Grad advisors in residence program are happy

As the Graduate Students in Residence Program nears the end of the first of its two pilot years, students have mixed opinions concerning the program’s success and desirability.

Responses have come from both extremes, ranging from some upperclass students who believe the program is a waste of time and money to many freshmen and employees of the Office of Residential Life who strongly support its continuation.

“One of the biggest surprises has been the extreme positive response of our staff to the program,” Assistant Dean of Residential Life Alison Keefe said.

Graduates are pleased

The five graduate advisors, who live in Mass Row, Butterfield/Russell Sage, RipWoodSmith, Wheeler/Richardson and East Wheelock clusters, have been happy with their experiences.

“The past year has been very satisfying,” said Len Wisniewski, a graduate advisor in Wheeler and computer science Ph.D. candidate.

“Not only have I been able to help other students, but I have been given the chance to focus on learning about the education process, as I look to lead an academic career in the future,” he said.

ORL looks to fill the graduate advisor positions with students who are considering academics as a future career, Keefe said.

Freshmen student response has also been positive because the Undergraduate Advisory program helps to promote a strong connection between freshmen and graduate advisors, she said.

“I have been able to get to know freshmen much better; the UGA structure provides a means for them to become involved,” Wisniewski said.

But upperclass students have fewer positive comments to make about the program despite ORL’s intent that it complements the UGA program and provides an additional resource for upperclass students, Keefe said.

David Gonzalez ’95, an area coordinator in Zimmerman Hall, said upperclass students who are removed from the system, uninformed and unacquainted with the graduate advisors are more skeptical of the program.

“Freshmen have definitely benefited,” Tracie Waack ’94, an area coordinator in Wheeler, said. “What the program needs is an agenda that can better reach the upperclass students to help them with graduate school and real life counseling,” she said.

ORL hopes to improve the connection between upperclass students and graduate advisors next year by implementing more ways upperclass students can learn from the graduate students, Keefe said.

Second year will be redefined

Other ORL staff members agree that although the program has led a successful first year, ORL must work to define its exact role in the second pilot year.

“The program was not well defined this past year because it was too new. It needs to grow to be more defined in the future in order for all students to benefit from it as much as possible,” Waack said.

The program specifically lacks definition concerning the graduate advisor’s position of authority and role in helping both freshmen and upperclassmen, Gonzalez said.

But graduate advisors said they were able to work well with students despite this lack of structure.

“We came in not knowing what to expect, and yet were able to get to know and help many students, while better acquainting ourselves with the residents’ needs,” Wisniewski said.

The graduate advisors interact daily with students and other staff members, providing students with activities and informational and advising services to help reinforce their relationship, said Bruce Sneddon, a graduate advisor in Russell Sage and Ph. D. pharmacology candidate.

Sneddon said the most favorable student reactions have come in response to his weekly study breaks, which he said attract a whole range of students.

Graduates give career info

Shawn-Marie Mayrand, a graduate advisor in Mid Mass and a biochemistry Ph.D. candidate, said she has held information sessions on off-term and medical research opportunities.

“We try to provide the students with resources and information that otherwise is not readily available. These programs have been huge successes and I believe have been able to counterbalance students’ negative reservations,” Mayrand said.

Both Mayrand and Wisniewski said they will return to the program next year and look forward to building on their successes and learning from their weaknesses.

“I’ve been able to learn from my experiences this year and look forward to sharing what I have learned with the incoming graduate advisors in order to accomplish even more next year,” Mayrand said.

Keefe said ORL will adhere to its original plan and continue the program through a second pilot year, after which the faculty will decide whether to fully adopt the program into the residential life system.

Formal survey will take place

ORL plans to conduct a formal evaluation of the program on four levels, eliciting responses from the graduate advisors, area coordinators and undergraduate advisors who have worked in dorms with graduate advisors, Keefe said. She said 100 randomly selected students from each class will also be surveyed.

According to Keefe, ORL envisions no further expansion of the number of graduate advisors for the second pilot year.

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