responsibilities. Though juniors are fully trained on advising topics, seniors continue to mentor on product and service completion. In addition, seniors give an oral presentation focused on what PPA calls their “words of wisdom” for fellow advisors. Seniors may present on any topic they choose while sharing experiences/life lessons.
Products and Services
Per graded curriculum, advisors complete products and services during the final three semesters in the practicum. Second semester juniors and all seniors are required to complete one product, one service, and one additional product or service per semester. Products (i.e., posters, brochures, handouts, videos, etc.) serve as advising tools for both faculty and student advisors and may be completed by an individual or a team. When completed as a team, a team lead ensures the efficient completion of products while focusing on team management. Typically, specific team lead responsibilities include timeline development, delegating tasks, and ensuring equal member contribution. For all products, the director assigns mid-semester and final deadlines to ensure timely completion. Services include any formalized departmental service that aids the faculty and/or the student populations (e.g., speaking at PPA sponsored symposia, holding extra office hours, assisting in transfer advising events, etc.).
The PPA practicum includes the opportunity for senior advisors to become involved in support positions. Peer advising offers ten positions: coordinator, training liaison/transition specialist, assessment team (two students), technology specialists (two students), symposia coordinator, quality assurance specialist, transfer advising, and social coordinator.
The support team works closely with the director to effectively manage the practicum. Support team meets weekly to develop upcoming class agendas and discuss internal practicum matters. In addition, support team provides support for practicum members when individual or programmatic concerns arise. Students serving on support team receive additional independent study credit (three credit hours per semester) and have access to professional development opportunities (i.e., conference presentations). The support team consists of the director, the coordinator and the training liaison/transition specialist.
- The coordinator is responsible for the administrative, logistical aspects of PPA, such as facilitating the senior/combined class, developing semester office hour schedules, maintaining accurate attendance and grade information, and corresponding with pertinent faculty for various events.
- The training liaison/transition specialist is responsible for training incoming juniors on topics related to academic advising, facilitating a smooth transition for juniors, and overseeing position transitions between juniors and seniors
- The assessment team is responsible for collecting and evaluating data obtained through various channels (i.e., Qualtrics surveys, satisfaction reports, office sign-in logs) and implementing necessary changes based on feedback. Students serving on the assessment team receive additional independent study credit (three credit hours per semester) and have access to professional development opportunities.
- Technology specialists are responsible for updating and maintaining the PPA website and social media accounts. The role was created for two advisors based on the time commitment required to create and organize each platform. Currently, the role largely focuses on maintenance, therefore, technology specialist is transitioning into a single-student role. Similar to support team and assessment team, technology specialist(s) have access to professional development opportunities.
- The symposia coordinator is responsible for planning, advertising, and facilitating multiple symposia throughout the academic year. Symposia topics include “Getting Involved in the Major,” “Taking the GRE,” and “Taking a Year On.” In addition to planning events, the symposia coordinator is also responsible for recruiting fellow advisors as volunteers to present on specified sub-topics.
- The quality assurance specialist is responsible for reviewing and editing all products, fliers, and other advertisement materials to ensure accuracy and professionalism.
- The social coordinator is responsible for strengthening relations among peer advisors by organizing monthly events outside of class.
- The transfer advising coordinator is responsible for organizing and facilitating transfer advising sessions for incoming psychology transfer students. The transfer advising coordinator works closely alongside the director and assists in recruiting PPA volunteers for each session.
Via the assessment team, the PPA practicum collects data on advisee experiences and the usefulness of services. Advisees visiting the PPA office sign in to provide contact information and their reason for visiting the office. Following office visits, the assessment team sends advisees anonymous Qualtrics surveys to assess advising experiences.
The practicum also assesses incoming advisors and graduating seniors to measure improvements in advising knowledge. The assessment includes objective multiple-choice questions (focused on practicum goals and academic advising content) and subjective case study responses. The internal assessment is relatively new; therefore, data on advisor improvements is not yet available for analysis.
Kimberly D.R. DuVall
Director, Psychology Peer Advising Practicum
Faculty, Department of Psychology
James Madison University
Psychology Peer Advising Training Liaison
James Madison University
Alec T. Sliman
Psychology Peer Advising Coordinator
James Madison University
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Cite this article using APA style as: DuVall, K.D.R., Rininger, A., & Sliman, A.T. (2018, December). Peer advising: Building a professional undergraduate advising practicum. Academic Advising Today, 41(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]