The 2006 Tate Award winners, (left to right) Kitty Jones, Alon McCormick, Rob Silberman, and Ted Fitch, with Vice Provost Craig Swan.
U advisers celebrate Tate Award winners
By Gayla Marty
Brief, May 10, 2006
Combine all the choices at public universities with the ups and downs of student life, and it's no mystery why advising is critical to students'--and universities'--success. That's one of the reasons the University of Minnesota created the John Tate Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising in 1986 to honors its best advisers U-wide.
This year's four winners include two faculty and two professional staff members in fields from art to chemical engineering. Altogether they tote decades of advising experience. Students love them, and they love students.
"Every time I leave an appointment, I feel like I'm heading in the right direction, with both feet on the ground and my head on my shoulders," a student wrote about one of the winners. Another was nominated by more than 100 undergraduates who signed a petition.
Ted Fitch, Kitty Jones, Alon McCormick, and Robert Silberman received their awards at a luncheon and ceremony April 28 at the Twin Cities campus. More than 130 advisers and well-wishers attended the event at the Radisson University Hotel sponsored by the Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost.
Winners have come from every U campus, but this year all work in the Twin Cities. Craig Swan, vice provost for undergraduate education, introduced and congratulated each one.
- Fitch is a senior academic adviser for the arts student community in the College of Liberal Arts (CLA). He's served on a host of committees and has become CLA's expert on disabilities and how disability affects student success. One group he served was the Committee for Disability-Related Appeals of the Second Language Requirement. "He has taken time to educate himself," said disability specialist Sheila Fox, "even borrowing books from Disability Services and making sure he understands the issues students with disabilities face in an academic environment."
- Jones is the assistant director for student services in General College (GC). She's widely respected for her technology expertise on projects from Portfolio and the Grad Planner to the GC student database--"a rare intersection [of] techie wonk and human development expert," said a colleague. Jones has also played a leadership role in ensuring the success of GC's transition to a department within the College of Education and Human Development, with seamless service to students during the transition.
- McCormick is a professor and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. He's made changes to dramatically improve undergraduate advising in his department, navigated curriculum reform and accreditation, and won teaching awards in the Institute of Technology. "When he talks about his students, it is clear he knows their stories and dreams," a colleague said. He's the winner who was nominated by students. One student called him "one of the most pivotal figures in my life."
- Silberman is an associate professor of art history, but more specifically, he served as director of film studies from 1985 to 2001. In that role, and with close ties to the film community, he advised all the film studies students on the Twin Cities campus, who had more than 100 majors and dozens of minors. "Screenwriting is such a difficult career to navigate," wrote a former student who's now a Hollywood screenwriter. "There are no clearly defined paths for a screenwriter to take....I'll never forget how generous he was with his time and energy."
But first, time to meet and learn
The celebration culminated a morning of networking and professional development.
"This was a gathering of people very concerned with the interests of students," said Robin Matross Helms, coordinator for faculty awards. "They were enthusiastic about being together--they are a busy group!"
In other words, when advisers manage to tear themselves away from their offices, they do more than eat lunch and celebrate. First they spent three hours devoted to professional development on the theme "Advising in Times of Change," a reference to the University's strategic positioning process now entering its second year.
Sessions dealt with topics from an advising model (Content-Skills-Context) to a model for weathering transitions--personal and professional. One session, "Student Choice: When More Becomes Overwhelming," looked at ways to work with students who insist on having options but can then be paralyzed with indecision or by trying too much.
This was the fourth conference held in conjunction with the Tate Awards. The idea for an annual advising conference was developed by the University's Academic Advising Network (AAN), a 20-year-old organization open to anyone at the U who's interested in advising issues. Current AAN membership includes about 380 people across all campuses.
Sessions were determined through a call for proposals. This was the first year a theme was named up front, says AAN cochair Jodi Malmberg, who's the director of advising for the Learning Abroad Center. Support for the event came from the National Academic Advising Association.