Just over a month after its opening, the new Center for Student Advising, located on the fourth floor of Lerner, has experienced an increase in students seeking its services, Columbia officials say.
The center is in the process of opening much in demand student space, as well as creating a new online appointment system for students seeking time face-to-face time with advisers.
According to Dean of Advising Monique Rinere, 94.3 percent of incoming students in Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science saw their advisers this year during New Student Orientation Program, up from 88 percent in 2009.
And in the 2009-2010 school year, CSA saw 10,000 students, according to the list of appointments, Rinere said.
Student Affairs Dean Kevin Shollenberger attributed the uptick in student meetings to what he sees as a more welcoming atmosphere at CSA’s new home. Previously, CSA offices were scattered across campus, from Broadway to Carman to Schapiro, as well as Lerner. Now, all of CSA’s advising offices are integrated into Lerner 4.
“Enhancing the advising system has long been a goal of the deans,” Shollenberger said.
Upon entering the CSA, a welcome desk provides coffee and food during advising walk-in hours. Students are directed to one of four smaller waiting areas, named after Columbia icons such as “Low Plaza,” “The Sundial,” “Alma Mater,” and “Le Marteleur.”
“Something very important in the design is that we punctuated the space with these lounges for students, so it wouldn’t be students waiting in one general waiting room and then walking down this long hallway to an office,” Rinere said. “The student would be able to sit comfortably in an area with small groups with reading material and with other students, which would offer the possibility of conversation with other students.”
The CSA also now includes several conference rooms. Shollenberger said the rooms help create space in Lerner by giving the CSA space to host their own events, instead of occupying much-desired rooms in Lerner such as Satow and C555.
A few of the larger conference rooms are also available for use by recognized student organizations, which came about after close collaboration between deans and the student councils. These rooms are available on Friday evenings and the weekends.
The conference rooms, which a few groups have already started taking advantage of, are designed so that the office-side entrance can be locked, and accessed by students from the ramps. The rooms are available for reservation by working with the student group’s adviser.
The individual advisers’ offices are structured to receive as much sunlight as possible while still maintaining the ability to have confidential conversations between students and advisers. “We strove to strike a balance between light penetration and privacy, which is why we ended up with the frosting on the windows,” Rinere said.
Advising Dean Michael Dunn thought that the integration of CSA’s office within one floor was the most important change.
“I think all of us [advisers] are thrilled, many of us were scattered across locations all around campus. It’s very nice to be under one roof,” Dunn said.
Advising Dean and Director of Community Outreach Alex Espana, also believes that the consolidation of all the different programs into one building have helped to strengthen the CSA.
“It used to be that we had to send students to different spaces, different offices. Now, worst case scenario, you stand up and walk down the hall and ask the appropriate adviser the quick question that maybe you don’t have information on,” Espana said. “We’re doing a better job of what we do because we have access to areas of expertise.”
Yasmin Vera, SEAS ’13, thinks the new space is a big improvement from the previous advising system.
“I have been to the new space recently. It seems more official than the space I used to visit last year in Broadway. The new space makes me feel like they are taking advising more seriously,” Vera said. “I don’t think there is anything really left to be improved about Columbia advising.”
However, some students remain apathetic towards the CSA.
“I knew that there was a new center but I have not been there yet. I only honestly met with my adviser once, and we’ve communicated a bit over email, but the fact that there is a new center does not make me more likely to visit my adviser,” John Hamilton, CC ’13, said. “I think when I declare my major I will probably visit the center more, but as of now I do not see the need to.”
Still, changes are not over yet for CSA.
According to administrators, improvements such as lowering the student to adviser ratio, developing an assessment initiative (which would get feedback from students and establish their expectations on advising) and developing an online notification system to set up appointments with advisers are all in the works.
According to Shollenberger, advising has a five-year plan to expand the number of advisers available for students. The goal is to eventually get to 200-250 students per adviser. Currently, the administration is in the process of hiring two new advisers and hiring one adviser to fill in a previous position.
The expansion will be funded through the Austin E. Quigley Endowment for Student Success, which supports academic advising and career counseling.
“We’re sending out a survey, we’re going to run focus groups, and I am going to be doing one-on-one interviews with students. Those are very fruitful mechanisms for assessment programs. So this is a very comprehensive assessment plan to see where we are at the end of the year,” Rinere said.
The new appointment system will allow students to make appointments with their advisers online, Shollenberger said. They are currently looking into the software for the new system.
Rinere highlighted the importance of student feedback in order to build upon students’ criticisms and develop Columbia advising even further. “The most important thing is that we continue to get feedback from students. We care about the academic journeys, the experiences of our students, so we need to know how students think we’re doing. It’s really important to each of us,” Rinere said.