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Vol. 24, No. 14 Feb. 10, 1999

New 'Class Centers' Advising System in Columbia College Is Embraced by Students


Chloe Arnold CC'02 has made it a habit to stop by the First-Year Class Center in Carman Hall every few days. "Everyone there is so friendly and they always have good advice on courses and activities," she said. "And the best part is-it's in my dorm!"

Her relationship with an advising center will last her entire four years at Columbia because the undergraduate advising system has been restructured to form "Class Centers"-spaces on campus specially designed to meet the particular advising and residential life needs of first-years, sophomores, juniors and seniors. The new system, which has been in place since September 1998, has received rave reviews from both students and administrators.

"The advantage is that students have a place full of well-informed people to be resources for their specific needs," said Sandra Johnson, who came from a 12-year history with Barnard to become Columbia's associate dean for residential life and advising programs, a position that was created for the new system. "Students have different needs every year of their college experience, and this way, the advising system makes sure each new year builds upon the previous one."

The Class Centers promote their no-waiting "drop-in" policy. Students can come by every day to meet with one of the deans on the spot. Students can also make appointments to meet with a specific dean. They can come with registration questions, concerns about adding and dropping classes or to look for internship opportunities, to name a few. "The Centers help students navigate their choices and their options," Johnson said.

The new advising structure was devised in response to student requests for a stronger academic advising system. In the previous system, one house dean was the academic point person for students of all years within a residence hall.

Chris Colombo, dean of student affairs, was instrumental in designing the new advising system. "The Class Centers and residential life offices are responsible for academic, social and educational events that develop programming and community links for our students," he said. "I have spoken to many of our student class leaders who feel that these Centers have been very beneficial to building class and community spirit."

In the First-Year Class Center, which has its main office in 101 Carman Hall and a satellite center in Hartley-Wallach Hall, four deans are prepared for the thrill and tumult of the first-year college experience, empowering students to make a smooth transition from high school to college. Among many activities, the Center hosts mentoring networks with seniors, brown bag lunches with faculty, money management seminars and study breaks during finals.

In their sophomore year, students are required to choose a major, so advising deans concentrate on chiseling a student's broad interests into an academic focus and help students to develop a strong sense of self as a college student. The Sophomore Class Center, which is located in the lower level of Wien Hall. It has a pilot advisory board of students, 31 in total, to work with the three deans and the program coordinator to custom-design activities and services for sophomores. The success in having students directly involved in programming and planning may spur others like it in the future.

"I decided to get involved because it gave me a better chance to have my opinions and ideas heard, so that what I had to say could lead to changes," said Tricia Beckles CC'01, who is a member of the Sophomore Advisory Board. "I've been extremely happy with the Center because the deans are always putting in extra hours to create new and exciting programming ideas, as well as helping to build a stronger sophomore community as a whole."

The Junior Class Center is located in 520 Mudd Hall until next year when space in Schapiro Residence Hall opens. By their third year, students have established a foothold in their academic departments, so the Class Center becomes a resource for opening fellowship and study-abroad opportunities for students.

"At this point, students have an advisor within their major to help them with their specialized research projects," said Johnson. "The Class Center is for everything else." Seniors must ready themselves for the dramatic transition out of college, so the Senior Class Center in 103 Furnald Hall has a strong connection with the a career services office, as well as graduate and professional school information and application assistance.

"The Center made applying to law schools easier than I thought," said Josh Rosenstein CC'99. "Everybody there gave great advice and helped me get the recommendations and forms together-it's a really incredible, hassle-free system."