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Reframe Podcast: Episode 50

The Personal Sides of Academic Advising

The Personal Sides of Academic Advising

 Ashleigh Dubois Reframe Podcast

Planning for the future can be fun and exciting, but it can also be intimidating and overwhelming. Sometimes it's all of these things at once, especially for college students, who are continually plotting a course into the unknown. But that is where Ashleigh Dubois comes in.

Read the transcript

James Loy:

This is Reframe. The podcast from the College of Education, Health and Society on the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Planning for the future can be fun and exciting, but it can also be intimidating and overwhelming. Sometimes it's all of these things at once, especially for college students, who are continually plotting a course into the unknown. But that is where Ashleigh Dubois comes in.

As a Miami graduate with a degree in family studies, Ashleigh is now an academic advisor at Northeast Lakeview College. She is also a recent recipient of the prestigious 18 of the Last 9 Award, which honors Miami alumni who have made outstanding contributions to their field.

And today, Ashleigh is here to talk about some of the more personal sides of academic advising, and why it's okay to sometimes feel a bit uncertain about the road ahead.

(MUSIC FADE)

Ashleigh Dubois, welcome to the podcast.

Ashleigh Dubois:

Thank you for having me.

James Loy:

So as an academic advisor, how do you generally help students and what does an average day look like?

Ashleigh Dubois:

So, I work at Northeast Lakeview College, which is a part of the Alamo Colleges district in San Antonio, Texas. And it is a community college. So I have a wide variety of students who are dealing with very different things on a day to day basis. One of our biggest jobs, or tests, every day is to make sure that our students understand their degree plans from the moment which they step on campus. So we help them register the very first time, and then they have to come and see us and we build out their individual success plan. And it's their two-year plan. How are you going to get out of here with your associates degree?

We also talk about their transfer and tenure transfer plans, and then we get them connected with a four-year school of their liking. Or we build their plan out, that is similar to what the four-year school may want, to make sure that they have all their prerequisites done for nursing.

James Loy:

What are some of the biggest challenges of the job, or some of the unexpected realties of that come along with being an academic advisor?

Ashleigh Dubois:

The hardest thing is when you have a student who comes in because they were maybe forced to just go to school, or they figured,I'm just going to figure it out. I’m gonna go to school now. But they have no idea what they want to do. And I love those students because it gives me a chance to just chitchat with them. Tell me what you like. What you don't like. What you're passionate about. And, Texas, we have mandatory courses. So, of course, English, math, and they have to take government, federal, and Texas government. And then other than that, you tell us what makes sense to you, and we help you figure it out from there.

So, we do have like focus tool assessments, or career assessments, that students can use, which are extremely helpful. And I always encourage my students to do those because I will tell them sometimes your passion is not your work. Your work is your work and your passion is what you do that helps you de-stress from work. And sometimes you want to keep those things separate. But for some of us who get lucky, our passion does become our work one day.

James Loy:

I think that’s a great point, the passion versus work, and I want to come back to that in a second. But first, can you expand on how your job is to actually guide students who don’t know what they want to do with their life? That is an area you actively and do cross into quite a bit?  

Ashleigh Dubois:

That is a huge part of our job. So we actually do a little bit more on a traditional campus, especially a four-year school, your offices are divided. But we're like their registrar, their counselor, their adviser, sometime a confidant, all in one. It can get a little heavy depending on what you're dealing with it any given time. But I think the greatest thing is that we have … because you have colleagues you can say, like, “That was a little heavy.” I might need to, like, take a lap or grab a coffee or maybe get it out. And then we do have other colleagues we can refer out to. So something that is maybe larger on the mental health scale, we do have a mental health counselor on-site at any given time that can see our students.

James Loy:

What do you mean by heavy? Why would there be an emotional weigh that could come with someone who may just be looking for a major to study, or a new career path? 

