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Trial project allows undergrads to advise peers

As Todd Elliott began planning his spring '98 class schedule, some important questions kept popping up. Which courses would be most appropriate at this point in his engineering studies? What should he expect from the professors he'll have? Are there many job opportunities in the water resources field? And what should he be doing now to prepare for the possibility of graduate school?

Before seeking answers from his faculty advisor, Elliott took advantage of the Student Advising Program, a pilot project initiated this fall in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The program allows underclassmen to meet in a relaxed environment with volunteer senior advisors and draw on the seniors' experiences.

Funded by an IBM grant, the project is in response to recent surveys and focus groups that showed civil and environmental engineering students did not feel that faculty advisors answered all of the questions that arose during advising sessions.

In Elliott's case, he met one afternoon with senior Naomi Wilson. As they sat informally at a table in the Fluid Mechanics Lab, Wilson was able to answer some of Elliott's specific curriculum questions as well as share some of her personal discoveries on topics such as field experience. For example, she noted that a summer stint at the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District taught her that she does not want to work in wastewater management. She encouraged Elliott to consider work-study options as well.

After their 35-minute meeting, Elliott said he was pleased with how the peer advising process worked. "I definitely feel well prepared (to see my advisor). I know my choices now."

Students advising one another

Naomi Wilson helps Todd Elliott plan his spring class schedule. (large image)

In all, about 20 students volunteered to serve as peer advisors for this trial project. For the most part, they were paired with younger students who were pursuing similar civil engineering interests.

Throughout the last two weeks of October, when the advising sessions took place, Emeritus Professor Peter L. Monkmeyer, who implemented and guided the program, made himself continually available as a resource to the student advisors. "It was a delight to watch," he said of the process. "Participants seemed to know this was in their best interest. The students really talked as peers."

Monkmeyer, who will again lead the program this spring, noted that a dedicated corps of interested undergraduates helped the program get off to a smooth start. "The student support made my job easy," he said. Playing the biggest role were members of Chi Epsilon and the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

W ith the first leg of the program now completed, the college's Advising Improvement Team, led by Bonnie H. Schmidt and George M. Maxwell of the Academic Affairs Office, will gather and analyze student responses in an effort to help fine-tune the process. "This trial will give us information on what is possible," Schmidt said. The findings will be passed along to all department chairs in an effort to improve advising processes throughout the college.

This experimental program speaks well of the civil and environmental engineering department, Schmidt added. "It's a great way to show that the department has responded to student suggestions."