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

The Advisor in All of Us

Academic Advising – Non-Academic Help

Monday, February 11, 2019

By: Elven Riley

Last semester I was co-teaching a course, two sections, with an adjunct. We were working on increasing the participation and interaction in my traditional drone-over-power-point style. Now for starters, I am an enthusiastic presenter. I include current event news in every class. I pace around the room and call out individual students to comment on various details of the topic. But the content is a challenge, technology of finance. My mostly seniors have had little exposure to the topic and are put-off by the amount of terminology to be mastered. I also hate discussion boards. Never understood them and still don't. The adjunct I found had the pied piper gift. From the first day of classes this middle-aged energetic man made effortless repeated engagement that led to class involvement and wonderment with the topic. I did learn and improve.

But the point of this story is not the classroom engagement. It is dealing with death. During the semester my teaching partner unexpectedly died. What to do, what to do? My teaching partner was known to them and they would be as upset as I with the loss. I did have the presence of mind to call the Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT). If you didn’t know SHU had such a team then this blog is a success already. BIT is the go-to office for all non-academic and non-financial problems that a student smacks into with a loud crashing sound. Think drugs, alcohol, rape, suicide, or family death. Just to name a few. All heavy emotional and intellectual lifts and all requiring skills and training that I do not possess.  

BIT sent a councilor to both classes the day I informed the students that the energetic healthy vibrant man that was teaching this course with me had unexpectedly died. The councilor spoke to the sorrow, the anxiety, and the confusion that naturally happened. The councilor also wove in concern for students who may already have been the near-by witness to death. A soft comment on the open door and help that can be found in the center with a call or a visit, no appointment required, was a comfort. Some students cried. We took a moment of silent prayer. I gave a short lecture to reinforce a routine that both the students and I needed to hold on to.

While working in corporate I had direct reports pass away unexpectedly. There was an extensive protocol managed by the corporate human relations department dictating what I should and should not do/say. I got a refresher update from BIT and successfully finished the semester and several students thanked me for promoting the help available on campus, even if it was just a comfort to know it existed. One student had lost a parent six months earlier and shared the story after the final exam with a final "thank you for caring about us" comment.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

For more click here:

Academic Advising – 120 or BUST

Monday, February 3, 2019

By: Elven Riley

I have been at SHU for a dozen years. Many others have been here far longer. For the student just passing through four years after High School will fly by. By the time they finish enough of the core to take some concentration courses they already have an eye toward the day they will walk out the front gate and never return. So, our subtle credit accounting rules may never really be understood.

This leads a few students to an extended stay at hotel SHU. Today, with the semester courses closed, Superbowl Sunday over, and add/drop long closed, the options to graduation are pretty much limited to a summer course, if the course needed is offered. You can help them get a jump on a fix by making the rules on the redo, or take-over, course clear. The mental hiccup is one that we learned in ancient times and today we just expect everyone to understand. Unfortunately, every Spring the registrar finds a handful of students to send my way that are unaware of their shortfall.

I will paint the scene. They are retaking a course to improve their overall GPA. They scored a "D" in a course the second semester Freshman year and now they would like to fix that mistake. They enrolled in the course again their last semester here and they know they need just 15 more credits to total 120 and walk. But since they earned a passing grade in the course the first time around, the second time yields no additional credits toward the 120 needed for graduation. In this case they are effectively enrolled in 12 new credits, not 15.

If you are working with students deliberately building or repairing their GPA, please take a minute and verbally quiz their understanding of how the take-over can improve a grade and yield no additional credit hours toward graduation.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

For more information: 

Academic Advising – Expectations (they don’t pay me to like students)

Monday, January 28

By: Elven Riley

What makes students think they should have their lives all mapped out at 18 with labels and milestones? We do. My youthful plans were somewhat useful to provide a measure of change over time, but not as a rule book. Life is not a rehearsal (of a plan), life is about the organic unscripted messiness of living.

