Bethany Shaffer, CoLA’s own English advisor and lecturer, was awarded University of Texas at Arlington 2016 Outstanding Faculty Advisor of the Year. Shaffer was one of 173 advisors from all departments of UTA nominated by students and shares her insights into what it means to advise students.
Q: You’ve been a lecturer of English at UTA since 2001. How did you move into an academic advisory role?
A: I was offered the advising position when the department was in a state of transition. Because I was already in an administrative position as the Assistant Director of First Year Writing, my experience offered an easy transition into advising. This position allows me to combine my two loves: teaching and working with students one on one. It’s been the best move of my life. I am thankful every day for this opportunity.
Q: What insights have you gleaned from your interactions with students as an advisor that you might not have experienced as a lecturer?
A: I’ve learned so much about the lives of my students outside of academia. They are multi-dimensional, amazing people who somehow balance school, work, and family. I have also learned how dedicated they are their academic careers. Finally, I get to know them as individuals. I try hard to know at least something about each student in my classes, but advising allows me to go below the surface and learn what makes them who they are.
Q: What are some of the top needs advisors should be aware of for undergraduate students today?
A: Hmm, this one is tricky. The majority of my majors work in addition to school. It’s incredibly important to understand the balance needed for these students. It’s also important to remember that no two students will ever have the same story. Each is a unique individual with their own set of beliefs, values, and experiences. This means that no two advising sessions are ever exactly the same. I try my best to make sure I know my students as people so I can best serve them as advisees. It is definitely more work, but it makes the experience more rewarding for everyone.
Q: Academic advisors work with students having many diverse characteristics such as religion, race, sexual orientation or being a student veteran. How do you deal with your student’ unique characteristics?
A: This is actually one of my favorite parts of my job. I love working with all different kinds of people. No two days are ever the same because we have such a wide variety of students in our major. I embrace the diversity I encounter every day in my job. Every student is met with respect, kindness and empathy.
Q: What are your “top tips” for students when working with their academic advisor?
A: I love this one! OK, I’m going to make a list. 1. Be honest. Up front. If you aren’t honest at the start of your session, your advisor will not know how to best help you plan for what comes next. 2. Know your strengths and weaknesses. If you know you aren’t a morning person, don’t sign up for an early class. If you know you learn best face to face, don’t take an online course. If you know you struggle with Math, learn where to get additional support. 3. Believe in your ability to succeed. This is something I try to impress on every student I meet. Knowing you can get through a tough class or find time to take on a group project is always easier with the right mindset.