Soon after joining the Office of the Provost, Julia Spears realized that a former classmate of hers was just down the road. Jen Gilbride-Brown and Spears were doctoral students together at Ohio State University.
Spears, assistant vice provost for academic innovation at Pitt, met up with Gilbride-Brown, assistant vice provost for student success and equity at Carnegie Mellon University, for coffee to catch up and talk about their roles at neighboring universities.
They found that they shared a common mission: CMU was starting its Tartan Scholars program and Pitt was launching the Pitt Success Pell Match program.
“In almost simultaneous ways, we were looking at how we address affordability and access on our campuses,” said Spears. “In the course of that conversation, we recognized that there’s a lot of different ways that we can band together with the supports and the infrastructure that our campuses are trying to build systematically.”
From that conversation came the jointly hosted 2020 Mentoring and Advising Summit that took place on March 5 on CMU’s campus.
Leadership lauds the summit’s growth
CMU Provost James H. Garrett Jr. opened the event by crediting the Pitt and CMU staff for their robust response to the summit—381 participated in the event with 35 session proposals from across the two universities.
“Your role as advisors is not just critical to retention or directing a student’s curriculum, but in helping our students be more resilient. You help steer their path while still empowering them, and help them make the next best decision,” Garrett said. “This summit also marks the beginning of what I hope will be a continuing collaboration between Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh.”
Pitt Senior Vice Chancellor and Provost Ann E. Cudd called the partnership incredibly exciting, recalling that Pitt’s first summit occurred the year before she became provost.
“I think we’ve realized that we have the potential to do even more, and certainly the size and participation has grown—this year is just a quantum leap,” she said. “This partnership is an outstanding way to achieve a common mission.”
Sessions prompt networking and connection
The summit featured a keynote by author and social justice trainer becky martinez, whose book “Straddling Class in the Academy” features stories from students, administrators and faculty from poor and working-class backgrounds and their lessons for higher education policy. (Read takeaways from martinez’s keynote in Pittwire.)
The daylong event featured concurrent and plenary sessions featuring a wide variety of presenters from both universities. (A full list of sessions and speakers can be found in the event guidebook.)
In a session facilitated by Beth Tiedemann, director of advising and registrar, and Dorothy Zilic, director of career services, both at Pitt–Greensburg, staff from both institutions discussed the interdisciplinary connections between the academic advising and career services units at UPG.
“Having a long history of collaboration, we are looking forward to continuing our partnership in new ways and it was exciting to share information at the Summit,” said Zilic. “While institutions may vary in size and culture, we have a significant goal in common—the success of our students.”
The midday lunch and breaks created a full 90 minutes for eating, networking and making connections. “Part of the reason we had a long lunch is that in all the feedback in the summits, we hear that we want time to talk to other mentors and advisors,” Spears explained during the panel session that followed the lunch. “We want time to build relationships, to meet other people, to reflect on our work with people who understand what we’re talking about.”
In advising, one size doesn’t fit all
For the panel discussion on student success, Spears was joined by Pitt’s Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies Joseph McCarthy, Gilbride-Brown, and CMU Vice Provost for Education Amy Burkert.
McCarthy recalled one of the first things he did when he joined the provost’s office was look at members of the freshman class who reported they didn’t plan to return for a second year.
“I went line by line down that entire list of 250 students and reached out to advisors and said ‘Hey, I need you to go find this student and figure out what’s going on.’”
McCarthy noted that Pitt has 25,000 undergraduate students, 19,000 in Pittsburgh, and an additional 10,000 graduate students—and one size doesn’t fit all.
He spoke about some of the strategies the University has implemented to help advisors and mentors: better onboarding of both students and advisors, sharing best practices in advising students and trying to improve working conditions of advisors and mentors.
“We have spent a significant amount of money on building an infrastructure, on restructuring our financial aid model to try and help to shift the advising and mentoring space to be less transactional and to have more time and the tools necessary to make it a relationship-building experience every time that student walks in,” he said.