When the Office for Academic Advising Support (OAAS) was created in August 2007 to help students explore their academic options, it was located in space shared with the Career Center to encourage collaboration between these important services. The result — a holistic approach to advising — mirrors the students’ perspective and affords them a better advising experience.
Lisa Davidson (director, Office for Academic Advising Support) and Gillian Steele (director, Career Center) talk about the ways their organizations help students make the right choices for their education and beyond.
Q: What is the nature of the advising in OAAS and the Career Center?
The Office for Academic Advising Support provides academic advising to undergraduate students who have not declared a major or those who might be thinking about switching to another field — in short, students who are unsure about what they want to do academically.
Our advisors are knowledgeable about all the academic options available to our students; until our office opened in 2007, no single advising resource, in one location, could help students compare and combine the many academic options. And they follow a distinct process to help students gain clarity about who they are, especially in the context of what they want to study. So, in reality, we spend a lot of time helping students get to know themselves better.
In the Career Center, we connect students to the world of work, including figuring out the relationship between a major and a future career. Once we’ve figured out some options — a process that can include students talking to professionals in their field of interest — we help them gain experience through internships, career shadowing, or part-time jobs. Finally, we help them find a job. Our advisors are divided into teams — a career advising team, an internship advising team, and an employer relationships team.
The students we see in OAAS are uncertain of their interests, their skills, their values, their goals — uncertain of what motivates them and of what they see themselves doing in the future. So our advisors talk to them: “What energized you in the past, and why? In what environments do you prefer to work? In what subject areas have you done well? What’s important to you?” Often, those conversations alone help students make a connection to academic options that fit them well.
Half the 2500 students we see each year are undeclared or exploratory first-year students; the other half are older students who are still exploring options or who are considering changing their majors. Talking with our advisors is often a good first step in helping these students understand the connection between their academic major and future professional opportunities.
Q: Are your services complementary?
Separately and together, our two organizations empower students with the tools they need to think through tough choices. During orientation, each new student attends a workshop presented by the Career Center, OAAS, and the Financial Fitness Program. In that first touch, we show them how to take full advantage of our services, whether one-on-one or in workshops. About 70 percent of undergraduate students and 42 percent of graduate students end up using the Career Center.
Even though we approach advising with different focuses — students can choose to start with academic advising or with career advising — usually they end up somewhere in the middle and want to explore both areas. And, of course, we work closely with faculty advisors and with advisors in the other undergraduate colleges so that each student gets the most appropriate, best possible advice at any given moment in his or her educational journey.
Q: How do you measure success?
We’re tracking career outcomes: At and six months after graduation, how many students are employed? How many are working in their chosen careers? What is their salary? Did they get the job as a consequence of a part time job or an internship? How many are in graduate school? In all these metrics, DePaul does comparatively well. For example, in the spring of 2009, less than 20 percent of all graduating students in the U.S. had full-time jobs; at DePaul, that number was 36 percent.
It’s never been more important for students to be on track — even more, to be engaged and to find their education interesting and meaningful. Why? Because those qualities affect degree-completion rates. They impact career outcomes. And they even influence the amount of money alumni give back to the University.
Approximately 2/3 of students who visit OAAS for advising complete an evaluation in which they agree or disagree with particular statements. On a four-point scale (one is “strongly disagree”; four is “strongly agree”), our students give OAAS high grades: For the statement, “I am more knowledgeable about the resources available to declare a major,” we get a 3.79/4.00. For “I feel more equipped to declare a major,” our rating is 3.73/4.00. And for “Overall, I had a positive advising experience,” students give us a 3.82/4.00.
Another metric we track is the percentage of students who start their second year as bona fide sophomores — that is, as students with the prerequisite number of hours completed and a declared major. In 2006, before we opened OAAS, 67 percent of students had earned sophomore standing; in 2008, one year after we opened OAAS, that number had jumped to 76 percent. While we can’t necessarily take credit for all that improvement, it certainly can’t hurt to offer students access to professional academic advisors who can help them explore all their options. More long term, we like to think we’ll be contributing to a higher four-year graduation rate.
Our work in advising has consequences, not just for each student’s success but also for DePaul’s success in achieving its mission.