Arts and Sciences expands advising seminars to all first-year students

Starting this fall, all incoming students in the College of Arts and Sciences will meet weekly in small groups with a faculty member to help make their transition to college life easier. Arts and Sciences faculty voted in March to approve the expansion.

The college began offering these advising seminars to first-year students in 2017 to complement the current advising structure, which provides a faculty adviser, advising dean and peer adviser for each incoming student. The two-year pilot has involved 650 students and 62 faculty members from 23 departments spanning humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.

The seminars concentrate on topics such as time management, making the most of the liberal arts curriculum, strategies for choosing courses and a major, and navigating Cornell and all of its resources. 

“The seminar offers our first-year students a close community and a connection with faculty right away,” said Ray Jayawardhana, the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts and Sciences. “We expect those connections to last well after the seminar in many cases, enriching our students intellectually and socially during their entire time at Cornell and beyond.”

This structured advising opportunity is even more vital for Arts and Sciences students than perhaps their Cornell peers in other colleges, because Arts and Sciences students do not enter Cornell with a declared major, but are given the freedom to tailor their academic plans to meet their individual ambitions. While such freedom can be exhilarating, it can also be a daunting prospect for incoming students, said Rachel Bean, senior associate dean for undergraduate education.

“We’ve learned a lot through the pilot,” Bean said. “We have seen the impact this advising approach can have for each of our students in increasing their sense of belonging in the college and Cornell, and in helping them confidently transition into college life.”

Jed Sparks, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, has embraced the seminar experience.

“Advising is so much more effective when you have an engaged connection with the students. I found the seminar format does exactly that,” he said. “Students in my seminar frequently commented that actually knowing a professor at Cornell made it much easier for them to ask questions and talk about the future.”

In the fall, approximately 85 faculty members will lead the seminars, which will reach about 850 students. Students majoring in biological sciences aren’t included in this number, as they’re advised through the Office of Undergraduate Biology, Bean said.

“The advising seminar presents a unique and welcome opportunity to engage with our first-year students in a more meaningful way – to open dialogue and share conversation and opportunity across disciplines and on our campus throughout the year,” said Beth F. Milles, associate professor of performing and media arts. “The format fosters the process of collaborative problem solving/information sharing in a supportive cohort.”

The seminars next fall will include eight weekly meetings, six led by the faculty adviser and two by on-campus partners. Topics will include:

  • navigating the academic landscape;
  • information literacy, led by Cornell University Library staff;
  • best practices for learning strategies and academic integrity;
  • undergraduate research and scholarship opportunities;
  • study away, facilitated by advising deans and upperclass students who have studied away; and
  • planning for pre-enrollment.

“I truly believe the seminar will be a significant enhancement for undergraduate advising in our college,” Bean said.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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