Michael Moghtader, associate professor of writing, rhetoric and technical communication, was recognized by the National Academic Advising Association for outstanding advising.
Freshman Advisers Interested in More Than Class Schedules
JMU Freshman Advisers Top in the Nation
By Paula Polglase, JMU Public Affairs
James Madison University freshman advisers continue to be named top in the nation by the National Academic Advising Association.
NACADA has named Michael Moghtader, associate professor of writing, rhetoric and technical communication, a 2010 outstanding advising award winner in the faculty academic advising category.
In 2008 NACADA recognized psychology Associate Professor Kenn Barron with the same award.
In that same three-year span JMU also had two professional freshman advisers, Paula McMahan and Chandra Lane, named certificate of merit recipients for this award, meaning they were national finalists.
Lee Ward, director of Career and Academic Planning, said, "JMU has had the top freshman adviser in the country two of the last three years. There is no other university in the country that can match that record.
"People who win this award understand how to engage students outside of class and they understand student development. Add an immense caring attitude and a person who devotes the time it takes to approach each student as an individual."
Brian Glankler, NACADA Awards Committee chair, 2009-2011, said he looks for a strong personal advising statement, the adviser's campus involvement and letters of recommendation from colleagues and students.
"I like to see that the adviser shows interest in the lives of the students she/he advises and consistently goes above and beyond in providing service to those students," said Glankler.
Moghtader's students are in full support of him winning the national award. Sophomore Vincent Castellano said, "I remember seeing him around campus and he would ask questions about how I was doing and if I had any problems. He was genuinely concerned. He played a major role in the success of my first year at JMU."
Senior psychology major Heather Davis said in her letter to NACADA, "Dr. Barron's approachableness, creativity, and dedication are what make him such a special adviser who has changed the entire course of my undergraduate career."
On JMU's continued presence as nationally recognized advisers, Moghtader said, "There is no better evidence of the quality of the advising program at JMU."
"What concerns you most during your first year at James Madison University? Is it time management? Living in the residence hall? Doing well academically? Fitting in? Procrastination? The amount of freedom?"
JMU's freshman advisers want to know.
JMU has developed a unique freshman advising program based on the developmental theory of advising. JMU advisers are concerned about more than just scheduling classes, they advise the whole person. In fact, the questions about concerns facing new students are but a few of the far-reaching queries posed by JMU advisers.
Psychology Associate Professor Kenneth Barron starts his summer advising sessions by asking students why they came to college. Michael Moghtader, associate professor of writing, rhetoric and technical communication, wants to know who influenced the student's expectations about what the college experience should be like.
The National Academic Advising Association has recognized Barron and Moghtader as outstanding advising award winners.
A Unique Approach According to Lee Ward, director of Career and Academic Planning, developmental advising in itself is not unique, but because of the time it takes it is not usually applied to a university with 18,000 students.
Another unique factor—JMU employs both professional and faculty advisers.
Fourteen CAP staff members advise the 25 percent of freshmen who have not declared an academic major. Because of their dual role as academic and career counselors they are able to offer students guidance in exploring majors that relate to their career interests.
Faculty advisers are assigned to the 75 percent of freshmen who come in with a declared major. Ward's department recruits and trains freshman advisers to be experts in both academic and student-life matters.
"We get so many unique partners on the campus together, I think that one of the other things that makes freshman advising thrive is it really requires us to be interdisciplinary and cross-campus connected," said Barron.
Role of the Adviser Freshman advisers help students transition to college by providing advice on academic planning and information on JMU resources. In order to guide a student's academic choices with regard to long-term academic and career goals they have to first get to know the student.
Incoming freshmen meet with their advisers in a small group and one-on-one during summer orientation. They continue the relationship established in the summer through e-mail, Blackboard and face-to-face conversations. Freshman advisers serve their advisees through February of their freshman year when they are assigned an adviser in their major.
Commenting about the initial summer meeting Moghtader said, "I never let a student leave without them knowing that I have a sense of who they are."
Rosemary Grant, a junior who is majoring in English and media arts and design, said, "Looking back, I think Dr. M dealt with my over-exuberance to change majors in a way that eventually led me to making the right decision for me. In my head, double majoring in English and health sciences sounded like a great idea. When I demanded quick answers, he remained patient and insisted that we look into the details of my new major choices."
"By advising first, I can provide students the essential context to appreciate what college can be and how they can take full advantage of getting the most out of it while they are here."—Dr. Kevin Barron
Philosophy of Advising Barron, who has been a freshman adviser for 10 years, keeps a bumper sticker on his door that he says sums up his philosophy on advising. It reads, "Advising is Teaching." He knows that students are anxious to schedule their classes but insists that getting to know the student first is time well spent for both adviser and advisee.
Barron says, "By advising first, I can provide students the essential context to appreciate what college can be and how they can take full advantage of getting the most out of it while they are here."
Moghtader, in his fifth year of freshman advising, sees himself as a transition worker, someone to guide the student through the many resources JMU has to offer. "A good adviser is less a source of knowledge as much as a good researcher of information that will help students navigate the complexities of university rules and regulations."
Both advisers say the ultimate goal is help their advisees succeed in their first year and grow into adults who will develop skills to find their own answers.