CASNR Advising Academy: Not Just A Number

Students in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources feel like they are home. Between small class sizes and one-on-one relationships with faculty, CASNR students have an opportunity to dive deep and get the most of out of their education at Texas Tech University.

It is evident advising is priority within the college. The CASNR Advising Academy is one way the college continues to put an emphasis on their service to students.

Since the founding of the college, students have had the opportunity to have one-on-one advising with faculty. This style of advising allows the relationships between faculty and students to flourish.

Cindy Akers, Ph.D., associate dean for academic student programs in CASNR, cherishes the relationships she develops with her students.

“I negotiated to get to still do academic advising because I feel like it is such an important job,” she said. “I enjoy getting to know students outside the classroom to find out what is really interesting to them and to try to help them make those connections with the industry.”

Robert Cox, Ph.D., associate professor in habitat restoration ecology and an eight-year adviser, says he loves getting the opportunity to work with students in a more intimate setting.

“There are some other careers where you get to meet so many people all at once, but it is great as an adviser, and as an instructor or a professor,” Cox said. “You have a hundred different personalities and hundreds of different people, and you get to know all of them and see them succeed. We have the ability to impact a student’s lfe through the advice we give. That is really what makes it rewarding.”

CASNR is the last college on campus who continues taking advantage of faculty advising with students, so they are constantly finding ways to keep it sustainable. Although faculty advising is a strong focus within the college, CASNR wanted to develop their efforts even more by creating the Advising Academy.

…we have the ability to impact a student’s life for the better through the advice we give. – Dr. Robert Cox

The idea of the academy was developed in a grant proposal, which went to the Texas Tech provost. The college quickly learned they received the grant, and the academy idea was turned into reality. When the program was being created, it was important to make sure the program would be impactful, easy to understand, and would eventually make a difference in how faculty advise students.

Savannah Chambers, program manager for undergraduate studies in CASNR, said there are several requirements that need to be successfully met before students can graduate. Chambers said they are set not only by the state of Texas, but also the university, the college and the department.

“There are certain requirements that the state of Texas says, ‘Okay, everyone graduating with a bachelors degree has to have XYZ,’” Chambers said. “There are certain things the university says that every student graduating has to have, and there are things the college says, then things that the department says.”

With the specific requirements in mind, CASNR successfully executed a prototype of the program, which held faculty and staff to a higher standard to make sure those requirements are met.

The main keys of the program include creating more consistency within the programs, giving faculty more confidence when advising students, and developing more efficient advising processes, which all will improve faculty advising overall.

According to Chambers, there are four different sessions the program focuses on, including student resources, software resources, CASNR academics and advising sessions. Each aspect allows faculty and staff members to develop a stronger, more unique understanding of what all can be possibly incorporated into an advising session. Along with technical aspects, this program helps with improving a student’s time in college and providing pointers to assist with creating a stronger, more personable relationship with the students by creating a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere.

“We pride ourselves on building and having those relationships with students, so this is the time that we build them,” Chambers said.

From the 2015 program, 80 percent of the attendees were satisfied with their experience in the academy, and 100 percent said they would recommend colleagues to attend in the future.

The academy is in its second year. According to Chambers, it will be continued every year for those who wish to participate along with new faculty and staff members.

For Cox, who participated in Advising Academy’s first series in 2015, said the technology aspect of the program helped him tremendously.

“The information they presented on electronic resources on advising I think was the intriguing part,” Cox said. “The refreshing part was really the emphasis on student-centered advising. Advising Academy certainly did make a change in what I do, and I would like to say I was always aware this is an important interaction for the students. It really helped me remember that.”

With the help of Advising Academy, Cox believes he can now better advise students thanks to the knowledge he gained. He said advising happens to be one of his favorite parts of the job because he gets to see them grow and thrive.

“I have students that I advised now who are successful in government agency jobs, private jobs, and also in academic jobs,” he said, “and you know, it is just really rewarding to see them move out of Texas Tech and into the world and do good things.”

The students benefit from the academy, as well. Sarah Whitson, a senior natural resources management major from Lubbock, Texas, spoke about how her adviser, Dr. Cox, is an enormous blessing in her life.

“Dr. Cox has always gone out of his way to help me any way he can,” she said. “Whether it is in class or at advising appointments, I know that he wants me to succeed. I have taken three of Dr. Cox’s classes and he became my favorite professor because of his passion he had for teaching. Not only is he a great professor, but he cares so much about the future for his students.”

She also said Cox has helped her in many ways, including providing alternate ways to earn credit hours to later obtaining an opportunity within the natural resource management department that made a hobby a job.

“He knew I had a photography hobby, so he recommended I go up there and speak to Dr. Wallace,” Whitson said. “That day, I stopped by his office, and I pretty much left with a paying job in the department. Not only am I doing what I love, I am gaining reliable experience with photography and field word. If it weren’t for Dr. Cox, I wouldn’t have this amazing job.  Any chance I get, I thank him for helping me pursue my career and give me the advice I need to be successful.”

Sarah never thought that she would have the passion to learn and succeed like she currently does.

“I have always wanted to just make a difference. Now, I am positive I can,” she said.

There was a dramatic change in her perception on her education since transferring to Texas Tech University, and in result, she said she strongly believes in herself. Who does she thank for that? Whitson said her advisers and professors.

Within the college, students are never numbers; they are, and always will be, a part of the CASNR family.

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