Your browser is unsupported

We recommend using the latest version of IE11, Edge, Chrome, Firefox or Safari.

CS majors benefit from academic advising team

UIC computer science majors benefit from a unique resource in the college of engineering: academic advisors who support them through their entire undergraduate education. The advisors, part of the professional staff, are dedicated completely to undergraduate students’ success in every way.

The concept sounds familiar, but for UIC computer science, its debut is fairly recent. When undergraduate enrollment surpassed 1,000 students in fall 2017, it was no longer practical to assign each student to a faculty member for advising. The department advocated for a team of staff advisors and hired the first two to start the following fall.

Josh Taylor and Bryant Hill were the inaugural pair and are still in their roles today. The team added Kailin Potter a year later and Alondra Avitia this semester, as CS enrollment grew to more than 1,500 students. Having a consistent team to advise students has proven invaluable, and the team has especially proven its worth in the era of remote learning due to COVID-19, said Robert H. Sloan, computer science department head.

Each advisor took a different path to UIC and has a unique working style.

Taylor says helping students with the curriculum is merely a starting point in the advising process: it’s listening to students, advocating for them, and serving as a resource. He alerts his advisees about internships (including the Guaranteed Paid Internship Program for freshmen), campus events, tutoring options, and more. He also navigates difficult conversations around academic success, online learning, and life in a pandemic.

“A lot of students are at home with their families, with no dedicated study room,” Taylor said. “They are distracted. They ask about taking semesters off … I point them to tutoring, the Academic Center for Excellence, things to help them keep their focus. But they have a lot on their plates, and I let them vent.”

Taylor was in corporate banking before starting at UIC, focusing on financial advising and wealth management. He was looking for a more rewarding job and enjoys helping students prosper. He is thrilled to see his earliest advisees nearing graduation.

Hill worked as a career advisor during his undergraduate studies at University of Missouri, which led to his first full-time job in UIC admissions. He briefly left academia to work for Major League Baseball as an independent contractor but returned to UIC to start the computer science advising team. A large part of the motivation was the realization his passion lies in working with students.

“Students have goals and aspirations and are formulating plans to make that a reality,” Hill said. You can connect them to the resources to get them there. When I hear about an opportunity, and I connect a student in my mind to it.”

Hill described CS advising as a team effort. The advisors; Santhi Nannapaneni, the director of student affairs; the College of Engineering; and the entire department team work to put students in a successful position.

Potter, who came to UIC with experience as an academic advisor for several natural science departments at the University of Indianapolis, said she enjoys the supportive and proactive atmosphere in the department.

“A lot of advising can be very transactional, but at UIC, especially Joe Hummel, the director of undergraduate studies, and Santhi, they take it to the next level: what students need and why they need an advisor is always present,” she said.

Potter said this year has been mixed for her advisees. Some have become worried, wanting her to double-check small details that they wouldn’t have worried about in the past. Others have adapted well to the online learning environment and are livelier in video chats than in person, preferring to talk through computers.

Avitia is the newest member of the team, a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She worked as a peer advisor there, advocating for underrepresented students and connecting them with resources. She wants to continue that work at UIC.

“I hope that students leaving meetings with me will feel uplifted and motivated to follow their dreams, and I want to help make their experience at UIC a good one,” Avitia said. “I know what it’s like as a first generation Latinx college student. I want to be that person I needed for students here, to help them navigate higher education.”

While the advising team has changed as the student body has grown, one thing has remained constant: a true commitment to undergraduate students.

“All four advisors have the shared goal of helping our undergraduates,” Nannapaneni said. “The advisors have easily established a personal bond with students, which has been extremely helpful, especially during the pandemic.”

To reach the advising team or to schedule an appointment through iAdvise, visit the CS Advising webpage. Spring course registration began in late March for seniors.