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First Things First

Pre-major advising puts students on the right track

When Dartmouth students step on to campus in September of their first year, they're surrounded by a variety of opportunities, both academic and extracurricular. To help them learn the scholarly ropes of campus life, all first-year students meet with a faculty advisor, even before they take their first class.

Cecilia Gaposchkin
Cecilia Gaposchkin (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

"The first few terms, before students formally choose a major, are a period of decision making," says Cecilia Gaposchkin, the assistant dean of faculty for pre-major advising. "Faculty advisors are assigned to help guide students through this time of exploring different fields of study."

On the job since July 2004, Gaposchkin works to support faculty in their advising roles. She has implemented many new initiatives. Among them is a concise handbook with curricular information about each academic department, its purpose, its requirements of majors, and a sampling of its courses. This has proven useful when a student expresses an interest in a department other than that of his or her advisor's.

"Faculty members can't know the details of every department," she says. "I asked for input from the chairs of each program and each department, and created a quick guide of how to start if a student wanted to major in this area and what courses might be good for someone just looking to explore. So, if a student interested in art history asks a chemistry professor about what class to take, he or she can easily look to see what is recommended as an introductory course."

Gaposchkin also launched a series of luncheon meetings with new faculty as part of increased efforts to train and support them in their role as advisors.

She revitalized another program, called Group Advising, which takes place during first-year orientation week. Small groups of 12 to 25 students, usually organized by residence hall, gather to talk with faculty. According to Gaposchkin, the informal group setting is designed to be less intimidating, creating a comfortable atmosphere where students can ask questions. Faculty members explain how to register for classes, describe distribution requirements, and share their vision for the academic endeavor. Edward Miller, assistant professor of history, participated in the group advising event.

"I met with two groups of first-years to give them a general overview of Dartmouth's academic requirements, and to field their questions about academic life," he says. "I learned about their concerns and anxieties as they contemplated courses and possible majors. I think that students find it reassuring and encouraging to be getting personal help and advice from a faculty member so soon after their arrival in Hanover. This hopefully sets the tone for their entire academic experience here."

Dominic Machado '09, C. Adele Maas '09, and Paul Christesen
Dominic Machado '09 (left) and C. Adele Maas '09 (right) meet with their pre-major advisor, Assistant Professor of Classics Paul Christesen, in the classics department library in Reed Hall. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Classics Professor Paul Christesen advised C. Adele Maas '09, who says, "After telling my advisor my interests-both academic and otherwise-he gave me helpful advice on maintaining a balance of activities. He was also valuable in suggesting organizations at Dartmouth that corresponded to my extracurriculars in high school."

Christesen also met several times with Dominic Machado '09. "Even without any specific questions, Professor Christesen made me believe that he was willing to do whatever it took for me to have the most rewarding academic experience possible during my first term here," says Machado. "My academic experiences surpassed the high expectation I had thanks in no small way to pre-major advising."

By SUSAN KNAPP

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Last Updated: 5/30/08