An Interview with Associate Dean of Studies Betsy Korn

The Phillipian: How is the advising system currently set up? What are the official duties of an advisor? What are the qualifications for becoming an advisor, and how are advisors chosen? Betsy Korn: Over the past 20 years, the philosophy and organization of Andover’s advising system has evolved. Prior to the institution of the current system, advisors were called “academic advisors” and their responsibilities were limited to academic program planning. In addition, advising for boarders was dorm-based. The current system makes advising independent of housing after the Junior year and has day students paired with the same advisor throughout their Andover careers, allowing for the building of long-term relationships between advisors and students. All advisors are expected to get to know their advisees, to serve as mentors and to help them with their program planning. Day student advisors also serve as the primary liaison between the student’s family and the school. Soon after the current system went into place, a new position was created in the Dean of Studies Office to oversee advising. I was hired to fill that position. My job has expanded to include other duties, but, as Associate Dean of Studies, my primary charge remains oversight of advising. In any given year we have 115-120 faculty members serving as advisors. The qualifications for becoming an advisor are the same as those for being hired: primarily, that you are committed to the education of Andover’s students. We also recognize that an advisor needs to be familiar with the school; thus, as a rule, a faculty member must have served one year before stepping into the advisor role. P: Do advisors receive any kind of training? Is there a system of quality control in place? K: Training is provided in the form of a lengthy manual and a wide variety of other resource materials available on the advisors’ website, five required meetings throughout the year (with one occurring before each course selection period), regular email reminders from me and, most importantly, ready (I like to think!) access to me. All faculty members are evaluated at regular intervals, and that evaluation includes a review of their work as advisors. The advisees of faculty members being evaluated are surveyed by me; they are given the opportunity to reflect on the strengths and weakness of both their advisor and the advising system. P: What kind of communication do advisors have with CCO, if any? K: Communications from the College Counseling Office are an important component of advisor training. We expect advisors to know their advisees and the educational program (academic, extra curricular and co-curricular), although we do not expect any single advisor to be an expert on all aspects of the latter. What we do expect is that the advisors know to whom to turn when they or their advisees have questions: e.g., department chairs, college counselors, Academic Support Center faculty, members of the Dean of Studies office, the Summer Opportunities Director. P: Do you feel there is a need for reform in the advising system, and, if so, what does the administration plan to do to reform the system? K: The advising program is constantly under evaluation, as we are always looking for ways to improve the service we provide to students. In recent years, for example, we’ve made an effort to reduce the number of students assigned to each day student advisor. One impetus for doing this is that there is so little free time for advisees and advisors to meet. A very important change under way is the computerization of course selection and program record-keeping. Imagine your advisor typing in your alternate course selection and being “told” right then and there that because the alternate is a high-demand course you will need a second back-up option. This is just one of the features we hope the computer program will have that will make course selection easier for faculty and students. This year, the Advising Council, a faculty committee that I chair, and the Academic Advisory Committee, a student committee advising John Rogers and me, have as their primary focus a review of the advising program. I have received regular input on the advising program from students – starting with questions in a survey given to four-year students in the Class of 2004 and supplemented each year by the surveys I give to the students of advisors who are being evaluated. With the assistance of the Academic Advisory Committee, I will gather more student input this year. Starting with a faculty meeting this winter, the Advising Council will secure input from faculty. Students and faculty wishing to comment should feel free to email me directly at or to talk with any of the members of the Advising Council (Bruce Bacon, Carl Bewig, Catherine Carter, Chris Odden, Herb Morton, John Rogers, Mary Fulton, Pat Davison, Paul Cernota, Vic Henningsen) and Academic Advisory Committee (Alexander Heffner, Alexander McHale, Charles Shoener, Chioma Ngwudo, Cora Lewis, Dan Larson, Lucas McMahon, Nicole Okai, Teddy Collins). P: Overall, would you say that students are pleased, dismayed or indifferent about the state of their advising? Do you feel that the current number of advisors is too many, too few or about right? K: When I survey students, I ask them directly what changes they would like to see in the current advising system. Rarely is anything radical proposed. In fact, one of the most frequent responses has to do with the nature of the food supplied at advising meetings. Some students say they would like to choose their advisors, and we are considering this. One difficulty here is that entering students do not know the faculty and therefore cannot make an informed choice. Another difficulty is that, since we would have to cap the number of advisees any one advisor has, there is the possibility of disappointing quite a few students. A number of boarders have wondered why they need an advisor as part of their support team, why their house counselors couldn’t simply advise them. ­ Alas, there is no such thing as a perfect advising system; nor is there one system that will please all people. For every student who says, “I’ve got enough adults in my life, I’d like the advisor to limit his duties to helping with course selection,” I’ve got another who says, “I wish I could spend more time with my advisor.” For every advisor who praises advising groups that are uniform in gender and class level, I’ve got another who prefers groups mixed by gender and age. P: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current system? Should new advisors/ college counselors be hired to increase the number of advisors or does the current system simply need to be reorganized? K: Any model we consider will have its advantages and disadvantages. For example, a great strength of our current system is the continuity from year to year (after the Junior year for boarders) in the advisor-advisee relationship. The downside to this is that many advisors have advisees in multiple clusters, making it difficult for the faculty in each student’s life to work as a team to support the student. We could return to dorm-based advising for our boarding students. That would certainly make it easier for faculty to work together as a team, and it would allow for connections between advisor and advisee to develop more organically. However, we would lose continuity in the advisor-advisee relationship. A third model would have virtually every faculty member involved in student life serve as an advisor. The advantage here is that the advisor-to-student ratio could be reduced to 1:6. (The current mean advising group size is 9 students, with the range running from 1 to 18 students.) However, quality control with respect to program planning might be weakened as the number of advisors increases. Alternatively, we could drastically reduce the number of advisors, creating a pool of experts on Andover’s academic program. The question with respect to this model is: would those advisors get to know well enough the 50 to 60 students that they might advise? Finally – and I believe that this deserves emphasis — whatever advising system we have, the effectiveness of that system will be constrained by two variables: first, the amount of time available in the busy Andover week for advisor and advisee to meet, and second, the efforts of both persons involved in the advising relationship – advisor and advisee. Advising is a collaborative process; it takes commitment on both sides to make the relationship work at its best.