A willingness to meet students’ needs and help them discover a variety of careers that utilize an English degree are just two of the reasons Elise Elliott has been named the 2012-2013 Outstanding Undergraduate Faculty Advisor.
Elliott, in her first year as advisor in the Department of English, was notified of the university-wide accolade last month and will be feted in the Provost’s UT Arlington Advising Association awards luncheon April 17. Shocked but delighted, Elliott said she hopes to continue to encourage undergraduates in pursuing the right path while at UT Arlington.
With the award, Elliott is now eligible to compete for a national advising award from the National Academic Advising Association.
Q: How long have you been at UT Arlington? How long have you been an undergrad advisor in English?
A: I’ve been at UTA since October 2010. I have been with the English department since August 2012. Before then, I was an advisor with the College of Education and Health Professions. I was an English undergraduate advisor at Texas A&M for a year as well. (As an Aggie, I have to give props to the alma mater.)
Q: In addition to advising, what other roles do you have within the English department?
A: I have been enlightening eager young minds in English 1301 for the past four semesters at UTA. I also dispensed what pearls of wisdom I could to students in Composition and Rhetoric at Texas A&M for a year.
Q: How did you feel when you were informed of winning the award? What was your response?
A: My immediate reaction was to praise God for His blessings. Next, I thought of the many students who must have taken time out of their busy schedules to write in support of my nomination, and I was overwhelmed by the idea of their kindness and thoughtfulness. I consider that my students won the award for me. Finally, I wanted to call my mom to tell her the news.
Recently, I got accepted to a creative writing conference in London. Funds for travel were no longer available through my department or my college, so the money aspect of the award is a true blessing and will help defray the cost of travel. A $1,400 ticket would have put a serious dent in the ol’ wallet.
Q: What is your approach to advising undergraduates? How do you guide potential English majors accordingly?
A: For me, it is important to view advising not as a process, but as a relationship. Students are not likely to outline their lives on a sheet of white paper under the aloof and impersonal, superintending eye of a stranger with a name-plate on their desk, even if that name-plate reads “advisor.” Students are likely to have a conversation with a trusted friend and advocate about their hopes and dreams for their future.
I am encouraged to view the student across the desk from me not as a university ID number but as someone inextricably connected to me and to all others, since the success of the one contributes in a meaningful and powerful way to the success of society at large. Knowing that the advice I offer has the potential to positively impact a student, who then has the potential to impact the lives of others, gives me not only satisfaction, but a sense of personal responsibility. It is a moral obligation as well as a delight to assure students that I am here to help them in any way that I can, and nothing is more fulfilling to me than seeing students become excited about their future because they are able to make informed decisions based on practical, timely, accurate, and relevant information.
Q: What are the challenges you face in working with underclassmen?
A: If challenges are difficulties that provide opportunities for intellectual and emotional stimulation… then I’m challenged by every student every day. Each student has a unique set of abilities and interests and is a complex aggregate of cultural, spiritual, emotional and physical facets; this challenges me to tailor my advice to each student’s specific needs.
At the end of the day, I think the only real frustration that I face is not always having enough time to thoroughly explore all of the available options with every student (especially underclassmen) since the great wide world is open to them in many ways. This is why collaboration is so important. I refer my students to other resources and other experts so that the student gets the full impact of the options available to them. Here’s a shout out to the Counseling Center, Career Center, Testing Center, and all the other centers I’m leaving out. It takes a village to advise students, and it can be a challenge to make so much information clear and available in a short amount of time.
Q: What do you say to students who think majoring in English is all about teaching or studying British literature?
A: I shake my head, say, “Tsk, tsk,” and tell them to use their imaginations. A person’s degree does not define nor limit what a person can do. Only the person himself defines what he can do. I encourage students not to ask, “What can I do with an English degree?” I encourage them to think about what career they wish to pursue and think about how the skills they acquire with an English degree could be used in pursuit of that career. I also suggest that students market their skills, not necessarily their degree. After all, a good liberal arts education yields students with problem-solving and time-management skills, attention to detail and organization, and critical reading, writing, thinking and communication skills. I can’t think of a single occupation that would not draw on these skills. I usually tell students who ask, “What jobs can I get with an English degree?” that they can only get the jobs for which they apply.
Q: What are some of the unique ways in which you’ve seen your students utilize their English degree after graduation?
A: To be perfectly frank, I have not been in the English department long enough to really do justice to the diverse career paths that students follow after graduation. However, as an English graduate myself, I can say that I’ve known and worked with several English majors, who are now employed as actors, preachers, missionaries, speechwriters for politicians, screenwriters, marketing agents, policy analysts and website or social media managers.
Q: What are one or two things students should know or be sure of before they make up their mind to major in English?
A: For those students who say that they want to be English majors because “I like to read and write,” I respond: “I love animals, but I wouldn’t want to be a vet. Not everyone who loves children should be an elementary school teacher.” I want my students to understand this about their degree: loving a subject or even being “good at” a subject does not always translate into a successful career in that field.
The study of the English language and literature must be a passion for the successful student. Few people study English, as with so many other disciplines, to get rich or gain prestige. Instead, people who study English tend to be critical thinkers and analyzers of human nature who are deeply interested in the how’s and why’s of relationships. Thus, the student wishing to be successful in the field of English should be insatiably curious, imaginative, analytical and perceptive.