Campus News

Four receive 2019 Outstanding Undergraduate Academic Advising Awards

Four University of Georgia academic advisors have received 2019 Outstanding Undergraduate Academic Advising Awards. 

Mike Merva, Ali Gerlach, Umesh Patel and Antonina Ignatiuc were nominated by their supervisors and a committee of three student representatives from SGA, along with the previous advising award winners. The Office of Instruction and the Office of Academic Advising Services suprised each of the advisors with the award in their offices.

Mike Merva

Merva, UGA’s Outstanding Advising Administrator, supervises 16 advisors for approximately 3,500 students in more than 40 majors and across departments as the coordinator of lower-division academic advising in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

“Being an exceptional advising administrator requires the ability to empathize with advisors and students while enforcing policies and procedures fairly,” said supervisor Diane Miller, Franklin’s director of student academic services. “It requires leadership and teamwork, self confidence and humility, support and challenge, seriousness and humor. Mike Merva is the rare individual who embodies all of these qualities in an exquisite balance. Yet he never seeks accolades or recognition for his contributions, instead going about his work quietly, diligently and expertly.”

One of his advising staff said, “He does not hover over or micromanage us, which is greatly appreciated. At the same time, he is always ready with a quick laugh, a friendly smile and an ocean of advice and help any time we need it. That is particularly impressive, given the number of advisors for whom he is responsible.”

Prior to coming to UGA in 2007, Merva was an advisor and English instructor at Strayer University and taught English at Western Michigan University, Greenville Technical College and Gainesville State College.

Ali Gerlach

Gerlach, Outstanding New Advisor, advises 300 intended business majors in the Exploratory Center. In addition to advising a full load of students, Gerlach applies her communication arts talent toward developing the Exploratory Center’s successful educational resources, website content and social media messaging. She helps keep students informed and on track through visually appealing reminders about drop/add, drop-back courses, Terry and Grady College application deadlines, course withdrawal, major changing and appointment scheduling. During peak weeks, the Exploratory Center Instagram account has recorded up to 11,000 impressions.

“Ali grasped the fundamentals [of advising] within a few weeks and achieved content mastery on par with some of our more seasoned advisors within the first year,” said Jennifer Eberhart, Exploratory Center coordinator. “She is adept at asking questions, listening for understanding, solving complex advising problems and doing research. Ali speaks authentically about her experience as a business major to students pursuing the same pathway and empathizes with students about the challenging coursework, competitive landscape and pressures inherent in establishing Terry College eligibility within the increasingly skilled applicant pool at

Gerlach’s advisees praised her authenticity and said, “I’ve left all of my appointments with her feeling a lot less stressed and confident about my schedule and academic goals. Overall, she is the best advisor that I’ve had, and I’m sad to leave her.”

Gerlach earned a B.B.A. in marketing from the Terry College of Business in 2012 and an M.A. in teaching in career and information studies.

Umesh Patel

Umesh Patel, Outstanding Professional Advisor, is lead advisor in the College of Education In addition to advising more than 300 students in English education, Patel provides support and guidance to a full team of advisors across nine other majors and fills in to advise their students as needed. His input is often requested during faculty meetings and programs of study, including for the College of Education Double Dawgs programs.

“Umesh goes above and beyond to improve the student experience in our college in several ways,” said Justin Burnley, associate director of academic advising and interim director for the Office of Student Services. “His most notable work is with our office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Umesh coordinates and hosts events called Dawgs Talks: Conversations That Matter … students hear from COE faculty, staff and students on matters ranging from gender identity, religion and spirituality, mental health awareness and disability awareness.”

Patel’s students describe him as diligent, thoughtful and responsible, saying, “The advising process can be stressful, but I felt cared for and confident that things could be worked out. … He’s caring and, most of all, patient with redundant questions and worries.” Another student said, “Umesh genuinely cares about those he advises and makes them feel like they have a home. I have always been extremely supported by Umesh … and I always leave his office feeling more at peace and more able to tackle all of the ‘big’ future things. He is highly professional yet personable at the same time; he is a great asset to the College of Education, and we’re lucky to have him.”

Patel earned an A.B. in English and an M.A. in religion at UGA, then taught at UGA and the University at Buffalo before returning to his alma mater in 2016 to work with students as an academic advisor.

Antonina Ignatiuc

Ignatiuc, recipient of the award for Excellence in Advising Special Populations, has advised 330 intended business majors in the Exploratory Center since spring 2016. Ignatiuc has built a collaborative relationship with the Office of Global Engagement to support UGA’s international students, to which they credit in part to their program’s success.

“Antonina is student-centered, empathetic, kind and honest. She is very forthright but also caring and compassionate. She believes in her advisees, encourages them to set ambitious goals and holds them accountable for their progress,” said Eberhart.

An advisee said of Ignatiuc, “Ms. Ignatiuc has been the single most influential actor in my college career thus far. Besides continually providing academic support and guidance, Ms. Ignatiuc takes the time to ask about my overall well-being and listens to any struggles and concerns I share with her. After returning to campus following the sudden passing of one of my direct family members, Ms. Ignatiuc shared in my grief and proved to me that life without my loved one is possible. She got me through the onerous adjustment back to college life.”

Originally from Chisinau in the Republic of Moldova, Ignatiuc received an undergraduate degree in education and foreign languages from the Ion Creanga Pedagogical State University and an M.A.
in clinical mental health counseling from East Tennessee State University.

The awards are presented each spring to staff members for excellence in advising undergraduate students on class selection and course of study, assisting them with academic problems and providing guidance on related matters such as decisions about graduate school and careers. The Office of Instruction administers the award each year. 

The winners will be recognized at the spring Academic Advising Coordinating Council workshop and at the summer AACC luncheon.