July 2004


There I was, standing outside of Sutton Hall at 7:45 a.m., waiting to begin my first day as a professional academic adviser. I had been hired about one month earlier, and, after talking things over with my fiancée, we loaded up the moving truck and headed across the state to a town neither of us had ever even visited. This wasn't just starting a new job—it felt like starting a new life, and I was extremely excited and extremely scared at the same time.

Right from the start of this new position, an apparent difference from being in college was that very little formal structure was involved. Even though I had previously taken part in a yearlong internship as a community college adviser, it was a new feeling to be on my own without much guidance. Showing up early on my first day only created more anxiety as the building wasn't open yet, and I didn't have a key. “Oh,” a woman said, “students can't enter the building until we open at 8:00.” After I convinced her that I was new and that I worked on the third floor, she let me in. I had so many questions racing through my head at that point. What does one do on the first day in a professional position? Is anyone going to greet me, or do I just go back to my office and start working? Hopefully the latter option doesn't happen, since I don't know what to work on!

The day ended up going better than I expected, and I was (thankfully) warmly greeted by several of my coworkers when I first arrived. They showed me to my office and introduced me to everyone in the immediate vicinity. I was shown the basics of the student information system and how to use the phones. I was so happy that I was given some basic instruction because I found that the new information was leading me to ask questions I didn't know I had.

Fortunately, the person I was replacing wasn't leaving for at least another month. This “break in” period was essential to my feeling comfortable with a completely new institution. By the time I started seeing students four weeks later, I had accomplished several things.

First, I familiarized myself with the layout of the campus and the surrounding streets. Anytime I went for a jog before work or a walk at lunch, I made it a point to memorize building and street names. I would force myself not to look at the building's name until I attempted to recall it by memory. I also rehearsed giving directions to campus and to the advising office, as I heard this question come up time and again at the front desk. Parking concerns and questions also popped up quite often, so I printed out a parking map and the current rates. Although I realize that it's best to direct students so they can find out for themselves, I noticed that when things got busy in the office it was nice if the adviser could at least give a ballpark answer. That's what I sought out for many other common questions: a brief answer and the contact number for more specific information.

Second, when I went out on my walks, I would pretty much just roam into any office that was open. It was summer, so it was fairly calm, and every person I met was more than willing to talk about his or her department or program. I would get as much information as possible and then ask if he or she had any recommendations regarding whom to meet next. This approach worked well because the next contact I made wasn't a cold contact. I could say, “I came to meet you because Bob in the History department said you do wonderful work,” which usually opened up the lines of communication instantly and made both parties feel much more comfortable. I would also ask people what advice they had for a brand new staff member on campus.

Third, I made sure to take advantage of the opportunity to observe other advisers. Again, I was lucky that I was able to watch the woman I was replacing and then ask questions when the appointment was over. She had so much knowledge that simply could not be uncovered by reading literature and websites alone. I observed other advisers in the office as well and quickly found that each person had a different delivery style. This observation was extremely beneficial because I was beginning to take bits and pieces from each of their styles and formulate a plan in my head for when I began seeing students.

Fourth, I had fun! This was the most fun I had ever had at a job during the first month, and much of that stemmed from a supportive environment within the advising office and the campus as a whole. My coworkers were great, and they encouraged me to ask questions—any questions at all. They also treated me like a professional and a peer, which eased some of my anxiety about being so young. I was happy that they valued the opinions of someone who was fresh out of school and who could relate to the current generation. I realized that I was there to be a contributor, not just a passive observer. I needed to speak up if I had something to say, and I came to understand that my “outsider” take on things could be beneficial to the office. One important lesson I learned is that you can take yourself lightly and still be a professional. At the end of July, we all went out for lunch at a local lakeside restaurant and didn't really talk about advising-related issues. It was fun to see coworkers in another environment, and the outing did wonders for relieving the stress of work.

Now that I had a solid foundation from which to work, I was ready to take part in new student orientation and the advising of transfer students.