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Advisor of the month: November 2020

Herbert Bruce, November 2020, Advisor of the Month, Advising Matters at Virginia Tech.

Herbert Bruce

Food Science and Technology, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences


What do you enjoy about your role in advising?
I most enjoy interacting with students, helping them see and reach their potential as students as well as members of a greater community. I look to develop a mentoring relationship with my students to give them guidance, improve their skills and create opportunities to help them develop and realize their own aspirations. I advise because, to me, it is a calling. This is the most personally satisfying and fulfilling role I have taken in my life. I was not well advised as a first-generation college student. I know what questions I had as a student and what I really wanted for my education but I was self- and peer-advised throughout much of my undergraduate education. I never had a mentor in college and rarely did throughout my different careers until my first job in higher education. Until then, I did not understand the powerful role that an effective mentor could play and, because of that experience, I now work to fill that role for my students.

In what ways have you contributed to advising in your department/area?
As the advisor for the Food Science and Technology department, I have 115 students on my advising roster. I work with all the students in the department as I am the face of the department during orientation and I check the DARS reports for graduating seniors.  

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has turned over the general FYE class to me so I have 124 students, 18 of which are my advisees. It is in the classroom that I make personal connections with each of my students, continually remind them to focus on what matters most and assist them to plan their steps in order to reach their goals. Many of those students are Exploring Life Sciences and I am responsible to help them adjust to college and find the best fit for a major. I thoroughly enjoy my time in the classroom, both face-to-face and online, as I see the growth of them in even the short span of one semester.  

For the department, I am also the chair of the Scholarship Committee, overseeing the distribution of thousands of dollars in much needed and deserved assistance to our students, and on the Curriculum Committee, to ensure the needs of our undergraduates are considered in all curricular matters. In the era of social distancing, I am very concerned about the social development of our students and have developed multiple avenues for students to connect with their peers and with the department, including the FST First-Year Webpage and the opening week FST Student Welcome.  

And I try to do all of this with a great sense of humor and some comic relief from Calvin and Hobbes.

What advice would you give to other professionals who want to a make a difference in the life of their students?
Part of any advising model involves developing a rapport with your students so they know you have their best interest in mind. This needs to be cultivated over time and students should feel like they can come to you with almost any issue. Be a part of their lives, celebrating and consoling them with all that life offers them. I like to think that I am the rock that they can lean on, especially in these turbulent times.  

I would also encourage my colleagues to go deep. Don't be afraid of asking the tough questions and offering the needed but perhaps unwelcomed responses. I believe students will respect you more if you offer them the truth followed by the support to work with that truth. And, throughout our community, we have an abundance of resources that can assist you. As we teach our students about interdependence, we need to rely on each other to best assist our students and ourselves.  

And finally, be available to your students. Be available to listen, really listen, and respond with respect and concern that we have for them. Sometimes, that's all they need.