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Ellyn R. Mulcahy, Kansas State University

Ellyn Mulcahy.jpgThe impact of time and the progression of time may have never been so important to education as they are presently. As advisors, teachers, and students, we are currently surrounded on all sides by uncertain timelines and unknown schedules ahead. The concept of time as a driving force on student success and development during college careers is marked by our situational time of where we are right now in 2020. Students’ college education and development are very much influenced by COVID-19. The impacts that COVID-19 will have on their development this year may influence them for several semesters to come, and for years of their life, if this pandemic negatively impacts the health of their family or their own health.

Urie Bronfenbrenner stated that human development is “powerfully shaped by conditions and events occurring during the historical period through which the person lives’’ (Bronfenbrenner, 1999). Bronfenbrenner was a developmental psychologist who introduced a theory of development with four components of process, person, context, and time (PPCT) (Bronfenbrenner, 1995, 1999, 2001; Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998, 2006; Edinete & Tudge, 2013). The interactions and connections between these four components are recognized as strong determinants of student development. This is an ecological model as it also explains the process of these interactions and connections, not only the final results.

An ecological perspective can help us to understand the differences between how students are impacted or influenced by their environments as compared to their peers. This is crucial to keep in mind, as different students will react to and be influenced by their environments in different ways. As advisors, we should not have a predetermined opinion of how a student should or would react to a situation or be influenced by a component of their environment over a given time period. The concept of the influence of time (T in PPCT) is not new to education or any other area of the study of human development. T in PPCT was separated by Bronfenbrenner into levels of time or tracks of time that may be differentially influential such as exactly when a student attended college: for example, during a period of major political and social upheaval or a major event during the lifespan of a student that was impactful, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Now is a good time to reflect on just how much our current time will impact our time ahead.

In the bioecological model, Bronfenbrenner and Morris integrated and described time as an element that exerts influence on development over the lifespan and even across generations (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006). I perceive the levels of mesotime and macrotime as the opposite ends of the advising spectrum, that we as advisors need to be aware of in light of COVID-19 and the rapidly changing landscape of higher education. Mesotime is our current time and describes the immediate weeks and months that we are moving through now and that we will move through imminently. Macrotime is our future time that we have not yet entered or experienced and is even the upcoming times of future generations. As Bronfenbrenner and Morris described, macrotime ‘‘focuses on the changing expectations and events in the larger society, both within and across generations’’ (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006). For us, as advisors and mentors of our students, their current needs in mesotime must be cared for and nurtured in the short term to address our students’ immediate needs, allay their fears, and help them get back onto their educational pathway. We also, however, must look ahead and see their future pathways and think about preparing them for their macrotime. This is the strength of advising, to be able to plan with a student as a partner to ensure their pathway is laid out in front of them. The decisions we make now in their mesotime will prepare and benefit them in their lives ahead in their macrotime.

The concept of macrotime, as a force of time that can influence development across successive generations is both powerful and humbling. This combination of the current and futures times that impacts students underscores the importance of comprehending time as a driving factor of student development. Now, more than ever, students will need to be supported and bolstered by advising mechanisms founded in the understanding that academic success in the classroom is attained by equitable support and care of student development outside the classroom.

As advisors, we must appreciate that the role of education in student development is both timely and time dependent. This is how I interpret the chronosystem, a model that considers time as an influence on human development, and one of five parts of Bronfenbrenner’s theory of ecological systems (Bronfenbrenner, 1988; Edinete & Tudge, 2013). The chronosystem considers how and when major events occur and how the timing of these events can influence a person’s life. These major events could be within the person’s life itself or external such as natural disasters, pandemics, or global civil rights protests. Students experiencing such traumatic events may require an advising structure that is closely aligned with mental health services (Firestein, 2019).

The concept and impact of timing, while not new, was particularly influential to me this year. Reading Bronfenbrenner’s work has impacted how I view other people, how I view learning, how I think about vulnerable populations on our campuses, and how I make decisions to assist my students. This all spills over into my role as an advisor, a mentor, and a teacher, and how I think and advise holistically, considering all parts of a student’s life inside and outside of the classroom (Kardash, 2020). As a systems approach, the chronosystem can be utilized as part of an advising strategy that looks at overall patterns and relationships to understand and identify high-impact intervention options. This will bring more needs for us as advisors to think about and more resources for us to locate. Resources to address food insecurity, assistance with locating and applying for scholarships, advocating for our students on and off campus, ensuring our students have access to mental health support, referrals for mental health first aid for students experiencing trauma, and unidentified resources that we do not yet know that we will have to provide.

So, where do we go from here? I urge advisors to act with empathy, to encourage, to listen, and to remember what has happened this year. I also urge advisors to recall every year that events in times past have impacted our students, whether they know it or whether we know it. In the face of these additional and potentially intimidating changes to our educational system and discouraging struggles we are all facing, we as advisors must continue to advocate for resources that will ensure our students make it through and thrive.

Ellyn R. Mulcahy (she/her/hers)
Graduate Student, Graduate Certificate in Academic Advising
Director, Master of Public Health Program
Associate Professor, Department of Diagnostic Medicine and Pathobiology
Kansas State University
[email protected]


Bronfenbrenner, U. (1988). Interacting systems in human development. Research paradigms: Present and future. In N. Bolger, A. Caspi, G. Downey, & M. Moorehouse (Eds.), Persons in contexts: Developmental processes (pp. 25–49). Cambridge University Press.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1995). Developmental ecology through space and time: a future perspective. In P. Moen, G. H. Elder, & K. Luscher (Eds.), Examining lives in context: Perspectives on the ecology of human development (pp. 599–618). American Psychological Association.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1999). Environments in developmental perspective: Theoretical and operational models. In S. L. Friedman & T. D. Wachs (Eds.), Measuring environment across the life span: Emerging methods and concepts (pp. 3–28). American Psychological Association Press.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (2001). The bioecological theory of human development. In N. J. Smelser & P. B. Baltes (Eds.), International encyclopaedia of the social and behavioural sciences (pp. 6963–6970). Elsevier.

Bronfenbrenner, U., & Morris, P. A. (1998). The ecology of development processes. In W. Damon (Series Ed.) & R. M. Lerner (Vol. Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 1. Theoretical models of human development (pp. 993–1027). Wiley.

Bronfenbrenner, U., & Morris, P. A. (2006). The bioecological model of human development. In W. Damon (Series Ed.) & R.M. Lerner (Vol. Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Theoretical models of human development (pp. 793–828). Wiley.

Edinete, M. R., Tudge, J. (2013). Urie Bronfenbrenner’s theory of human development: Its evolution from ecology to bioecology. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 5, 243–258. https://doi.org/10.1111/jftr.12022

Firestein, C. (2019, June). Advising students who struggle due to traumatic events. Academic Advising Today, 42(2). https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Advising-Students-Who-Struggle-Due-To-Traumatic-Events.aspx

Kardash, S. M. (2020, June). Holistic advising. Academic Advising Today, 43(2). https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Holistic-Advising.aspx

Cite this article using APA style as: Mulcahy, E.R. (2020, September). Timing is everything: Coronavirus and the chronosystem. Academic Advising Today, 43(3). [insert url here] 


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