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Career counselor Danielle Gundrum ’16 works with a student in the new Academic Advising & Career Development Center in Todd Wehr Hall.

New Center Takes Holistic Approach to Student Advising and Career Prep

This year, St. Norbert College launched an initiative to better guide students during both their academic and professional journeys. Two departments, formerly housed in separate areas on campus, have united under a new director in Todd Wehr Hall.

The Academic Advising & Career Development Center (AACD), led by executive director Meghan Walsh and supported by professional academic advisors and career counselors, assists students throughout their four-year experience as they earn a degree and discover a meaningful vocation.

Developing the whole person
The college’s mission to develop the whole person is a central tenet of the new center, Walsh says.

“Helping students, from Day One, to think about who they are and who they want to be is our goal,” she says. “College is about transformation — transforming from child to adult, from high school student to academic, from student to professional. All of these transitions are life-changing, and it just makes sense that we have the people dedicated to supporting students through them in one space, aligned in purpose and process.”

The integrated approach offers students a more comprehensive look at opportunities available to them throughout their time at SNC and beyond, says Joe Webb, vice president for student affairs and chief diversity and inclusion officer.

“We know that students are more likely to be successful in college if they are engaged academically and socially,” Webb adds. “Combining an office that helps students develop academically with one that helps them think holistically about their college experience and how it prepares them to be professionals makes sense, because it strategically aligns the whole college experience.”

Walsh says higher education research has shown that new students need advising more consistently and sooner. The new center offers a more streamlined approach so that first-year students are supported consistently, and so returning students are more supported by their faculty advisors once they declare their fields of study, she says.

Each incoming student is assigned an academic advisor who partners with them for their first two semesters, whether or not they have declared a major. Then, by the start of their sophomore year and once they declare a major, students transition to a faculty advisor within their major.

“This allows first-year students the space to adjust to being in college and to learn the basics of how college functions, while also giving faculty — who are discipline-specific — the space to mentor, coach and advise sophomores, juniors, seniors in their specific field of study,” says Walsh.

If a student isn’t ready to declare a major, they continue working with their assigned academic advisor for a third semester to determine where their passions and postgraduate plans could take them.

Success through small touchpoints
In early November, 20 first-year students were still undeclared, but they had all met with their advisors to register for spring semester courses. That allows the AACD team to be proactive, Walsh says.

“I’ll take this list [of students] over to our career counselors and check to see which undeclared students they’ve met with so far,” explains Walsh. “Then, the career counselors can reach out to offer tools for major exploration and talk about the students’ skills, interests, values and even assessments to take.”

Career counselors also work with students during their academic journey with an eye on professional options and postgrad work, along with job-search prep including on-campus employment. High-impact experiences like study abroad, internships, service learning and undergraduate research are also encouraged.

“We’re becoming more knowledgeable with this shared space,” says Walsh. “The college didn’t just combine us operationally, they combined us physically in a new space in Todd Wehr, which is a very busy, central place on campus and accessible to everyone.”

Walsh has seen early success. During spring course registration, the AACD office was full of students getting help from academic advisors, she says. Career counselors took the opportunity to step out of their offices to lend a hand to academic advisors and to get a sense from students about their future academic plans. Further, the team’s academic advisors encourage students to meet with a career counselor when internships, interviews and postgrad conversations pop up.

Cecilia Bart ’23 plans to graduate this fall with a degree in economics. Knowing there are plenty of paths she could choose for her postgraduate life, she headed to the center in hopes to solidify her plans before the semester’s end.

“I had no idea what I wanted to do,” she explains. “We talked about different career options, and Kristen Schiedermayer (career counselor) grabbed some contact information for companies the college partners with so I could do some outreach.”

Nathan Brummel ’25 sought help from career counselor Danielle Gundrum ’16 after “an interview that didn’t go so well,” he says. “She helped me work through responses to common interview questions, and just generally calmed me down so I had some more confidence for an upcoming interview.”

Walsh encourages students to reach out to the AACD team throughout their time at SNC, noting that staff are accessible during weekdays and can provide support to students wherever they are in their academic journeys.

Nov. 27, 2023