Features

Aiming to serve, peer advising options evolve

Today’s Meiklejohn Peer Advising Program has roots in earlier groups such as the Sphinx Club

By
Contributing Writer
Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The year is 1904. A group of students and faculty are gathered in the Ann Eliza Club room, heads together, in the midst of an intense discussion. They are members of the Brown University Sphinx Club, founded to facilitate discourse and promote communication between students and faculty members. Named after the mythical riddle-asking creature, the group helped form the Meiklejohn Peer Advising Program, which helps first-years acclimate to life at Brown today, according to the Meiklejohn Peer Advising website.

 

Back to the beginning

The Meiklejohn Program also traces its roots back to the Student Advisers group, established in 1952, according to its website. The Student Advisers group and the Sphinx Club “lived in happy parallel communities” throughout the 1950s, with one promoting advising for first-years and the other focusing on faculty-student interaction.

But the 1960s brought about another group, the Meiklejohn Society, “dedicated explicitly to helping students adjust to life academically as well as socially,” according to the group’s website. Named after Alexander Meiklejohn, the second dean of the College, the society continued to grow during the 1970s alongside the development of the Open Curriculum and then came to be rivaled by a fourth group.

The newly-formed Team Advisers aimed to foster collaboration between student and faculty advisers and encompassed the advising and student-faculty interaction aspects that were a part of existing programs.

In 1983, the Team Advisers program was renamed the Meiklejohn Peer Advising Program, which matches more than 350 student mentors with faculty advisers and first-year advisees today.

 

Mix and match

The process of pairing advisers with advisees is “highly iterated,” said Associate Dean of the College Carol Cohen. With the help of a database, Cohen said she and her team consider a student’s area of interest, background and education to find the best faculty match. They also look to have the Meiklejohn and the faculty adviser complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

“It’s a complicated algorithm,” Cohen said.

This process has led to many successful student-adviser relationships, students said.

“My adviser and I really get along,” said Eimi Satoh ’17. “We share a lot of the same interests.”

Ivaylo Petrov ’17 said his adviser has been helpful in guiding him through course selection by evaluating how useful his courses will be for fulfilling concentration requirements.

But there are some students who “slip through the cracks,” said Meiklejohn leader Abi Kulshreshtha ’15.

Lauren Sukin ’16, a political science and literary arts concentrator, was paired unsuccessfully with multiple faculty advisers during her first year. Her first adviser was rarely ever on campus and never responded to her emails, she said.

“I literally hadn’t seen my faculty adviser since our two-minute conversation in the beginning of the year,” said Sukin, a Herald opinions columnist. Her second adviser also failed to keep in touch with her after taking a year-long leave, Sukin said, adding that most of the advising she received during her first year was from older students in her department.

Cohen said she is aware that not every student has a “top-quality” advising experience.

“You have 3,000 advisees. You cannot do quality control at a super granular level for that many human beings,” she said.

Meiklejohn leaders, with the Dean of the College’s office, have started holding individual meetings with Meiklejohn advisers about their progress with advisees, Kulshreshtha said.

“We’ve heard from surveys that the quality of advising has gone up after we’ve made the program more demanding” of the student advisers, Kulshreshtha added.

 

One-click adviser

Recently, Meiklejohn leaders have made use of crowd-sourcing advising with the creation of the Brown Advisers Facebook page. Launched in August, the page lets students in any year anonymously post questions that are then answered by members of the Brown community.

The page plays a significant role in the Meiklejohn Program’s continuous efforts to reach out to the entire student body, said Kayla Rosen ’14, a Meiklejohn leader who suggested the social media page.

“I try to think about the advisee who is sort of struggling on campus, who feels alone and who doesn’t know how to ask questions,” she said.

The idea for this page came to Rosen after she witnessed the success and popularity of the similarly structured Brown Admirers and Brown Compliments Facebook pages. Having an online forum gives all students on Facebook access to the advising resource and allows the entire student body to respond, she said. This exposes the community to a variety of views on a subject, which Rosen said is important.

The Brown Advisers page is “really a forum for public discussion and for students to gain multiple student perspectives,” said Associate Dean of the College Ann Gaylin.

Students said they have found the page especially helpful.

“Going through what people have asked is curious and informative on matters and opportunities I had not thought about,” said Petrov, who added that it was practical to have fellow students answer these queries because many have been in the same boat.

 

‘A jewel in the crown’

Though Gaylin said she foresees no major upcoming changes in the Meiklejohn Program, group leaders aim to strengthen advising structures already in place.

“We want to focus on making sure that all the Meiklejohn advisers feel supported and … that the Meiklejohn body fully represents the diverse community of students at Brown,” Gaylin said.

In conjunction with the Dean of the College’s office, the Meiklejohn leadership is continually making small changes to the program based on student evaluations, said Ted Burke ’14, a Meiklejohn leader. “We’re kind of obsessed with feedback,” he added.

Recent changes include new events like the “MeikMeal,” where students can meet with their Meiklejohn advisers for an informal dinner at the Sharpe Refectory, and “Meiks in the Unit,” where Meiklejohn advisers gather in the lounges of freshman dorms to answer questions about registration, Burke said.

The program is also looking to collaborate with other mentoring groups such as the International Mentoring Program, Third World Transition Program and the Residential Peer Leaders, Rosen said.

Ensuring “the Meiklejohn Program dovetails well with the other first-year advising programs” is key, Gaylin said.

As the University continues to change and grow, the Meiklejohn program continues to be “a jewel in the crown of advising at the College,” said faculty adviser and Associate Professor of Classics Joseph Pucci.

“Advising has to be front and center at a place like Brown, given the open curriculum,” he added. “I’d like to see it continue and grow over the years.”

Topics:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*