Athens, Ga. – Meredith Cooper, a University of Georgia freshman from Austin, Texas, felt a bit overwhelmed as she stood in the extremely busy Student Learning Center on campus last fall. Should she keep a certain class she was taking or drop it? To find out, she went to Jittery Joe’s, the center’s coffee shop.
She went where? The answer, it turned out, wasn’t in a cup of latte but at a pioneering advising center now operated by UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and located in the extremely busy coffee shop in the SLC.
“A day in the life of a UGA student is quite busy, and people are always on the move going from class to class,” says Cooper, who, like all freshmen and sophomores, takes classes in the Franklin College. “The SLC acts as a common meeting area for students on campus and is the perfect place for students to be able to briefly talk to an advisor about certain concerns.”
After meeting with advisor Martha Wisbey-one of several professional advisors who staff the Jittery Joe’s advising “office” from 4 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday-Cooper had a much better idea of what she needed to do with her class.
“I found it really helpful last semester when I met with Ms. Wisbey to talk about a class I was concerned with, and whether or not I should drop it. After I met with her I felt much less confused and had a plan on what my next step should be. I was able to stop by in between classes, ask my questions and get answers, and still have time to grab a quick coffee and be headed to my next class in time.”
The idea for putting an advising office in Jittery Joe’s was part of the Franklin College’s plans to bring advising to the students instead of always expecting students to visit New College on North Campus. Advising, as all students know, is a serious business, and missed requirements can sometimes mean an extra semester to reach graduation requirements.
Already, Franklin has satellite advising offices in Brumby, Creswell and Russell residence halls, in addition to the main base in New College, but there was need for an office that was even closer to students during a typical day, according to Michelle Garfield, the associate dean of the Franklin College who works most closely with students.
“What we really wanted was a place where students could drop by without an appointment to ask questions about core curriculum classes,” says Garfield. “And by students we didn’t mean just students in the Franklin College. In fact, we talk to students from other units on campus at Jittery Joe’s all the time.”
The massive volume of advising in the Franklin College is natural, because more than half of the undergrads at UGA are in Franklin (around 14,000 out of 24,000). The college has a two-tiered advising system. Full-time professional advisors assist freshmen and sophomores, while faculty in students’ major departments advise upperclassmen. Last year, the professional advisors in Franklin assisted more than 7,700 underclassmen.
“It’s exciting to watch students walk by and then realize we are there and immediately sit down to ask questions,” says Wisbey, the advisor who helped Meredith Cooper. “It’s nice to be able to meet students where they are and not require them to come to our office [for some kinds of questions].”
When the Jittery Joe’s advising center started last fall semester, it was as a pilot project, but the response was so strong that it is now a permanent part of the Franklin College advising system. There were challenges in the beginning, including issues with technology, the storage of materials and an inability to contact offices and academic departments on campus. But the problems smoothed out over the course of fall semester, and the system now works well for advisors and students.
Advisors from the college rotate to staff the site, and during last fall, 20-25 students a week (during those four hours it is open) would stop by for advice, a number that has now grown to around 40.
“I definitely think the advising program at Jittery Joe’s in the SLC is very useful, and I think all students would benefit from it,” said Cooper, who is a pre-business major.
At the very least, it’s the only place on campus where students can order a cappuccino and information on changing majors.