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Advisor of the month: October 2019

Sarah Deisher, October 2019, Advisor of the Month, Advising Matters at Virginia Tech.

Sarah Deisher

Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering

What do you enjoy about your role in advising?
While there are many great things about my role in my students' lives throughout their time in Mechanical Engineering, my favorite moments are when students who doubt themselves realize their true potential, their ability to overcome any obstacle, and their worth for the first time. The ME curriculum is one of the toughest not only at VT, but also in the nation. These students are among the brightest, most focused and driven in the country; but along the way they sometimes feel lost in this big major and lose faith in themselves. What makes my role so rewarding is being there to encourage them, to listen to them, to be a cheerleader or a motivation to them to keep trying, keep pushing, keep pounding towards their goal.

My students constantly amaze me with their perseverance, their drive, and their ideas for a better world and future! They work so hard to achieve their goals and I am proud to be there to help them along the way with the administrative details, the obstacles, and the questions they may have. I can help them see new avenues towards their goals that they might not have even considered, I can help with those details of course selection based on their future goals and aspirations, provide them with resources, connect them with alums that are working in industry in the area they want to pursue, or just be that safe place where they come to decompress. Every day being an advisor is a rewarding day for me, so I love coming to work!

In what ways have you contributed to advising in your department/area?
I’ve been advising for about 12 of my 18 years here at VT. My goal has always been to make advising appealing to the students, to make it real and applicable, to build a bond of trust and to create an environment where they feel safe, understood and comfortable to be themselves. My approach has always been a “stop by and chat when you can” approach, so that students feel they can stop by anytime to bounce ideas off me, tell me about exciting things happening in their lives, and come to me when there are times of trouble. It is essential that students be able to trust the advice they are given and to be able to trust their advisor enough to talk about things that might be negatively affecting their academics or their time here at VT. I’ve made a very conscious effort to make sure the students have all the information they need and the knowledge that if they stumble, they can always come to me and I will help them in any way I can.

Another contribution I have made is opening up and strengthening a pipeline between current students and ME alumni in the workforce for purposes of mentorships, networking and job connections. Hokies love to hire Hokies, and that is especially true in the world of engineering. Having those connections between the students and alumni is vital. It keeps the alums in touch with their alma mater, and it has made for some great mentor/mentee relationships. Those relationships have helped both the students and alumni grow and learn new skills in leadership, entrepreneurship, and can sometimes lead to jobs for the students. It’s an amazing relationship that I strive each day to build.

What advice would you give to other professionals who want to a make a difference in the life of their students?
First and foremost, listen. Sometimes all a student needs is someone to simply listen to them, to hear them. Be kind, be compassionate, be open-minded, create a dialogue. Getting to know your students on a personal level is the key to helping them reach their full potential. Every student has a unique story that will influence the choices they make, the career they choose, and the major they pursue. They may have a lot more going on in their lives besides just academics that will have a huge impact on their decisions. And last, but certainly not least, be helpful. Even if you don’t know the answer to a question or problem they might have, go that little extra step to find out the answer, or to find the person who might have the answer. Be that positive influence on a student – you never know how one small act of kindness or helpfulness can positively impact a student for life. They will never forget that. And they will pay it forward.