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New advising system keys student success, progress

Among several improvements to student advising rolling out this year as part of the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates is a new electronic system for keeping track of undergraduate students’ advising sessions.

The Advisor Notes system for the first time centralizes students’ advising records, increasing the efficiency and consistency of advising and allows advisors to review the content of past advising sessions.  It was piloted last spring and was rolled out to all new students during this summer’s SOAR Program.

The innovation is one of a variety of student advising improvements in the works because of the MIU.

As students progress on campus, they commonly visit multiple advisors in a variety of school/college, departmental and auxiliary advising offices because of their involvement with multiple programs and opportunities. There was no shared system that allowed those advisors to access the advising history of students.

“This posed a real problem for students, because they often change their minds and move in and out of schools and colleges, and there was no system that allows advisors to see what a student has done on campus,” says Tim Walsh, assistant dean at the College of Letters and Science and director of the Cross-College Advising Service.

“It’s like a doctor starting from scratch with no patient history,” Walsh adds.

The system was discussed on campus for several years, but the new funding available from the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates made it a reality. The $150,000 in seed money was key to the system’s development.

“If it wasn’t for the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates grant, it’s doubtful that this would have gotten off the ground,” says Walsh, who is coordinating the project with Jeff Hamm, associate dean at the School of Education.

Hamm says that the funding jump-started a concept that had been discussed for up to 15 years.

“It seemed like the perfect match for providing funds for a project that benefits students and advisors,” Hamm says. “It’s amazing we went from zero to 60 miles an hour as fast as we did. More than 90 percent of new students are now in the system. We should feel proud that we’ve done this for students.”

Because Advisor Notes allows advisors to share student experiences, plans and goals, it will increase student satisfaction with advising and lead to more productive and seamless advising experiences.

“For students, they will walk in and know that their advisor knows about them, their goals and their advising history,” says Hamm, who also co-chairs with Walsh the Council on Academic Advising.

Advisor Notes also permits the recording of promises and assurances so there is no confusion later, Hamm says. For example, if a student wants to substitute one class for another or if their course requirements are being met, there will now be reliable documentation of these often high-stakes conversations.

“Documentation of assurances and promises is critical to students, and it’s important for advisors to know what students have been told by other advisors,” Hamm says.

And, the system makes advising sessions more useful and productive for the student and the advisor.

“Before, we often had to spend half of an advising session reconstructing a student’s history,” says Walsh. “The new system will make advising appointments more efficient and useful.”

Seven academic units are now using the system, and 14 more have committed to become involved. Together, those units serve about half of the campus’ 29,000 undergraduates.

The goal for Advisor Notes is to eventually serve all UW-Madison undergraduates.

Aaron Brower, vice provost for teaching and learning, says the project delivers the sort of student service improvements that the MIU envisioned.

“Advisor Notes has the potential to touch and improve the educational careers of every undergraduate on campus,” Brower says. “Together with other advising initiatives funded by MIU, we are fulfilling our promise to our students to use these funds to make their educational experience better.”

The project would not have been possible without the collaboration of all undergraduate schools and colleges as well as other key support units across campus, Walsh says.

Key players on the implementation team include Jeff Shokler, associate director, L&S Honors Program; Sarah Pfatteicher, assistant dean, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Rebecca Ryan, associate director, Cross-College Advising Service; Annette McDaniel, assistant dean, Center for First-Year Experience, and Kathy Christoph, director of Academic Computing Services, DoIt.

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