photo of sekhar chivukula and deb dotterer with advising award winners

Advisors from across campus gathered on September 21 at the Kellogg Center to honor four of their colleagues at the inaugural MSU Advising Excellence Awards recognition event.

Advisors from across campus gathered on September 21 at the Kellogg Center to honor four of their colleagues at the inaugural MSU Advising Excellence Awards recognition event.

Over the years, various academic units established academic advising awards, yet university-level recognition of the tremendous contribution that academic advisors make in support of student success had never been established.  R. Sekhar Chivukula, associate provost for Undergraduate Education and dean of Undergraduate Studies, and Deb Dotterer, assistant dean of University Advising, made the establishment of these awards a top priority as recognition of the significant contributions advisors have made to the undergraduate experience at MSU.

“At MSU, we believe that all our students have the ability to learn, persist, and graduate,” Chivukula said.  “In many cases, however, our incoming students have no idea, however, in what field they will be able to find their calling.  Others come in believing there is only one true path to success, and become disillusioned if that first path becomes untenable. In these cases, most often advising is the difference between persistence and graduation, on the one hand, and disappointment and a departure with debt on the other.  Advisors empower students to make life-altering decisions for themselves, armed with the best possible information.”

Awards were given in four categories: New Academic Advisor, Established Advisor, Faculty Advisor, and Advising Administrator. 

The Outstanding New Academic Advisor Award, which recognizes the accomplishments of an academic advisor who has been in the field for three years or less, was given to Erika Trigg Crews, academic specialist/advisor for the Honors College. 

“As an advisor, Erika exemplifies exactly the type of person the advising community would want in the role,” Andrew Murray, academic advisor for the Honors College, said.  “She is positive, energetic, and genuine.  Her passion for higher education, and the work we do for students, is remarkable and makes her a joy to work with on a daily basis.”

Crews said that as a member of the academic advising community, she finds it important to remember that she would not be here were it not for the students.  Her primary consideration is how she can best guide students in an effort to make sure they are having quality experiences within and beyond the classroom, connecting them to resources designed to ensure their success, and creating a supportive environment inclusive of their aspirations, interests, and identities.

"I am honored to have been selected for this award," Crews said.  "It is humbling to be recognized so early in my professional journey by my colleagues and peers.  I truly appreciate the opportunity to be recognized as one of the many advisors who are committed to student development and success, and hope to continue serving our students and the Spartan advising community well in the years to come."

The Outstanding Established Advisor Award, which recognizes the accomplishments of an academic advisor who has been in the field for more than three years, was given to Jonglim Han Yoo, academic advisor for the Dow STEM Scholars Program.

“Ms. J has helped me in so many ways as I took on my journey here at MSU,” Alivia Bowers, MSU student, said.  “She not only offered a helping hand in scheduling classes and finding ways to get involved, she also offered a shoulder to lean on for more than just academics.  She is there to hear what is going on in your personal life and is always willing to help you become the best version of yourself.  She is the most accepting person and loves everyone for who they are.  At a university as large as MSU it’s easy to get lost in the bunch, but Ms. J always makes sure no one goes unnoticed.”

Yoo said that helping to create the “T-Shaped” student is the best way to describe how she conducts herself as an advisor and her personal philosophy on advising.  She believes that a student’s environment directly impacts their ability to adapt, survive, and/or thrive.  She said her goal is to build strong roots so that students can handle adjusting to a different environment after graduation.

“I was shocked, and in awe, to receive this award,” Yoo said.  “Unbeknownst to me, my nominator contacted the students I serve and just recently shared with me a few of the students’ comments.  I sat in my office alone and cried.  I was so touched.  As advisors, we plug away, year after year, and sometimes we never know if we truly make a difference or have an impact in their success.  As a person who is never at a loss for words, I am truly humbled, honored and speechless.”

The Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award, which recognizes the accomplishments of a faculty member whose primary role is teaching, but who spends a portion of their time performing duties as an academic advisor, was given to Gary Schnakenberg, academic advisor and instructor for the MSU Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences.

“I found Gary, and the Geography Department, at the Marathon of Majors in March 2014,” Paige Gebhardt, MSU graduate and former student of Schnakenberg’s, said.  “After meeting with him, I decided to become a Geography major.  It has proven to be the best decision of my life.  I am grateful to Gary for working to understand me, my interests and passions, and showing me that a degree in Geography could be both fulfilling and rewarding.  He is truly a great academic advisor.  He made me feel important and made the Geography department feel like my own family.”

Schnakenberg said his personal philosophy regarding academic advising in higher education is driven by two significant life experiences:  (1) the 26 years he spent teaching high school at a public school in New Hampshire and (2) having been a first-generation college student.  He said that as an undergrad, in his master’s, and especially in his Ph.D. program, he became very familiar with the sense of being “out of place,” having experienced the challenges involved in navigating one’s way through the associated unfamiliar emotional and institutional territory.

“Receiving this award is a source of pride and affirmation, as well as humility,” Schnakenberg said.  “I feel honored by the strong support I receive from my department colleagues, and am especially touched by the words used by a former student who wrote the recommendation on my behalf.  Significant research shows that in middle and high school, overall student success is connected to each student being known well by at least one person working in the school.  The job of academic advisor is a way to bring that into higher education.  We all need to feel, on some level, that we aren’t fully alone out there as we work toward our goals, which, in turn, leads people to continue to develop and cultivate further relationship-building.”

The Outstanding Advisor Administrator Award, which recognizes the accomplishments of an administrator who serves and an administrator or director of advising, was given to Dorcia Chaison, director of academic advising and undergraduate programs in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“Dr. Chaison is a “go-to person” for advice and assistance in all advising and retention matters,” Dr. Kelly F. Millenbah, associate dean and director of academic and student affairs for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.  “A quality that makes Dr. Chaison stand out is that she has a deep understanding of the issues and challenges underrepresented students face.  As a first-generation college student, and woman of color, Dr. Chaison serves as a necessary role model to our underserved students that models effective, successful, and professional behaviors, yet is still relatable to the students.  She goes above and beyond to create a plan to solve any issue, provide resources and referrals for students.”

Chaison said she is passionate about helping students succeed in higher education.  It is her belief that no matter a student’s background, or academic skill level, he or she will encounter a challenge or issue that may interfere with matriculation and potentially not reach the goal of degree attainment.  She added that she assists students in examining and using a multitude of choices, given their background, interests, and plans for the future to help them find their way.

“I am honored to receive the award,” Chaison said.  “It means an awful lot to me.  Knowing that peers noticed and valued my efforts with recognition of the award is appreciated, and affirms my continual desire to make a difference.  I know it sounds cliché, but I truly enjoy helping students.  Assisting students has been a joy and something I hope to continue with my peers for many years to come.”