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Advisor of the month: March 2024

Michelle Flinchum

College of Architecture, Arts, and Design

What do you enjoy about your role in advising?
What I find most fulfilling about my role as an advisor are the strong relationships I develop with my students. These connections are built on trust, respect, and genuine care. By providing my students with a supportive environment to shape and plan their academic goals, we can explore the various academic, professional, and experiential opportunities available to them. It's important for students to receive guidance like this because opportunities like education abroad, minors, or engaging in undergraduate research don't just happen by chance – they require proactive effort and intentional action. Through our conversations, my aim is to empower students, encourage them to push their limits and make the most of their undergraduate experience.

Starting college can be overwhelming, as each student arrives with their own unique level of preparedness. It's my priority to ensure that every student begins their first day at Virginia Tech with a solid understanding of why they have chosen their courses, a basic familiarity with university policies, and knowledge about the wide range of student support services available to them. Above all, I want them to feel comfortable approaching me with any questions they may have or obstacles they are encountering. When students share their challenges with me, it opens the door for us to explore the potential solutions and positive outcomes that they can achieve. It makes it all the sweeter when I get to hear those same student's success stories, whether it's them passing a particularly difficult math test or celebrating their graduation.

In addition to academic achievement, I encourage students to strike a balance between their strong work ethic and self-care. Ultimately, I hope that our students will leave our campus as impactful change-makers, armed with the knowledge and skills they have acquired during their studies. However, it's equally important to me that they lead lives that bring them personal fulfillment and happiness. I hope to play a role in uplifting and guiding my students towards a fulfilling future that they themselves define as successful.

In what ways have you contributed to advising in your department/area?
Since joining the School of Design last spring, I have made meaningful contributions to advising within my programs. I bring a positive, student-first attitude and an unwavering commitment to my students. I provide a communication plan for my students, to keep them informed about relevant information and help them stay on track. I also offer various opportunities for students to connect with me throughout the week, whether it's through email conversations, brief Zoom chats, or more in-depth meetings for tasks like mapping out a plan of study. I strive to provide accurate information and connect students with appropriate resources to ease transitions and elevate their learning experience. I have conducted student-wellness surveys to gain insight how my students were handling their stress to develop creative solutions to improve it. Last fall, I received feedback that many students were feeling overwhelmed and struggling to keep motivated. To help alleviate some of this stress, while simultaneously creating an opportunity to promote our student counseling services, I invited students to my office to “fill up their cup” and enjoy a hot beverage with me. This provided students a moment to relax, unload some of their concerns and leave with information about stress management.

One aspect I am particularly grateful for is the studio environment in which my students learn and work. This space allows me to visit and directly engage with each cohort on a regular basis. Time permitting, I also attend my students' pin-ups and larger presentations during the semester. This strengthens my bond with my students and fosters connections with our program’s teaching faculty. These interactions also allow me to gain valuable insights into the work my students are designing and their respective design fields.

In addition to my advising responsibilities, I have actively served my school in various capacities over the past year. I have participated in three search committees and have accepted a nomination to serve on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. In addition to this, I completed the Mental Health First Aid training to gain confidence with tough conversations about mental health so that in a time of need, I will be better prepared to show up and support my fellow Hokies.

I have also shown my dedication to my role through a commitment to my professional development and by expanding my network within the advising community here at Virginia Tech. Throughout the year, I have prioritized my growth as an advisor by engaging in the Advising Academy, participating in the advising book club, and establishing a mentorship relationship through the academic advising mentor program. I have also attended webinars and trainings offered by Advising Initiatives and the Advising Network. These offerings allow me to stay up-to-date on the latest best practices in advising, university policies and procedures, and the resources available to our students. I have also been fortunate to participate virtually a the national NACADA conference and in person at the Advising Matters conference this past year. Most recently, I joined the NACADA Region Two mentorship program to foster connections with advisors outside of our university, expanding my professional network and gaining outside perspectives on advising topics.

What advice would you give to other professionals who want to a make a difference in the life of their students?
I would advise other professionals to lean into the following: professional development, self care, and passion.

I have found that the more opportunities for professional development that I take advantage of, the more efficient I am able to be for my students. Through offerings such as our advising webinars, I have been able to garner a clearer understanding of university policy and procedures and in turn, am able to provide better guidance to my students and colleagues.

To make a difference in someone's life, you have to show up first. I believe that if you can't show up for yourself, you can't sustainably show up for anyone else. Self-care is a vital piece to the advising role. It is important that we promote a healthy work/life balance for our students, and should strive to model that.

Lastly, to make a difference, you have to care. If you don't care, people feel it. But when people feel that you are invested in them, that their lives matter to you, their walls lower and their heart opens. Once someone opens their heart to you, you have a role in their story.