Does UConn Law Need a Formal Academic Advising Program?

by Sarah Ricciardi

Now that fall enrollment is around the corner, many students are faced with questions like which classes to take and how to fulfill graduation requirements.  But finding answers to these questions can sometimes be difficult.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, students could have turned to UConn Law’s formal advisement program for guidance.  Until several years ago, UConn Law assigned every incoming 1L to a faculty advisor.  During orientation, advisors would have lunch with their assigned students, and students would be free to contact their advisors throughout the school year.

According to Paul Chill, Associate Dean for Clinical and Experiential Education, the problem with the program was that students did not use it.

“It wasn’t a good system.  I’d have six or eight advisees and maybe one would reach out to me,”  Chill said.

Leslie Levin, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, found that, rather than taking advantage of the program, students would seek out faculty members that they knew through classes or extracurricular activities.

“The program didn’t seem to be meeting its intended purpose,” she said.

Due to the lack of utilization of assigned advisors, the administration decided to replace the formal program with a number of more specialized resources.  For example, before spring enrollment, faculty members put on presentations for 1Ls about available stat./reg. courses and clinics.  Until recently, there were regular faculty dinners, where students were invited to share a meal with professors from various departments.  However, as with the formal advisement program, student turnout was low.

The vast number of questions asked of upperclassmen by 1Ls and 2Ls suggests that students would benefit from some form of advising program.  According to Chill, “the Curriculum Review Committee has been talking a fair amount about the advisement system.”

Levin added, “It’s not a big deal to institute a system.  Faculty members are happy to do it.  I’m open to ideas that work for people.” But even if the administration is willing to try again, will the student body take advantage of it?

Nicole Gehen, a 2L, doesn’t think so. “I think advisement programs are great in theory, but my experience is that advisors give great theoretical advice, but I’ve never been able to take anything actually practical away from an advisor.  They tend to offer pretty generic suggestions:  get good grades, apply everywhere, and get on a journal.  I’ve been able to get great advice from upperclassmen so it seems a little unnecessary.  The only good thing would be forming a relationship that would be good for recommendations and references.”

However, there are a number of students who think that the lack of a formal advisement program is a problem.  Kevin Palumberi, a 3L, said he “would have definitely taken advantage of an opportunity to consult with an academic advisor” during his time at UConn Law.

“I think being able to pick the brain of a faculty member about class selection and courses to take/avoid in furtherance of career goals would be an improvement on the status quo of relying on the spoken word of jaded upperclassmen and grade distribution spreadsheets,” Palumberi said.

Laura Richardson, a 2L, explained, “I came from a school with mandatory advisement throughout my college career.  My problem last year was that after not having a choice over classes for a year, I suddenly had to decide what to take.  Then during OCI, I was asked about the classes I was taking, and I didn’t know that was going to happen.  I know that there are people who could answer those questions.  I just wish it would have been mandated.  And I would have taken advantage of the other resources, but I didn’t know what they were.”

While Levin claims that the school’s informal advising resources are publicized, most students interviewed for this article have no idea they exist.

“I think we need more advertisement than community emails – because who reads all those emails? “ Richardson said, “Further, I don’t think the events are publicized using the right angle.  ‘Mingle with the faculty’ isn’t the same as sitting down with a member of the administration for one-on-one guidance.  Some of those dinners and panels aren’t that helpful because you have specific questions and it’s usually a faculty member and ten students around a table.”

Sean Maloney, a 2L, explained that it may not be only poor publicity that creates such low turnout.

“By the time students realize they need advisement, it’s too late.  For example, pre-requisites are a big deal.  If I had known that Biz Orgs was a pre-requisite for the classes I wanted to take this semester I would have taken it last semester,” Maloney said.

Kyle Dorso, a 2L, said that he proactively sought out a faculty member to ask about graduation requirements.  “I’m not sure if I would take advantage of an assigned advisor, but it would be nice to have someone available to explain what classes they think are ‘bar classes,’ and when we should take them,” Dorso said.

With a more competitive labor market and increasingly complicated academic requirements, it appears students today would take advantage of an assigned advisor more frequently than in the past.  This may be especially true during UConn Law’s website transition as academic information is currently difficult to locate.

For the time being, Chill suggests reaching out to any of the deans and the registrar with specific questions.

Also, students can request an academic advisor on the UConn Law website, www.law.uconn.edu/student-life-resources/student-services/academic-success.

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  1. Pingback: Law School Website to Be Updated to Help With Academic Advising | Pro Se

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