Four University of Georgia academic advisors have received 2022-2023 Outstanding Undergraduate Academic Advising Awards. Kestrina Shrestha, Yadira Castillo, Shialoh Wilson and Jennifer Eberhart were nominated by their supervisors and selected by a committee of three student representatives from SGA, along with previous advising award winners.
Kestrina Shrestha, UGA’s Outstanding New Advisor, advises and mentors approximately 200 math students in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. She is the sole advisor in her department and helps students transition from orientation to graduation. She entered her current role in August 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic and has quickly distinguished herself from her peers.
“In an office full of exceptional advisors, Kestrina is truly a shining star,” said Diane Miller, director of student academic services for Franklin College. “She brings herself fully and genuinely to every interaction and gives each individual the gift of her full attention, respect and acceptance.”
In her first year advising, Shrestha created the Math Peer Mentor Program (MP)2, which is a program that creates a sense of community between students and faculty in the Math department. The group hopes to create a space where students can share their experiences, foster a sense of belonging and encourage students to be involved.
“She works hard to get to know her students at a personal level and is the kind of advisor any student is lucky to have,” said Yadira Castillo, academic advisor II.
Shrestha works to make each of her students feel heard. She not only guides them academically, but also personally. Her students described her as knowledgeable, compassionate, supportive and thoughtful. In addition to her advising role, she is a member of the AACC Lunch & Learn Committee. She participates in the MAP program, runs the math department’s social media, and coordinates events at throughout the semester students and faculty.
“She is amazing and so helpful with everything. She has helped me understand my options and given me resources that I didn’t even know existed. She is truly amazing and so nice and so patient,” said Tania Croicu, a second-year student at UGA. “She’s honestly the best advisor I’ve ever had.”
Shrestha came to the U.S. from Nepal when she was 16 years old. Because she feels very fortunate for the opportunities she has in the U.S. and in college, she “was determined to pursue a career that fosters student development in higher education.” As an academic advisor, she uses a student-centered and asset-based approach in her advising practice. She earned her B.A. in public relations at Illinois State University in 2012 and an M.Ed. in education at the University of Georgia in 2020.
Yadira Castillo, an academic advisor II in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, has been named UGA’s Professional Advisor of the year. She advises all microbiology majors after their first year as well as biology majors in their junior and senior years.
Castillo is admired and respected by her advising colleagues and supervisors and by the departmental faculty and staff with whom she works.
“She is one of the most enthusiastic, dedicated, and caring advisors I have encountered in my 20-plus years in student academic services, and I have rarely met an advisor who derives as much joy from her work as Yadira does,” said Diane H. Miller, director of Student Academic Services for the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.
She invites students to discuss successes, challenges and interests in all areas of their lives. She recognizes that each student is on their own journey, and seeks to know the whole student so she can effectively support them in identifying the paths they wish to follow and the goals they choose to pursue. She then connects this understanding to her advising, considering each student’s interests and circumstances when helping them choose classes and develop their program of study.
Her advisees praised her warmth, emphasizing that she genuinely cares about students’ success and well-being. Students know she truly has their best interests at heart.
Her students describe her as supportive, accessible and approachable, emphasizing the time she spends getting to know them as individuals. They express gratitude for her timely responses to emails, her thorough preparation for advising appointments, and the personal attention and support she provides—which, as one student noted, “makes me feel like I am her No. 1 priority when we meet.”
“Yadira Castillo is an amazing advisor. She is so encouraging and motivating even when the student doesn’t believe in themselves. She listens to all of our concerns and helps us find solutions that are best suited for what we want. She is always smiling and always makes sure to ask how the student is feeling outside of school. She makes sure to remind student that there’s more to life than school,” said a third-year student this past fall.
Castillo says she sees student as a person, not a career objective. Her philosophy is: “Despite whatever expectations and plans we have, the possibilities are endless. In no place is this truer than in a university setting, where students are exposed, many for the first time, to many new possibilities and paths. My advising philosophy centers on embracing these changes, whatever they entail, and supporting students on the paths that may result from any change.”
Castillo has a bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and world language education from the University of Georgia. She is finishing a master’s degree in Hispanic studies. She previously worked as an academic advisor II in the Mary Frances Early College of Education.
Students who are undecided and are exploring majors need a non-judgmental, compassionate listener. For some of the 200-plus students she has consulted, that listener is Shialoh Wilson.
