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Advisor of the month: November 2016

Dr. Katharine Knowlton, Advisor of the Month for November, Advising Matters at Virginia Tech

Dr. Katharine Knowlton

Department of Dairy Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences


What do you enjoy about your role in advising?
Advising is a minor part of my faculty appointment, but it is the major source of my enthusiasm and motivation. As advisor, coach, and teacher, I believe my job is to help each student find their best path, and to encourage them (push, prod, and cajole) to develop and tap their individual strengths.  A guiding principle in my life is that we don’t choose what happens to us, but we have absolute control over how we respond to it. We each have the great opportunity to make our own decisions, and also have the great responsibility of making our own decisions.I emphasize students’ responsibility for their own decisions, balanced with my responsibility for helping them identify alternatives and sources of information. I work to help students see that in any situation they always have a choice, the decision is always theirs.

In what ways have you contributed to advising in your department/area?
Personal and professional success is dependent on finding work that you love. I’m fortunate to have found that in my career, and demonstrating that enthusiasm and passion for my work, my industry, my life is central to my interaction with students. Enthusiasm is contagious, and I work to ensure that students find what they are enthusiastic about. I use my enthusiasm for our program to aggressively recruit talented students to our department, and many of these don’t have a traditional production agriculture background.  More pragmatically, I use my enthusiasm for our program to attract resources to benefit our students. I chaired our scholarship program for many years and I now chair the “Hokie Cow Classic”, a fund-raising golf tournament that has generated more than $200,000 (net) in its first 13 years. Just last week I met with two different students with few family resources, students who are working too many hours to pay expenses, and cut back too much on sleep and study time. If my ‘rah-rah’ routine with donors can generate a few hundred dollars more for a student in this situation, that’s one less loan, one more month’s rent payment, a few more hours to study, and one more semester in good standing.

What advice would you give to other professionals who want to a make a difference in the life of their students?
Just do it! Please don't be discouraged or dissuaded by a system that can sometimes seem not to formally reward the time you spend advising students. I truly believe a university professor has no greater responsibility than to their students. We're literally changing lives.