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Student nominations help select top academic advisors at UW-River Falls

Falcon News Service

March 8, 2017

Twice a year, students at UW-River Falls turn to their academic advisors to help figure out which classes to take to help them graduate.

To acknowledge the hard work and dedication that these advisors — faculty and academic staff — have to their students, the College of Arts and Sciences in 2002 created the Excellence in Advising Awards. Students can show appreciation of their advisor by nominating them for the award. Last year the recipients were David Bonko, Marketing Communications; Robert Coffman, Mathematics; and Kiril Petkov, History.

Coffman has been teaching at UWRF for almost 30 years. Many of his family were teachers and he followed in their footsteps, he said. Coffman never thought he would get an advanced degree until his advisor told him about graduate assistantships that would help him pay his way.

His reaction to receiving the award was split, he said. He felt good that he won, but explained that these types of awards make him upset.

“There is so much good work that goes unrecognized, and I wish all the good work could be recognized,” he said.

When Coffman received the award, he was chair of the department. Coffman said he thought that may have been a reason why he got it.

“I would do the summer advising and meet all these students,” Coffman said, many of whom became his advisees. Perhaps, he said, he got the award because he was advisor to so many students.

A university-wide Adviser of the Year also has been named every year since 2000. The award was established by the Faculty Senate Advising Committee. The recipient is nominated by students and alumni. The award can only be won once in an advisor’s career at UWRF. The 2016 winner was Holly Dolliver, an associate professor of geology and soil science.

Bonko is a recipient of both the Advisor of the Year in 2014 and the Excellence in Advising for 2016. He has been teaching at UWRF since 1998. He started teaching because he worked for a small business that was not doing very well and so he took a teaching job in St. Paul. After that, he took a job opening at UWRF.

“I had more application-based things to teach and a lot of good war stories, which it seemed like students liked,” explained Bonko.

Receiving the Adviser of the Year Award was a huge and unexpected honor, according to Bonko.

“That was a pretty big to me,” he said. “I was very proud because I relish the relationships I have with students and, for that to happen, I guess it kind of shows that things are going in the right direction.”

The reason why a specific advisor wins the award remains confidential, but Bonko said he tries to be very open and honest with his students and advisees.

“I am never going to tell a kid to take a class, take extra credits for the sake of taking them,” he said. As a professor, the relationship he has with his students is showing them that what he is teaching is going to be applicable in that student’s life. “The best teachers act as ambassadors to their subject. They are very passionate about it and do their best to sell that passion to their students as to why this is relevant.”

Petkov is the third advisor to receive the Excellence in Advising award for 2016 and also is head of the Faculty Senate Advising Committee.

The process nominees go through for the university-wide Adviser of the Year award is long, Petkov said. Nominations are collected by the chancellor’s office and sent to the Faculty Senate Advising Committee, which is made up of six people. The committee looks for outstanding advising activity. After the committee has chosen a recipient, it forwards the advisor’s name to the chancellor, who then bestows the Adviser of the Year honor.

Unfortunately, there is a problem with the nomination system, according to Petkov.

“It really has not much appeal among students because this is totally a voluntary thing,” Petkov said. One year, the committee received only six nominees.

Students who would like to nominate an advisor for the Adviser of the Year award may do so through the UW-River Falls website, uwrf.edu.