Efrosini Hortis, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey focuses on the Greek hero Odysseus, who wanders for ten years after the fall of Troy in order to reach his destination, Ithaca. After adventures, learning experiences, failures, and successes, he finally finds his way home.
Our students are like Odysseus; they enter our offices full of dreams, interests, fears, and confusions, ready to begin their academic, personal, social, and developmental wanderings! Advisors are like the Goddess Athena; we need wisdom, knowledge, resources, and authenticity to help students find the right paths during their wanderings!
Graduation, much like Ithaca, is the desired destination. Odysseus is on a journey to his beloved home, just as our students are striving toward their personal Ithaca. Academic advisors may serve as guides along this journey as students achieve new heights in the developmental, learning, and maturation process.
Odysseus begins his journey full of hope and happiness, believing that in a few months he will reach Ithaca. However, he encounters obstacles, and his journey lasts for ten years. Odysseus is a recognizable Greek character; he is a warrior, the man who overcomes all menaces, employing his intellect and endurance. Similarly, our students feel exuberant to start college and graduate in four years, but they are blissfully unaware of the obstacles they may encounter that threaten to derail their endeavors. Students, like Odysseus, undertake adventures and relationships that distract them from their goals and may delay their achievements. Our students must rely on their intellect and perseverance combined with concentration and hard work in order to graduate on time.
As Odysseus begins his journey, he reaches the Lotus Eaters’ Island. The inhabitants cook a dish made of lotus flowers, which makes those who eat it forget their past life and wish to stay there. Some of Odysseus’s crew fall under the spell of the Lotus Eaters, and he has to tie them up and drag them back to the ship. Like this, students land in our campuses, trying to adjust socially by establishing connections and finding new friends. Most of them are away from home for the first time, which is overwhelming and may evoke homesickness. All these emotional and social obstacles are like the lotus flower in that they divert attention from educational pursuits.
Next, Odysseus reaches the floating island of King Aeolus. When Odysseus is ready to leave, Aeolus is willing to help him, and kindly traps the winds in a leather bottle to prevent them from harming Odysseus’s ship. However, Odysseus’s men, curious to know what is in the bottle, open it while he is asleep. The strong winds blow the ship back to the island, where Aeolus refuses to help them again and sends them away. The same thing happens to our students after high school; they enter the broad American educational system, and it feels as if the Winds of Aeolus open before them. The liberal educational system, with its wide selection of courses and majors, is ideal as students may explore their strengths and interests, but, like the Winds of Aeolus, it opens up multiple paths and options that they cannot manage. Choosing a major is a frustrating and important decision. However, students feel so confused about general education and competing major requirements, that they feel as if they are blown off course easily when a new major emerges.
The next challenge in Odysseus’s journey is the Sirens’ Island. The Sirens are women who sing songs to lure passing crews and ships in order to keep them on their island. During social adjustments, our students come across many sirens on our campuses. Personal relationships are important, but, at the same time, they can become overwhelming and distract students from their studies. In addition, social interactions that lead to parties, drugs, or alcohol, when not balanced, are like the Sirens of campus that can lead to failures and eventual drop out.
Another stop in Odysseus’s journey is the Cave of Cyclops, a cave of monstrous cyclops, where Odysseus and his men are trapped. They escape by blinding them. Perceptive students anticipate academic challenges and changes in responsibility. Most understand that college will be different from and more rigorous than high school, but many do not realize exactly what those differences entail. Unfortunately, research proves students are academically underprepared when entering college. Another important factor is that students are accountable for their actions in college. A different level of responsibility is anticipated from them, since they are now responsible for their choices and actions. From making payments to doing laundry and managing their time, some are overwhelmed by the academic difficulties and dealing with adult responsibilities for the first time. As Odysseus, they may feel ensnared in their own Cave of Cyclops. An appealing solution may be to leave college and delay the process of developing as a student.
These challenges—academic, personal, social, and emotional—that students experience when entering college may be likened to Odysseus’s adventures. Odysseus had Athena serving as his protector much like our students have advisors to help them overcome obstacles and reach their Ithaca. During advising appointments, an effective teaching/advising philosophy should be followed. In order to be an effective teacher and advisor, we must develop specific skills and qualifications.
Effectiveness. Effective teachers and advisors must know the material they teach well in order to be able to explain it to advisees. Knowledge of the curriculum, procedures, regulations, and resources is a key factor for our advising sessions.
Preparation. Prior to an appointment, preparation is imperative. As advisors, we want to glean valuable information regarding our students: grades, failures, repeats, and course selection, to name a few. Our goal should be for the students to understand the importance of their education, by way of explanation regarding major requirements, prerequisites, and course sequencing. It is important to illuminate that the plethora of course options lead to varying career paths and advisors may serve as architects, but students’ choice of path is ultimately their own responsibility.
Honesty. This leads to trust, another important factor in advising. Students feel confidence and trust when they understand what they are supposed to do and why—they also appreciate honesty and connect when we demonstrate we care about them as individuals. Since advising is teaching, we first have to teach students and then engage them to learn, develop, and take action. This is the epitome of trust with our advisees.
Real Interactive Communication. Advisors must pay genuine attention to each student and, through our conversations, realize the hidden meanings behind their words, a key point for the developmental advising process. When we pick up the clues, we can provide our advisees with the right information to enable them to think critically, learn, and find the motivation to connect the pieces of the puzzle. For example, when they are exploring different majors, we should try to establish their interests, strengths, and passions through discussion.
One of the questions I ask students is, “If I had magic powers and could give you the ideal job in a few years, what would that be? Forget about general education and major requirements, just describe what you want!” At first they laugh, but then they answer . . . and from that, real magic unfolds. I am able to understand their interests, strengths, and passions, so the next step for me is to open up the paths (majors, minors, combinations of courses) that will stimulate those interests and motivate them to use the pieces of the puzzle and see the future big picture.
Encouragement and enthusiasm is another important factor in effective advising. I encourage students to use their strengths and qualities to reach their goals and achieve graduation. I always become part of the process. I refer to my students on probation as a teammate; we have to raise the GPA, we set goals together on how to do it, and we remain in communication. When they do a good job, I show my enthusiasm for their achievements.
Advising can be based on a teaching/advising philosophy, but is not limited to that; since each student is unique, a combination of developmental and advising theories should be utilized in the best interests of students. Advising is an authentic passion, and our goal is for students to leave our offices smiling, confident, and happy. Happy that they have found their destination, confident because we have taught them the right steps and how to navigate and benefit from the resources offered at our institutions, and smiling because they have the passion and determination to find their destination. Advisors, like the Goddess Athena, have to develop and acquire more wisdom and knowledge every day, by reading, learning, attending NACADA conferences and webinars, and connecting with our colleagues and learning from them, so we are there, ready to protect and guide our students and help them, like Odysseus, to reach their Ithaca.
Efrosini Hortis, MEd
Office of Academic Advising
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Cite this article using APA style as: Hortis, E. (2018, March). The Odyssey: How to help student reach their Ithaca. Academic Advising Today, 41(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]