In a keynote at the University’s 2019 Mentoring and Advising Summit, which took place Thursday, March 7, Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Ann E. Cudd recalled that while attending a rural high school, her career prospects seemed limited. She planned to study welding at a vocational institute, with the hope of becoming a sculptor of iron metalwork.
But a mentor changed her mind.
“Mentors play life-changing roles,” Cudd said, highlighting one who encouraged her to apply for a scholarship to a New England prep school, thereby altering her intended career plans. Cudd also mentioned Tamara Horowitz, who inspired in Cudd confidence when she served as her dissertation advisor when Cudd studied in Pitt’s Department of Philosophy. “Mentoring is key to forward progress at Pitt.”
Maximizing the experience of every student at Pitt
Nearly 230 attended the second annual event hosted by the Office of the Provost, which brought together from across the University faculty and staff that work with students in an advising or mentoring capacity. Some of those were administrators from divisions and offices including Student Affairs and the Office of International Services and faculty and professional advisors from schools and colleges including the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and the College of General Studies. The event drew participation from Pitt’s regional campuses, too, as both presenters and attendees.
What all summit-goers had in common was a passion for, as Cudd put it, “maximizing the learning and living experience of every student at Pitt.”
Featuring three blocks of concurrent sessions, a mid-day interactive discussion panel and an afternoon presentation of posters, the conference provided an opportunity for attendees to learn about the mentoring and advising programming that others across the University are using and to spend time networking with each other.
“We can reach out to people with questions or ideas and collaborate on student-related activities that can help advance our shared goals of helping our students navigate the University system and make appropriate decisions as they explore their academic, career and personal goals,” said Macrina Lelei, associate director of the African Studies Program at the University Center for International Studies.
Pathways to excellence
Following Cudd’s morning keynote, Stephen Wisniewski, vice provost for data and information and co-director of the Epidemiology Data Center, gave an overview on the implementation of Pathways, a platform that uses advanced analytics to drive personalized advising and academic support to students. Advisors can use Pathways to push to students communications about registering for classes, setting appointments for advising and a myriad of other features that meet students’ needs.
“What we’re going to do is combine this technology with what you [advisors and mentors] already do — best practices — and leverage these data to help improve our advising of students,” said Wisniewski.
One of the tools within the Pathways platform that Wisniewski highlighted was the Advising Report. “This will allow us to have people put advising notes in a central resource so people in different academic units can see it,” he said. The provost’s office is currently working with the Pathways Steering Committee to coordinate tiered access levels and develop best practices about how best to use and share available data while protecting data privacy and ensuring compliance. A wider rollout of the Pathways platform — which spent the 2018-19 academic year piloting with advisors of freshmen in the School of Nursing and the Swanson School of Engineering.
Attendees were excited to hear the update on the platform and said that they look forward to implementing it in their departments and schools.
“I do think that the technology they’re rolling out might help us do a better job and not miss things that could potentially be great opportunities for students,” said Jane Wallace, a lecturer, undergraduate advisor and co-director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Economics.
Ryan Sweeney, assistant director and career consultant for psychology majors in Student Affairs' Career Center, said that he thought the platform would help undecided students. “It gives students ideas of what they want to pursue . . . so that to me is crucial, just getting them to talk about stuff that they like.”
Personalized advising: You can’t just Google that.
Diversity, inclusion, cultural empathy and global competence were themes of the summit’s plenary session, an interactive panel discussion, moderated by Joseph McCarthy, vice provost for undergraduate studies. Panelists included Derek Fischer, director of the Advising Center at the Dietrich School; Susan Meyer, director of the Interprofessional Center for Health Careers, co-director of the Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education and associate dean for education and professor in the School of Pharmacy; Audrey Murrell, associate dean of the College of Business Administration, director of the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership and associate professor of business administration, psychology and public and international affairs; and Belkys Torres, executive director for Global Engagement at the University Center for International Studies and co-chair of the Year of PittGlobal committee.
Questions posed by McCarthy and from the audience prompted discussion about diversity — what it means, how to embrace it and why it’s so necessary.
“For us at UCIS, we think about diversity of background, diversity of thought and the development of an inclusive environment,” Torres said, noting that UCIS provides the first point of contact to more than 3,000 international students who come to Pitt every year.
Fischer discussed how diversity influences his search when recruiting new advisors to serve an increasingly diverse student population. “It’s looking for skills in people that translate well to supporting students, the ability to listen, the ability to be patient, looking for people who are actually invested in student success,” he said. “Those students are different, and part of what we do is invest our time and energy into getting to know them on a personal level.”
Murrell noted that the time investment of getting to know students at that level can be a challenge. “We have to articulate the value of personalized, face-to-face academic advising. It is what differentiates an in-person program like we have at the University of Pittsburgh, and no, you cannot just Google that.”
“It’s got to be navigated by people who understand something about student load and drivers of success . . . our advisors interact with our recruiters, so we can tell you both from personal experience and from data what it takes to get you to that first destination,” she said.
Drawing from data, personal experience and a fuller understanding of students and their individualized needs helps advisors respond to advisees in holistic ways. “It’s not just what courses they need to take and what they think they need to do,” said Meyer, “but helping them think more deliberately about what are their strengths. Where do you find joy in life?”
Making connections, carrying the conversation forward
Julia Spears, associate vice provost for academic innovation, noted that this year’s summit was the first to feature members of the campus community presenting their work in concurrent sessions.
“I think the opportunity to present, explore and share work with like-minded people was appreciated,” she said, noting she heard positive feedback throughout the day. “Participants appreciated the time to connect with colleagues, meet new people and hear about new ways to advise or mentor students.”
John Horoho, a senior at Pitt–Bradford, presented at an afternoon session along with Julia Spears and Susan Meyer. Their session focused on microaffirmations, which are small actions that signal to others that they are valued, included and welcomed.
“As a student, it is encouraging to see the dedication and inspiration that was most evident in the room, as well as throughout the concurrent sessions,” said Horoho. “I have absolutely no doubt if the capable group of individuals I had the distinct pleasure of meeting comes together, then the ideas discussed will yield huge positive impacts on our students.”
DaVaughn Vincent-Bryan, assistant director of engagement and leadership in the Office of Residence Life in Student Affairs expressed excitement about furthering potential collaboration with partners across the University. “It’s easy in my realm to just think about the advising/coaching/mentoring piece from a solely student affairs experience, but questions we’ve asked today span both sides of the house — academic and co-curricular.”
“At the end of the day, we’re trying to progress the student experience, we’re trying to make this as personal and successful as possible,” he said, noting he took a number of colleagues’ business cards, to continue the conversation. “That’s really what I take away, is this reservoir of potential new allies.”