St. Petersburg College’s new state-of-the art Career and Academic advising center reflects its reinvigorated advising model and provides a space for enhanced student engagement. Normally, an advising center is a buzz of activity during the weeks leading up to the start of the term. Then? Empty hallways, lineless queues and deserted student work stations for months on end.
Not anymore. This school year, St. Petersburg College opened its first redesigned Career and Academic Advising Center at its Tarpon Springs Campus. The reimagined center evokes the idea of a popular coffee café or community gathering spot, where students and staff collaborate in comfy seating areas surrounded by the latest technology.
“It’s like the Apple genius bar meets Starbucks,” said Dr. Marvin Bright, Provost of the Tarpon Springs Campus. “There’s a lot of movement and engagement with students in the space, which promotes the movement and flow within the entire building. This is not a space where students are sitting in an office waiting to be helped.”
The Career and Advising Center is a place where students, faculty, staff and community members work in a collaborative environment to create rich and ongoing learning, co-working, and teaching experiences. The center fosters student success, vital campus partnerships, and encourages individuals to become members of an intellectually diverse, active learning community. It is a reflection of the college’s new career and academic advising model, which places an emphasis on the alignment between a student’s academic area of study and their career aspirations.
Reaching Millennials – and their parents – where they live
SPC has as many students in the traditional college age bracket (approximately 30%) as those over the age of 35. Clearly, the generational experiences with technology are very different. Yet, at least two-thirds of Americans – crossing generational spans – own smart phones and other digital devices.
Millennial social environments, including academic ones, are in close synergy with an abundant use of technology. Traditionally, earlier generations have criticized Millennials, or “Net-Gens”, for their connection to new-age communication, and perceive them as withdrawn from in-person interaction. On the contrary, research shows that Net-Gens prefer to engage in multitasking, socially diverse environments that allow for in-person connections along with the use of technology.
St. Petersburg College has embraced the challenge to bridge the generational gap and connect to its diverse population at the critical advising level.
“Our students are constantly adapting to the ever-changing nature of our digital world, and we have every intention of advancing our services and philosophies along with them. It would be a disservice otherwise,” said SPC President Bill Law.
“Our new advising model and our advising centers are bringing the college-to-career conversation to a higher level,” Law said.
The student-centered experience
Traditionally in higher education, the Prescriptive Theory of Advising has been used, focusing on students’ needs related to academics with minimal emphasis on the total individual development. This approach is authority-based guidance, which hinders authentic relationships. Often, students aren’t engaged during this critical process, which hinders growth in and beyond the classroom.
St. Petersburg College has abandoned the Prescriptive Theory of Advising and now offers an engaging and collaborative approach known as Developmental Advising. This approach focuses on working with students in defining where they want to go with their lives and careers and then giving them the information and the tools to get there. In essence, the Tarpon Springs Campus Career and Academic Advising Center embodies this method.
“We’ve turned advising upside down, in the sense that we’ve literally knocked down walls and barriers,” said Rod Davis, Tarpon Springs Campus Associate Provost. “Now we have a collaborative environment where students can build relationships.”
The previous center’s layout mimicked the design and environment of a doctor’s office or motor vehicle department – an outdated model to the growing millennial generation.
“Previously, services only met prescribed student needs. The environment didn’t foster a continual collaboration and engagement among students, faculty, and staff,” Provost Bright said.
Now, advisors are no longer tethered to their desks. With technology at their fingertips, they can meet students where they are. Each advisor has multifunctional two-in-one laptops that allow them to host group or one-on-one advising sessions. In addition, more than 35 computers are available to students for independent class registration and for faculty to host classroom lectures. As technology continues to evolve, the center has the ability to expand to offer additional features.
The state-of-the-art technology embedded throughout the center welcomes students. Immediately front and center, the Jumbo-Tron flashes high-resolution images and video that captivates students and invites them to make connections. The concierge center overlooks a comfortable, open floor plan that is socially inviting and empowers confidence for key stakeholders to make an impactful change to their educational future.
Making Career Connections
The Career and Transfer Hub is an extension of services offered by the Tarpon Springs Career and Advising Center. There, advisors and support staff offer career counseling to students, starting with the end goal in mind.
For example, students prepare for the workforce by making resumes with the center’s software, learning the technology needed to conduct a Skype interview and attending network fairs that are offered weekly.
“Every conversation we have with students includes a career conversation,” said Student Services Manager Terri Kontodiakos. “It is vital to student success and keeps students motivated, knowing they are working towards a larger goal.
Advising: A critical component of SPC’s award-winning College Experience initiative
The Tarpon Springs Campus Career and Advising Center supports SPC’s College Experience initiative, which is designed to help students “start smart and finish strong.” In 2014, the college was named a winner of the Chancellor’s Best Practice Award for these efforts.
This initiative ignites students’ drive and motivation through five areas deemed critical to advancing student success:
• Expanded out-of-class support
• A personalized tool called “My Learning Plan”
• New student “Smart Start” orientation
• Early alerts and student coaching
• Integrated career and academic advising
Through the new developmental advising approach, students identify, clarify and realize their personal, academic, career and life goals. The purpose is to give students the tools, resources and support they need to be successful.
“There is no doubt these proactive support systems and resources are making a difference in the lives of our students,” SPC President Law said. “The successes we are seeing inspire us to retain our collective, laserlike focus on student achievement.”