BRONX, NY.—Being an exceptional college academic advisor requires more than just counseling students about their course load and class schedules. An outstanding counselor will be a mentor, offer support and go above and beyond what is required.
Rafael Almanzar, a 2009 graduate of Lehman College and now an academic advisor at Texas A&M, recently received an award for providing his students with just that kind of advising excellence. Almanzar was presented with the 2016 NACADA (National Academic Advising Association) Region 7 Certificate of Merit for new advisor. The award recognizes individuals who have provided outstanding academic advising to students and who have served as advisors for less than three years. Region 7, includes the states of Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.
According to the Texas A&M website, Almanzar helps students “navigate the waters to obtain their graduate degree and continues to stay in contact with them even after they become Aggie alumni.” “I was overwhelmed with joy and excitement because NACADA is a well-known national organization for academic advisors,” says the 29-year old Almanzar about receiving the award from the non-profit group based at Kansas State University. “I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t stop smiling at work. This award will be used as a constant reminder for my passion and dedication in helping my students to reach their own personal and professional goals.”
Almanzar is the senior academic advisor for the Biochemistry and Biophysics Department at Texas A&M and he provides academic advisement and counseling to 125 graduate students pursing their PhD in biochemistry. He offers academic advice, personal confidential counseling, career development engagement and tracks student progress. In addition to those responsibilities, he coordinates an annual biochemistry symposium recruiting weekend for prospective students and a weeklong orientation for new graduate students. In his fledgling career, Almanzar has already received two other awards; the 2015 New Advisor Award from Texas A&M and a Staff Recognition Award from his students.
He credits much of his success to his experiences as a Lehman student and being part of the CUNY SEEK (Search for education, elevation, and knowledge) program. He singles out Carrie Zimmerman, his Lehman SEEK counselor, as a mentor who “stood by my side as we walked together on my journey towards graduation.” “She taught me the necessary skills I needed in order to succeed at Lehman such as management and study skills,” says Almanzar. “She was also very genuine, sympathetic, passionate and very determined to help me.
Almanzar is a first-generation Dominican-American and the first in his family to attend college, but he initially struggled to adjust to Lehman-and relied on the SEEK program and Zimmerman, to help with the transition. He also thanks his Career Counselor Erin Reilly, SEEK Director Dr. Annette Hernandez, Nancy Cintron, the Lehman director of the Career Services Center and Alex Cruz, director of the Pathways to Success program, for helping him with his college and post graduate accomplishments. Almanzar received his master’s degree in Counseling and Guidance, from New York University in 2012.
In 2013, he got his first academic advising job with the TRiO Student Support Services, Pathways to Success Program at Lehman. Almanzar had worked part-time for SEEK and had already known many of the 150 low income, first generation, college students that he was counseling. The Pathways to Success Program provides direct support services to full-time students who are first generation scholars, have limited income and/or have a documented disability.
Almanzar says that in the future, he is interested in starting a program similar to SEEK and Pathways geared towards helping low income, first generation college students. Another possible goal is obtaining a PhD or EdD to do research on college student retention, relating to low income, first generation students.
He is extremely satisfied with his work at Texas A&M, but adjusting to life in Texas was not easy at first for the Bronx native. Just being greeted with “Howdy” instead of “Hi” required a major cultural adjustment. After two years, he says he has fully adjusted to life in Texas and appreciates the friendliness and tranquility of College Station, the town where Texas A&M is located. “There are certain things about New York that I miss,” he acknowledges. “However I have no regrets about relocating to Texas. It’s been an incredible transition for me both personally and professionally”