I often advise students about career goals. What do you want to do with this degree when you graduate in less than 6 months? February 1 is deadline for degree declaration for May 2019 graduation. They look a bit nervous, and then admit they want a job they like. I point out to them that if a company hired us to do something we enjoyed and had fun at every day, that would be called entertainment, and we would have to pay the company. When pressed again, they shoot low and devoid of risk. Is it just success or failure, win or lose, play it safe?

Some do have a 'calling.' Funny word for a strong inner impulse toward a course of action, justification not required. Some have a 'gift,', an unearned skill or knack enabling superior performance compared to others. Some come with 'grit,' the drive and commitment to complete the race. Some, like me, are just plain lucky, standing in the right place at the right time. No matter how the next knock of opportunity finds our door, the student should be tirelessly encouraged to keep answering the door. They say even with the desire and talent you need 10,000 hours to become accomplished. That is not 10,000 of success, it is usually 9,500 of failures and just enough to encourage us to continue. Logging 10,000 hours does not make you brilliant, it makes you experienced.

All of us, faculty and staff, must be 51% cheerleader. The student mindset needs to shift from one of "I can't" to one of "not yet." My relationship with students is complicated as some are in my class, some are academically advised, and some seek a career coach. We will shift from one angle of their life to another as we talk. I am struck by the quick pigeon hole they climb into, the static label more about skills they have than who they could become.

It helps if the students believe that we don’t hate them. Picture being on the pitch and having the cheerleader glare at you when you made a game mistake? Sure, we need to grade (judge) honestly but we also must recognize the most impactful learning can be found in the heart of failure. Telling them they don’t have it yet but keep trying, is not the same as saying you are (lazy, incompetent, ignorant, undisciplined, dull) and are the, failure.

I am paid to be more than an organic text book combined with the course catalog. We all need to receive and to give praise for hard work and choosing to take on things that are challenges, like giving advice to students. You can do this, maybe you are awkward today, but you will be better tomorrow. Keep engaging and encouraging students, a growth experience for everyone.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

YouTube book review of MINDSET by Carol Dweck:
TED Talk by Rita Pierson:   

Academic Advising – Save a Student, Save Your Job

Monday, January 23, Martin Luther King

By: Elven Riley

High school students decide their senior year to commit the next 4 years of their lives to earning a college degree, someplace. The question now becoming more and more apparent is: will the institution be there for the next 4 years? SHU is blessed to see rising undergraduate enrollments which is the short-term trend for a static environment. Static is not what we will have. The demographic facts indicate a small rise in students until 2025, 6 years from now, followed by a precipitous drop and steady decline.1

Unless you are suggesting all of us take a pay cut to reduce tuition costs, which some institutions have imposed already, we have little control over tuition. Unless you are suggesting implementing an amazing new program with no new resources or close labor-intensive programs, we have little control over the program course loads. Unless you are advocating the faculty reclaim administrative tasks and reduce administrative support, a ratio that SHU is already comparatively lean, then we have little control over the operational expenses. But I come from Wall Street, and while you can make tactical money cutting costs it is a stronger strategy to protect revenue and existing market share. You can help.

When we interact with a student, albeit respectfully and compassionately, we are also marketing. Yes, the student does not deserve to be let into your class or to be allowed to make up the first progress quiz they skipped. And I am not suggesting soft-dollar negotiating for marketing references. But you know they all network with each other, and with their younger sister, and their younger neighbor. That younger age group will be applying to colleges soon and a good word from an older peer makes a big impression on me, and I am sure the same is true for the wired age group. So where is the win-win?

You can focus on their success when faced with disappointing failure. You can, like the coach after a lost game, expend the extra effort to help the student frame failure and learn how to respond and rise to success. While this is most likely not part of your listed course learning objectives, the extra effort on your part could make a difference in our reputation as a quality institution committed to the development of servant leaders, like MLK.

