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Advisor of the month: December 2019

Deborah Pollio, December 2019, Advisor of the Month, Advising Matters at Virginia Tech.

Deborah Pollio

Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise; College of Agriculture and Life Sciences


What do you enjoy about your role in advising?
I enjoy being helpful. I like it when I can lead students to a new insight, or when they come in stressed and overwhelmed and leave with a feeling of order and control over things.

I like email. I like being able to respond to students whenever they need something. I don’t mind going back and forth with them about their concerns; it’s like having a conversation. And sometimes I can be more inspirational through writing.

I enjoy record keeping. In my 22 years of advising, I’ve honed my personal note system to where I can quickly and easily access info about my almost 400 advisees. When they come in, I can follow up with them on where they are with their academics, plans for improvement, minor, career decisions, applications, experience, extracurriculars, family and friends, their latest adventures, and any ongoing needs and issues. I have color-coded flags for a range of categories such as graduation date, honors, first generation, race, cadet, sport, hometown, etc, so I can see much about the student at a glance. With my system, it doesn’t take long to be prepared for a meaningful interaction, and that in turn helps me to develop real relationships with most of my advisees despite the load.

In what ways have you contributed to advising in your department/area?
My biggest contribution to the department advising is CHEM Team. As a restricted major, our students must earn a C or better in their chemistry classes in order to remain in the major. CHEM Team meets twice a week and supports HNFE students, focusing on what they need to be doing to be successful at the college level. While reviewing chemistry, we provide skills and encouragement in time management, reading and note taking, studying and memorization, test taking, etc. For its six semesters, CHEM Team students have scored better and had fewer drops and withdrawals than HNFE students in general.

I also developed the department’s self-assessment for students on probation, as well as a Career Tracker, which I am prototyping this semester. The Tracker provides a guide for students pursuing a medical profession, and includes a way to log and journal about their experiences during their years at Tech.

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 have is to be yourself and to enjoy it.  I didn’t do either of these things when I was new. I tried to be the ”authority,” and I was very serious. Our main job is to help students, and to do that, we must connect with them. That should be your focus.  

Take time to chat and get to know your students. So, find some way to keep track of things, so you know something about you students and aren’t stuck asking the same banal questions. It’s very important to listen, but to encourage students to open up, you also need to talk.

Try to broach the difficult topics. Often, we don’t want to get people upset or cause conflict, but students don’t want to be alone with their problems. Some are more reticent than others, but everybody would really like to share their burdens. You don’t have to have the answers; you just have to listen.

Be kind. Be available.