Mentoring Addressed At Faculty Day Event

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Faculty and students speaking at the annual Faculty Day event on April 30 gave poor marks to the University's advising system, and top administrators outlined mentoring initiatives aimed at addressing the problem.

University President William P. Leahy, SJ, announced to the Gasson 100 gathering that he will appoint a Council on Student Formation this summer. The council will examine ways in which faculty can participate to a greater extent in student culture.

"We make real promises to students at Boston College in terms of student development," Fr. Leahy said. "Students, when they leave here, should be able to say they have been touched intellectually, emotionally and spiritually."

Associate Professors Harold Petersen (Economics), Joseph Tecce (Psychology) and Donald Plocke, SJ (Biology) talk at the April 30 Faculty Day event in Gasson Hall. (Photo by Gary Gilbert)
The event, attended by about 50 people, also featured remarks by Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties William B. Neenan, SJ, who served as moderator. A panel of faculty members and students discussed the topic "Mentoring: The Needs of Students and Faculty," while another panel of administrators summarized mentoring efforts at BC, including a multifaceted program to be launched this fall in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Fr. Neenan said the transformation of Boston College from a commuter school to a residential university has often required faculty to take the place of parents.

"Boston College has changed," said Fr. Neenan, who noted the number of freshmen commuting from home has fallen from 300 in 1981 to 15 this fall."Students need adults who will offer them guidance, advice and friendship."

Panelists agreed major improvements were needed for the system of undergraduate advising in A&S, where they said students typically have only passing contact with assigned advisors. The problem was reported to be greater in A&S than in the professional schools, where practicum requirements make for stronger bonds between faculty and students.

"Our advising system is a failure," said Assoc. Prof. Renato Mirollo (Mathematics), who cited recent surveys of seniors in which more than half indicated dissatisfaction with the academic advising they had received.

Senior Kristin Pugh, a communication major, said that during her four years at BC she had spoken with her two faculty advisors for "maybe a total of 15 minutes.

"Boston College prides itself on being an institution that cares for the whole person," said Pugh, outgoing vice president of the Undergraduate Government at Boston College, "but the academic advising side of the house is failing on that issue."

Thomas Rea '98, a political science major, said his contact with his assigned faculty advisors had been limited to picking up four-digit access codes required for class registration.

When Rea applied, successfully, for admission to Washington University Law School last fall, none of his three letters of recommendation came from a Boston College professor. "When I was looking for recommendations," he said, "I was looking for someone who knew me as more than numbers."

Speaking from the audience, A&S Dean J. Robert Barth, SJ, noted that each A&S department has a director for undergraduate studies whom students may approach with advising questions, while Prof. Donald Hafner (Political Science) added that students may approach the associate dean to ask for another advisor. Pugh and Rea said they - and likely, most other students - had not been aware of those alternatives.

A&S Assistant Dean Clare Dunsford outlined the Cornerstone Program being introduced this fall that will place a strong emphasis on mentoring students. The program will "formalize mentorship" at the school, she said, in a concerted attempt to right what she called the "walk in and get your access code" problem.

Dunsford said the program's components include the Cornerstone Advising Seminar, a 12-week, one-credit elective for freshmen taught by several A&S faculty and deans. The seminar, which will feature "Great Books"-style shared readings of thought-provoking short stories and essays, as well as regular one-on-one conferences with the teacher, is intended to offer students "intense advising by a professor who knows you in the classroom."

Among other mentoring efforts, Dunsford noted, First Year Experience Director Fr. Joseph Marchese also has designed a three-credit elective in theology, "The Courage to Know," in which the professor will serve as the students' advisor.

In five sections of the First Year Writing Seminar, the faculty member will be designated as the students' advisor, a natural move to "build on the close relationships formed in that course," Dunsford said. Similarly, the teacher will serve as advisor in some sections of the Philosophy Department's Perspectives course, she said.

Other panelists were School of Education Assistant Dean John Cawthorne, Career Center Director Frank Fessenden, Carroll School of Management Associate Dean Richard Keeley and Senior Lect. Catherine Schneider (Economics).

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