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Matrix advising strategy tested out on computer science students

March 24, 2022

UW-River Falls is testing out a new matrix advising strategy for computer science students. This new matrix advising strategy will possibly be used for all other majors as well in the upcoming years.   

Jamie Zamjahn, the assistant director of Student Services, is leading the new advising strategy initiative. Zamjahn has been doing academic advising and leading advising efforts for 18 years. 

According to the UWRF website, the current advising strategy is described as: “A faculty member or a full-time advisor will guide and mentor you as you progress in your program. An undergraduate candidate is required to meet with his/her advisor at least once each semester to review progress and plan for future semesters.” 

In an interview, Zamjahn described the current advising strategy as, “Faculty-lead advising model depending on which college; some colleges have professional advisors that supplement them.” He also spoke in favor of students having immediate contact with their faculty advisors, saying, “The great thing is that students get to meet with their mentor right away work with them for four to six years, however long they are here, and actually have that person to actually help them with grad school applications, jobs, stuff like that.”

Another issue with the current strategy is the number of students that each faculty advisor has to mentor. As mentioned by Zamjahn, “The goal is to try to get faculty advising a lot lower because we have some majors where they have 100 students, and that's a lot on top of all that teaching, research, community activities, and so on.”  

“What I mean by matrix,” Zamjahn explained, “is where the professional advisor and the faculty advisor work together to support a student, and so we know that a lot of our students struggle here, and they struggle in college generally, not because they are not smart enough but because there is so much happening in their lives outside the classroom. So those professional advisors really take on the more holistic side of the question like how is your work schedule, how are your roommates, what's going on in your life? While the faculty then can focus more on those academic mentorship pieces of it.”

Zamjahn stated that “It's actually a model that I’ve been using at a couple other institutions that are actually based on a lot of high-impact practices from research, and so we have a faculty advising committee that is looking at it as well to see how they can provide and look into more of a matrix model as well.”

This new advising model will not be used anywhere else besides the computer science program as Zamjahn explained, “we’ve got some hurdles to jump through at the state level.” 

According to Zamjahn, “we lose about 30% of our students after the first year, and we lose about another 15% after the second year.” 

Zamjahn is hoping to solve this problem by helping students in their transitional stages with these extra steps in advising: “Where are those gaps in advising, and then how do we take this model that I’ve seen work at different types of institutions and, what I call it is, falconize it? How can we falconize it to make it fit here for what we need? Really, I think that there are just gaps in that holistic support. We don’t have those opportunities to have those conversations about what's happening outside the classroom that is affecting them inside, and so we need to get those taken care of.” 

UWRF also just hired a new academic advisor, Courtney Brommer.

“Courtney is in our Student Success Center," Zamjahn said. "She started on March 1, and so she is going to be supporting exploratory students, computer science students, our students on academic probation, and the walk-in general advising. So if students just have general questions, they can walk into the Student Success Center.”

When this new advising strategy is initiated on campus, Brommer’s job will most likely change.

“It will probably be more support of different programs," Zamjahn said, "but this is kind of our first step in, and we are kind of testing this model with specifically computer science." 

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