Emily Emerick, Brigham Young University
"An advisor's ability to communicate and develop a relationship with a student provides a foundation for meaningful dialog and interactions" (Hughey, 2011, p. 22). The effects of some student interactions last longer than the appointment time slot. Sometimes they last a lifetime. It is not always the student who exits the meeting feeling impacted.
As an academic advisor in 2019, a young, dynamic, and beautiful student walked into the office. She was meeting with multiple advisors as she gathered the information she needed to make decisions. Not unlike many students, she was grappling with the weighty decision of which major to declare. She wanted to combine her interest in helping people resolve problems and in bringing people together. She saw the division in people, and she desperately wanted to rectify the detachment many felt today. We discussed her strengths and interests. She shared her goals and dreams. She expressed her desire to do something that would impact the world for good. She wanted to make a difference. She hoped to find a major that would align her studies with her deep sense of purpose. It was clear she was going to do something big.
She asked profound and interesting questions that surpassed what the major could do for her. She wanted to know beyond just the course requirements and prerequisites. She wanted to know how she could use this major to promote positive change. This student's curiosity, positive attitude, and bright smile left a great impression on me. Her enthusiasm was contagious. She was different. She was committed to changing the world. I believed in her mission. I believed in her. She did not seem to make any immediate decisions, but it was clear that she would excel when she found her major. She had decisions to make and multiple paths to consider. She was driven, dedicated, and determined to follow her heart.
On a hot summer day in 2020, my family and I decided to venture out and try a new place to swim and kayak. The location was an hour away from the university but drew people with the allure of multiple rope swings off tall trees. The site was beautiful. It was a refreshing choice for a hot, fun day.
When we were ready to leave this very rural town, we could not access the road we needed to cross because a train had stopped directly in our path. It seemed strange for the train to be blocking our way and our view. We were at a standstill. We were trying to see if we could figure out why the train had stopped. We watched as flashing emergency vehicle lights approached one severely mangled car. It appeared to have people inside the wreckage. The crash was so recent that only one highway patrol car was on-site. In the next few seconds, we watched as additional help arrived. We saw emergency responders jump out of their vehicle before it slowed to a stop. The experts moved into quick action. Police officers arrived and redirected us to continue moving along and away from the scene. The wreck was traumatizing and horrific. The gravity of that accident we witnessed started to materialize later that night as the news broke with details about the crash. News reporters explained that there were no safety arms in such a rural location to protect and alert drivers that a train was coming. The reports were that there were three college students in the vehicle. Of the three students in the car, one woman died on impact, and the two men were life-flighted to the hospital. Within the week, both men passed away from their injuries. Authorities notified the student's families, and names were eventually released to the public.
I could not have known at the time, but later learned that one of the people I saw slumped in the car was the same vibrant student, bursting with dreams, who walked into my office a year before.
In the Bloom et al. (2008) dream phase of Appreciative Advising, advisors are implored to "encourage students to share their dreams and be inspired by them." In essence, this student mastered the dream phase. She shared her dreams and inspired others. She inspired me. This bright, young student's vision of bringing people together was realized. After her passing, staff and faculty at the university shared stories of their own interactions with her. She inspired us all. Everyone who interacted with her had experienced the power she had to connect. She set out to change the world, and it turns out that she did precisely that. In her very short life, she fulfilled her dream.
NACADA's core values of caring and respect admonish us to "honor the inherent value of all students" and "support, nurture, and teach" (NACADA, 2017). Admittedly, this student was exceptional. Her legacy serves to remind us all as advisorsthat not only do we need to honor those who come inspired and overflowing with dreams, but we honor all students on every path. We encourage, empower, and help them put their greatness to use. Through empathetic listening and exploring a student's dream, it makes us better advisors, and it makes the world a better place.
This tragic and horrific incident helped me put the NACADA value of caring into perspective and action. It is a stark reminder of the value and importance of each student and every interaction. It also serves as an admonition of the impact we have on each other's lives, no matter how brief. While it is unusual to be on the scene of a student's death, it is a reminder that each student has dreams, goals, and desires. As our lives intersect, it is our privilege and honor to coach, teach, and encourage them on their path (Drake, 2013). We are more connected than we might realize. These are the students who inspire us and remind us to leave each student better than we found them.
College of Fine Arts and Communications
Brigham Young University
Bloom, J. L., Hutson, B. L., & He, Y. (2008). The appreciative advising revolution. Stipes Publishing.
Drake, J. K. (2013). Advising as teaching and the advisor as a teacher in theory and in practice. In J. K. Drake, P. Jordan, & M. A. Miller (Eds.) Academic advising approaches: Strategies that teach students to make the most of college (pp. 17–32). Jossey-Bass.
Hughey, J. K. (2011). Strategies to enhance interpersonal relations in academic advising. NACADA Journal, 31(2), 22–32.
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA core values of academic advising. https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreValues.aspx
Cite this article using APA style as: Emerick, E. (2021, March). Sometimes the effects last a lifetime. Academic Advising Today, 44(1). [insert url here]