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Advisor of the month: October 2021

Paula Van Curen

Industrial and Systems Engineering


What do you enjoy about your role in advising?
I enjoy almost everything about advising, even the mundane aspects - no action is too small or insignificant to affect an outcome (positive or negative) for a student, even if that outcome doesn’t manifest until much later. What I enjoy most are the daily interactions I have with my advisees, whether they be in-person, via email or lately, zoom. I feel privileged to be part of engineering students’ college experiences, being a part of the beginning of their career path and knowing that when they leave Virginia Tech, they will have a positive impact on this world. Sometimes, when I finish talking to a student about their internship, research, graduate school or job offers or acceptances, I try to imagine them in 10 or 20 or 30 years…..what awesome contribution will they make to society, what will their life be life when they are my age? Those few minutes contemplating a student’s future is the best stress reliever. No matter how challenging or stressful my day has been, this little exercise never fails to refresh me and remind me why I'm here.

In what ways have you contributed to advising in your department/area?
In addition to being an Academic & Career Advisor, I also serve as the advisor for students who want to study, intern, or conduct undergraduate research abroad. I advertise and promote global education opportunities within the department, college, and university, meet with interested students and connect them to resources for finding an international program that fits into their educational & career goals, securing financial aid and scholarships, honing their foreign language skills, and learning how to articulate the value of their international experience on a resume or graduate school application when it’s over.

When the pandemic emerged last spring, a number of our students had summer internships and even full-time job offers rescinded. I worked with our department head, Dr. Van Aken, to connect students who lost internships/jobs due to covid-19 with companies and organizations that were still hiring (or creating positions for) students seeking work related to the ISE major. It was a labor-intensive process which required communicating with students and employers, connecting them to each other, and critiquing resumes and cover letters when necessary. The effort was worth it, though. By July, 2 of 4 seniors found another full-time job and 22 of 28 sophomores & juniors found internships or research positions to replace their lost opportunities.

What advice would you give to other professionals who want to a make a difference in the life of their students?
Listen more and talk less. Strive to be kind when relaying unpleasant news. Show genuine enthusiasm when a student shares good news. Show sincere concern when a student tells you their troubles. Be curious about what motivates a student to do what they do instead of assuming you already know. Students appreciate someone who takes the time to view them as a unique individual so learn something about each student when you get a chance. For the last year, I’ve made an effort to learn how to pronounce the first names of my Chinese students. Even when my pronunciation was less-than-stellar, they were thrilled that I made the effort! The effort needed to connect with a student yields big dividends, not just for a student, but for an advisor, too.