Editor's note: This is the eleventh in a series of articles written by students who were enrolled in Jennifer Bloom's graduate class in student affairs administration at the University of South Carolina for the fall 2008 semester. As part of her course syllabus, Dr. Bloom required each student in her class to submit an article to The Mentor or other publications for consideration.
Across the nation, 50 to 70 percent of undergraduate students will change their majors at least once during their college careers (Gordon, 1994). During such transitions, they often go unnoticed within an institution. Gordon labels students as Up-Tighters when they are forced to change their majors due to an inability to meet their programs' admission standards (Gordon, 1984). Up-Tighters must meet separate requirements after they complete the program's general requirements, or their abilities do not match their interests. These students are usually in high-demand programs, such as pre-med, engineering, or business, and they typically do not meet their programs' academic standards. Special attention must be given when advising these students, as they are attrition prone (Gordon, 1984), and because they have an urgent need to explore other career and academic interests (Gordon, 1994). According to Gordon, Up-Tighters need special attention to help them recognize their strengths. This acknowledgment will increase their ability to formulate goals and make decisions that address their ambitions (Gordon, 1994).
This paper introduces Appreciative Advising as a means by which advisers can help Up-Tighters develop appropriate knowledge and skills to effectively manage crucial transitions to new majors. Because Up-Tighters need to recognize their strengths, Appreciative Advising is advocated as an effective tool to help this group of students. Students who have positive interactions within the institutional setting benefit by improving their self-images (Bloom, Hutson, & He, 2008). This paper first discusses the conceptual foundations of Appreciative Advising and then describes how each phase of Appreciative Advising can specifically help Up-Tighters to be successful. This paper refers to a subset of the Up-Tighter populationstudents who no longer meet eligibility requirements to remain in the pre-nursing programto exemplify how Appreciative Advising can be utilized to help students transition into new majors.
The Conceptual Foundations of Appreciative Advising
Appreciative Advising is based on numerous theories but is most deeply rooted in positive psychology and Appreciative Inquiry (Bloom et al., 2008). Positive psychology is the study of how humans can function at the highest possible level and how their personal strengths can help their communities develop (Bloom et al.). Appreciative Inquiry is an organizational development theory that focuses on the best in organizations. Appreciative Advising combines the best of both disciplines and involves intentional efforts on the part of advisers to evoke positive emotions, relations, and wellness in students. The positive emphasis of Appreciative Advising is an especially powerful methodology when working with students who no longer meet pre-nursing eligibility requirements and must discontinue the program. These students have suffered blows to their self-confidence and are now unsure what their futures hold. They may benefit from systematic Appreciative Advising strategies that encourage them to believe they will succeed in other majors and can capitalize on factors that originally drew them to their first choice of major (Bloom et al.).
To adequately adopt the Appreciative Advising philosophy, advisers must accept these six assumptions: (1) every student can be successful in college; (2) every student has strengths that are unique; (3) by focusing on students' past and present experiences as well as their goals and dreams, advisers can help them identify and leverage their strengths; (4) advisers have the power to help students enhance their college experiences; (5) students and advisers can both benefit from their interactions; and (6) advisers must understand how their thoughts and perspectives can potentially influence their relationships with students (Bloom et al., 2008).
Appreciative Advising Methodology and Application
The core of the Appreciative Advising methodology is its six phases: Disarm, Discover, Dream, Design, Deliver, and Don't Settle (Bloom et al., 2008). These phases complement the previously mentioned goals of discovering, unlocking, and then arming the students with knowledge of their own strengths and how to use them to be successful (Bloom et al.). This section explores how advisers working with pre-nursing students who must switch majors can incorporate Appreciative Advising techniques and help the students establish new academic directions.
Throughout Appreciative Advising phases, it is important that advisers use active listening skills. They must be attentive and show that they are actually interested in what the student is sharing. If advisers can convey a sense of excitement and demonstrate that the student matters to them, then the student should respond positively (Bloom et al., 2008).
The first phase of Appreciative Advising is the Disarm phase, when students gain a first impression of their advisers. It is an excellent opportunity to build rapport between student and adviser. This phase is especially important for students who must change majors because they no longer meet academic requirements. They are scared, unsure of their options, and leery of authority figures in the major they have been asked to leave. For example, some students come into the advising office with chips on their shoulders, and some are terrified that they might be considered failures. They also may have had less-than-ideal interactions with authority figures in high school or at the collegiate level. The Disarm phase is the adviser's opportunity to make a positive first impression, so a warm and inviting welcome is important. Appreciative advisers meet students in the waiting area, shake their hands, and look them in the eye. The adviser's behavior should make the student feel that the adviser is approachable. Advisers should also try to create an inviting office atmosphere. If advisers want students to open up and share their feelings and thoughts, then it is important for advisers to decorate their offices in ways that reveal some of their own interests and hobbies.
