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Advisor of the month: August 2019

Nathan "Zack" Sowder, August 2019, Advisor of the Month, Advising Matters at Virginia Tech.

Nathan "Zack" Sowder

Department of Communication, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences

What do you enjoy about your role in advising?
I love that I get to make connections and support students throughout their time at Virginia Tech. While there are plenty of ups and downs with each student and situation, I get to help the problem-solve the various issues that arise and I often help them discover what direction they want to go in life. A student might come to me with a question that I can't answer right away, but we work together to solve the issue together. This allows me to get to know the students as well as become a mentor to them throughout their four years here. Furthermore, it is comforting to know that through this process they know they can rely on me to help them solve any problem that they may encounter later. For so many students, college is a exciting and new but also stressful. I appreciate that by building a relationship with them I can often be a consistent guiding force in their academic careers - helping them prevail when they are troubled and distressed, and celebrating with them as they achieve greatness.

In what ways have you contributed to advising in your department/area?
I am in the unique position of being able to see my students in the classroom and also as their advisor during their first year of college. Many of the assignments that we use in the classroom can be very effective in advising first-year students. Recently I was part of a group of faculty who presented this information at the Advising Matters conference here at Virginia Tech. While this is not a traditional advising role as instructor and advisor, there are benefits and ideas that can hopefully help other advisors through items that don't just involve choosing classes - conflict, goal-setting, and understanding self. As new instructors and new advisors enter our department, I also try to take on a mentor role with them as they begin their advising journey and aiding them in the instructor and advisor role.

What advice would you give to other professionals who want to a make a difference in the life of their students?
I have two pieces of advice for what I believe makes me an effective advisor and might help others as well. My first piece of advice is to disclose information about yourself and your journey in academia. Whether it was being afraid of my undergraduate advisor, being confused on what my major should be according to my parents, or how I should navigate grad school applications, I want them to feel comfortable sharing the same things with me. After disclosing my struggles and my academic past in advising meetings, students often will want to share what may be bothering them or issues that are affecting their work. My second piece of advice is to use the word "we" often during advising meetings. Frequently students find themselves stressed, confused, and worried about how they will get it all done and graduate. By using "we" it takes some of the weight off of the student and creates the view that this is a venture we will both tackle together. While I obviously won't be doing the work for the student, I want them to know that I am there for them when they need me and I that I am on their team, cheering for them to succeed. By disclosing information about my academic career and by using language that highlights that my willingness to help advisees, students feel more comfortable sharing their issues and problems, and hopefully they will be empowered to chase their dreams.