GT Academic Advising Award Winners

by Dr. Beth Spencer | May 2017

Georgia Tech Academic Advisors Receive International Recognition

Every spring, Georgia Tech celebrates the achievements of two outstanding undergraduate academic advisors: one staff advisor, for whom advising is the primary role, and one faculty member, who carries teaching or research obligations in addition to advising.  Nominations for the awards, which include a $2000 stipend and recognition at the annual Faculty and Staff Honors Luncheon, are sought from colleagues and supervisors, and the nomination packets include letters of support from peers, students, and alumni.  The Academic Advising Council, which is comprised of representatives from advising in Tech’s six colleges, GTAAN, former award winners, and the Director of Undergraduate Academic Advising, reviews the nomination materials and meets to select the winners.  Tech’s winners are often then nominated for the NACADA Outstanding Advising Awards.  This year, our two advisors have also been recognized for their advising abilities in this international competition.    

Selecting the Tech winners is always a challenge.  Georgia Tech has a multitude of talented and dedicated academic advisors, and Tech’s highly decentralized advising model means that advisors wear many hats and advisor roles can and do vary across campus.  Common advising responsibilities include guidance in course selection, registration, and academic program planning; facilitated exploration of majors, minors, and certificates; specialized outreach and assistance to students experiencing academic difficulties; planning and preparation for graduation; and assistance in becoming familiar with and utilizing campus resources and opportunities.  Advisors also participate in student recruitment activities; many have oversight for student organizations; and some contribute to departmental assessment and annual reporting.  In its holistic assessment of each nomination, the selection committee consider factors such as, but not limited to, demonstrated practice of developmental advising; availability to students; interpersonal skills; mastery of Tech policies and regulations; and contributions to departments and the campus advising community.   

Lenna Applebee is this year’s Outstanding Academic Advising Award-Primary Role winner.  Lenna, an Academic Advisor II in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, has been on the staff at Tech since 2012.  Lenna’s strengths include impressive attention to detail, a warm and friendly personality, a positive can-do attitude, and seemingly tireless energy.  Even though she, like other ME advisors, carries a caseload of approximately 650 students, Lenna is able to connect with her students, not only knowing a significant number of them by name, but remembering their achievements, interests, and concerns.  As one ME student explains, “A lot of times we get caught up in the large numbers … it was great that I felt like I was not just another number for her, that she actually cared about my success.”   Part of her way of caring for students’ success is to help them remember the importance of their sense of well-being.  Students appreciate her tips on how to manage stress and the advice “to keep school in perspective.”  Lenna writes, “I want students to create a vibrant and exciting path through college so that it is rich and rewarding.  I encourage students to ask ‘why not?’ when it comes to experiences.”  While impressing all who know her as caring and compassionate, Lenna is also adept at forcing hard conversations and in demanding that students take responsibility for their decisions and success.  For Lenna, advising is her calling, and her basic developmental approach is to “meet students where they are and help them get where they want to be.” 

Shana Kerr, the 2017 Outstanding Academic Advising Award-Faculty Role winner, is valued for her leadership and contributions to academic advising in the School of Biological Sciences.  When Shana came to Tech as a new Academic Professional in 2012, she had to quickly learn the art of advising, for which she had no formal training.  She has quickly developed her approach, which her colleagues describe as “Socratic questioning and listening techniques,” and now leads the Biology team of four faculty advisors.  “I have as much to learn from students as they have from me,” Shana writes, explaining, “As I work with them in refining their career paths, helping them to explore extracurricular and professional development opportunities, sharing in their successes, and helping them navigate their failures, I have learned much about what it really means to be persistent in the face of ongoing challenges.”    

In her philosophy of advising statement, Shana explains that she defines her advising role as helping students “discover their own answers.”  Rather than moving students through her office by providing quick answers, Shana manages to push students to make their own discoveries while exploring options and reflecting on their own interests, goals, and values, even when the immediate task is something as seemingly mundane as choosing an elective.  Her nomination packet includes many testaments from students who credit Shana with “introducing” them to the possibility of applying for fellowships, making sound decisions about graduate or professional school, adding a second major, or giving undergraduate research a try.  Shana’s own love of science and enthusiasm for learning help her motivate students by inspiring them to be open to new opportunities.

Kerr and Applebee are both valued by their colleagues and advisees for their knowledge of the campus, its resources, programs, policies and procedures.   While Kerr aims to help students take the steps to get their own answers, students rely on her diligence to become and remain knowledgeable of the rules and policies that affect them; the other advisors in Biology also appreciate the “strong documentation” she creates and effectively communicates to keep all abreast of Tech’s ever-changing regulations and guidelines.  One transfer student notes that he would have become overwhelmed without Shana’s patient and thorough assistance in understanding Tech’s policies and procedures as he struggled to transition to a new campus.  Similarly, one international student writes of how Lenna’s willingness to meet numerous times helped her academically and socially adjust to a new culture.  Another notes that when faced with questions about handling any aspect of college life, an email or appointment with Ms. Applebee is all that is necessary to put his mind at ease.  Some of Lenna’s students credit their high GPAs to her ability to help them make strategic choices when planning their schedules, explaining that her knowledge of student perceptions of course workloads and class combinations is “unparalleled.”  

In addition to assisting students in the process of course selection and schedule planning, both Lenna and Shana make significant contributions to their departments.  Lenna manages programming and logistics for prospective student visitation days, has implemented a faculty advising program for ME concentrations, and has taken the lead in training new advisors.  She is also able to carve out time to volunteer at ME career fairs and attend student events—often after hours—while still completing approximately 1,300 student appointments in the past year.  Shana has spearheaded the reorganization and creation of the School of Biological Sciences Undergraduate website, making programmatic information accessible to a range of stakeholders, including prospective students and parents.  She has also collected student data that has provided the School with information on the effectiveness of the cohort-based introductory biology experience in the retention of majors.  Students commend Shana for her availability for advising—even while on maternity leave—and for her talents as a teacher, for which she has also won campus-wide recognition.  Dr. Kerr regularly teaches in all four of the Biology Introductory courses, Biology core courses, Bioethics, and is an integral part of the Biology TA training program.

Shana Kerr has been selected as an Outstanding Advising Award Winner—Faculty Role in the 2017 NACADA Global Awards Program for Academic Advising.  Lenna Applebee has been named a 2017 NACADA Outstanding Advising Award Certificate of Merit Winner in the Primary Role category.  NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising is advising’s professional development organization, with an international membership of over 13,000 faculty, professional advisors, administrators, counselors, and others in academic and student affairs.  These competitive awards are presented to individuals who demonstrate qualities associated with outstanding academic advising of students.  Nomination materials include a letter summarizing the nominee’s qualifications; letters of support from advisees, colleagues, and administrators; a personal statement of advising philosophy; an advising CV/resume, and examples of materials developed by the nominee.   Shana and Lenna will be honored at the NACADA Annual Conference’s Global Awards Ceremony in St. Louis, this October.