Lawrence hires full time Director of Academic Advising based on Academic Advising Committee’s recommendation

Lawrence has taken a number of steps to address issues that have come up in the Academic Advising system based on recommendations from the Academic Advising Committee, which was formed by faculty in 2019 to address these issues. Most notably, Jacklyn John Fischer was promoted to Director of Academic Advising, a new role created based on the Academic Advising Committee’s recommendations. Fischer has been at Lawrence since 2021, first serving in the Career Center as Assistant Director for Health Professions. 

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Graham Sazama and Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology Sonja Downing, both of whom served on the Academic Advising Committee, identified some of the issues that demanded attention. Sazama and Downing both identified the key issues as communication and a lack of centralized leadership.  

Professor of Spanish, Latin American Studies and Global Affairs Rosa Tapia added that she advocated for this position because she believes academic advising is a critical part of students being successful and that faculty advisors need the full support of the institution to be able to do what they need to do to help students.  

Sazama and Downing identified specific problems that this lack of communication and leadership had led Downing discussed the history of the position. According to her, Lawrence didn’t used to have a Center for Academic Success (CAS), and was preceded by Student Academic Services, and the head of that oversaw advising. When that was restructured and the CAS was formed, academic advising was taken out of that.  

Headshot of Jacklyn John Fischer. Photo provided by Jacklyn John Fischer.

Downing also mentioned the Title III grant Lawrence got to address retention issues. Academic advising was part of the effort to look at retention issues, and Tapia was hired as the Advising Director, her position being funded by that grant. She developed an advising curriculum with the goal of making it more consistent, according to Downing, which Downing feels started to improve the quality of Lawrence’s academic advising. 

When the grant ended, the position wasn’t renewed, and the administration thought it would be more efficient to divide up tasks among a faculty committee. The committee discovered quickly that having multiple heads of academic advising was confusing, and that it also wasn’t clear how to consistently match up advisors with students.  

Downing claimed that from the beginning, she and her colleagues were consistently advocating for a centralized director. Downing added that they had to put a lot of pressure on the administration to get this to happen, but that after having a lot of difficult conversations, it finally happened. Although she didn’t agree with the way the previous administration handled things, she stressed that the current administration has been very supportive of these changes and credited administrators such as Associate Vice President for Enrollment Ashley Lewis for advocating for this position. 

Sazama mentioned that faculty members who wanted additional help or training with advising were largely on their own as there were no dedicated personnel to helping provide training. According to Sazama, faculty members were appointed who did the best job possible, but it was too much work for someone who also needed to teach and do research.  

“Rather than having a one stop shop for questions or needs for advising, we kind of just had to make it up as we go along,” Sazama said. 

Sazama and Downing expressed confidence in Fischer and her ability to address the issues they laid out. Sazama feels that having a centralized leader has already been valuable. Downing referred to her as “phenomenal.” 

According to Fischer, her passion in higher education is access and equity and combating the ways in which institutions are not accessible for students. She identified Academic Advising as one of the ways in which those barriers in higher education are broken down, especially students from disadvantaged backgrounds.  

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