Jensen, Stella receive 2016 Excellence in Advising Award

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Leif Jensen, distinguished professor of rural sociology and demography in the College of Agricultural Sciences, and Michael Stella, academic adviser at Penn State Berks, have been selected to receive the 2016 Penn State Excellence in Advising Award.

The award, established by the former Undergraduate Student Government’s Academic Assembly and sponsored by each college, annually honors one full-time professional adviser and one full-time faculty member from any Penn State location who have at least two years of advising experience. Selection criteria are based on excellence in general advising, academic and career guidance, enthusiasm and assistance in decision making, and goal setting.

Jensen said, as an adviser, it’s important to keep channels of communication open. He reaches out to those he advises at the beginning and end of each semester and says his door is always open.

He also charts their progress, paying attention to things such as a late dropped class. Jensen said it’s important to follow up on seemingly minor issues because they could be early warning signs for a student in need of some advice.

Compassion and understanding is also critical, he says.

“College is hard and students contend with all manner of academic and personal challenges,” he said. “By listening and paying attention, advisers can often discern when a student is encountering significant problems.”

Jensen, too, is hitting the books. He said it’s important to stay up to date on the University’s continual evolution of rules. He said it’s not only important to understand the proper academic path for students but also to make sure students understand their paths.

Jensen strives for his advisees to succeed and to be a part of their successes. Commenting on resumes and graduate school materials, crafting letters of recommendation, suggesting professional opportunities, pulling students into research projects and guiding students into study abroad adventures are all part of the job, he said.

“It’s important that we understand that this job does not stop after advisees walk across the stage (at graduation) but continues long after,” said Jensen.

Stella also said it’s important to communicate with students. Students appreciate quick and thorough responses to their questions, but he said it’s more than that. He wants to be an example for his advisees, letting them know that in their burgeoning disciplines they’ll be expected to execute tasks with professionalism.

“Students recognize how seriously I take their time and their success, and they learn the benefits of such habits on professional relationships,” he said.

Stella said it’s important to keep up with the latest academic policies and procedures so he can accurately and effectively relay the information to students.

“In modeling this commitment to accuracy, students learn the benefits of getting it right the first time and also realize how my dedication to accuracy impacts how they view me,” he said. “They learn that the kind of information they communicate, as well as the extent to which it is accurate and clear, says something about the person communicating that information.”

Accountability is also key, said Stella. He holds himself accountable for his mistakes and is sure to make his advisees’ mistakes become productive, “teachable moments.”

Stella is a firm believer in alternative advising scenarios. He’s always searching for out-of-the-classroom ways to advise students, and uses his services to be active in University clubs, organizations and events.

Last Updated April 25, 2016