Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Are you a college advisor? You better believe it!

So now you ask, “Where’s my first paycheck for my advising services?”  Hmmm, well that’s not going to happen for a few more years assuming you follow that education/career path; nonetheless since you’re now a seasoned Reynolds student, they will be asking for your advice about, well, college.  The ubiquitous “they” may be underclassmen from your old high school, “they” may friends and family members, and/or “they” may be the guys you work with. They are those who populate one or more of your own information networks.  

Most people accept the often-used four word formula for success, i.e., “make yourself more useful,” which frequently involves getting more education.  As they begin to think about their educational options, Reynolds is certainly on the radar screen for those who live in and around Greater Richmond.  So they’ll be asking you questions like, “Does Reynolds offer fill-in-the-blank program?”  “What’s it cost to go to Reynolds?”  “How are the teachers?” “Is it hard?” etc., etc., until they get to, “How do I get off to a good start?” and this is where you can really shine as someone’s college advisor.
In the opinion of this writer, the three most important items on the how-do-I-get-a-good-start list include,
1.      Take your college placement tests for reading, writing and math, and follow the recommendations. 

2.      Before your classes start, participate in a FREE Reynolds orientation program such as SOAR (Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration) or a SOAR derivative.  These programs are only a few hours in length but they can be THE decisive factor in getting a good start.  

3.      During your first semester include SDV100-College Success Skills in your schedule of classes.  Don't be tempted to blow this class off as inconsequential because there is solid evidence that students who take this course and take it seriously simply do better in terms of grades and persistence.  An even better way to take this course is when it’s linked up with another course to form what’s called a “learning community.” 
Uh Oh!  A new term has just been introduced; what is a “learning community”?  A learning community (LC) is when two course sections in the same semester are linked together and the same students enroll in both course sections. Professors work together to coordinate assignments, content, and improve crossover learning between the courses.   WHY?  Just as with SDV 100, students tend to do better in and as a result of LC participation.  They’re happier, more engaged in their classes as well as with their professors and with other students. 
One of Reynolds most popular learning communities links SDV100 with ENG111 (Composition Skills I) and this LC is branded as “Getting a Clue” or simply “Clue.”   As you may suspect ENG111 is as writing course so by linking ENG111 with SDV100, students are able to reinforce the college success and survival skills discussed in SDV100 by writing about them in ENG111. Think of synergy.  Clue will assist its students along the path to making certain critical life choices (like picking a major, a career, or a transfer college) by teaching how to set goals, improve productivity, and develop the habits needed to ensure success in school and in life.  Reynolds’ Clue LC was awarded the Virginia Community College System’s first-place honors for Excellence in Education in the spring of 2010.  Keep up the good work guys. 
Somewhere above I mentioned your information networks.  Another thing that these LCs tend to accomplish is helping students to form their own reliable information networks; which is simply an outgrowth of enrolling the same group of students in two (or occasionally more) course sections.  These students see each other twice as often and it gets easier to pick out who’s reliable and who’s just taking up a seat in class, and then to approach another student (hopefully one of the reliable ones!) to form a study group or ask about a homework assignment.  So a direct benefit to you of these learning communities is that your gang will stop bugging you with all these questions when they begin to use their own newly-formed information networks! 
The following quotes come from three of Reynolds’ Clue LC students, 
This class really did restore my confidence in both my writing and myself.  The realization that I’m going to make it in college, that I can do this, is priceless to me and I’m so grateful.
I have found myself, for the first time, open to the discoveries of knowledge that college can provide.  As I have come to realize, college is not about grades or tests (though their importance is not lost on me), but rather being able to open your mind to the possibilities of further ways of thinking… I have learned more about myself in four months than I had in the previous twenty-one years.
Honestly, if I hadn’t taken this LC I would still be following the path of something that just wasn’t right for me. It’s intimidating to venture off the path and out of a career that I thought was right for me, but I know that it is necessary. All of these years I was very close minded about thoughts of other careers and possibilities.
For more info about LCs see www.Reynolds.edu/LC  

Charlie Peterson is Assistant Dean of Educational Support Services, Professor and Director of Learning Communities at Reynolds Community College