Academic advisors are usually exceptional at counseling students on where to go and what to do. The best, however, also play a role in helping students become who they want to be.
In winning this year’s Nicholas Evans Award for Advising at West Virginia University, John Zaniewski, the faculty winner; Amy Roberts-Dixon, the professional staff winner; and Darcey Powell, the graduate assistant winner; have not only helped students solve problems but have also helped shape their careers.
Zaniewski, a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, had a successful career in the private industry but over time realized mentoring young professionals was what he liked best. Since joining the academic world, Zaniewski has continued that role with students and has flourished.
“If a professor is not enthusiastic about the success of their students, then what is the point of working at a university?” Zaniewski said. “However, the focus cannot be limited to the highest achievers. Many of the best success stories are the result of assisting the marginal student.”
As the department’s undergraduate program coordinator, Zaniewski advises all at-risk students. He creates a plan for each one of them to succeed, based on their circumstances.
“My philosophy in dealing with at-risk students is to investigate with the student the circumstances that created the at-risk situation and then work with the student to modify the circumstances that created the problem,” he said.
Along with traditional advising, Zaniewski also advises and mentors student groups and will consult with students on academic or career strategies that best suit them.
“Dr. Zaniewski has always been extremely helpful in assisting me with my academic and professional planning,” said Emily Lipscomb, a senior civil and environmental engineering student from Swanton, Md. “Although he is not my own assigned advisor, he has taken a special interest in mentoring me and advising me throughout my academic endeavors. His help has allowed me to get the most out of my undergraduate experience by helping me to advance my knowledge even beyond the basic requirements of my degree program.”
Emily Lipscomb is one of WVU’s 26 Outstanding Seniors for 2013 and is the recipient of a 2013 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship that will support her work to identify water pollution sources.
Amy Roberts-Dixon, a developmental advising specialist who is the professional staff winner, has a simple, overriding philosophy about advising, which she says, “applies to everything I do that is related to advisement: Be there for my students.”
Roberts-Dixon runs T.E.A.M. —Teaching, Empowering, Advising, and Mentoring – an Advising Center program designed to provide both students and parents with extra support as they make the transition to college. Roberts-Dixon meets these students (and their parents) at New Student Orientation and walks them through the first year of their college experience. She also supervises and trains the graduate assistants who teach and advise T.E.A.M. students.
“From the first day Amy meets her students at New Student Orientation she lets them know that whatever they want to be they can be at WVU. She encourages everyone to chase their dream and lets them know that anything is possible,” Mark Hanselman, of the Advising Center, said.
Returning to college can be a daunting proposition for a non-traditional student, but Bethany Royce, a general studies major from Morgantown, credits Roberts-Dixon with helping her make a smooth transition.
“Amy went above and beyond to make me feel comfortable returning to WVU,” she said. “She is by far the best advisor for non-traditional students. She informed me on which classes I did not need to take. I have already made up my mind in which program to enlist in, but I am waiting till the last moment so Amy can be my advisor.”
Some of the clues to the success of Darcy Powell, the graduate assistant winner, appear on the faces of the students she advises.
“When a student comes to me struggling in a class or struggling with a personal issue, I use both emotion- and problem-focused coping strategies when speaking with the student,” said Powell, who advises pre-psychology majors in the department of psychology. “The look on the student’s face and appreciation in their voice when they realize that I’m listening and willing to help them navigate through the situation reminds me why I so thoroughly enjoy working with students.”
In a department of 800, one of Powell’s main goals is to make sure her advisees get individual attention and not feel like a number. She creates individual matriculation plans for each student she advises and supplements individual meetings throughout the semester with group meetings to allow students to share common problems and concerns. Powell also visits New Student Orientation to make an immediate connection with transfer students and Honors College students.
By getting an in-depth picture of students’ career plans, she can make recommendations about other educational opportunities they should consider, such as specific classes, minors, double majors, and dual degrees. But Powell realizes that classes are only part of the college experience. She advises them about departmental opportunities like applying to be a research or teaching assistant or pursuing an internship and encourages them to consider international study abroad programs.
She recently helped a student identify an exchange program that fit with his goals, assisted him in identifying courses that would allow him to make degree progress while abroad, advised him regarding the administrative requirements and paperwork, and stayed in touch with him during the semester away.
“She even encouraged him to submit remarks for a newsletter to tell other psychology majors about the value of this type of experience,” said Amy Fiske, associate professor of psychology. “This way, Darcey not only helped this student but also opened up possibilities for other students.”
The awards were presented at the Faculty and Staff Excellence Celebration dinner, which recognizes some of the University’s most dedicated and accomplished faculty and staff.
Evans retired from WVU in June 2007 after a long and distinguished 40-year career at the University. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, he earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from WVU. He joined the English faculty in 1967 and also served as the department’s undergraduate student adviser for many years. He was also director of the University’s Undergraduate Academic Services Center and served as associate dean for undergraduate education in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. A lifelong learner, he was fluent in Greek and a student of the Latin, French, German and Spanish languages. He also taught British literature to scores of students over the years.
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CONTACT: University Relations – News