Ashleigh Dubois:

A lot of it is they get bogged down in what their parents or family may want them to take on, and then sometimes we forget that no matter who you are, you bring your entire self into a space. And so, if they've either had a really bad day… I have a lot of parents who decide to come back later on in life. And I've had some who have gone through divorces, and then death, and kids, and they're trying to figure out, okay, I have to go to school because I need to get a degree. But that story comes out first before we ever get to the fact that they're there about their degree. I know they want one, but they're not really solely focused on math 101, or biology. They're, like, “But I have all these other things going on in my life, how can I balance that and do this at the same time, because I know I need to get a degree in order to advance in a career?” So that can be pretty heavy.

James Loy:

I can see how a background in family studies could help with that. I think that’s a lot of things people don’t think about with academic advising. You think it’s pretty cut-and-dry. You come in, you choose a major, you start studying that. But it also seems like there is a lot of background, context, and personal factors that can come into play.

Ashleigh Dubois:

Mm-hmm. And, I think, at Miami we had faculty advisors, as well as the advising center, so you kinda had the best of both worlds. At the two-year school that I'm working at a Northeast Lakeview, and in all of the Alamo Colleges district, our faculty are more of mentors to our students. But not advisors. So they offer more of the co-curricular/extracurricular work that can go with it. They'll do some cross discipline work that we have going on at the institution. But for advising, the students have to come to us for a lot. We run campaigns to make sure we can get all of our students in at any given time. And they're very targeted. So we have one for our graduates. Once they core complete with us, we have a campaign for that. So we have very specific targeted things that we do to bring our students in.

But sometimes you're, like, “Okay, so your core complete, what can I help you with?” And they are like, “So I want to change my major.” Okay. Now how can I make sure that you're getting there, and when can I get you out, and what school are we looking at now? So sometimes the trajectory of your conversation will change, and it changes rapidly. 

James Loy:

So do you have a sense of if more students are more clear focused now? Do they know what they want to study, they have an idea of what they want to be, and they go for it? Or do most students seem more uncertain or lost or directionless, they don’t really know? Is that more the norm today? Based on what you see?

Ashleigh Dubois:

A lot more of our students now . . . I don't call them lost, but they're exploring. And they want to stay fairly general and non-committed, for the time being, which is okay. We have a core. So it's similar to our Miami Plan. And so, they come in and take what we would call our Miami Plan. And for them it's, like, I just want to kind of figure this out. And as I'm having that conversation, I'm recommending courses in our core that they may want to take. Try this one out, and when you take that class come talk to me about it, and tell me how you like that. Because we might be able to build out a degree based off of that, at least for your associate's degree. And when you get to your bachelor degree, you can major in business and you can minor in philosophy. You can major in this and minor in that. And then, they’re like, “I had no idea you can do that,” and I'm like you can double major you want to. And it's just teaching them what they don't know.

A lot of times they don't know what they don't know, and they don't know how to ask. So for me it's listening to some of those key words that they're saying. And I'm, like, I know we have a psychology personality class, you might want to take that. Sounds like you like to interact with people on a personal basis. Tell me how you like that course. So I think they're liking the learning process of thinking, of the critical thinking, of the what if’s in the world, of feeling lost and feeling like they still have a direction at the same time. And that's kind of where I come in help guide them through. 

James Loy:

I read in your bio that, when you were here at Miami, you started off as a biochemistry major towards wanting to become a medical examiner. But then you transitioned to family studies, which is a pretty big shift.

Ashleigh Dubois:

It is.

James Loy:

Did that help you to know that . . . to know how you yourself changed paths, to then now direct students who may be facing similar cross roads?

Ashleigh Dubois:

Yes. And I typically tell them that, right off the bat . . . I changed my major three times. I did biochemistry and then I said, “Well, I talk a lot and so does Oprah. I think I want to be the next Oprah.” So I changed my major to communications. And I was, like, I don't want to do that either. And I was taking a family studies class, which was in the Miami Plan and I loved it. And fell in love with it. And I never left.

