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College advising amid a Global Pandemic

(Photo courtesy of Umass Lowell Graduate, Online & Professional Studies website) Photo shows a drawing of three books stacked on top of each other with a digital mouse in the right hand corner to showcase the evolving nature of online advising.

Victor Martinez
Connector Contributor

The surge of COVID-19 has had an unparalleled impact on the customary operations of UMass Lowell. The student advising field has been no exception to the challenges presented by these unanticipated events.

“My transition from high school to college was an awakening experience,” said second-year criminal justice student Maxwell Sears. “I had no idea what I was doing nor what I wanted to do. I was lost, and on numerous occasions, contemplated dropping out.” He said meeting with advisors early in his college journey provided him with a “a sense of hope and clarity.” It is stories like this one that shine light on the role advising plays in the success of college students.

Undergraduate and Transfer Coordinator Christopher Harris said, “Life is tough for everyone right now, and while virtual classes allow for students to learn, it’s not a complete substitute for in-person learning. We’re all trying our best to do what we can while acknowledging that things are hard and will [continue to] be for the foreseeable future. Advisors have to be more flexible in terms of when we do advise, since many students are now working during the day.”

It is evident that although working from home presents convenience to advisors, they are still working very hard to guide students in the right direction.

The transition to the virtual setting has also created some strain for staff members. Although working from home is convenient, the lack of face-to-face interaction has made it difficult for advisors to effectively get their points across. Cathy Levey, a first- and second-year student advisor said, “I just feel like [I’m] talking to a wall, and … not the person … themselves.”

When the transition to virtual learning took place in such an abrupt manner amid the Spring 2020 semester, many students said they had negative experiences with virtual advising.

“The biggest complaint I had is how long they took to get back to me and how it was such a weird set up,” Sears said. “I get it because it’s confusing for them, but it was just such a weird set up and orientation for it. … One of the advising meetings I had was over the phone and was not really as useful. I felt like I was talking to my friend over the phone, but obviously more helpful.”

Some have said that the troubling times and the transition to virtual learning has introduced a component of flexibility to the students seeking advising, leading many to believe that the volume of students seeking advising will increase. However, advisors have not experienced much change with the volume of students seeking advisement.

“Whether it be virtual or not, a lot of times, students don’t come to advising,” Levey said. “So again, really stressing that [it’s] important too that they meet with their advisors. I don’t think that’s a function of the virtual reality, it’s an ongoing thing, whether they be on campus or online like we are now.”

Across the board, advisors and staff members of the university are urging students in need of help to seek advising.

“I think not enough people come to advising, and they probably should. I don’t know if they see the value of it,” Levey said.

Harris echoed this sentiment by saying, “If they need help, they should reach out to their department and ask. They can also contact the Advising Center for assistance.”

The bottom line is that if students need help, advising is there. They just need to seek it.


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