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Advisor of the month: February 2018

James Newcomer, Advisor of the Month for February. Advising Matters at Virginia Tech

James Newcomer

Engineering Education, College of Engineering


What do you enjoy about your role in advising?
To me, the best thing about advising is watching my students grow during the course of a year. I have the privilege of advising first-year engineering students. These are absolutely phenomenal young people who have enormous potential and drive. When they first arrive, they have some trepidation, some confusion, but they also have some hubris. When they run into an academic brick wall, usually for the first time ever in their lives, it can be devastating for them. I enjoy supporting them, pointing them to resources, and helping them come up with new strategies for being successful. It's extremely gratifying to watch them overcome challenges that they thought were insurmountable, and seeing the sense of accomplishment and pride in their eyes when they do the "impossible."

In what ways have you contributed to advising in your department/area?
I'm very lucky to work on an advising team with different talent and skill sets. One thing I did was establish a colloquia series with my colleagues so that we could share our knowledge with one another. I was able to share my subject matter knowledge with the rest of my team, and in turn I benefited from advising theory knowledge from a colleague.

I also used my coding skills to create a user interface and script for sorting and renaming student PDF documents for the Banner Document Management system. This interface is used not only by the Department of Engineering Education but for document filing for the entire College of Engineering.

What advice would you give to other professionals who want to a make a difference in the life of their students?
Always learn and work to improve your craft. And academic advising is a craft, a combination of art and science that is used for creative purposes. In our case, we're crafting futures, for our students and ultimately for our society in terms of the ripples our students will make. That's a pretty heavy responsibility, so we have to do the best job we can. That means staying on top of the science part by learning from new research and existing theoretical frameworks. It also means practicing the artistic aspect by sculpting our approaches to meet our students, not only to help them academically, but also to help protect their spirits. We all know that the world can be a terrible place, and we want to prepare them for that. But I feel like we're doing a disservice to the world if we don't sent out our students with some hope and optimism to balance the weight of the armor we help them build. Without that positive spirit to make the world better, then what are we even here for?