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#1 Discussion Starters for First Year Advisee Dinner


Dear initial advisors,
For the first installment of Advising Advice for the year, I would like to share with you an idea for generating discussions with first-year students during the Labor Day dinner and beyond. Please see the letter below and the attached list of possible "discussion starters" for your reference.
I wish you all the best as we begin a new academic year.

Dear Colleagues,

In our various capacities - working with fellowship advising, academic advising, and student affairs - over the summer we had a series of informal conversations with each other and with diverse members of the faculty, often impromptu, about ways of further fostering an intellectual climate among students on campus. Quite a lot of what we've each read, heard, and discussed emphasizes the importance of getting the attention of students very early, even within their first weeks on campus, to help set a positive tone and to suggest beneficial frameworks for the interrelated academic and social decisions that new students will start making.

It just recently occurred to us that the first-year students' Labor Day dinner with advisers might be a great opportunity for interested faculty members to contribute to this effort. Clearly, many advisers have developed productive, satisfying approaches to the dinner and to long-term conversations that follow, and they will rightly find no reason to alter their models. Other advisers have expressed a wish to use the dinner somewhat differently than they have in previous years. We write to make you aware of the decision some faculty have made to facilitate more structured discussions than they've had in the past, and to invite you to participate if you are inclined.

This initiative, certainly, is completely voluntary. It is in no way "official" - rather being an experiment that some advisers are choosing to try. Over the course of this academic year, doubtless many on campus will continue to dedicate thought and discussion to approaches to advising, and we look forward to broad-scale collaboration in those considerations.

As part of that effort, an "Advising Idea Share Site" is being established on Sakai so that participants can discuss approaches to advising. We've uploaded to Sakai the 2007 report and recommendations from the Advising Task Force, chaired by Lesley Wheeler; the report, along with much other information on advising, is available on the Provost's website. The work of the Task Force fostered robust conversations about advising in recent years, and we hope that the Sakai site might help further their vision and review issues they raised.

In the meantime, particularly given the unprecedentedly large size of the incoming class, some faculty would like to seize the first-year advising dinner opportunity to reinforce from an academic perspective Orientation Week messages about the value of diverse contributions to the W&L community, of purposeful decision making, and of defining and remaining true to one's own (often evolving) personal goals, values, or passions.

These objectives seem to us deeply consistent with the W&L mission of providing a "liberal arts education that develops students' capacity to think freely, critically, and humanely and to conduct themselves with honor, integrity, and civility. Graduates will be prepared for life-long learning, personal achievement, responsible leadership, service to others, and engaged citizenship in a global and diverse society." Encouraging students to more regularly fuse their intellectual and social experiences, we think, is integral to supporting these core institutional values.

If you are interested in participating in this effort during the first-year advising dinner - as some faculty will be, and likely others will not - we hope you'll see the attached document. It includes discussion questions that might start conversations in constructive, friendly ways with students about their aspirations, plans and values.

If you have additional ideas to share please feel free to post them to the "Advising Idea Share Site" on Sakai. After the dinner, we can also use the Sakai forum to check in about how things went.

Our sincere appreciation to the faculty who in recent weeks informally shared perspectives on advising, including the first-year dinner, with us. We look forward to further conversations with you and with other faculty members who would like to participate in this ongoing dialog.

Many thanks to all for your time and best wishes for a great start to the year,

Theresa Braunschneider, Associate Professor of English and liaison to UK fellowships
Sidney Evans, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students
Dave Leonard, Dean of Student Life
Jason Rodocker, Assistant Dean for First-Year Experience
Elizabeth Knapp, Associate Provost
Rob Straughan, Associate Dean of the Williams School
Alison Bell, Associate Dean of the College and coordinator of fellowship programs