When members of the Class of 2026 at Fordham College at Rose Hill and Fordham College at Lincoln Center arrived on campus this fall, they were greeted by one of eight academic advisors who, like them, are embarking on a new venture.
These academic advisors are part of the Fordham College Advising Center, a new system that the University adopted following an extensive analysis of students’ needs and nationwide best practices led by Maura Mast, Ph.D., and Laura Auricchio, Ph.D., the deans of the colleges at Rose Hill and Lincoln Center, respectively.
The new system, which was developed and implemented with the input of committees of faculty, staff, and students across the University, provides students with a professional advisor who can help with college logistics, while faculty will continue to provide academic mentoring.
For course schedules, forms and paperwork, degree plans, and assistance in connecting with other University services, such as counseling or financial aid, a student can turn to their new professional advisor. That advisor will work with them during their first and sophomore years. As they transition into junior year, the plan is to assign them a different advisor trained to help them chart their post-graduation path.
Throughout their four years, students will also connect with faculty mentors who will help them deepen their understanding of their chosen disciplines while connecting them with research experiences, internships, and professional networks.
A System Designed for Current Times
The new system is designed to meet the challenges facing the current student body.
“The needs of the students are different today,” said Auricchio. “Anxiety and depression are at all-time highs. Everybody’s saying, ‘There should be more counseling services,’ but not every issue requires counseling, and not every student wants counseling.”
Mast noted that another benefit to the change is that faculty will be free to focus more on academics.
“We know that faculty at Fordham really love connecting with students in ways that can inspire them. We want to build on that,” she said.
“That’s why we’re carving out this role as a faculty mentor that really taps into the strengths of what faculty do.”
The new system, which will be in effect for this year’s first-year students and subsequent classes, is being overseen by Ashlee Burrs, associate dean for academic advising, who comes to Fordham with deep experience in both student affairs and academic advising at institutions including the Jesuit institution John Carroll University, the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, Long Island University, and, most recently, Yeshiva University. Burrs said the new model is meant to facilitate student success by providing a single point of contact.
“The new model is giving us the opportunity to personalize their experience a little more, get to know them, and give them what they need to be successful,” she said.
While some of the advisors —there are five at Rose Hill and three at Lincoln Center—were working for Fordham previously, and some were hired externally, Burrs noted that all have backgrounds that naturally lend themselves to a cura personalis approach.
“They’ve all done that holistic advising, where they can say, ‘Great, you have your classes, what else can I help you with while you’re sitting here? If it’s financial aid, I can pick up the phone and say [to my financial aid contact], “Hey, I have a student who needs help, can I send them over?”’” she said.
Knowledgeable and Ready to Help
One of the beneficiaries of the new system is Dylan Parks, a native of White Sulfur Springs, New York, who is pursuing a degree in international political economy at Fordham College at Lincoln Center. He was paired with Chelsea Wicks, a member of the new advising team who helps students majoring in modern languages, interdisciplinary majors, and the social sciences.
Parks had a “super close relationship” with his high school’s guidance counselor and social worker and was nervous it might be different in college.
“I was pleasantly surprised when I met Chelsea and got to speak with her. She is so knowledgeable and gives what I feel is really good advice. She gives her opinion and can guide you if you’re a little unsure, but ultimately the decision is yours, and she respects that,” he said.
He’s dropped by her office four times since the semester started, including once to ask her about switching out of a class before the deadline for adding or dropping classes.
“I love that she’s very flexible. It really feels like a very collaborative effort,” he said.
Wicks previously worked as an academic counselor at the University of Louisville and holds an M.A. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). She joined the staff in August, excited about helping to build a new program.
“I think that’s the appeal for a lot of the advisors who got hired. They’re going to have a lot more say and input in the advising model than we would if we had gone into one that was already created,” she said.
She’s especially proud of how the team handled the add/drop deadline, given the sheer number of students who needed assistance in a short window of time.
During that period, Wicks was “averaging 90 emails a day from students asking about their schedules,” she said. “It was hard to get them that info and also build a relationship with them. But that’s really our role.”
Jennifer Giorgio worked at Fordham College at Lincoln Center for over a decade and jumped at the opportunity to be part of a new system, as an advisor at Fordham College at Rose Hill. She now advises students majoring in biology, chemistry, psychology, and social work, along with some undecided students.
“I have students asking me about a variety of things, like counseling services, tutoring, or even things like, ‘Where do I buy my textbooks, or I set up my printer?’” she said.
“I’ve presented myself as the person who they can turn to and will connect them to resources around campus.”
Taking a Holistic Approach
The new system emerged from the work of an 18-member task force that convened in 2020, as well as from feedback solicited throughout the spring of 2022 from a wide spectrum of the University community. Rachel Annunziato, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and associate dean for strategic initiatives at Fordham College at Rose Hill, co-chaired the task force along with Martin DiGrandi, Ph.D., chair of the natural sciences department at Fordham College at Lincoln Center.
The group took stock of the advising system, researched approaches at other Jesuit institutions and at peer institutions, and reviewed recommendations from professional societies focused on academic advising and student success.
Annunziato noted that most universities have embraced the “professional advising” model that Fordham’s new model is based on.
“Across the board on the task force, the most important thing we were looking at was, ‘How could we serve students’ needs more holistically?’” she said.
There’s a real benefit for faculty as well, she said. As a core advisor, Annunziato used to help first-year students make sure they fulfilled their core curriculum requirements. She also advises students who have declared psychology as their major. She no longer has to advise non-psychology majors, and has more time to be an academic mentor to those who can benefit from her specific expertise.
“I think this is going to free me up more in the way of professional development and career development,” she said.
“It’s like a dream to be able to do these things with a partner who is overseeing all the logistics and transactions and is somebody the student has grown comfortable with.”
Improving Advising for All
The Class of 2026 isn’t the only one benefiting from the changes being made. At Fordham College at Lincoln Center, sophomores who would have normally bid adieu to Conor O’Kane, who served them last year as assistant dean for first-year students, can continue to work with him and his staff, since he has transitioned to the role of assistant dean for sophomores. The college has also created a new position called senior director of core advising, which is geared toward sophomores.
Mast said that Fordham College at Rose Hill has always had a strong advising system for sophomores, and noted that they will also benefit from an academic coaching program launched this fall.
“By helping students and connecting them to other resources, we are hoping to really support those sophomores. We are piloting this initiative with the expectation that it will help sophomores, and some juniors, reflect on their goals and strengthen their academic abilities.”