Thank you, Go Pirates.
For recent New York Times article closing HISTORY program:

1For the hard statistics and a good read: Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education, by Nathan Drawe, 2018 Johns Hopkins University Press


Academic Advising – Fight, Flee, or Freeze

Monday, January 14, 2019

By: Elven Riley

Humans, which on most days includes faculty and students, all react to fears of failure and embarrassment with thoughts of fight, flee, or freeze. We also avoid activity that interfere with our abilities to engage in creativity, critical and innovative thinking, and emotional engagement with others.1

Between today, the first day of classes for the Spring semester, and 9 days from now on Tuesday January 22, your students must choose. The last day of Add/Drop is the first day after Martin Luther King Monday holiday, and each student must decide the relationship they will, or will not, have with you for the next 14 weeks. I have always had my own demons to deal with at the start of every class, flee being my go-to instinct. But over time, empathy for the shared experience of apprehension has allowed more open discussion this first week of classes.

Having slaved on multiple edits of my syllabus, only to have the students openly admit they have not read it once, can give me a panic attack. What am I missing? Other professors don't seem concerned. How am I to set expectations if they don't read? Hmm, I guess I will talk to them about engagement and their responsibilities for this class. Order them to pay attention. Hmm, that has not worked as well as I had hoped either. 

Ask them why they are in your class and wait for the answer. I am terrible at the waiting in silence game but working on improvement. They will nervously, sometimes boldly, respond with the guess at the expected right answer. Work with what you get as an answer and internalize the reality of the shared experience. 

Might also help to remind them: "You have less than a week to change your mind, I don't, and will be here every class committed and excited to work with those that choose to stay." 

Thank you, Go Pirates.

For more 10 minutes on Mindfulness »

1Chris Argyris, "Teaching Smart People How to Learn," Harvard Business Review 69, no. 3 (1991): 99–10.

Jack Mezirow, "Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice," New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 74 (1997): 5–12.

Abraham H. Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being (Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand, 1962).

Richard J. Davidson and Sharon Begley, The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live—and How You Can Change Them (New York: Plume, 2013).

Hess, Edward D. Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age (p. 190). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Academic Advising – Auld Lang Syne

Wednesday, December 19

By: Elven Riley

My grades are posted. The administrative meetings are done. A few more student advising meetings this week and I will gladly seek a beer and a bowl game to give me distance on the completed effort. Unlike some of us, I am not energized by the social experience of teaching a class. I am somewhat envious of those that naturally belong on the stage. For me, limelight is just too bright and an effort to manage. And yet, or in spite of, I have always found a euphoric joy in the act of group learning. To see the class mentally scramble over the wall to understanding is addicting and habit forming. Add that to the blessing of classes that I am passionate about and life just doesn’t get much better.

However, the close of the fall semester, ending with the close of the calendar year, has always played havoc on my heart strings.

My internal conversations, oh yes we all carry on internal dialog and debate, is about having to judge and close the semester. Am I being too easy a grader? Am I being unreasonable with the final exam? Do I put a butcher’s thumb on this student’s 1% miss of the A? If 1% what about a 4% miss? How can a student claim to have gotten the final exam date/time wrong with a straight face? Should I care if my students think I am unlikable? Did Scrooge defend his blind eye to humanity with the same rationales? And I have not even begun my shopping for the holidays!

Maybe stress makes my emotions more volatile but I suspect the young fragile science that supports our professional actions is more hypothesis than fact. Maybe in another 200 years with more behavioral research and machine augmentation we will have more confidence in our elaborate learning goals/outcomes. But today, we use our intellect and our compassion even-handedly with each Banner post. Then letting go of each, as a dear friend moving away, the acceptance of year’s end and “days gone by”, the students leave us with a nod and a wave.

In four weeks, we get a new year, a fresh start, new faces, and the hope/dream of doing it a little bit better this time. Meanwhile, I'm pulling for Notre Dame.

Happy Holiday and a Very Happy New Year!!!

Thank you, Go Pirates.

Listen to Les Deux Love Orchestra's Classic New Year's Eve Arrangement of Auld Lang Syne »

Academic Advising – Bum’s Rush

Friday, November 30

By: Elven Riley

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

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 judgment.

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.

For more click here »

For more information, please visit

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.

For more information click here »

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