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Seton Hall University
Professor Brian Meadows working with students at eye-level.

The Advisor in All of Us

Academic Advising – Bum’s Rush

Friday, November 30

By Elven Riley

Yes/No, Right/Wrong, Pass/Fail, True/False, and a rush to judgement.

I am old, and as the 7th decade approaches, my elders' words echo back as I too utter disapproval of young people today: "No discipline," "lack gumption," "rowdy fun seekers," "flagrant cheaters"; frankly, we were just as an eclectic pack of disorganized energy as students today. We all practice revisionist history. Today's cohort includes some good, some bad, most in between, always exploring the limits of their elders' good will as the rightful claim of youth.

We, as faculty, are accountable for judging performance. As agents of an accredited and licensed higher education corporation in the state of New Jersey, we validate credits and grades earned. We, as faculty, are not uniformly transparent and by design, we each use differing moral compasses. We, as faculty, are all uniformly crushed by the end-of-semester rush to judgement.

Humans are often drawn up short by binary decisions, I naturally look for the win-win in compromise. But taking the time to engage with students outside of our contracted-hours, beyond the required office hours, is too often a binary decision. Many in our community do move hours from the personal side of their life ledger to the professional side. Do we or don't we? I am exhausted this week, can I make time for myself? Again, that binary decision.

It is delusional to judge ourselves on the basis of perfection, not to mention it is a seriously demotivating activity to repeatedly fail at being perfect. Better not to try? I have found to embrace a binary world is worse. Give all that is asked, or give only what is required. Just maybe, the decision should be brought into the modern real-time instant decision age. Today, I have no time and am exhausted. Yesterday, I was pressed by deadlines but gave generously and freely to others. Tomorrow, I will exercise my free will and decide again.

Hopefully, you will find the spare moment to hear a student, or just engage. Head bands and macramé belts are not required attire for joining the conversation. Who knows what we will discover in ourselves and our students.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

For more on the topic, an easy read is: "blink" by Malcolm Gladwell

Academic Advising – Handshakes

Saturday, November 17, 2018

By: Elven Riley

Smile, make eye contact, aim for half the distance between you, firm with gentile squeeze grip.

As students enter my office, about half, are expecting a handshake. Gender is not the determinate. They are often the ones that have been coached at home on how to interact respectfully. Ball caps rarely handshake but then I rarely am wearing a ball cap in my office. If I did we might have a better designed experiment. The point is that I have bias. My computer engineering background rankles when a simple task is obviously done carelessly. Why bother if you are not at least trying, my mind exclaims when offered the dead fish hand shake. Are you royalty and trained in the rarified protocols of greeting a prince? No? Then show me that you recognize you are touching another human being … rant, rant, rant. 

But let’s go back to bias as we all could stand some polish on this subject. Careful, if your reaction is ‘not me’, you may want to consider 95% of adults believe they are more aware of their biases than actually turns out. How can this be? Humbly, I found some of my folly with surprisingly simple guidance. 

I am a committed golden rule guy. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Simple rule I was taught by nuns in grade school and one of a few gifts that stood the test of time. I interact with my students with this gambit of mutual respect. But there is the possibility that others find my treatment of them disrespectful. The clinical terms are affinity and difference bias. I assume that students that look like other students are all the same. Leadership specialist Sara Taylor’s Filter Shift posits a platinum rule: treat others as they would like to be treated. Might require some mental effort about others.

I am working on my fist-bump substitute for my comfort zone biased business handshake.

Differences that make a difference are different. DUH

Thank you, Go Pirates.

For more click here: 

Academic Advising – The Happy Path

Saturday, November 10, 2018

By: Elven Riley

Wow! The academic advising wave is ebbing and I am thankful and bracing for what is next. 

Next is the march of the broken tin soldiers as students come to my office with holds finally lifted, pre-requisites blocking their registration, transfer credits in limbo, the unsuccessful class grade, and the disappointment of closed classes. "Now what do I do Professor Riley?"

The reality is that all of our student information is written for the error free path, the "happy" path. The path where the student does not get mono, does not fail a class, does not lose their scholarship, and certainly does not have a bursar hold on their account. I am an experienced advisor and one of the "keepers of the mystery," the mystery of what options exist. 

Once upon a time I was a computer programmer and a little publicized fact of computer programming is that the overwhelming bulk of the code is written to deal with errors in the processing, not process the "happy path." A well behaved application today displays a warning message and maybe a couple of hints about what is wrong. Programmers talk about the "happy" path and the "sad" path. The sad path requires the programmer think of all the crazy things that could go wrong and what action may help. Advising is like that. Each student requires different options customized for their situation. It is a mystery not by design but by the very nature of the multitude of combinatorial errors and responses.

The time required to help a student regroup, make changes, and move forward is much longer and requires more soft skills than the time it takes to affirm the on-track student. I can affirm a well-organized junior’s detailed three semester plan and discuss their career interests in 20 minutes. I can also spend an hour working on a student with a broken leg finally back from physical therapy and an academic wreck.

You can help by first hearing the student perspective and showing empathy. Next you can approach the questions with a bit of humility when asked stump-the-professor trivia. (Will my sign language class satisfy my foreign language requirement?) You could reach out to a colleague and maybe find some answers. Lastly, breathe, slow down, and accept the interruption. Who knows? You might be part of an army of faculty that improves our retention numbers.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

Registration Hold Codes 

Academic Advising – Groundhog Day

Monday, October 29, 2018

By: Elven Riley

It is the 1993 movie classic 'Groundhog Day' experience that challenges me to be a better academic advisor than I was last semester.