Wilson has worked as an advisor and consultant of unspecified and exploring students at the UGA Exploratory Center since 2019, and before that was the academic advisor for intended business students at the Exploratory Center. She also serves as an affiliate academic coach for the Division of Academic Enhancement.
Students and colleagues expressed that Wilson clearly shows her support for her students, making them feel empowered and helping them decide what major fits them. She shows care for her students, and many students feel that sentiment leaving her office.
“Every time I walk into Shialoh’s office, I automatically feel welcome and comfortable. She has always answered all of my questions with ease and calmed me in times of anxiety about not knowing what to major in,” said UGA student Sydney Tyler. “She has been so helpful in narrowing down all of UGA’s offerings to a few final majors I’m considering. She has provided countless resources and help that have impacted me beyond words. I am so thankful for Shialoh and all her help in my time at UGA.”
Wilson’s compassion and care do not go unnoticed by her colleagues.
“Shialoh is dedicated to her students and always goes above and beyond to ensure they feel heard and supported,” said Ali Gerlach, intended populations lead advisor and assistant coordinator. “Her empathetic and responsive nature makes students feel comfortable and confident sharing their concerns and goals with her.”
Wilson says that “advising is a reciprocal partnership between the student and the professional.” Her greatest joy is seeing her “students achieve the bravery required to take ownership of their academic career and become consciously competent in their efforts.”
Wilson is a first-generation college student who grew up in the foster care system. To her, college once seemed like an “unattainable privilege impeded by countless insurmountable hurdles.” And her first meeting with her academic advisor changed her life, when she realized she had the “option to choose and … [had] agency over my academic and professional pursuits.”
Now, she empowers students to choose.
She does so with patience. “Learning is uncomfortable and requires sustained, focused effort to achieve measured success,” she said. “Offering space and permission for students to connect with their stressors, anxieties, challenges, and accomplishments while simultaneously providing clear expectations and encouragement have been the keystone features of my most successful advising and coaching interactions, and indeed, my practice overall.”
Jennifer Eberhart, has led UGA’s Exploratory Center since its inception in 2016. As the center’s coordinator, she leads a team of 18 academic advisors and four support staff.
The Exploratory Center advises all students with unspecified majors, as well as students with intended-business and intended-journalism majors.
Eberhart was instrumental in developing the Exploratory Center’s mission, goals and operational processes. Under her, the center has grown from a team of 15 to 22. Her office has grown from serving 34 dual-enrolled students in Fall 2016 to 93 in Spring 2022. Her office averages 5,215 meetings a semester, with 1,557 meetings during orientation. According to survey data, 100% of students rated their Exploratory Center advisors as knowledgeable, showing care and concern, and making the student feel valued.
Her staff says that she’s a mentor-leader who makes them feel supported.
“Jennifer fosters an environment where all team members feel heard and valued, and everyone is encouraged to speak up and share their ideas. She is an exceptional individual who embodies the best qualities of a true leader. She is a leader who inspires and motivates others to harness their fullest potential,” said Ali Gerlach, intended populations lead advisor and assistant coordinator. “I can truly say that Jennifer is one of the biggest reasons I love working at UGA. She has encouraged me, challenged me, and has helped me grow both personally and professionally.”
“Jennifer is an extraordinary coordinator and a joy to work under. She is a passionate advocate for her office, staff, and students. Her collaborative approach to office leadership creates an environment of positive productivity where all opinions feel valued. Despite the high level of responsibility her position demands, she is always available to provide constructive feedback, guidance, and assistance,” said Nathan Carlson, an advisor in the Exploratory Center.
Indeed, Eberhart’s advising philosophy is rooted in caring, respect and empowerment.
“Caring is essential among education professionals. I first researched this topic as a graduate student preparing to teach high school social studies,” she said. “After 21 years of fulfilling work in the classroom, I was drawn to academic advising as a second career because it allows for caring, individualized educational support for students in a season of profound change. Advising practitioners and advising leaders who demonstrate care through empathetic listening and compassion are a valuable resource to students, colleagues and other stakeholders.”
Eberhart is praised for her “sense of calm and competence coupled with genuine compassion, and appears to navigate even the trickiest of advising situations with ease. This is not only impressive and rare, but elevates her leadership by creating a foundation of safety and empathy,” said Julia Butler-Mayes, director of the Office of University Academic Advising Services.
Eberhart worked as an academic advisor within the College of Family and Consumer Sciences from 2014-2016. Eberhart received a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in social science education from the University of Georgia.