Innovative New Advising Services Showcase Technology and People
December 11, 2014
Isenberg undergraduates are giving high points to their interactions and appointments with the school's Undergraduate Programs Office. Gone are the sometimes lengthy wait times and hurried advising of previous years. In their place is a deftly designed process reflecting a strategic investment in both technology and people.
"Our redesigned intake experience takes inspiration from the Apple stores," observes Melvin Rodriguez, Isenberg's Assistant Dean of Students, Advising and Diversity. When students visit the undergraduate office, they are greeted by an Isenberg student trained by undergraduate programs office manager Rachel Dodge to handle their inquiries. (Six student staffers representing all seven Isenberg departments cover office intake Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Using portable, prominently displayed iPads, a walk-in student, with advice from a student staffer, can usually resolve scheduling and other administrative issues on the spot by accessing the university's SPIRE administrative system. "The experience is both student-friendly and efficient," notes Rodriguez. "We've reduced, for example, wait times for adding and dropping courses to ten minutes or less."
Students who need more in-depth attention can visit a full-time advisor as a walk-in or make an appointment for later. "Technology gives us powerful tools but we have also increased our advising staff over the summer from two to five," remarks Rodriguez. "They all have terrific professional credentials and fantastic rapport with the students." In addition, Director of Undergraduate Programs and Operations Meghan Smith, Director of Enrollment Management and Student Success Christina Monte, and Rodriguez himself counsel different categories of students-bringing Isenberg's de facto advising forces to eight. "Offering appointments shows students that we listen to them and that we recognize that their time is as important as ours," says Rodriguez.
A Comprehensive Strategy
"Before we hired the new advisors, the growing student demand for Isenberg and its majors was outpacing our capacity to serve them," Rodriguez continues. "The upside was that it forced us to be resourceful and strategic in shaping those "customer" services. The advisors and intake redesign, in fact, are components in a much larger strategy."
In that, Associate Undergraduate Dean Linda Shea, has led an ongoing transformation. "Designing customer-focused service systems is my academic area," Shea remarks. "Over the past two years, I've approached that deliberately and strategically. We've listened carefully to our students, translated their needs into a systems design, and tested the best ways to deliver the service," she notes.
Managing the ebbs and flows of student demand for services, emphasizes Shea, is critical to her team's success. There are, she says, two high-demand periods: a two-week stretch from the beginning of the semester until the end of an "add-drop" period and a preregistration period (in November in the fall and April in the spring). "Bringing our students up to speed before and between those periods gives them and us with much better information," says Shea. "It allows us to serve them more strategically during the busiest times."
Proactivity in Practice
The early-intervention focus targets specific categories of students, which allows for customized advising. To that end, members in Shea's team take responsibility for different student cohorts: Meghan Smith coordinates advising for honor students, meeting with them in the residence halls. She also oversees summer orientation for all new students. In that daunting undertaking, the entire advising staff participates-including 130+ specially trained upperclassmen (peer advisors), who help the students register by computer. Every student leaves orientation with a full-course schedule. Melvin Rodriguez oversees periodic advising for 96 Isenberg Freshmen Fellows-a living-learning community whose residents focus on global business or business leadership. And Christina Monte coordinates advising visits with a sophomore living-learning community devoted to innovation and entrepreneurship. "The goal of these proactive arrangements," he adds, "is for students to feel that they are not on their own; that they can count on us as partners. All of these efforts shift demand away from the traditionally busy periods allowing us to serve more students more effectively and efficiently.
"We now share online notes of all one-on-one advising sessions with our students," Rodriguez continues. "Every advisor can pull up notes from a student's previous meetings with any other advisor. If a student's academic performance or nonacademic issues raise red flags, we share that information and reach out to the student with additional resources. "We also have built-in alerts to students to prevent more serious problems. Communicating with students and educating them about the process helps them to utilize the services more advantageously by doing their part," adds Shea.
"We're excited about the enormous, positive effects that our recent innovations have brought to the student experience," emphasizes Shea. "But we know that as a learning organization we will always strive to improve advising operations so that every Isenberg student receives the help that they deserve."
Sequels to this article will profile undergraduate advisors and Dean Shea.