Academic Advisor as Consultant

I initially assumed I would learn more about external consulting when I signed up for this course. My assumptions were based on limited experience working with professional consultants hired from outside my organization.  I thought we would learn how to do external consulting in case we were ever in a situation that required our outside expertise and skills.  The first two courses in addition to the readings broadened my perspective about what it means to internally consult and how I currently practice process consulting as an academic advisor.

If you buy into Edgar Schein’s process consulting philosophy, then anyone at any point in their life could be a consultant. According to Schein, consulting is helping. However, Schein is careful to clarify that proper helping involves helping people help themselves. From an OD perspective, it’s about helping the system to solve problems on their own. The key is to build healthy, functioning relationships. It’s not a technique, but a philosophical approach to learning and development. If you think about all the different types of relationships we have on a personal and professional level, this philosophy can be applied to all different types of situations. The ability to be a helper applies perfectly to what I do professionally (I will spare you the ways I think this could also be a great approach with my husband, friends, family, etc.:)

As an advisor, I teach introductory courses about the university, meet individually with students to set up individualized development plans, and maintain an electronic learning management system (Blackboard) with the sole purpose to help my advisees formulate their own educational and career goals. I try to take a more developmental (or perhaps process consultation?) approach when it comes to advising in that I’m not prescriptive. I don’t tell them exactly what to do and what to take. I don’t take the doctor/patient approach. Instead, I try to focus more on the relationship that I develop with my students and view them as an active partner in this advising process. Part of my strategy involves establishing trust by asking questions and developing rapport. I suppose it could be tied to what Schein calls “pure inquiry” questioning in the initial advising stages then perhaps moving into a more diagnostic inquiry phase. I will admit there are times I want to say what they should be doing, but I’ve learned from experience, it’s a wasted effort if they can’t relate. I really enjoyed reading what Block says about accountability in that “All you can do is to work with clients in a way that increases the probabilities that they will follow the advice and make the effort to learn…” (Block, 2010, pg. 47 ). Flawless consulting/academic advising is developing the student’s expertise and learning potential – not mine. I can’t take it personal and I can’t expect them to always take my advice and recommendations. I’m looking forward to ways that this class can be good, positive reinforcement of my own professional philosophies when it comes to academic advising.

2 thoughts on “Academic Advisor as Consultant

  1. MARY-RUTH, very insightful! You are right; the key in consulting relationships is to establish relationship and to establish trust. As advisor, you seemed to have mastered these tasks. I am sure that your students appreciate your guidance, and also appreciate that you afforded them a chance to have a vote in their future. SB

  2. Totally agree with you both! Mary, sometimes the hardest part of working students interested in attending VCU at a future date is that I am making recommendations, not absolutes. They can take it or leave it. I would love to know that each student I talk with seriously considers what I am recommending, but I typically don’t find out because we work on an unofficial basis for prospective students. I want to tell them “you must do this..” but it’s all about providing them with all the right information to make them successful. They must make the decision to use what we’re provided to enhance their education!

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