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Voices of the Global Community


Douglas W. Estry, Michigan State University

Editor’s Note: The following was adapted from Douglas Estry’s keynote address at the NACADA Region 5 Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, April 6, 2008.


A colleague recently sent me an article that focused on the Learning Partnerships Model (LPM) as a way to conceptualize the role of the advisor (Pizzolato, 2008). As I considered this article and the analogy of advisor as teacher, I recalled the article by King (1993), From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side, that led me to the way I see the role of the professional advisor. Is an advisor’s role to simply convey information to students, hoping they will retain it and somehow construct meaning from it (“Sage on the Stage”)? Or, is advising a fundamental part of the student’s discovery process as they develop into a reflective learner (“Guide on the Side”)? The answer is clear: advisors are vital members of a larger team made up of faculty and staff who collectively are responsible for creating a dynamic learning environment that is responsive to the unique understandings and goals of each student.

As guides, advisors balance complex sets of issues across the multiple working frames of parents, students, the institution, and their own understandings of student development and transition. From the frame of the student, advisors need to understand and connect to the student’s individual motivation for seeking an undergraduate degree. They must understand and, over time, help students frame and articulate goals for their education. Advisors need to articulate meaningfully the learning goals of the institution, linking those goals to the set of curricular and co-curricular activities that will comprise the student’s degree. Advisors need to understand a student’s prior knowledge, recognizing that it is contextually situated in previous experiences and plays an important role in how they perceive and make meaning of new experiences and knowledge. Importantly, advisors must assist students in constructing new meaning across the multiple dimensions of student learning.

As guides, advisors understand that there are numerous spaces and places in which learning occurs. These include classrooms and laboratories, internships and other experiential learning environments, residence halls, community environments, performing arts centers, governance, student organizations, and international settings, to name just a few. Although the set of opportunities may be finite, there are infinite ways in which they can be linked to create a learning experience that is either unique and/or uniquely perceived by each student. The challenge and primary role of the advisor is to assist students in reflecting on their learning experiences and to make meaning of those experiences in the context of their own learning goals and those of the institution.

The evidence of our collective success comes in many ways but none quite as powerful as the words of the student. I would like to quote from a student reflecting on various aspects of his learning just prior to graduation:

My ideas of education encompass not only lectures, discussion, and tests, but also life experiences that have allowed me to make social connections, experience different cultures, and help others through community service.

Each academic advisor experiences the daily challenge of working with the breadth of personal and academic issues that come with the diversity of students we collectively serve. However, advisors also know and understand deeply the dynamic nature and potential of each and every student. Advisors understand that learning occurs in different ways and in multiple spaces and diverse places. Advisors will continue to use these understandings to advance and to enhance the quality of what our respective institutions offer. Advisors witness daily the reality of the statement “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Each advisor serves as avital linkto learning for our students – making visible, and assisting them in accessing, the multiple opportunities that higher education offers totouch their minds and transform their lives. No matter the picture students paint through their learning experiences, academic advisors play a critical role in helping them see how their learning serves as the foundation for their future. Academic advisors play a critical role in helping to create the coherence and transparency we strive for in the learning environment, an environment that is mutually supported, logically connected, and user friendly.

Douglas W. Estry
Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of Undergraduate Studies
Office of the Provost
Michigan State University


Pizzolato, J.E. (2008). Advisor, teacher, partner: Using the learning partnerships model to reshape academic advising. About Campus, 13(1), 18-25.

King, A (1993). From sage on the stage to guide on the side. College Teaching, 41(1), 30-35.

Cite this article using APA style as: Estry, D. (2008, September). Vital links: Touching the minds of students. Academic Advising Today, 31(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.