James Loy:

So one of the questions I really wanted to come back to when . . . you brought it up briefly when you talked about this idea of passion versus work. Now, from my own experience and just observations, I think the older generation, people older than me, like my grandparents, for example. They seemed to have been more focused on just get a job. It’s not supposed to be fun. That’s why it’s called work. It was more of this just get a job, pay the bills, deal with it.

But the message I very much got growing up, and as a young student, was follow your passion. You can do anything. Do what you love. And all that. But now I feel like it’s swung back the other way a little bit. Now I feel like generations today seem to have . . . maybe not completely back to what my grandparents saw as work. But to more of an in-between, where passion is nice. But you also have to be practical and realistic. So has this thinking become more balanced between these two viewpoints now?

Ashleigh Dubois:

I do think that’s true, especially at a two-year institution. Because we typically have your certification program. So we're still looking for plumbers. We're still looking for auto mechanics. So we do still need people who want a very practical life. I want to go get the certificate, and it's what I'm gonna do for the next 30 years. For the other students who are kind of swinging. They're like the pendulum, they’re going back and forth. What I want to do? I think for them, we say explore. And what I always tell my students is your associate's degree and even your bachelor's degree should be the one you're interested in. Your master's degree should be the one you might want to teach on. Your doctorate degree is the one you want to be the expert in.

And when they hear it that way they're like, “okay so this is not my forever life?” And I'm like, no. So I tell them go wherever you want to go. Literally shoot for the stars and you will figure it out. But what I tell them more than anything is network. Because sometimes you don't get a job based off your degree. You get a job based off who you know. And that's okay. And you figure it out. Most jobs rarely ever say, “Here you know how to do this. Just sit down and have at it.” They teach you what they want you to do on a daily basis, and they leave room for your creativity.

So get creative. Get curious. Ask questions. Especially as you're in your degree. Figure out how it can be interconnected. And if you can't, make a way. If you we don't have a degree that we offer here, maybe take something that's interesting to you, when you get to your 4-year degree, you change it and you say, “I want to merge these two degrees together. I want to do this as a major and a minor.” And you make your own way in this world, because we do have a lot more jobs that did not exist ten years ago, especially in social media. Cybersecurity. There's a lot of jobs …. YouTube is an actual career. But there's no major. There's no YouTube major. So how did those people get there? They have a wealth of knowledge and a lot of things that they were either passionate about, or they're good at.

There's a young child now who gets toys from the companies and he post videos on YouTube about how much he likes them or doesn't like them, and I think at, like, six years old he was a millionaire. He's six. There's no major for this. It's literally you saying, “I have this passion or this goal and I'm willing to put myself out there.” And sometimes it hits and sometimes it misses. 

James Loy:

So how do you approach those conversations? That’s gotta be interesting because you do hear that, teenagers who say, “Oh, I want to be a YouTube star.” And I imagine that would be attractive to some people. But that’s not practical, right? That’s not realistic for a lot of people. People who have done that or are doing that, in a certain sense, it’s almost like they won a lottery. So not a lot of people will be able to do that.

Ashleigh Dubois:

Correct. That's a very interesting and hard conversation to have with students, who are, like . . . I've had many. “I want to be a YouTube star.” Yeah, but, I don't really know how to help you get there. However, the first thing I ask is do you have a YouTube channel? “No.” Do you have videos? “Well, no.” Have you posted anything? Have you even sent it to your friends? And they're like, “Well, no.” And I’m, like, okay so you got a start, right? The first thing we have to do is we have to start. And then from there you kind of see what people are asking for. A lot of times you'll hear in a tutorial video, “You were asking me to do video on my eye brows. You were asking me to do a video on this.” And that's what they do. So a lot of that is marketing. A lot of that is, like, they … I say it's taking your pulse. But it just doing a survey. What do you want and they ask at the end of the video, “What do you want me to do a video on?” And then that's what they put out. There giving the people what the people are asking for. So that's one way of doing it.