The exhilaration of working with a student on the multi-semester plan of a dual major the student had not considered and then enthusiastically embraces. The depression of working with a student focused on doing as little as possible to earn a degree. The fact that I must recalibrate myself anew with each student that enters my office. The emotional drain of empathetically asking for their youthful aspirations with real interest and the physical drain of the time required for their challenged articulations. The speed bumps presented by our fragile administrative application systems and the repeated explanations of cryptically documented compliance rules.

Advising is like any work assignment, long periods of grinding out performance within the registration time constraints. Focusing on my productivity constantly or accept my students grading my lack of performance as the callused response of a bureaucrat. I do care, but I am human, and my biases become a burden on my judgment.

And yet, there is the gift of joy a student will occasionally and casually provide their senior year. "I know I was not the most cooperative student when we first met. Thank you for not giving up on me. Your advice was the difference that helped me find myself."

"If a person could live forever, if a person was immortal, how would they change over time?" screenwriter Danny Rubin.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

For more click here:

In Class 3 Minutes – Help Your Students Travel

Monday, October 22, 2018

By: Elven Riley

Have you ever noticed that when traveling to a new location the trip to the location always seems longer than the return? Our human way of approaching something new and unknown comes with apprehension and an increased drain on energy. Our students experience their academic journey with the same concern for the unknown, and similarly marvel the journey’s end with cap and gown in the commencement line.

One technique for making time pass is to get busy. You see them every week during the semester and you could pile on the extra credit reading and research assignments. Alternatively, you could challenge your students to try just one of the many events on campus to broaden their definition of both skills and relationships. A university campus offers a breadth of events not found in a corporation. Your belief in them and their impressive capacity to learn has great impact on their willingness to explore.

But it is not just a revised version of “I Spy” from the car window.

While employment appears chaotic today, we can predict our graduates will change jobs frequently. The new-normal “careers” have become 3 to 5 year assignments, each ending with the need to discern and start anew. Our students can hone their ability to assimilate new options and consider the-road-not-taken by attending something outside their comfort zone now. Please encourage them to take advantage of the community and mingle with others.

Take 3 minutes in a class to highlight an upcoming event or club meeting. The university weekly list is now a long list and each school has many additional listings. Pick one or two out-of-the-box events to highlight (my favorite for business students is to explore the broadcasting station, WSOU 89.5). Offering extra credit is a nice motivator but not required. Just dedicating 3 minutes of your very valuable class time places an importance on exploration well beyond the points.  

It is the rare exception that did not follow a random-walk career path to success and fulfillment. 

Thank you, Go Pirates.

For more click here: 

In Class 4 Minutes – Help Your Students Own Their Advising  

Monday, October 9, 2018

By: Elven Riley

The number one impactful advising tool is a report that each of your students can review on their own laptop in your class in 4 minutes today. The narrative starts with a question: Who in this class hopes to finish and earn a degree, ever? How can you tell you are ready to graduate? When can you ask, “May I have my diploma, please”? You could ask your upper-class buddy, but if they steer you wrong you own the error. You could rely on your academic advisor, but if they make a mistake, you are left with the mistake. You could just close your eyes and hope that at the end of 4 years of hard work you did everything correctly, or not. Or you could run a report that lists exactly what you need to complete to finish, really.

First, the many different names we use for the report adds to their confusion. We know it as a “degree audit,” “advisor worksheet,” “registrar’s report,” and “degree requirements report.” There is only one report with all these names and while it is not perfect it is the report we use at SHU. Second, Go to: Portal/Academics/Student Records/Advising Worksheet – Degree Requirements. Work through the questions and choose the “Generate New Evaluation” option on the bottom of the page.

Third, assign them the task of reading the report and deciding if they are going to graduate on time. If they can’t manage to find the report then inform them that they should up their game and share the URL below. Your expectation is that they can retrieve this report and review it in detail before they meet with their academic advisor.

Academic advisors and mentors can help if you can get your students to begin the preparation.

Thank you for making a difference, Go Pirates.

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In Class 5 Minutes – Help Your Students Own Their Advising

Friday, October 5, 2018

By: Elven Riley

You may not personally be a career counselor or advisor, but engage them in a short discussion on what enables life after graduation. Encourage their dreams and seeking input from multiple sources. Your clear supportive voice can set them on the road of the seeker we all want them to become. It also helps if you smile while discussing their future.

My rough estimate is that I have academically advised several thousand students at SHU/Stillman and they have taught me how to advise them. First, ignore the cohort labels (Gen-X, Millennial, Gen-Z) as each student is a unique case. Second, faculty remain their most respected and listened to advisor. Third, our entire SHU village can raise each student’s awareness of our processes and steps to success.

An easy 5 minute class room exercise in a single lecture can make the retention difference we all desire. The month of October is about planning their spring schedule. To the student currently focused on class work and exams the preparation for registration may feel very distant.

Start by praising their ability to plan. Affirm they have primary responsibility for their academic careers. Remind them that after fall break they must soon register on-line beginning 10/29, a short 20 days after break. Academic advisors and mentors are one resource but suggest they speak to other professors and professionals. Your small nudge can move them from a reactive to a proactive owner of their academic careers.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

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