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First-years are assigned advisers before they even set foot on campus in the fall. But who advises the advisers?

Team Enhanced Advising and Mentoring, now in its third year, is an "advising collective" of 45 faculty and administrators who advise first-years and sophomores, said Maitrayee Bhattacharyya, associate dean of the College for diversity programs and director of TEAM. The participants are divided into three groups that meet for monthly discussions about the best advising practices.

TEAM received a $100,000 grant for its expansion, according to the September update to the Plan for Academic Enrichment.

TEAM's beginnings

The Office of the Dean of the College recruited the first group of TEAM members in September 2009. The office sought out advisers who had indicated interest in advising first-generation, underrepresented minority or low-income students or graduates of low-achieving high schools, according to the 2009 annual report from the Committee on Academic Standing.

TEAM advisers meet to talk about real situations they have faced with advisees and the best practices in such scenarios.

Each of these advisers was assigned several first-year advisees whom the committee identified as having similar backgrounds to "students who have, historically, struggled at Brown," according to the report.

TEAM's premise was that students of certain backgrounds face particular difficulties in their transition to Brown and stand to benefit from advanced mentoring, said Daniel Smith, associate professor of anthropology and a member of TEAM since its inception.

While the Committee on Academic Standing knew which students were of the TEAM-matched subset, their advisers often did not, and the students were also unaware, Smith said. The idea was not so much to single out any students, he said, but to make the advisers more aware of the issues that exist for students from underrepresented backgrounds.

For example, students from poor communities on full financial aid often miss out on extracurricular opportunities such as summer internships, research with professors, study abroad programs and Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards, Smith said.

But Bhattacharyya described TEAM differently. While discussions about how to advise diverse groups of students are integral to TEAM, she said, they are in the context of improving advising for all students. The intent of the initiative is simply to enhance advising, especially for first-years, Bhattacharyya said.

By the end of the first year, Smith said, the initial TEAM group was enthusiastic about the program's results. Its participants wanted to share their knowledge and experience with a greater contingent of the faculty, as they agreed there was "something intense about this experience," Smith said.

Learning to lead

TEAM expanded to two groups of advisers in 2010, comprising 28 members. It has now tripled in size since its inception, Bhattacharyya said.

In addition to discussions about specific challenges faced by underrepresented students, TEAM meetings address topics relating to life at Brown and difficulties of the transition to college for all students, from those who grew up in inner-city poverty to others who have never known life without maids and butlers, said Jason Sello, assistant professor of chemistry and one of last year's group discussion leaders.

Participants read "A Hope in the Unseen," a non-fiction book by Ron Suskind that chronicles an inner-city high school student's experience at Brown, said Kathleen Hess, lecturer in chemistry.

Other members of the community have been invited to TEAM meetings to familiarize advisers with the resources available to students, such as Psychological Services and the Office of Student Life.

While most of the invited speakers have been Brown faculty and staff, an expert from Smith College gave a seminar about how unintended acts of racism and stereotyping can manifest on college campuses, Bhattacharyya said. The recent grant could help to bring in more outside speakers to the program, she said.  

James Tilton, director of financial aid, gave a presentation last year about Brown's support systems for financial needs. Now a TEAM member himself, he has been an academic adviser for more than three years. He initially had many questions about concentrations and other aspects of student life, he said, but he feels more supported after joining TEAM at Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron's invitation, he added. Tilton said he finds the group to be a useful forum for fielding questions and hearing how others have dealt with particular advising situations.

A commitment to advising

The identities of individual advisees are "immaterial" to TEAM, which only impacts students indirectly, Sello said.

TEAM allows Hess to make connections with faculty and administrators in other departments, which in turn makes her better able to connect her advisees with the right resources, she said.

Through TEAM, Hess acts as an ambassador for the chemistry department to advisers in other disciplines whose advisees may take chemistry classes as a concentration requirement. Sello was able to connect one of his advisees who was interested in anthropology to a TEAM colleague in the anthropology department, he said.

Sello found TEAM very helpful in familiarizing himself with the many resources available at Brown, he said. Though advisers attend an information session before the start of each academic year, he said it is often too short to provide a full sense of the support networks the University offers. The training is comparable to "trying to drink from a fire hose," he added.

The advisee's and adviser's combined knowledge of resources at the University is seldom comprehensive, said Matthew Rutz, assistant professor of Egyptology and ancient Western Asian studies, who is currently in his first year as a TEAM adviser.

TEAM fosters a sense of community among "faculty highly committed to advising who had expertise to share with each other," Bhattacharyya said.


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