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UW-Eau Claire Faculty Member Receives National Award for Advising

RELEASED: April 20, 2005

Susan HarrisonEAU CLAIRE — A University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire associate professor of computer science has won a national award for academic advising.

Dr. Susan Harrison is one of 10 faculty advisers from throughout the country to receive the National Academic Advising Association's 2005 Outstanding Advising Award, which recognizes qualities associated with exceptional academic advising of students.

"I was overwhelmed to learn that people on campus thought that what I consider to be the normal way to advise students — to do whatever I can to help students create the best academic program possible for them — is something special," said Harrison. "That a national organization sees it as something special is even more overwhelming."

As the adviser to all new freshmen computer science majors, Harrison regularly has 50 to 100 advisees seeking her advice and support. She contacts new freshmen as soon as they complete orientation, ensuring that their fall schedules are correct and providing them with a faculty connection before classes start. She follows up with regular e-mails and arranges face-to-face meetings at least twice a semester.

"Susan is without a doubt the most effective faculty adviser that I've had the pleasure to meet," Michael Wick, chair of the computer science department, said, noting that she tracks her advisees' grades and meets often with those who are struggling. "In some cases, Susan meets twice a week with students to help them stay on track and mature into self-sufficient students."

Harrison said her advising philosophy is simple — she treats her advisees as she wanted to be treated when she was a student. That means getting to know students academically and personally, recognizing that students are busy and sometimes have bad days, and knowing that some students need more support and encouragement than others, she said.

"By adhering to a few guiding principles, I work toward reaching my ultimate goal — to make a difference in the life of each of my advisees," Harrison said.

Harrison has definitely made a difference in his life, said senior Michael LeMay, who, with Harrison's encouragement, began taking university classes at age 15. "I possess no words that can express my gratitude to her, nor the esteem with which I regard her," he said.

LeMay, who will begin a computer science Ph.D. program in the fall at age 20, credits Harrison with recognizing his abilities and helping him begin college at a young age.

"Dr. Harrison's perceptions of me were powerfully insightful, her help has been invaluable and I have advanced farther than I ever dreamed possible, and farther than others believed I would, largely because of her support, guidance and assistance," LeMay said.

Students go to Harrison even after they're assigned a new adviser, said Andrew Phillips, former chair of computer science and current interim associate vice chancellor for Academic Affairs and dean of Graduate Studies. "It's remarkable that after a single year of contact with her, and given that most computer science majors will never take a course from her, many students maintain contact with her during their time at UW-Eau Claire and following graduation," he said.

Helping students choose the best academic and career path for them is always her goal, Harrison said. "And sometimes that means letting them know that computer science is not right for them, either because they aren't going to make it through the program or because their interests clearly are elsewhere," she said. "My job is to open the door and be there to help them make their way through all the details we require to earn a degree."

Harrison joined the computer science faculty in 1983. Since 1997, she has served as chair of the University Senate, so 60 percent of her time is spent with Senate and 40 percent in computer science. She also was an adviser in the Advising office for two years, working with students who had not declared a major. Despite a limited appointment in the department and additional responsibilities, she continued to advise freshmen computer science majors.

"While there are many fine advisers on our campus, few impact the lives of so many individual students at the same time that they work at the institutional level to improve advising," said Debbie Gough, director of Advising and New Student Initiatives.

Harrison's work with the University Senate and her time in the advising office gave her a better understanding of all that UW-Eau Claire offers its students, she said. That knowledge helps her better serve her advisees, whether they need academic or personal support, career advice, or encouragement to take advantage of exceptional campus programs.

"Susan certainly goes beyond helping students understand the academic requirements," said Gough, who nominated Harrison for the national award. "She refers students to programs on study abroad, career development and counseling. And she refers students regularly to student services, taking them there if necessary."

Harrison has continually worked to make advising stronger campus-wide, with her efforts ranging from attending national advising workshops to creating advising materials for the Web to serving on various committees that focus on advising, said Gough, adding that Harrison also was one of the first 20 faculty members chosen to participate in a program to integrate e-mail into advising and provide advisers with electronic access to advisee records. The Advising and Mentoring Program, which began in 1992, won the NACADA Outstanding Institutional Advising Award in 1996.

"Susan embraced this concept even though the campus network made e-mail contact difficult," said Gough, who managed the project. "She consistently had the most e-mail contact of any adviser — not only because she communicated with her advisees regularly, but also because they felt comfortable asking her questions."

Harrison will be honored and presented with the Outstanding Advising Award in October in Las Vegas during the annual NACADA National Conference.



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