His first visit to South Building brought anticipation as well as anxiety. As an entering Carolina freshman, he was nervous about getting off to a strong academic start. While he had been an honor student in high school, he was aware that many students with good grades in high school struggled in adjusting to Carolina. For some, their problem was time management. Accustomed to having mom or dad organize their life, these students struggled with all of the “free” time available to go to class, study and socialize.
He heard from others who had come from small towns and high schools with small enrollments that Carolina’s size took some adjustment.
In any event, he entered the main administration building for the nation’s oldest public university and walked up the stairs to the second floor. He found the office of his adviser — the first real live Carolina faculty member that he would meet — Mary Turner Lane ’53 (MED), a professor in the school of education. Did they know that this young man entered Carolina with thoughts of becoming a teacher? He gently knocked on the door. Slowly the door opened and before him stood a tall, distinguished looking woman with an engaging, warm smile. She introduced herself and invited the young man to have a seat.
Lane reviewed her role as an adviser and encouraged the freshman to call or to visit whenever he had questions. She reassured him that he would be able to handle all of the reading, but if he felt it would be helpful, she encouraged him to consider enrolling in a reading program offered in Peabody Hall. She volunteered that it would be helpful to get to know the professors and graduate students who would be his instructors. Lane emphasized the importance of time management and concluded by volunteering that she had a daughter who was a rising Carolina junior and she hoped the freshman enjoyed Carolina as much as her daughter had.
That was my introduction to South Building, a Carolina faculty member and to advising. I could not know that nearly 20 years later, Lane’s daughter — Mary Ellen ’68 — would be an Egyptologist, nor that she and I would share a delightful trip down the Nile River with a group of touring UNC alumni. Nor could I have known that Lane would become one of the first recipients of the Cornelia Phillips Spencer Bell Award, which annually recognizes the woman who has made the most significant contributions to Carolina in recent years. And I did not know that when I moved from the General College to the College of Arts and Sciences I would find a similarly helpful adviser in Professor Joel Schwartz of the political science department.
While at Fayetteville Senior High School, I had very little contact with our college counselor, but I had universally positive experiences with nearly each of my teachers. Our high school-age sons, Brian and Michael, have much higher expectations of their advisers because of the strong emphasis Durham Academy places on college counseling. As good students, wherever they choose to attend college their expectations of their advisers will be like those of most entering Carolina students — quite high.
In reading our story in this issue of the Review about advising at Carolina, I was troubled by the perspective of some that our faculty doesn’t place a high priority on this important role. My frequent contacts with our faculty indicate that while our faculty are continually challenged to balance their service roles — which certainly includes advising, along with their teaching and research responsibilities — they enjoy the opportunity to advise students. However, their enjoyment has to be measured against the competing demands for their time — and the struggle between having so many advisees and knowing that many of those who need the advising the most simply don’t seek them out.
It is reassuring to learn that we will be making a larger investment in advising. The introduction of first-year seminars should give freshmen a closer, more personal relationship with at least one professor. And it is encouraging that of those who actually have used their adviser, they reported a very positive experience. Clearly, a ratio of 400 advisees to one adviser, as can be found in the College of Arts and Sciences, could discourage some students from seeking out their adviser.
We know that each Carolina student’s experience determines whether they choose to be committed alumni.
Carolina has long prided itself on its commitment to quality undergraduate education. Important to that commitment is the experience our students have with faculty, and the value of advising is crucial. My earliest experience with a single faculty member-Mary Turner Lane convinced me that Carolina professors could be warm, helpful and caring along with their engaging classroom presentations or their cutting-edge research.
Yours at Carolina,
Douglas S. Dibbert ’70