Summit Highlights Advising’s Ripple Effect

A student in an orange sweater and white top in a red face mask studyingNearly 1,000 mentors and advisors from more than 100 organizations, including institutions of higher education as well as private-sector companies and non-profits, gathered virtually on Thursday, March 11, for Pitt’s fourth annual Mentoring and Advising Summit.

The daylong event offered an opportunity for participants to engage with and learn about specific tools, techniques, theories and concepts to support students as they chart goals, develop enduring networks of colleagues and mentors and pursue success after graduation.

Additionally, the forum explored how to build a strong culture of inclusion in mentoring and advising work through embracing different ideas, critical perspectives, challenges and lived experiences. Topics included mentoring and advising during COVID-19, successful advising from the student perspective, holistic and inclusive advising practices, creating University-wide advisor support systems and leveraging technology to improve advising.

Here’s a quick overview in case you couldn’t attend.

ACTing on advising

Following a brief introduction welcoming participants, Joseph McCarthy, vice provost for undergraduate studies and interim dean of the University’s Honors College, gave an overview of Pitt’s new advising certification and training program (Pitt-ACT).

The program is a large-scale collaboration between the Office of the Provost Undergraduate Studies Academic Innovation Team, the University Center for Teaching and Learning, and undergraduate academic and advising units across the University.

“This project will provide a suite of online or onboarding and training materials designed for faculty and staff that work with students in an advising and mentoring capacity as a highly decentralized university,” said McCarthy.

Set to launch this summer, the main goal of the project is to help standardize the practice of advising and mentoring across all Pitt’s units so that everyone doing this work has access to the same resources, whether they are new advisors or have been doing this work.

Read more about Pitt-ACT.

Student success post-pandemic

Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Ann E. Cudd opened her remarks by commenting on the summit’s growth and advisors’ post-pandemic roles.

“Since the inaugural year of this important event, it’s been really thrilling to see the number of participants increase and increase again and again. Really, that just underscores the deep need for and curiosity about all that does happen and can happen in the mentoring and advising space,” said Cudd.

The pandemic, Cudd said, has demonstrated how critically important excellence in mentoring and advising is to the well-being and short- and long-term success of students.

“Central to that thriving is the need to be ever mindful and sincerely proactive in working to ensure access and the full realization of inclusivity and a sense of belonging for the diverse students we want and need to serve at our institutions. We are in a critical time to advance our efforts in these areas,” she said, noting advisors are uniquely positioned to do just that at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

The opportunity to be pebbles

Cudd then introduced a fireside chat with Darris Means, associate professor in the School of Education. Means opened with a story about spending childhood summers in South Carolina. Down the street from his grandparents’ home were railroad tracks next to a dip where a puddle of water would form after rain. Means and his cousins would find pebbles to throw and watch the ripple effects.

He related that image to the people we all encounter through our lives, but especially to the teachers, family members and peers whom students encounter before college. “I believe we in higher education have an opportunity individually and collectively to be pebbles that can have a positive ripple effect in the lives of college students as they pursue their aspirations,” he said.

In his work, Means has researched how to make higher education more equitable for college students and students in general, with a particular focus on those who identify as first-generation college students, Black students, Latinx students, poor and working-class students, rural students and others, recognizing that some of these stories intersect as students talk about their own identities.

“Students have individual dreams about what they hope to learn while they're in higher education, what they hope to do after they graduate. But the students that I've had the chance to interview and learn from—they also have collective dreams. They have dreams for their families, dreams for the communities, dreams for how we can make society more socially just and equitable, particularly for minoritized people.”

He continued: “Students experienced pebbles that had ripple effects in their own lives. I've already mentioned that pebbles could be mentors, advisors or other people, but these pebbles can also be programs and policies.”

It's important, Means noted, that advisors learn students’ aspirations and work alongside them as they think about ways to achieve their goals and dreams. “I think this is really important because the goal for higher education and for advising is that we're not necessarily telling students what to do,” he said. “We're not doing things for students, but we're really trying to view students as partners and how can we work alongside each other for you to accomplish your goals.”

Multiple tracks

Summit participants were able to choose tracks according to their interests and goals; among them were undergraduate and graduate student-focused tracks, as well as one that featured the Reinvention Collaborative—a consortium that brings together research university leaders with expertise in the theory and practice of undergraduate education. The Reinvention Collaborative helps colleagues across and among universities to connect with one another and with national networks to enable them to advance such areas as academic advising, undergraduate research and evidence-based and inclusive pedagogies.

In a graduate-track panel moderated by Amanda Godley, vice provost for graduate studies, four Pitt doctoral degree alums shared their experiences pursuing diverse career paths outside of academia. The panelists also described how advising and mentoring played roles in both their doctoral and career development, as well as offered recommendations for ways that current PhD advisors and mentors can support student in exploring and preparing for careers. Find career prep and support specific to this population on the graduate student resources website.

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