“The Academic Advisement Center is a critical element in the equation for student success.” —Karol V. Mason, President of John Jay College
On November 30, John Jay’s Academic Advisement Center (AAC) celebrated its 10-year anniversary. The room was filled with laughter, hugs, and joy as previous AAC deans, advisors, and coordinators mingled with students and professors. President Karol V. Mason kicked off the event, first noting the energy of the crowd. “I have to tell you, you guys are a lot of fun.” Then she praised the AAC’s visionary and founder, Jane Bowers, current Interim Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost at CUNY. “I’m so glad that Jane Bowers is here to celebrate with us, because this is her dream. My number one priority here at John Jay is student success,” said Mason. “But, it’s because of the work that everyone in this room does that it’s a reality. When I go around talking about what’s happened in the last three years, Jane gets the credit for that because she was the team leader, moving the graduation rate 11 percentage points in three years.” Mason went on to say that she was committed to finding more resources for the center, because, “the Academic Advisement Center is a critical element in the equation for student success.”
“Tonight’s celebration celebrates recognizing a problem and advocating for a solution.” —Jane Bowers, Founder of John Jay’s Academic Advisement Center
Seeing The Need
When Bowers spoke to the group, she shared the reason why she was determined to create the AAC 10 years ago. Before she became the Provost at John Jay, Bowers served as the Undergraduate Dean, and during that time, it became clear to her that there was a gap in student advisement. “On a daily basis in the the Dean’s office, I saw the results of this problem. Students would arrive at graduation audit not having completed the courses they needed to graduate. They would have to stay an extra semester just to take two courses. Other students would fail to find their academic committee, and graduate with tons of excess credits that they would have to pay for themselves,” said Bowers. That’s when she made it her goal to create an academic advisement center to help students. But first she had to bring the lack of advisement into sharp focus. “I stood up in a Town Hall and declared that John Jay did not provide their students with any academic advisement, and that this was unacceptable and it had to end.” Once she had the support she needed, Bowers hired a director and a small staff. Then they developed a plan to provide mandatory advising for first-year students. “Tonight’s celebration celebrates recognizing a problem and advocating for a solution,” said Bowers.
Making A Difference
If anyone is at the front lines of student advisement, it’s Sumaya Villanueva, the AAC’s Senior Director, who’s held the position since the center’s inception. Over the years, Villanueva has had to be very creative in the ways the AAC maximizes its reach with limited resources. But, she’s never lost sight of Bowers’ initial goals, and she finds herself inspired every day watching students thrive and overcome challenges. “One of my favorite AAC stories is of a student who started off having a lot of difficulties progressing in her degree because English wasn’t her first language. Louise Freymann—one of our original three advisors—started working with her and suggested that she go to a CUNY program to help with her English skills,” said Villanueva. “When she came back to John Jay, you could immediately see a difference in her. She graduated with honors and went on to pursue a master’s degree.” Villanueva believes that the AAC was the crucial element that helped guide that student in the right direction, moving her toward a degree instead of giving up and dropping out.
“With the AAC, what we have is a College that is thriving. People know how to implement, trouble shoot, and think about student success and outreach.” —Dara Byrne, Dean of Undergraduate Studies
Evolving To Success
To fully appreciate the work that’s being done now at that AAC, Dara Byrne, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Retention & Dean of Undergraduate Studies, looked back at how life was before the center’s creation. She remembers simply getting an invitation to serve as a volunteer adviser. “They assigned me five or six students to advise, without any training on what to advise them on,” said Byrne. “We were just supposed to listen and talk about their career goals, but there were no details on planning, course selection, understanding financial aid, understanding roadblocks, making better decisions, or switching majors. It was terrible for students and faculty. Now, with the AAC, what we have is a College that is thriving. People know how to implement, trouble shoot, and fully think about student success and outreach.”
Playing A Pivotal Role
As a current honors student on track to graduate this coming May, Andrew Bandini, Secretary of Student Council, knows how important the AAC is to his friends and peers. “I’m lucky to get academic advisement from the honors program directly, but students come to student council all the time asking us what courses mean and what they need to fulfill their requirements,” said Bandini. “I’ve referred them to the AAC, and I’ve seen how the center plays an integral role in students’ lives. The advisors perform one of the hardest jobs here at the College, convincing students who are overwhelmed and stressed that they can succeed.” Villanueva agreed, explaining that the center now plays a role in the academic planning of most undergraduate students. And, she was happy to share with the group the AAC’s two latest programs: Nudge to the Finish Line, a text messaging pilot, which is part of the National Research Project led by researchers at the University of Virginia; and CUSP, which stands for Completion for Upper-division Student Program, a Price Family Foundation two-year grant funded project that works exclusively with upper seniors to help get them to graduate.
“There’s no shame in getting help. Take advantage of every support that is offered to you, because then you are going to be more successful.” —Jane Bowers, Founder of John Jay’s Academic Advisement Center
Seeing The Full Picture
When we asked Bowers how she defines student success, her answer showed both her love of learning and her respect for the true value of an education. “A lot of people consider success graduating, but I don’t fall into that camp,” said Bowers. “I know that completion is important. We want to make sure those students who start their degrees finish them in a timely manner. But to have the fullest undergraduate experience I urge students to take advantage of opportunities, get to know some faculty really well, connect to the institution deeply, and really push yourself. It’s the experiences that you have that make the difference between success and failure.” And, when asked what one word summed up the AAC best, her answer turned out to be a message to all John Jay students. “Essential. Students can’t succeed without academic advisement, and they need it from the minute they enter the door.” It’s Bowers’ staunch belief that asking for help is a sign of strength. “There’s no shame in getting help. Take advantage of every support that is offered to you, because then you are going to be more successful.”
Learn more about the Academic Advisement Center
More scenes from the evening