James Loy:

You’re absolutely right about all the jobs that are new, that didn’t exist 10 years ago. You mentioned social media, cyber security, obviously the YouTube example. But what about the opposite side of that? It is also true that a lot of jobs are quickly disappearing now because of technological changes. So is it difficult to help students navigate that side of things? Maybe certain jobs won’t even exist in 2 or 4 years when they graduate. Or maybe even just looking ahead to the rate at which people hop from job to job or career to career now. Which is much more rapid than it ever used to be.

Ashleigh Dubois:

So sometimes … and I tell them, sometimes you're just kind of walking, - and you feel like I'm just wandering through life right now. But you might stumble upon a really amazing job, or an amazing opportunity, and it doesn't always have to last fifteen years. It might be that you start it here, and then you go over here, and then you do this, and you do that. But the best thing that we've learned is: I can do it. I have the grit to get through it. I'm learning the do's and don'ts. I'm not afraid to start at the bottom.

I've already been a director and decided to take a step back. Because I needed to elect … let me reevaluate is higher ed actually what I want to do forever? Or do I want to take that step up again? But I might need to reevaluate. And I wanted to get back with my students. I wanted to be able to talk to them on a daily basis. So this allows me to do that, while still learning the organization and the structure. And a community college is significantly different than a four-year institution. And I was I've done private schools, and private schools are significantly different than public schools. So being able to learn ins and outs and not being afraid to not only fail, but take the step back, or take a different route, or the path unknown. And I tell my students my story all the time, so they don't fee l like they have to figure it out now. I tell them adulting is a little bit harder then they sell it off to be. But it's okay to not know. To this day I call my parents because I don't know. And it's okay.

James Loy:

Do you think that it’s reassuring for them to hear that message? Because, you’re right, it is sold as being easier than it really is, or to think that everyone else must have it all figured out, or that it should be easier for us to do so too. When real life, really, is not that neat. I think that’s the message most kids get. I think that’s the message most adults still get.

Ashleigh Dubois:

We do.

James Loy:

So are they reassured, do you think, to hear that that’s not necessarily real life?

Ashleigh Dubois:

I think so. Yes. And I think one great thing I heard Dr. Crawford talking about, we had dinner with him last night, is that we're doing more interdisciplinary cross-departmental courses. Because you do need to learn a little bit of entrepreneurship in English. You need to be able to merge those fields that we never thought would come together, together. Because there are so many different ways of looking at life, and looking at a job and a different perspective. So I do think it's reassuring that they are okay with the fact that they don't have to have it all figured out. I tell them some of my greatest mentors have taken some serious detours in their careers. The other part is that we're so young and they want to get to the top so fast.

And I'm like you might want to ask the person at the top if they think they could have done that at 18 or 19 or 22. Sometimes you need the life experience to happen to you. You need to be able to calm down a little bit. The things that are important to you and the things that are important to them at the top, whatever that position looks like, you’re worried about two very different things. And so, for my students I say, “You will get there eventually. Take your time and learn as much as you can. So when you get there you are 100% equipped to do that job. Because if you get there fast, you may fail fast. And I don't want that for you just like you don't want that for you. So take your time. Live life. Have fun. Make mistakes. It is okay. I make mistakes all of the time. But get really good at sincerely apologizing. As well as being okay with saying, I just didn't know what I did know.

James Loy:

I think that’s really good advice, probably for a lot of us. Alright. Ashleigh Dubois, Miami University graduate, now an academic advisor at Northeast Lakeview College in Texas. And thank you for your time today.

And if you enjoyed this episode of the Reframe podcast, we do have many more episodes available, for free, right now. You can find every episode on iTunes and on Google Play Music. And thank you for listening.

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*Intro/outro music used in podcasts: "Tech Toys" by Lee Rosevere