The idea is to provide a more compassionate counseling environment for those students needing a little extra direction in developing an academic game plan, according to Dean Christopher Baldwin. The initiative -- aimed at breaking down barriers that often exist between students and faculty -- will also benefit students who have chosen a field of study.
"The whole design is not to just shift students in front of you, but to solve problems," said Baldwin. "One hasn't done a good days work if he's seen lots of students and they have gone away unchanged, uninfluenced and undirected."
The new "hands on" student advisement effort coincides with the initiation, this semester, of mandatory advisement for all students.
"Advisory is long term," Baldwin said. "It is the whole of academic student support. It provides a backdrop against which the technical experts -- the people in the disciplines, the people in the departments -- can guide students."
The idea for a less intimidating advisement procedure initially arose from concerns for students demonstrating poor academic performance. The needs of these students, Baldwin said, were often overshadowed by the sort of technical, hard-nosed operations that constitute the academic side of the university.
"One of the things we are very conscious of is the abject ignorance of many students," Baldwin said. "I don't mean that they are untrainable, but that they just don't understand. They don't know what the university is all about, they don't know how to do it, they don't know what the problems are and they can't even ask for help because they don't have enough information to even recognize that they have a problem."
Under the new advisement strategy, counselors, armed "with a little TLC," will serve as student advocates, playing what Baldwin defined as an "ombudsman sort of role." Advisors will help students define their problems, offer solutions, and coach them along the way. The object, said the dean, is "to cut out a lot of the pain and a lot of the inefficiency."
"The program will be complementary to what we want to do -- better academics," Baldwin said. "If we start looking after some of the personal issues of our students, we can have some space to deal with the hardening up of academics. I don't want to soften the place or dumb it down, but I do want to make it more effective."
Ultimately, perhaps as soon as spring advisement, the plan calls for the establishment of a high-profile "campus advising shop" to be located at the entrance of the Lee Drain Building. With an accent on accessibility, the goal is to make the center the first place for students to turn when they have a problem.
"I want the center to be a bit of a lighthouse," Baldwin said. "I want it glitzy. I want it visible. I want it soft. But I don't want it to be a continuation of the sort of hard, efficiency factory, brain factory process of the past."
The success in the new program can ultimately be measured in student retention, said Baldwin. "If we make students happier, they are going to stick here."
Another development in the College of Arts and Sciences aimed at improving the quality of educational offerings at SHSU is the recent recruitment of several new faculty members. This fall, students will find a new chair heading up the sociology department and a renowned sculptor sharing his craft with fine arts students. Additionally, an internationally acclaimed musician has joined the music faculty and two outstanding scholars are taking office in the English department.
"We have found some absolutely ideal people," Baldwin said. "They are very productive scholars -- already writing and publishing books -- with a high visibility in their disciplines, yet they are committed to innovative teaching and they are committed to integrating their research and scholarly interests with teaching."
The dean said SHSU has been very fortunate in its faculty recruiting efforts this year, taking full advantage of a number of economic factors influencing market.
"Research universities are downsizing," Baldwin explained. The institutions are reacting to federal funding cuts and slashes in research and development budgets. As a result, the dean said, "there are some absolutely superb young scholars on the market."
"We can hire them, as long as they will commit to some fresh designs and some fresh ideas," Baldwin said. "That is how we are going to impact the whole educational pyramid; by bringing in better scholars who are committed to transferring their information and empowering students."