As an advisor to a student organization at the University of Pittsburgh, you will provide support, guidance, and build rewarding relationships with members of your group. Given the myriad of purposes, activities, and objectives of student groups, the role of advisors will vary among organizations. You may assume one or more of the following roles:
As an advisor, your role of educator will often come through modeling behavior. Remember: do things right and do the right thing. You are guiding students to become responsible leaders by serving as a positive role model and resource person. If the organization needs to learn how to run a meeting, balance a budget, or plan an event, you may also find yourself teaching students about group processes and functions.
Many group members come to see their advisor as a mentor for their personal and professional development, especially if they are seeking an education and career in your field. Students may be looking for someone to review their resume, connect them to professionals in their field, or be a sounding board to discuss their futures. Mentoring relationships can be very rewarding for both you and your students, and last for many years to come.
You may have to motivate your group members to carry out their plans and achieve their goals. Some students will respond well to recognition and reward, while others work from intrinsic motivation and strive to feel competent or make a difference. Take some time to think about (or even directly ask) the type of motivation that your students best respond to, and find ways to incorporate it into your advising style.
- Conflict Mediator
Inevitably, students are going to join the organization with different agendas, goals, and ideas about how things should function. Conflict can occur among and between leaders, members, and other organizations. It may be necessary to meet with students and have them discuss issues openly with one another. Ask them how they can work together, point out the organization’s mission, and ask how their conduct is helping the group achieve its mission.
- Policy Interpreter
All SORC-certified student organizations are governed by a constitution, and operate under a set of policies, procedures and rules. Students may be unaware of or misinterpret the organization’s policies, causing them to act inappropriately. The more you know about the guidelines under which your group functions, the better advising you can provide on how policies should translate to action.
- Team Builder
As the group elects new officers and new members join the organization, you may need to take initiative to provide intentional, team building opportunities. Team building is important because it fosters positive relationships among group members, which helps the organization function as a unit and work through conflict. You can conduct a workshop to engage students in this process, working with the group officers to develop and implement it.
- Reflective Agent
One of the most important components to learning outside of the classroom is providing time for students to reflect on how and what they are doing. Ask your officers about how they think they are performing, their strengths, and their weaknesses. Discuss their thoughts on their performance, and provide honest feedback and constructive criticism. If students evaluate themselves higher or lower than you expect, provide concrete examples of actions they took that contradict their self-perceptions. Ask how they can improve areas of weakness and how you can help them.
- Campus Security Authority
As an advisor to a student club or organization, you have “significant responsibility for student and campus activities” under the Clery Act. Understand your responsibility as a Campus Security Authority to report crimes to the University of Pittsburgh.
Working With Your Student Organization
While the nature of the advisor / student organization relationship will vary based on the needs of groups, it is expected that you will take responsibility for keeping informed about the activities of your organization, making yourself accessible to the group, and for building relationships with the officers and members. While advisors are responsible for overseeing the organization and providing guidance for decision-making, you are not responsible for the actions or policies of student organizations.
The best way to begin building relationships and establishing specific advisor / organization expectations is to get to know the students you are advising and learn what they expect of you.
- Some questions to ask:
- How often does the group meet?
- What are the organization’s normal processes and procedures?
- What are the organization’s major plans for the semester?
- What issues / problems (if any) does the organization anticipate this year?
- How much involvement does the group desire or expect of the advisor?
- What is the responsibility of the organization to the advisor?
- What is the preferred method of communication for everyone?
- Is feedback from the advisor expected? When and how would the group like feedback?
- Should the advisor intervene if things get off track, in the event of a heated discussion, etc.?
- How can the advisor be more helpful to the group?
- Meet with your group’s leaders at least once per semester
- Discuss the nature of your involvement with the organization’s leaders
- Collaborate on a set of expectations and form a mutually agreed upon contract with the group
- Report any information received regarding incidents of hazing to the Office of Student Conduct or the University Police.
- Review the advisor’s role in student organization travel and vehicle rental.
- Refer to the Guidelines for Events Involving Minors for specific policies that organizations must adhere to when planning events where minors will be present.
- Empower your organization to be successful
- Support the academic success of students
- Allow students to make decisions, take charge of planning, and carry out events on their own
- Make yourself knowledgeable about SORC policies and procedures to serve as a resource person
- Expect to encounter student problems unrelated to the organization. Be familiar with resources offered by the University of Pittsburgh, and refer students to appropriate offices if necessary
- Develop working relationships with the officers and members of your group
- Assist in group conflict resolution
- Run the organization meetings, step in to solve problems, assume decision making power
- Sign something without reading and discussing it with the officers of your group
- Assume responsibility for the group’s decisions, outcomes, failures, or successes
- Assume that the group does not need your guidance and support
- Impose your personal values or beliefs on the group
- Miss meetings or events that you’ve committed to
- Expect the group’s goals, values, and personalities to remain the same year to year
Advisor Group Development
To maximize your effectiveness as an organization advisor, it is helpful to have an understanding of group formation and development.
Bruce W. Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development
What it means: The group is slowly coming together. This phase is characterized by shyness, uncertainty, and difference among members.
How it applies to your organization: A new semester (especially in the Fall), is a time that students are looking for new ways to get involved. New members may look to experienced student leaders and the advisor for guidance and direction. Roles and responsibilities within the group are unclear, but extraverted members may quickly assume a leadership role.
Your role as the advisor: In this stage, consistency and continued support of the advisor is essential. Be prepared to answer questions regarding the group’s purpose and objectives.
What it means: Members are vying for leadership and position. This is often the most uncomfortable stage of the group’s life, as disagreements and competition are prevalent.
How it applies to your organization: Students may be struggling to find their place within the organization at this stage. As members attempt to establish themselves, cliques and power struggles may be evident. Decisions do not come easy, and there is plenty of uncertainty.
Your role as the advisor: Keeping the group focused on goals and objectives is important at this stage. Understand that conflict is normal, and this is a key point when you may serve as a mediator. Facilitating team building and communication workshops can help bring the group together and understand each other to work effectively.
What it means: The group’s identity is taking shape, as objectives and purpose are being examined. The big questions are, “What do we stand for?” and “Why are we here?” Norms and rules for behavior are being established. This stage can readily slip back into Storming.
How it applies to your organization: In this stage, students are engaged and having fun. As agreement and consensus form, members settle into roles and respond well to leadership. There is general respect for leaders, and power may be shared by members in committees or otherwise.
Your role as the advisor: Continue to build relationships among and between leaders and members. Have leaders establish goals, discuss each other’s work styles, and develop processes to accomplish tasks.
What it means: Roles have been established, goals and processes have been determined, and the group can begin working within a relatively stable structure.
How it applies to your organization: Members are aware of their goals and objectives, and focused on achieving them. The group is autonomous, and able to function with little to no leader / advisor interference. Conflict may occur but is generally resolved positively.
Your role as the advisor: As the group moves in a positive direction towards accomplishing goals, the advisor will naturally be in the background for support and guidance. This is a very rewarding experience to see the organization carrying out tasks and taking ownership of their work.
What it means: This is a stage of completion and disengagement. Members will be proud of what they have accomplished and what they have experienced in the organization. This is a time to recognize what the group has done and prepare to move on.
How it applies to your organization: As the academic year ends, students will be making decisions on continuing membership, running for leadership positions, or looking for other opportunities the following year.
Your role as the advisor: This is an opportunity for you to work with members on their next steps. How can they be more involved next year? If they are graduating, what are the transferable skills they can take with them? It is important to work with outgoing officers to transition the new officers so they are prepared to enter their new roles. Don’t forget to celebrate all that the group has accomplished throughout the year.