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Advisor of the month: November 2023

Sharon Williams

College of Engineering

What do you enjoy about your role in advising?
My favorite thing about being a student advisor/coach is building long-term relationships based on trust, loyalty & mutual respect....& seeing the overwhelming growth & success that they achieve in their short time at VT. Everything I do as an advisor is based on the principle that I am guiding a person in ways that will affect their lives way beyond the time they are at VT. That's one reason I take my role extremely seriously & am fully committed to making sure all my actions, initiatives, goals, & ideas are centered on the best long-term, holistic plan for students & their overall well-being (not just academics). I care about them as a student, of course, but I also care that they have enough healthy food to eat & they're not taking so many classes that it prevents them from getting adequate sleep. I care that they have a strong, positive support system & they're learning new skills in areas such as conflict resolution, self-advocacy, organizational/time management, financial well-being & life-work balance. I believe every single student can succeed!

It is exceptionally humbling & also powerful to know that my guidance & advice can literally help a student in tangible ways, & with lifelong implications. For example, by providing information in a proactive & purposeful way, I can help prevent delays/mistakes & increase their likelihood to graduate on time or reach personal/academic goals, such as obtaining a minor, conducting undergraduate research, or studying abroad. Students will benefit financially by paying less tuition or possibly graduating early if I advise well & help them stay focused & goal-oriented to avoid duplicate classes, ensure they're on track with pre-requisites, or help them plan long-term to keep timely gradation as a primary motivator. They will likely earn a higher salary if I can help them create strong resumes & LinkedIn accounts, encourage them to seek industry mentors, or develop a "go above & beyond" mindset to get the most from their time at VT. I can often motivate them to take extra classes, get out of their comfort zone to go on a new adventure around Blacksburg or attempt leadership opportunities that will help them grow & set them apart in their future profession. Relationships are a two-way street, & I treat my students the way I would want someone to treat my own college-age children....with kindness, respect, honesty, compassion & their best interest at heart always.

In what ways have you contributed to advising in your department/area?
I do the same things that most advisors do (guiding the course selection process, handling force-adds, sharing relevant information/deadlines with students, referring them to campus resources, monitoring students on academic warning, helping them investigate career options, serving on committees, or conducting outreach/recruitment activities to encourage prospective students to attend VT or join the department). But each semester, I try to do at least one thing that is new or a bit "out of the box" so I'm always adding to my repertoire of skills & topics I can offer students.

For example, I work with student ambassadors, & I recently increased their expectations to include attending Safe Zone training. That way, they can learn about the needs of LGBTQ+ students & be more inclusive/understanding of anyone in an underrepresented or marginalized group. I started a 'Tutoring Tuesday' group where upper-class students help younger ones in foundational classes or offer informal tutoring, support & encouragement to increase not only others' academic understanding, but also their own confidence & sense of Ut Prosim. As a lifelong learner, I keep my skills honed by taking advantage of personal/professional development opportunities such as workshops, networking groups, or book clubs. I also stay connected with offices around campus & serve where I'm able, by conducting mock interviews with students, helping at our career fairs each semester, assisting the Dean of Students office with initiatives targeted to first-generation or transfer students, or conducting sessions about the Honor Code to help my students avoid infractions. I've also contributed to students outside my dept. as the faculty advisor to a 140+ member fraternity. In that role, I've shared info about everything from The Market on campus (a service to prevent food insecurity) to referrals for well-respected local childcare providers, SSD, auto mechanics for car repairs, Goodwill (to buy a suit for the career fair), or local events in surrounding areas that students weren't aware they could engage in.

What advice would you give to other professionals who want to a make a difference in the life of their students?
My first piece of advice is that the best asset you can offer another person is your time! I know it's hard, & time is a precious commodity. With the many roles & duties advisors must perform, it can be difficult enough to "get everything done" & be available as much as you'd like. But I believe that's what it takes to build the trust & confidence for students to come to you with sometimes very hard situations that they need help navigating. I've had students divulge sensitive topics or express needing help with things such as dealing with substance or partner abuse, extreme financial hardships/homelessness, relationship issues, buying a vehicle after a car wreck, or concerns about their parents who live in a war region. By offering your time & a listening ear, your students will know how much you care & they'll likely thrive exponentially with your support.

My second piece of advice is to try to learn something new from each student you interact with. We have some incredibly interesting, smart, accomplished, eclectic students on this campus....& sometimes it only takes a few minutes to find out about a unique hobby/skill they have or a 'fun fact' about a place they've been, a neat aspect of their personal background, or their biggest dreams. Many times, this will cause them to seek you out to share their good news!

Finally, set high standards for your students....& truly celebrate it when they meet them. If someone learns that they must exert a certain amount of thought or work about an issues or task at hand before meeting with you (i.e., completing Hokie GPS prior to your course request appt., using the Career Planning Guide &/or LinkedIn to create a resume/career profile before meeting with you to review their resume), they will gain the tangible skills of proactive planning, time management & prioritization. Students will usually meet high expectations if they know you have their best interest in mind. Be firm, yet supportive. Believe in your students & be incessantly optimistic that they can & will do great things even when it's hard. Be their biggest cheerleader & show your pride in their accomplishments--it will be a huge boost to all they do!