UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Janet Melnick, associate professor of teaching and field coordinator of human development and family studies at Penn State Scranton, and Joel Waters, academic adviser in biology in the Eberly College of Science, and previously in communications science and disorders (CSD) in the College of Health and Human Development, have been selected to receive the 2019 Penn State Excellence in Advising Award.
The award, established by the former Undergraduate Student Government’s Academic Assembly and sponsored by each college, annually honors one full-time professional adviser and one full-time faculty member from any Penn State location who have at least two years of advising experience. Selection criteria are based on excellence in general advising, academic and career guidance, enthusiasm and assistance in decision making, and goal setting.
Colleagues say Melnick values her time spent with students as an adviser as more than just helping them graduate, rather creating a relationship to understand the students and to help them achieve their academic goals.
Melnick said she sees the time spent with students as a way to help them focus on their careers. She aims to pattern their coursework so that they can achieve these goals.
Melnick asks students to discuss their aspirations and life restrictions such as work or family, and she uses this information to develop an academic schedule that works best with their life demands.
Some of the areas Melnick participates in include:
- New student orientation adviser for 18 years
- Principal investigator on an advising research project in 2011
- Longtime member of the advising committee of the Penn State University Faculty Senate
- Author of the “Mentoring Faculty as Advisers” portion of the Penn State Scranton advising plan
Melnick, who advises more than 50 students, also dedicates her time to training less experienced advisers.
“I am very proactive in assisting faculty as they develop into good academic advisers," Melnick said. “We are only as good as our weakest link, so everyone in our department must understand the process and the curriculum so we can advise students in a competent manner.”
Waters said a thoughtfully crafted academic plan becomes a motivator for students, and so he takes the time to learn each of his student’s aspirations and motivations outside of academia. He encourages students to take ownership of their futures and teaches them to think independently about their career paths
Utilizing events like the Accepted Student Program, Spend a Summer Day, and New Student Orientation, Waters aims to get to know his students better at the start of their academic journey.
In his first year with the department, Waters created a student advising resources page on the CSD undergraduate website. This links students to valuable resources such as suggested academic plans, alternative careers with a CSD degree, recommended coursework, and frequently asked questions. In his follow-up advising feedback survey, students praised the new and accessible information.
Faced with a growing number of students to advise, Waters streamlined the process by creating group question-and-answer sessions to address more common questions. This allowed him to focus on more individualized issues during one-on-one advising sessions.
“As a result my individual appointments with an advisee can focus on their individual concerns rather than on more general or logistical topics about the major,” Waters said. “I now find that those one-on-one meetings are made all the more enjoyable for both parties, as we are able to more deeply discuss subjects like the student’s recent volunteering experience, their specific interests within the field, or where they would like to study abroad.”
In his four years with the CSD department, Waters saw graduate school acceptance rates soar from 58 to 95 percent. That’s well above the average for CSD students, which is around 30 percent.
“The ultimate objective of my career is to make sure that those students assigned to me will leave Penn State as prepared as possible to make a positive difference in society, using self-direction and confidence in their own decisions to contribute toward a more enlightened and accepting world,” Waters said.