“To my surprise, I discovered that some students actually perceive advisors as adversaries,” Papa said.
Curious about the attitude, Papa launched a research project that focused on daily interactions between academic advisors and students. He interviewed seven advisors from the College of Education and Professional Studies and six students who came through its advising center.
He received a travel grant to present his data at a recent conference of the National Academic Advising Association in Jackson, Mississippi.
“After doing the interviews, transcribing them and coding the resulting data, there were three main ideas I focused on,” Papa said.
In his presentation at the conference, Papa stated the most important idea an advisor should understand is that every student has a different perspective, and it’s up to the advisor to make a common connection with the student and fulfill his or her needs.
The name of his presentation was “Us. vs. Them: A Positivistic Approach Towards Student Outlook of Academic Advisors.”
“Making a genuine connection with the student is important,” Papa said. “It helps build rapport to have true, meaningful conversations whether they are about day-to-day happenings, career goals or sports teams.”
The second major point revealed in Papa’s research project is that students who have been misadvised in the past will have a low sense of trust and a negative outlook for an advising session.
“Again, the best thing an advisor can do is build a sense of trust and rapport with a student to overcome any bad past experiences,” Papa said.
The third major point revealed in Papa’s study was a basic idea that came from the advisors’ points of view.
“It’s important that the student keep the appointment with the advisor,” Papa said. “There are clear expectations of what should happen during an advising session. After the advisor builds a general rapport with the student, it is up to the advisor to be finite and precise about the details of what a student needs to know. None of this can happen if the student does not keep the appointment.”
Now that Papa has conducted the interviews for his research project and presented his results at the conference in Jackson, he hopes to write an article to be published in an upcoming edition of the National Academic Advising Association Journal.
“It takes a while to translate the data set into the text for an article, but I’m working on it,” Papa said.
In the meantime, the research survey has opened his eyes about what students need from an advisor.
“I keep talking about a general rapport, but that really is the bottom line of a truly successful advising session,” Papa said. “An advisor’s main focus is to show students what they need to do to graduate on time, and that can only be accomplished by taking a pro-active approach.
“Advisors have to show that they truly care about students, and that can be accomplished in a lot of ways. For example, I send students emails about important deadlines and career opportunities. They hear from me outside our advising sessions.”