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Advisor of the month: December 2016

Dawn Smith, Advisor of the Month for December, Advising Matters at Virginia Tech

Dawn Knight

School of Education


What do you enjoy about your role in advising?
The thing that I enjoy most about advising is that every day is a different experience. My students come from many different experiences and have many unique strengths, challenges, and goals. I enjoy getting to know them and hearing about what is happening in their lives and their plans for the future. Even in those cases where I have to have a difficult conversation, we are opening new doors and looking toward a new plan. I am always learning something new, either a course that is available, a resource to support their learning, or a need for which I can advocate. My job is never boring! I also appreciate the genuine humanity of the students I advise. It warms my heart every time I get a positive teaching evaluation, a thank-you note, or an invitation to a student’s award banquet. Recently, when my father died, I came back to work to find my office door covered with handmade sunflowers and a basket of snacks and office supplies on my desk from at least 30 different students. They know that I truly care and they reciprocate ten-fold.

In what ways have you contributed to advising in your department/area?
Prior to my position, there was not a clear connection for undergrads to our licensure programs. Although there are multiple requirements to be completed at the undergraduate level, we are a graduate only department and students were more-or-less on their own to find the information they needed. Sometimes the information they found was outdated or just plain wrong. My greatest accomplishment is that I have developed a relationship between our undergraduate students and our graduate programs. Students do not have to wonder what to do. I share the most up to date information from our programs and the state department of education. I provide reliable study resources for teacher tests. Sometimes I even have to advise students away from teaching and into other areas in education where they can best utilize their skills and passions. I also share valuable feedback with our program leader! s about undergraduate opportunities and interests. As a result, our elementary program has seen a significant increase in competitive applicants, students are coming into our grad programs better prepared, and our area leaders are able to make programmatic changes to stay current with university initiatives.

What advice would you give to other professionals who want to a make a difference in the life of their students?
The best advice I could give to other advisers is simply to listen. Listen at our various meetings (including email updates) and know what is going on around campus and in the community. Not only is it a great way to connect with students, but it allows you to offer more (and more precise) options to them. Listen at state, regional, and national professional development conferences. It feels great to present and contribute to the conversation, but there is always more you can learn too, no matter how long you have been at it. Listen to feedback (the good and the bad) from supervisors as well as students. Allow it to improve your practice. Finally, and most importantly, listen to the students. Listen to what they are saying AND what they are not saying. Help them figure out their own best path within the guidelines you have to set.