When Stefan Brune was accepted into Colorado State University, one of the first few emails that he received was from his academic advisor.

Brune — a Navy veteran majoring in forest and rangeland stewardship, with a forest management concentration — said that he had heard from others about the difficulties in transitioning from military to college life. However, he said that his advisor’s initial contact kindled a relationship that has helped him navigate CSU.

“It’s been really critical to my success,” said Brune, who is in his third year at CSU. “The knowledge that advisors bring to individual students like me is extremely critical in getting us through our degree plans.”

At CSU, academic success coordinators and advisors play an important role in empowering students to create and achieve their personal and educational goals.

According to CSU leadership, advising positively impacts retention and graduation rates through innovative programs and services — an area the University has been building upon over the past several years.

“Right now, we retain about 85% of our students first-to-second year,” said Provost and Executive Vice President Mary Pedersen. “That means we lose 15% who are not returning the next year. We need to ​understand why they are​ leaving. There are many reasons, including personal, medical, ​financial challenges ​and other reasons. ​The more we understand what the issues are, the more we can ​work to address them and help ​students to stay on track ​and graduate.

“Research shows a strong, strategic advising support network​, like CSU’s​, is essential to helping students ​overcome challenges that might put them at risk, and we want to do more to make sure those students get the extra support they need to succeed.”

With more than 30 years at CSU, Gaye Digregorio has seen the impact and evolution of academic advising. Digregorio oversees the University coordination and support of advising, working closely with colleges and departments that provide advising services.

“Research shows a strong, strategic advising support network​, like CSU’s​, is essential to helping students ​overcome challenges that might put them at risk, and we want to do more to make sure those students get the extra support they need to succeed.”

— Mary Pedersen, provost and executive vice president

Through it all, she explained that the one-on-one interactions between students and advisors have been a fixture of student success.

“It really allows a student to reflect on their holistic experience,” Digregorio said. “The advisor is one person who can help them with navigating the institution and empowering them in pursuing their academic and career goals.”

Advising competencies

Much has changed in the three decades since Digregorio started her career at CSU. She explained that academic advising used to be siloed in the colleges and departments, with little collaboration.

That all changed as research showed that university cross-collaboration led to higher student retention and graduation rates, she said.

Digregorio added that CSU has worked over the years to reinvent advising from a reactive mindset to one that is proactive. “We wanted to get away from the model of sitting at my desk and advising whoever comes into my office to one where we ask: ‘Who can benefit the most from advising?’” she said. “Then, we do outreach to them.”

Now, the latest involves measuring advising competencies to ensure academic success coordinators are meeting the needs of students.

In 2019, a Tiered Advancement Process was created, which illustrates advisors’ core competencies in areas such as implementing an equitable advising framework, encouraging student growth, and providing strategic, proactive outreach.

The program — which also was designed to improve advisor retention numbers at CSU — has two tiers of advancement, and advisors submit a portfolio of their work to move to the next tier.

Academic Success Coordinator Neely Santeramo, who works with communications and journalism students, recently advanced to Tier II.

Advisors who have advanced in the Tiered Advancement Process

Carla Barela-Bloom
Rosanna Bateman
Ella Bowers
Karin Bright
Keri Canada

Nikki Foxley
Jacqie Hasan
Paige Jacobson
Caitlin Kotnik
Megan Mardesen

Cassidy McLaren
Terry Richardson
Neely Santeramo
José Valdez
Amy Young

For Santeramo, she said that the Tiered Advancement Process allowed for self-reflection on her advising practice and philosophy.

“Looking back, I didn’t realize how much I had done in the past six years,” Santeramo said, “and just how many projects I worked on and how many committees I’ve been on. It was really cool to see that progress.”

Connecting with students

Tery Richardson, an advisor with the Collaborative for Student Achievement, talks with Jennifer Olivas, senior Human Development and Family Studies major. October 20, 2021

Terry Richardson, an advisor with the Collaborative for Student Achievement, talks with Jennifer Olivas, senior Human Development and Family Studies major.

According to Digregorio, CSU has 116 academic success coordinators and advisors. In 2007, Digregorio said that number was 60.

The expansion has been a priority for CSU as a way to better connect with students.

In the College of Liberal Arts, Santeramo said that she loves building relationships with the students, from meeting them at freshman orientation to celebrating with them at graduation. For Santeramo, she said that watching the students grow is fulfilling.

“I just feel so proud of them,” she said, “especially with those students who struggle because we’re working through those challenges together. So, when you see those students in their regalia on graduation day and how much they had to do to get there, it’s very emotional.”

Academic Success Coordinator Carla Barela-Bloom, who has been advising students at CSU since 2006, said that she still hears from students that she advised years ago, sharing news about their careers, marriage and children.

Barela-Bloom explained that the COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted the importance of academic advising.

“Advisers do more than just get students registered,” she said. “We are a big part of their developmental growth coming into the university, especially more so now with the pandemic. The students coming in right now have experienced such a different way of doing things, and we’re going to make those adjustments to meet those needs.”

“Advisers do more than just get students registered. We are a big part of their developmental growth coming into the university, especially more so now with the pandemic.”

— Carla Barela-Bloom, academic success coordinator

From the student perspective, Brune explained that his advisor, Megan Mardesen, has helped him with departmental communications in his role as president of the CSU chapter of the Society of American Foresters.

Brune, who earned a bachelor’s degree at another university before his military service, said he probably saw his advisor a few times in pursuit of his first degree. This time around, he said his advising experience at CSU has been invaluable in helping him avoid potential hurdles in the pursuit of his degree.

“Just having that person who knows you and can help lead you down the correct path — instead of taking an errant road — and getting you to graduation is priceless,” he said.