New UGA certificate program helps academic advisers prepare for advising students

New UGA certificate program helps academic advisers be even better prepared for the tough job of helping students know what courses to take

Athens, Ga. – They’re behind the scenes. In the shadows. Few people talk about them unless problems arise. And yet they are among the most important individuals students see during their college years: advisers.

Each semester, between 7,000 and 10,000 lower-division students in the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences alone need advising, and a limited number of advisers, most of them part-time, must help steer freshmen and sophomores over the shoals of their early college years.

While many advisers across campus receive some training after they begin, they now have the option to expand their expertise with a new Certificate in Academic Advising program, which began fall semester this year.

“All the class spots were filled within two hours of being opened for online registration,” said Liz Sproston, a pre-business adviser in the Franklin College who specializes in students who plan to major in computer science, mathematics, physics and astronomy, and statistics. “We now have some 174 participants from across UGA’s main campus and the Griffin campus, and four are on target to receive the certificate at the end of fall semester. The interest has been amazing.”

The idea for creating a campus-wide Certificate in Academic Advising was Sproston’s. The idea came to her after attending a session sponsored by UGA’s Career Development and Training program for a Global Studies Certificate. Why, Sproston, wondered, couldn’t academic advising have such a program, too?

Once back at the office, she enlisted the help of Amber Fetner, an energetic bachelor of arts adviser with special focus on music, dance, comparative literature, criminal justice and speech communication.

“We approached the Office of the Vice President for Instruction (OVPI) for help, and they were immediately enthusiastic,” said Fetner. “Then we took the idea before a campus group called the Academic Advising Coordinating Council (AACC). Everyone just thought it was a great idea.” With the help from the Office of Career Development and Training, the program was able to tap into the central facility for such programs on campus.

One of the reasons for the certificate is that training varies widely for advisers across campus. The Franklin College, for instance, has a six-week training program for all new advisers, but other areas differ. The new program is sponsored by the Franklin College and OVPI.

Those who are now taking classes for the certificate agree that the program has great value. Dina Canup, publicity coordinator and undergraduate administrator in the department of theatre and film studies, will be one of the four participants to receive the new certificate at the spring AACC adviser workshop.

“I’m getting the certificate not just for my own personal career development, but in order to better serve the students of my department as well the professors who advise them,” Canup said. “It’ll be particularly helpful when a professor is new to advising or hasn’t done it in some time, since we don’t currently have any sort of formal adviser training in the department. I’m the go-to person for all sorts of undergraduate questions, and I want to be able to answer those questions! The classes have been extremely helpful so far. I’m learning a lot about the history of advising, goals, nuts and bolts and where to go for information.”

The certificate has two required core courses or “competencies” that are mandatory: “Excellence in Academic Advising” and “Anatomy of a UGA Degree.” Along with these two courses, students must take four electives out of nine other currently offered classes. Each course is a single class lasting several hours, and the courses are free and open to all UGA employees.

“Those interested may take as many or as few of the classes as they like, whether they want to complete the certificate program later or not,” said Sproston.

This is a campus-wide program, appropriate for all who advise, including professional and faculty advisers, said Sproston.

Much of the work in putting the program together was done by a steering committee that consists of Matthew Head in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources; Jamie Lewis in the College of Education; Diane Miller in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication; Ellen Martin of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; and Glada Horvat of the Athletic Association.

For more information on the Certificate in Academic Advising, go to the program’s Web site at www.franklin.uga.edu/advising/.