The second phase is the Discover phase. In this phase, the adviser asks positive, open-ended questions to gain a better understanding of the student. The idea is to ask students questions that encourage them to share stories about past successes and accomplishments (Bloom et al., 2008). Regarding pre-nursing students, a possible question might be: What qualities do you have that you thought were going to make you a great nurse? or Tell me about a time that you helped another person? These are just sample questions. It is important to remember that the questions do not necessarily have to relate to the student's specific field; however, they do need to provoke the student to think and respond with stories that help the adviser get a true sense of the student's strengths. Pre-nursing students are often not aware that their personal skills and strengths can relate to a variety of other majors besides nursing.
The third Appreciative Advising phase is the Dream phase. The adviser can explore the student's dream by using positive questions (Bloom et al., 2008). Pre-nursing students who have learned they are no longer eligible for their programs may struggle with feelings of failure. It is the adviser's job to encourage the student to regard the situation as a temporary setback and think big about their futures. Advisers can ask, What do you see yourself doing in ten years? or What careers besides nursing have you thought about pursuing? Advisers may find that a career in nursing was actually not the first career choice for many students. It may be that their enrollment in pre-nursing was due to their parents' dreams for the student. It is also important to establish connections between the strengths and skills of the student, as learned in the Discover phase, and the realizations they have in the Dream phase (Bloom et al.). For example, if the student indicates an interest in working with children, the adviser should further probe that interest. What is it they love about children? What other majors and/or careers besides nursing would allow them to work with children? These questions can help create positive visions of the future for the student.
The Design phase is the phase in which the student and adviser co-create a plan to make the student's dream a reality (Bloom et al., 2008). At no point should the student feel as though it is exclusively the adviser's plan. The central theme of the Design phase is that the student should know about all of his or her options (Bloom et al.). Students typically do have a number of choices. For example, one choice that pre-nursing students may have, if they are determined to become nurses, is to transfer to other nursing programs where they meet the academic requirements. The students may also wish to pursue a registered nurse program instead of the bachelor of science degree in nursing. If they decide perhaps nursing is not their best option, discuss other majors that might be congruent with their strengths and interests. Often, no one has taken the time to sit down with these students to discuss their options. They might have spoken with their parents and settled on nursing the summer before matriculating without really understanding what a nurse actually does.
Once the student has selected a new option, the adviser and student can devise a plan to pursue this option. The adviser's knowledge of campus and community resources can be invaluable at this stage. If the student has decided to change majors, the adviser can refer the student to the appropriate adviser in the new department. If the student is feeling depressed, the adviser can encourage the student to make an appointment with the counseling center. If the student is experiencing academic difficulty, the adviser can refer the student to campus tutoring resources. At the University of South Carolina, the nursing program and the Academic Center for Excellence (ACE) have partnered to create a program that helps students who are on probation maintain their eligibility. Innovative partnerships like this can help students regain their academic footing.
The fifth Appreciative Advising phase is the Deliver phase. This phase focuses on sending students away from the appointment energized and confident in their abilities to accomplish the plan co-created during the Deliver phase (Bloom et al., 2008). Advisers should work with students to establish timelines for accomplishing goals and encourage students to report successes, problems, and other issues that may emerge as they implement the plan. Advisers should point out that the road to success is not always a smooth one. There may be issues that pop up along the way. Advisers can tell students to contact them at any time with questions and should reassure students that they are able to succeed, especially since some students may still feel discouraged about their inability to get into the nursing program. Advisers should not be afraid to let students know they are always there to help. At the end of the session, it is a good idea to walk students out to the waiting area and wish them well in their pursuits.
The final phase is the Don't Settle phase. This phase typically occurs during follow-up appointments after students have experienced some success (Bloom et al., 2008). It is important that advisers continue to challenge students as they grow and develop. In the case of pre-nursing students who must change majors, if they can start to see successes outside the pre-nursing program, their confidence levels will skyrocket. These successes can demonstrate to students that although they are not eligible to pursue a career in nursing at your institution, they still have wonderful career opportunities in other fields.
It is important to note the evidence that supports the benefits of Appreciative Advising with pre-nursing students. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) has already implemented a program using Appreciative Advising geared toward pre-nursing majors academically ineligible to continue in the major (Bloom et al., 2008). At UNCG, students must maintain a grade-point average of at least 2.70 to remain eligible for entry into the nursing program after their first semester. If a student falls below 2.70, he or she is transferred from the nursing adviser to an adviser trained in Appreciative Advising in the Department of Student Academic Services. These students are required to attend three meetings with the Appreciative Adviser to assess their rationale for choosing nursing as a major, their personal strengths, and other possible majors that they are eligible to pursue. Data from UNCG indicates that 30 percent of students who met with an Appreciative Adviser successfully changed majors at UNCG and 43 percent have continued to be advised by the Student Academic Services adviser (Bloom et al.). Taking an Appreciative Advising approach when working with students forced to change majors due to academic shortcomings can indeed help these students successfully transition to other majors that align with their interests and skills.