A Network of Faculty Advisors

March 4, 2013—In Georgetown College’s three-tiered advising system, faculty play an important role in ensuring that students have support throughout their four years at the university.

Students who enter the College as science or language majors are assigned a faculty advisor upon arrival at Georgetown. Undeclared students are advised by the first- and second-year deans and choose a faculty advisor after they declare a major. According to Senior Associate Dean Thom Chiarolanzio, faculty advisors can tell students “what pathways to take in terms of the major because the major’s [possibilities] can be so vast,” he said. “The faculty member is the expert in that discipline and in that curriculum,” he continued.

Associate Philosophy Professor Karen Stohr, who is also the department’s assistant director of undergraduate studies, stresses that students should use both faculty and deans as sources of support. “Having faculty and deans working together is really important,” Stohr said. “I will know things about who’s teaching the class or what the class is like that would be information that the deans don’t have. And the deans have information that I don’t have about the [personal] needs of the student,” she explained.

Stohr helps students navigate the general education requirement in philosophy. In addition to ensuring that there are enough courses and sections to accommodate students, she approves add/drop requests at the beginning of each semester. “One of the things I’ve learned doing this job is that some students are struggling to figure out their schedules,” she said. She knows that students may be juggling a number of issues, including athletics, lab sections, and administrative and financial holds. “There are a lot of reasons students have for not having their classes [organized]. I want to work with students who find themselves in a bind,” she said.

Stohr encourages students to speak to professors when they need help and guidance, but she knows that it can be difficult for new students. “Sometimes students are afraid to approach faculty, especially in big classes,” Stohr said. However, faculty can’t help students if they never ask. “I do stress to students that they need to be proactive. They need to seek out that relationship with professors,” Chiarolanzio said.

Professor Marcia Morris teaches in the Department of Slavic Languages. She also teaches the Ignatius Seminar Shifting Selves: Changelings and Doubles to first-year students. She tries to assuage any fears new students may have about approaching faculty, and she frequently gives recommendations to students about what courses to take or new subjects to try. “I tell them that faculty are quite used to seeing students during office hours who are unhappy about one thing or another and that’s fine—it’s our job to try to help them out,” Morris said.

“But there’s nothing nicer than to see a student who is intellectually curious and just wants to explore the academic field that faculty member works in,” she continued.

Most faculty members and deans hope students understand that they can also seek help from professors other than their formal advisor. History Professor Tommaso Astarita serves as the department’s director of undergraduate studies and helps majors choose a faculty advisor. Although he recommends that students choose an advisor with whom they have taken a course, students are not limited to any one advisor. “I always try to tell students that if you have problems of any sort or you’re trying to choose courses, you can talk to me or anyone else, even if we’re not technically your advisor.”

Beyond requests for course approval, faculty can provide students with “ways of getting on in the world,” Morris said. Professors can help students discover a passion, but they also understand the technical issues associated with each field, such as graduate study, personal statements, standardized tests, grant funding, overseas work, and research opportunities.

Each student in the College may have one designated advisor, but students can still tap into a large network of individuals. Professors can help students pursue any path even if it strays from their own. “My passion need not be their passion; the point is for them to find a passion,” Morris said. “Each of us knows a lot about our colleagues, and we have a good sense of who might be helpful to others. If I don’t have a clue how a student should proceed, it’s my job to send them to see someone who does,” she continued.

—Elizabeth Wilson